On Thursday this week, an African colleague from Nigeria asked me: after 25 years, how serious is the threat of architects behind the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi? This is his first commemoration experience; a fortnight ago, his wife delivered their firstborn at King Faisal Hospital.
So, his question is pertinent from a Pan-African perspective but also at a personal level considering that his son is Rwandan. He has a stake in the future of his child’s second country; and being a writer, his question was also out of curiosity.
After living in Rwanda, consistently, since 2011, I consider myself relatively knowledgeable about this country’s post-genocide journey of rebuilding a nation. In that period, I have experienced seven commemorations, missing only one, in 2014, when I was at school, abroad.
I have witnessed the relentless efforts and sacrifices of survivors as they are asked to forgive and reconcile with those behind their circumstances as orphans, widows, widowers, scarred bodies and incubuses in their sleep; but they have had to compromise for national unity.
To the survivors, every April is as fresh as the last one. April is a month when memories spring to life; memories of cries of distress as helpless victims attempted to escape the wrath of their persecutors; over a million never made it alive.
So, these memories are painful. But the depth of that pain is also the price that Rwandans have paid, to have what they have today, a united people thriving in peace, safety, dignity, tolerance of one another and belief that tomorrow will be better not worse.
As a journalist, I have encountered stories of self-confessed perpetrators of the genocide that have successfully been reintegrated in the community after being communally tried, sentenced and serving their punishments for crimes they committed against fellow humans.
I have witnessed the emerging voices of a generation of young Rwandans that were either too young during the genocide or born after, trying to create a new identity of a Rwandan that focusses on what unites rather than divides them.
With a people in sync, I have seen leaders rebuild an economy from scratch to what it is today, winning hearts at home and abroad as a global icon for hope that a people can rediscover themselves to build a great nation and culture that can be admired and respected by all.
Today, Rwanda is often served as an example of the Africa we want and its leadership cited as the yardstick for the governance that delivers transformation and its people used as a specimen of Africa dignity, resilience, innovation and self-reliance.
“But, not everyone is happy with all these things I am telling you,” I told my Nigerian friend who was listening in silence.
Inside Rwanda, we have survivors and perpetrators who have embraced the call for forgiveness and reconciliation and joined hands to rebuild a country that works for everyone. And what we see today is thanks to their collective effort.
Those on the inside know the price they have had to pay to build what they have today; a united nation with a progressive economy and an innovative people working hard to get better every day. Their success at doing this has convinced them that hard work pays.
But like the leader, President Paul Kagame has always said, you can’t get too comfortable. Where some perpetrators accepted responsibility and served their punishment, some chose defiance and maintain their opposition to the forces of unity and reconciliation.
“The FDLR, one of the last factions of the forces behind the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, is still active in the Congo,” I told him.
They may not have support among most Rwandans but they have sympathizers in many capitals around the world willing to sponsor agents to spread their dangerous propaganda and ideology inside Rwanda.
Genocide deniers and apologists still pose a major threat with their thoughts fueled by external sponsors to detract Rwandans from the course of rebuilding.
Indeed, every April, we get stories in the press, of survivors who are attacked and their property vandalized by those that still believe in and live with the genocide ideology.
“Therefore, total sanitation and liberation of the mind from a dangerous ideology like genocide, takes time and while 25 years is a long time, it is simply not enough time,” I added.
Unity is the central pillar that holds the post-genocide Rwanda together and every April is an opportunity to reassess that unity and explore ways of making it more solid to withstand the external forces relentlessly working to weaken the pillars that hold the nation together.
As JK Rowling writes in Harry Porter and the Goblet of Fire; “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” This is so true for Rwanda in the face of its old and emerging enemies, who would like to crumble the gains achieved in the last 25 years. They will fail.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.