THE 1994 GENOCIDE against the Tutsi left Joseph Rutagarama, 65, regretting why he had survived. Almost all his relatives, friends and neighbours had been killed in the 100 days of bloodbath while his property was looted.
Rutagarama, a resident of Nyabisindu cell in the southern district of Nyanza, recalls with grief how his relatives were ruthlessly hacked to death by the Interahamwe militia and how génocidaires combed the district hunting, torturing and killing the Tutsi.
The old man says he cannot establish the exact number of his relatives killed during the Genocide.
“They are several and I do not want to talk about them because it brings back sad memories. I prefer we talk about the reconstruction journey the country has undertaken ever since the Genocide was stopped,” he says.
Rutagarama survived alongside three of his nieces. Other members of his close and extended family, including his wife and their four children, were killed.
Rutagarama says that when the Genocide ended, he found himself in a difficult situation.
“I had to start life all over again and this was a daunting challenge,” he says.
After months of trial and tribulations, he landed a job at the offices of the former Nyakizu commune where he served for a couple of years before retiring.
Coping with the dilemma
Rutagarama says the Genocide left him with bitterness, making him think that reconciliation would be impossible.
“Wounds were still fresh and the situation we had been subjected to by our killers was hard to bear,” he says.
But as time passed and with government efforts aimed at fostering forgiveness and reconciliation, Rutagarama realised that forgiving those who offended him and killed his relatives would ease the burden and give him a chance to move on with life.
“I forgave those who killed my relatives. In some instances, I even took the initiative to approach them and encourage them to come forward and tell the truth about their deeds,” he says.
Forgiveness, Rutagarama argues, has opened up a new chapter in the relations between Genocide survivors and perpetrators, allowing both sides to live in harmony.
“As human beings, we can never avoid falling down but what matters is helping each other to rise up whenever we fall,” Rutagarama adds.
Finding new strength
The 65-year-old Genocide survivor says reconciliation has paved way for improved living conditions.
He argues that it played a major part in healing the wounds caused by the 1994 massacres, thus allowing survivors and other members of society to focus on rebuilding their lives.
Rutagarama states with pride the fact that he has personally managed to put a roof over his head. He is also part of a group of Genocide survivors who have teamed up to work and transform their lives.
About five months ago, the group of about 30 people started a piggery project with the aim of helping boost their income.
Laurent Gasana, 60, one of them, says coming together, has enabled them merge their efforts and skills for the benefit of every one of them.
“Our unity is our strength,” he says, citing the Kinyarwanda popular adage that ‘Umutwe umwe wifasha gusara ntiwifasha gutekereza (literary translated to mean; one head can help you go mad than becoming brilliant).
Rutagarama says Rwandans have several opportunities that they can grab to transform their lives.
“All you need is to set objectives and come up with strategies to achieve them and then commit to them within the set period,” he advises.
Rutagarama says he looks to the country’s future with optimism and believes it beholds the best for survivors and Rwandans in general.
“We have a supportive government which is willing to offer help and advice. We have got the skills and ability to transform our lives,” he notes.