The Kwibuka Flame of remembrance yesterday ended a countrywide tour in Kicukiro District.
The torch toured all the 30 districts since January as part of activities to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Along its tour, the torch was used to light other commemoration fires in communities around the country. On Monday it will be used to light the National Flame of Mourning at Gisozi Memorial Centre.
The Kwibuka Flame symbolises remembrance as well as the resilience and courage of Rwandans over the past twenty years.
Hundreds of Kicukiro residents turned out on Saturday afternoon to welcome the flame as it made its way to the former ETO-Kicukiro (now Kigali Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre-IPRC).
“This torch tells me that we have opened a new chapter, that we are living a new life. It tells me to persevere, to be resilient and continue to work hard. It tells me to live,” said Venuste Karasira, a survivor.
“Twenty years after the Genocide, I am a free man; I am trying to survive as others, trying to forget what happened and I want life to go on,” he added.
For Candide Umwali, 46, another Kicukiro survivor, the transformational journey the country has covered over the past two decades “is just amazing and impressive.”
“We have a reason to celebrate,” the woman said.
“With the Genocide, we lost everything; our families, friends and neighbours. We lost property. We lost our lives. But today it is a different story we are telling the world: a story of transformation, growth and development”.
When massive killings started in April 1994, between 3,500 and 5,000 Tutsi fled to ETO. At the time, the place housed a camp for Belgian peacekeepers under the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR).
Militiamen camped outside the school.
But on 11 April 1994, the Belgian troops left despite the refugees plees not to leave them at the mercy of the killers. Some even reportedly begged to be shot-so they wouldn’t be hacked to death with machetes or nail-studded clubs. But in response the troops shot in the air and drove away.
The departure of the UNAMIR troops left ground for Interahamwe to kill the Tutsi. The killers herded the refugees under heavy rains along a dirt road to Nyanza where they were murdered. A handful of them survived.
To many survivors, the withdrawal of the UN troops remains a sign of how Rwanda was abandoned by the international community.
A memorial site stands at Nyanza in honour of those who were killed there. About 14,000 Genocide victims, including those who were taken from ETO-Kicukiro, are buried there.
At the event, Ghanaian Maj-Gen (retired) Henry Kwami Anyidoho, who was then the UNAMIR Deputy Commander, paid tribute to all those who were murdered in cold blood in large numbers, those that cried out for help as the world turned deaf ears to their call [ and all] those that were abandoned.
“May it never happen again,” he said.
He commended the resilience of Rwandans and the courage of the government that has worked to ensure that Rwanda grows to become a prosperous nation.
He said he always wondered how the country would recover from the disastrous consequences of the Genocide but, he noted, Rwanda proved to the world that it has the ability to “surmount all the difficulties”.
“My prayer is that all Rwandese will continue to live in peace and together build a strong and prosperous nation, a country in which all citizens have equal opportunities,” Kwami said.
The Minister of Sports and Culture, Protais Mitali, said the legacy of unity will continue to drive Rwandans to more successes and development.
“For the past three months, we have discussed a lot, we have reflected on who we are, we have repented, we have forgiven and we jointly helped mend the wounds of Genocide,” he said.
“The Flame tour has ended but the messages of unity and love it leaves will remain forever”.
To the international community, Mitali called up on them to stop offering protection to those who took part in the Genocide. He also pleaded with international justice to stop setting Genocide perpetrators free.
“Some nations supported the killers, gave them guns and weapons and refused to hear as hundreds of Rwandans were calling out for help. Even today some still support those who committed the Genocide,” he said.
“We want you to help us stop that; it should end. We will always stand against that.”
WHAT PEOPLE SAID
Murekatete Annonciata, Kicukiro survivor
After the Genocide, life was just a nightmare. We had lost our relatives and property, many were left traumatised and demoralised; we couldn’t clearly see where we were heading. But today, everything is clear. Our children go to school, we have food to eat and we can work to improve our lives without fear that our efforts will be undermined. The future looks very promising.
This Flame is thus an indication that we have moved out of darkness and that our achievements are equally shared between all Rwandans.
Jean de Dieu Mucyo, Executive Secretary, National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG)
The Kwibuka Flame tour has been very successful. People turned out massively for all the events and the majority of them were young men and women. This is a very important thing because these boys and girls were either born at the time of the Genocide or after it, so this was an occasion for them to learn about the country’s past and know what their nation expects from them.
We are putting many efforts in the youth because they will be the ones to lead this country in the coming years and we want them to uphold this legacy of prosperity, peace and unity.
As we enter the mourning week, let every Rwandan continue to support each other, avoid anything that might harm our unity and keep our efforts towards building a strong and prosperous nation.