A foreigner living in Rwanda emotionally reflects on the 1994 Genocide

My bedroom room window offers a sight loaded with historical significance. A hillside rises sharply from a marshland, dotted with nondescript housed pasted onto the slanting earth, like accessories.

My bedroom room window offers a sight loaded with historical significance. A hillside rises sharply from a marshland, dotted with nondescript housed pasted onto the slanting earth, like accessories.

In the midst, lies an imposing cream structure with a green roof and well manicured lawns. The building attracts a mass of people, in trickles or in groups to its environs, its contents. It is the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Complex in Kigali.

Fourteen years ago, when I was only thirteen, I came home from my primary school, in central Kenyan town of Thika, to find my father astonishingly glued to the evening prime news.

I gathered that massive numbers of people were being cut down to death in an East African country called Rwanda. The international press with its usually warped way of addressing African issues did not help matters.

The message was mixed; ethnic strife, a militia, and then whether it was or it was not genocide. For a hundred days, it went unabated.

To a child, it may have sounded, gruesome but distant, but it never occurred to me that fourteen years later, during the official mourning week, I would be standing here trying to come to terms with the senseless murder of one million people; friends, neighbours, relatives, innocent civilians, children, men and women, for an inexcusable reason as ethnic identity.

Rwanda is an unusually beautiful country. Its landscape is famed world over for its thousands of hills, its coffee and tea for its exquisite unique taste, its people for their natural gorgeousness. As you walk along its streets, you will be forgiven for assuming that the genocide never happened.

The obvious efficiency of systems clearly visible in its well paved road system, its clean streets and well tended ornamentals in public places, the green fountain-topped roundabouts, to mention but a few. The general orderliness of the way things happen.

The mood is somber on the streets and in the restaurants. People don purple scarfs; purple cloths mark memorial ceremonies and sites, not because people have chosen the colour purple. It signifies that the nation is remembering and the country is mourning.

All flags fly at half-mast, the media is filled with stories of pain and strength of telling them, spreading the Never Again message. It’s a huge expression of unity in sadness.

The melancholic mood is overwhelming, a demonstration that the genocide affected the country’s psyche, but instead of the people sinking in despair, they chose to rise in defiance, to face tomorrow with the will of determination.

An understanding of the story of 1994 will shock you. How men can plot to wipe out other men, go ahead to rehearse it, attempt to execute it with drastic consequences, run away in guilt and go ahead to attempt to deny the whole thing systematically.

Sometimes when I sit with my Rwandan peers, my age mates, I attempt to empathize with and understand what they must have gone through in their brief lives. It all leaves me feeling weak and undeserving even to try to fathom the scale of emotional and physical suffering that they have gone through.

As I watch the flame burning in the compound of the memorial complex, my senses are inundated by the different emotions, of compassion for a people who have lived through the worst experiences of their life and can only stare back at the world.

The guilt of knowing that people out there had the opportunity to stop it but watched with horror from the safety off their living rooms, and became satisfied with getting shocked at the inhuman degree of it.

Of those within whom it was in their power to end it but instead chose to wash their hands clean and engage in useless discussions as to whether it was genocide or not.

Those who chose to whitewash the story as a typical African tribal conflict story, ignoring the details, theorizing and hypothesizing safely from their high profile foreign newsrooms and ignoring the bare truth.

When I stare at the remains of innocent civilians whose lives were violently and unjustly ended, the stories of traumatized survivours, the blankness of some of the survivours who were too young to fathom it, whose scale only became clear in their minds much alter, tears well in my eyes.

I pray that the lessons of 1994 are a lesson enough to every single human in this generation and in those to come, that it will NEVER AGAIN.

Contact: kelviod@yahoo.com

 

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