Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi is always a period filled with poignant memories, strong emotions and deep reflection – about the senseless loss of human life and the barbarity that caused it, but also fortitude and the resolve to create a better future.
Every year this period, as indeed Rwanda’s story of the last twenty-three years, is a strong rebuke to the sowers of destruction and those who think they can remodel creation.
It is a strong reminder that brute force does not give them the power or right to do that. They have to reckon with a counterforce of morality, right and the will of people to life and dignity.
There can be no stronger rebuke than seeing children of survivors of genocide who were themselves children at the time affirming their right to life and the resolve to move on, betraying no bitterness but only expressing bewilderment.
The people who were supposed to be exterminated and the Rwandan nation as we know it was meant to disappear did not only survive that attempt but have gone on to regenerate and grow into more resilient and confident people.
The nation defied attempts to divide it and is more united than ever before. It refused to be obliterated and instead rose taller and stronger.
Which takes us to another instance of Rwanda’s regeneration, its growing stature and that of its leaders in the world. This too is a rebuke to all those who wished death on people and country.
The most recent such instance was the round of visits President Paul Kagame made to a number of countries in Europe, America and Asia in March this year.
Presidents routinely make overseas visits, so there should be nothing exceptional about that.
That may be so, but I know a few who dare not venture anywhere outside State House or their village or even keep their whereabouts a mystery only known to their sorcerers and other sorts of intermediaries with all manner of spirits and deities.
But this one was remarkable, even judging by its sheer duration and distance covered. More important was the substance of the visits.
In London, Boston and Washington, President Kagame spoke at leading universities and think tanks. These are not your ordinary people, but intellectuals, thought leaders, policy experts with loads of experience and some of the most critical voices in the world, and also hard to please.
This is not the fort time he does this. He has addressed audiences at Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Beijing among many other universities. He has spoken at Chatham House and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, both in London, the Institut Francaise des Relations Internationale in Paris, and the Centre for Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council in Washington.
The repeated invitation to these institutions is a mark of recognition of the stature of our president as a leader but also as a practical thinker with a proven ability to transform and move this country forward, as well as have influence on regional and world affairs.
We as a country, of course, gain from this.
Then there was the two-day state visit to China. Again nothing special, it happens all the time. But this one was different. Watching the two leaders, even at a distance from TV footage, from the time of arrival to the official talks and reception, you saw respect and trust written on their faces and in every gesture.
You did not see the bored leader of a powerful country receiving another president of a poor country seeking favours. It was more a confident meeting of minds on a variety of issues.
I don’t know exactly what they said, but it appeared like each was saying in his mind: this is a man we can do business together.
The final leg was in Rome and a meeting with Pope Francis. The Pope’s humility and forthrightness are world famous. And so, as an individual, what he said about the genocide against the Tutsi was not unexpected.
But as head of the Catholic Church, asking forgiveness for the role of the church in the genocide came as a surprise. The Church is notoriously inflexible and rarely admits its mistakes, although it teaches about contrition and penance.
So what happened? The sincerity of both men, the enormity of the crime and the desire to do right must have convinced the Holy Father that it was time to apologise and move on.
Twenty years ago, such visits from Rwanda’s president and the reception he got and the weight of matters discussed would have been inconceivable. That they can happen today and in the manner they did is a measure of the stature of President Kagame and Rwanda’s position in the world. It is also a resounding rebuke to those who seek to destroy harmony among people and hold back their progress.