Two Tutsi children pray for a miracle shortly before they were killed, together with their entire family, by Interahamwe militia. / Net photo

It is amazing how often this word “forgive” is spoken during this time of remembrance and commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Ironic, isn’t it?

The crime of genocide is beyond comprehension. An attempt to exterminate a race, a people, from the face of the earth, to erase their memory from history in such a way that future generations would ask “what did they look like?” The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was not scientific. It was not clinical; no gas chambers, no chemical or biological agents. It was carried out in the most brutal, base manner. Neighbours were hacked down with machetes; pregnant women slashed open, infants’ heads crushed with stones and babies dashed against walls until their brains spilled out. This was horror unheard of, incomprehensible until you wonder whether the perpetrators were still human beings or demons that had descended on the country from I do not know which hell. How do you forgive this? Where do you find the will to forgive the brutality of killing a toddler pleading with you to spare his life; that “he will not be Tutsi again”?

‘Forgive my killers’

Yet we heard the testimony of Assumpta’s brother whose final message on his certificate said “forgive my killers”. A few years back, a young survivor, barely 14 years old, read a poem of commemoration whose conclusion was to thank the leadership of Rwanda for having encouraged them to forgive the killers, because, she concluded,” if we do not forgive them, we would not be any better than them”. In 1963, before he was killed, an Anglican pastor echoed Christ’s words at the cross:

“Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they are doing”. But, Jesus is the Son of God.

Do we sometimes stop and think about the courage it takes to forgive someone who killed your entire family, someone who brutally raped you or a loved one? Forgiveness is not easy. Sometime back, I took a course in counselling. In this course, entitled “Live again Rwanda”, one of the principles was “healer, heal thyself”. In other words you have to deal with your own demons first before you can be in a position to walk down the road of healing with a hurting person. The course on forgiveness was the toughest, at least for me. Have you tried to forgive somebody who borrowed money from you and failed to repay you? How about a friend you did a favour and they run away from you as soon as you are in any kind of trouble? Something as simple as that. It is harder than you think. I had always dismissed it lightly. I confused the intermittent forgetting with forgiveness.  Forgiving genocide, that is another level.

How do you forgive someone who does not want to be forgiven? 

I had the misfortune of serving on a pre-trial commission of enquiry for a Genocide perpetrator who had been arrested in a foreign country. His main collaborator was serving a life sentence in Rwanda. Clearly, he had been an influential man and still maintained some of his influence, even in prison. His pink uniform was a different fabric from the others. It was always immaculately laundered and ironed. His expensive shoes were polished. As the foreign investigators questioned him, he looked down at us with such disdain and replied to all the questions in monosyllables. The arrogance of the man was mind-boggling. I always went home emotionally and physically crushed and was unable to sleep. He always came back immaculately groomed, smugly disdainful, as if we were all just wasting his precious time. The problem was not the horror of the stories I heard, but the way in which those witnesses who agreed to talk would recount their macabre deeds as if they were telling you how they went to the market. I kept thin
king about the survivors who had lived through the 100 days of hell in 1994.

Forgiveness is hard, but forgiveness heals

To go back to the young survivor. “If we do not forgive them, how can we say that we are any better than them?” If we do not forgive, how can we renew? How can we rebuild? The burden of hurt and anger is too hard to carry. It destroys the soul. It crushes the body. It kills hope and any will to live. But, when you are blessed with the realisation that failure to forgive drags you down into the same pit with the killers, you do not want to be there.

Forgiveness is cathartic. It empties you of all the venom and creates space for healing, for renewal. God did not stop the Genocide and spare the lives of survivors so that they walk this land as empty, destroyed shells. That would mean the death of this nation. God would not permit the death of this nation. As we admire the courage and resilience of those who are able to forgive those who wanted to erase them from the face of the earth, let us be sensitive and mindful of the fact that the journey of forgiveness is a bitter but necessary pill.


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