Genocide survivors in Rukumberi, Ngoma District in Eastern Province Thursday said they forgave those who killed their relatives during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi without being asked to do so.
They made the remarks during a reconciliation session with 150 Genocide convicts.
Reconciliation in Rukumberi is quite tricky as the area has a long genocide history.
Many Tutsi families were uprooted from their homes and sent to live in Rukumberi and neighbouring Bugesera.
The region was infested by Tsetse flies and wild animals which those behind the forced relocation expected would kill the Tutsi.
When the Genocide broke out in 1994 they were not spared and suffered some of the most horrendous killings.
Peter Rubandaho, a resident of Ntove Cell, lost his 8-month pregnant wife and six children as well as his siblings. He chose not to live in the past and look ahead instead.
“You cannot focus on those problems if you think about where we are heading as a country,” he stated.
Rubandaho is thankful that he now has other children once again.
“You deserve forgiveness,” he told the convicts.
“We thank the country that found a way for us to live in peace and not in the past”.
Raymond Harerimana, chairperson of Ibuka (the umbrella of Genocide survivors) in Rukumberi, survived with two relatives in a family of 14 people. His wife was savagely killed when she was seven-month pregnant.
“I am one of people who forgave them as far back as 1994. At the time I had an opportunity to revenge but I did not, because at the time, I got an opportunity to revenge, but I did not,” he said.
“Due to a good government, I have learned that Rwandans are the same, we have to help each other so our country can progress”.
Harerimana said he never cared about the past and kept treating people the same way, which earned him a national medal, Umurinzi w’Igihango.
“In 2000, there was severe drought that led to food shortage and I helped everyone in this sector without discriminating,” he recalled.
He said he gave food and money to many needy people in Rukumberi as people began to trek across borders to escape the drought.
“Not because I was very rich, I had a simple job and little money,” he said.
“I want you to be Abarinzi b’Igihango, all it takes is love, humanity and values”.
Jean Rubagenga is the deputy chairperson of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, the people behind the reconciliation programme.
They have been operating in Rwandan prisons since 1996. He said the teachings on peace have since transformed hearts of around 45,000 people.
The organisation collaborated with National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), local government leaders and other government entities, and residents, he said.
“The first challenges we encountered was that Genocide in Rukumberi was particular. Up to today, survivors do not know the whereabouts of their relatives. They do not know how they were killed and where their bodies were dumped,” he said.
John Baragata, who committed genocide, said that due to the number of people he killed he could not recall every one of them. This had made him afraid to speak in front of survivors for years, but the trainings had changed all that, he said.
“I am still asking for forgiveness, wholeheartedly,” he said.
“We went to Gacaca courts, confessed our crimes, but we did not get an opportunity to ask for forgiveness,” said Ladislas Ntampaka, another perpetrator.
“These trainings helped us greatly, we used to bump into people and turn our eyes away, but since the programme started, we started talking to each other.
“Mukagasana and I could not speak to each other, but today after the programme brought us together, we hug and greet each other, she is even here,” he said.
Johnson Mugaga, division manager at National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, called for others to do the same.
“Those who asked for forgiveness should convince others to do the same. Nobody can succeed in the battle we are fighting, by going it alone,” he said.
Boniface Rucagu, a veteran politician who worked for all governments in Rwanda, said: “Genocide ideology will be permanently eradicated if people avoid greed.”
Eastern Province Governor Fred Mufulukye said years of the genocide ideology brought nothing but poverty to society. Poverty does not discriminate, so does hunger, he said.
“If the previous governments were teaching people development, children to invent and innovate, our country would probably be among the developed countries today, but all those years were lost,” he said.
The governor said unity is a weapon for citizens to progress and the country to be economically strong.
Rukumberi has two memorial sites, but survivors and activists complain that the sites were not good enough. The larger site is home to remains of 38,000 people and the smaller one has 1,800 victims laid to rest.
But survivors are now upbeat over ongoing construction of a decent memorial site that will be ready by April, when the country commemorates the Genocide for the 25th time.