The Kwibuka Flame reached Nyabihu District yesterday amid tears and cheering.
The hundreds of residents, who braved the scorching afternoon sun, listened with enthusiasm as speaker after speaker took to the stage to give their testimonies of what they went through during the Genocide.
There were tales of survival, heroism, repentance and reconciliation, with all the speakers vowing never to be drawn back into ethnic divisions that culminated into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Joseph Bagirinshuti, a Genocide convict, recalled how as a child and later, as a teenager, he was taught to hate Tutsis, something that compelled him to get involved in the killings.
Bagirinshuti spoke of how he reformed shortly after the Genocide.
“I understood the gravity of my crimes. I sought forgiveness for my actions,” Bagirinshuti, who served a three-year sentence, said.
Bagirinshuti said he is now dedicated to rebuilding the country he helped to destroy.
“I have now dedicated my life to preaching unity and I am a reformed man. I am ready to die for my country,” he said.
However, the most emotional part of the event was when one Jean Bosco Ndagijimana was called to narrate how he helped Tutsis escape from the marauding killers.
As he started narrating, three of the people he saved joined him with one woman shedding tears. She fell into Ndagijimana’s hands and embraced him tightly for minutes, drawing cheers from the public.
Some members of the public who couldn’t control their emotions also shed tears of joy while others were heard saying that it was an act of heroism.
“I did it for the sake of humanity,” Ndagijimana said. “I was extremely saddened by what was happening and decided to help Tutsis. I knew I could be killed myself but took the risk,”
Moving out of darkness
Nyabihu, in the Western Province, experienced some of the worst massacres against Tutsis even before the Genocide began in April 1994.
Testimonies indicate that between 1991 and 1993, Tutsis there were systematically murdered, particularly in Mukamira and at the Bigogwe military barracks. Many others were thrown into the Nyaruhonga cave in the same district.
When mass killings started, militias who were practically on stand-by went on rampage killing dozens of thousands of Tutsis in the area in just three days.
There were also chilling testimonies of militias who used dogs to hunt down Tutsis who had hidden in Gishwati forest.
Twenty years down the road, survivors say their lives have improved, with commitment that the dark past will not derail them from their development path.
Athanase Kayisire, 47, a survivor, thanked the government for “helping survivors move out of darkness.”
“I have a place to call home,” he said.
Nyabihu District mayor Abdoulatif Twahirwa, said it was time to reflect on the country’s dark past.
“Divisionism and discrimination that were preached by some leaders led us to the Genocide,” he said.
But today Rwanda is committed to becoming a prosperous nation where citizens share resources and have equal chances and opportunities, he added.
“We are now working to rebuild our country,” he said.
The Minister for Sports and Culture, Protais Mitali, told Nyabihu residents that the Remembrance Flame is a symbol of hope and new found life after the 1994 mayhem.
“It is the light that replaces the darkness brought about by bad leaders who sowed hate and divisionism,” Mitali said.
He urged residents to make efforts to avoid a repeat of the traumatic past, by championing truth, unity and tolerance.
“You should commit your efforts and skills to promoting unity within your communities,” he said.
He challenged those who took part in the Genocide to own up and repent as a way of fostering reconciliation.
WHAT THEY SAID
Joslyne Uwamahoro, 16, student
This Flame is an indication that the bad times brought about by the Genocide have come to an end and that we should have faith in a brighter future. As young people, we have the task to continue fighting against divisionism and genocide ideology. It is also our responsibility to foster unity so as to be able to build a strong nation.
Mutoni Ange Darline, student
The Kwibuka Flame is a reminder to us that we have the responsibility to safeguard the nation’s gains and make sure we carry on from our current achievements to build the nation we deserve.