Kwibuka20: Why we remember

IN JUST under two weeks’ time, on April 7th, Rwanda will mark twenty years since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. During this somber yet solemn time, we invite all people of goodwill, the world over, to join us in remembrance.

IN JUST under two weeks’ time, on April 7th, Rwanda will mark twenty years since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. During this somber yet solemn time, we invite all people of goodwill, the world over, to join us in remembrance.

We remember, to honour the memory of those who perished, to offer comfort to those who survived and to recommit ourselves to a peaceful and prosperous Rwanda, and a world free from genocide.

We, as Rwandans, are deeply touched that members of the United Kingdom Parliament, led by our dear friends, Lord McConnell, Andrew Mitchell and Stephen Twiggs, stand in solidarity, with us as manifested in their convening of today’s important Global Conversation on the 1994 genocide in my country. We are equally honored by the presence of all of you, distinguished guests and friends.

Your leadership in organising this Global Conversation reflects the fact that, you are not inactive. Rwanda and the United Kingdom have forged a deep bond of friendship based on mutual respect and shared values. 

Your government has been — and continues to be — a vital partner in our country’s transformation. As it happens, Rwanda currently sits alongside the United Kingdom on the United Nations Security Council and, typically, more often than not, we find ourselves in agreement on the important security matters that come before us. Rwanda is also the youngest but active member of the Commonwealth and there also we find common ground.

In the life of a country, twenty years is nothing. Certainly for survivors, the events of 1994 often feel like yesterday. And yet, in today’s hectic, media-saturated environment, there is a danger that we might not take the full measure of the Genocide against the Tutsi, and that with time the picture in the world’s collective memory could become blurry.

Together, we must not let it happen.

There are also those who might find it easier to forget.

There are some who want us to turn away – or accept some altered version of history, it tends to happen a lot with genocide, that attempts to establish false moral equivalency by indicting victims and finding excuses for perpetrators and this is not unique to Rwanda. 

These calls, once on the fringe, especially today with social media, amplify their voice and distort public debate. So as we remember for the 20th time, let us re-center the debate.

On April 7th 1994, decades of official discrimination, vilification and violence against Rwanda’s Tutsi population culminated in the most brutally efficient killing sprees in human history. There had been massacres before – beginning in 1959 and regularly thereafter – killing thousands, and forcing hundreds of thousands into exile.

The genocide was, therefore, neither entirely unexpected nor spontaneous. It was the outcome of a deliberate, state-orchestrated campaign over decades to dehumanize portion of the Rwandan population.

The ethnic ideology that promoted hatred and enabled genocide was a toxin that found its way into Rwanda’s bloodstream. It brought us to our knees. It threatened our viability as a nation. But it did not prevail. That is why as we remember for the 20th time, we are happy that we have the Rwanda we have today.

In the aftermath of genocide, the incoming government found that institutions had collapsed; the justice system was in disarray, the national economy was in tatters, civil society was non-existent, the population was traumatized, and the Rwandan territory was under perpetual assault from genocidal gangs seeking to as they said, “finish the job”.

It is impossible to overstate the scale of the challenges Rwanda confronted in 1994. The world expected total state failure characterized completely by aid dependency and unrelenting ethnic violence.

The practical tasks of reviving a dead economy and rebuilding institutions were daunting, but they would have been impossible if we had not begun to remove the toxic ethnic ideology that tore our country apart. This was – and continues to be our great national project. 

We have been guarding against bankrupt politics that feed on ethnic prejudice.

Genocide is too big a word and too scary a concept; therefore we might find it easier to start with warning signs of: discrimination, bigotry, definition of the enemy, and hateful words. 

Central African Republic, Syria, South Sudan; what is our joint contribution to bringing peace and unity to the people of these faraway places?

Today as we look back, we are heartened by the fact that Rwanda, by any standard, and against so many odds, has done well, and past gains inspire optimism for the future. Yet, we still have a very long way to go, not just as Rwanda, but also as a global community. That is a common challenge I place before all of you this evening.

As we remember, we rededicate ourselves to unite more and to renew ourselves – and our faith in our quest to preserve our common humanity. We count on your solidarity and wise counsel, today and tomorrow, as we continue on what has been a most extra-ordinary journey for all Rwandans.

This is a slightly edited speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo to the UK House of Commons during the Kwibuka20 Global Conversation in London on Wednesday.

 

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