In January 2019, survivors of the attack on ES Nyange School three years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi told this paper that today’s youth need to uphold national values and promote heroism as part of efforts to maintain the country’s unity and development.
The survivors of the March 18, 1997 attack on ES Nyange school, in Ngororero District, urge the youth to step up to the plate and be counted for acts that put others first.
In 1997, infiltrators, commonly known as Abacengezi, entered the school, killed a watchman and then tried to isolate and slaughter Tutsi students. But the students defied the killers’ orders to separate along ethnic lines.
The youngsters stood their ground, despite the risk, and told the attackers that none of them deserved to die. Then the angry militia opened fire, indiscriminately. Six students died on the spot and about 40 others sustained injuries.
As Rwandans mark the 25th commemoration of the Genocide, starting this April, many have told The New Times that the Nyange heroes have lessons for the entire nation.
One such Rwandan is Antoine Sebiroro, 45, a survivor of the Genocide against the Tutsi who was among those that fought running battles for days on end against machete wielding Interahamwe militia and government troops in the Bisesero region of Western Rwanda.
The father of eight, who was 20 years old at the height of the Genocide, said: “Those young people were, and are, heroes. They refused to divide themselves along ethnic lines and vowed to stick together.”
“Normally, this is how a human being or a Rwandan should behave. Rwandans should learn from these Nyange people because even here [Bisesero], even though we were struggling to defend ourselves, we never really wanted to shed blood.”
“A Rwandan should be a Rwandan without looking at the ethnic tag. I think those who committed the Genocide now regret it; what they did was beyond barbaric. There is nothing civilized or human about it. I think Nyange students serve as a good example and a good foundation for the nation as we rebuild and become the humans we are supposed to be.”
Taxi-moto operator Casmir Mugisha, 31, a father of three, first heard the story of Nyange heroes on radio years back. But he is also privileged to have two of the heroes residing in his locality, the Mubuga trading centre, about 12 kilometers from the Genocide memorial in Bisesero.
Mugisha said: “What is really clear to everyone is that for someone to come and order people to separate themselves so that others are killed is a very tough call. If someone right now put a sword on my neck and asked me to give you up, it would be very difficult for me to give in.”
Mugisha was particularly emphatic when it came to minding the benefit or interests of all.
“The first lesson is the understanding that people are all the same. What I can tell my generation is that we should shun divisionism, or anything that would divide us. We all need to work for the common good.”
In Kigali, the youth are also aware of the risk taken by students on the fateful March 1997 night.
AndersonneUwineza, a budding actress and musician, said the biggest take away, or lesson, from the Nyange students’ story, to her, is love.
“Love, love, love, love above all,” Uwineza said, explaining that she first learned about the students’ heroic deeds through a movie.
Former ES Nyange students who were killed on 18 March 1997.
“I was about seven. And I cried.”
Uwineza added: “They loved each other enough to [be ready] to die for each other. I believe they showed [us] a true example of what NdiUmunyarwanda means.”
According to Alyn Sano, an up-and-coming young musician, one of the lessons she takes from the Nyange heroes is “to stay true and stick on what our hearts believe no matter the situation.”
She said: “Even if it is to kill us but at least it leaves some positive impact behind. For example, we are remembering them as heroes and we are learning from them. It will go from generation to generation.”
Grace Usanase, a youth who is pursuing a masters in arts of journalism, stressed that the Nyange students loved each other and are a good example of how all Rwandans should see each other; people of the same Rwandan family.
“This is what should be distinguishing us all. We should aim to build our nation as well as strive to work together focused on success, and understand that every citizen has a role to play for us all to get ahead.”
“If we all put our hands together, we can accomplish anything we want to,” added Usanase, who is a youth engagement coordinator at Never Again Rwanda (NAR), a local peace building and social justice organization.
Usanase noted that the youth need to mind the good path set by the government. The youth, she said, have the right and freedom to be good change agents, starting right from the village to national level.
“This is a chance we should not let slip by but take advantage of, and have clear objectives of what we want to achieve and be productive in our deeds as patriotic youth.”