Tomorrow marks the beginning of the commemoration week for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Although it is a week that is set aside to remember that dark moment in the history of Rwanda and indeed that of mankind the real mayhem took a whole 100 days to claim more than a million innocent lives.
Actually it is not just in 1994 that this happened, it had been tried before on several occasions but never with the horrific determination on 1994. This alone has made the Genocide something that stands out as far as Rwanda’s history is concerned.
20 years may seem like a long time but to some it feels like just the other day. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa creating the single biggest good story from a continent often branded as a source of bad news and despair.
As one who loved and still loves following current affairs, it is also the year when my class teacher at Kitante Primary School in Uganda, Mr Sande (RIP) took time to explain to his pupils what was going on in a neighbouring country. I can safely say that it is not common for a primary school teacher in East Africa to take time to interest his pupils with events in a neighbouring country.
He often flashed before us a copy of the front page of the New Vision newspaper and went on to explain what was going on. All I can remember is that he told us there was a lot of killing going on in Rwanda and even predicted that it could get worse by the day. At that time I did not even know that my best friend was actually a Rwandan (Francis Rugema) or that there were other Rwandans in my class. I wonder what they thought then about their country.
About 11 years later I moved to Rwanda as a secondary school teacher and as if to remind me of how the genocide affected this country, I did not get to teach on the day I arrived (in May 2005) as I found a section of the students traumatised by events that happened in 1994 and were being taken to a nearby health centre for counselling and treatment.
With time my job often reminded me about the impact of the scars left by those 100 days of 1994. One of my students told me how he knew the person who had killed his parents while another one had a deformed/scared left arm. I was later to learn that he got the scar when he was on the mother’s back and she was hacked to death with one of the machete strikes going for his then small arm.
Another boy who I only remember as Edmund had a huge scar running from his temple all the way to the area behind his ear. It was a machete wound that healed but left a scar he will carry for the rest of his life, ever reminding him of two things; one that someone tried to kill him for no other reason but his ethnicity and also that he lived to see another day and therefore has more to offer to his country.
The time I have spent in Rwanda has been nothing but a huge learning experience. I have learnt how evil mankind can be when left unchecked and also that with hope and determination a castle can be built from ashes.
I now know for a fact that genocide against the Tutsi was planned and executed with devastating efficiency and also that Rwanda has not allowed that one event to hold her back but has instead risen to become a country of hope and growth.
Like many countries around the world, Rwanda is not perfect or full of angels but there is no doubt that it is a country determined to forge forward. A lot of the mediocrity often tagged as ‘This is Africa’ is always challenged by Rwandans each day to a point where you are more likely to hear ‘This is Rwanda’ instead.
As President Kagame always says, Rwandans should not forget where they are coming from but more importantly they should not allow to be defined by it. As we remember the lives lost in 1994, we need to stay the “Never Again” course and be part of the Rwandan success story which is actually an East African story as well.