Thousands of people yesterday thronged Amahoro National Stadium to commemorate 16 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed over one million lives.
Buses from various parts of Kigali City had started ferrying people to the stadium by 6 a.m.
Countrywide, the commemoration was held at the village level, apart from a number of sectors within Gasabo, Kicukiro and Nyarugenge districts which sent people to the stadium.
Members of the diplomatic corps in Rwanda, foreign delegations from Canada, several African and European countries, mainly in the country to attend the Genocide Symposium, joined the long queues at the stadium entrances, alongside government officials and other invited guests.
The mood was sombre, loudspeakers bellowed out mourning songs as people filled the rows in the stadium one by one. By 10am, thousands had filled the earlier empty rows, enduring the scotching sun.
Loud wails of people seized by trauma could be heard from several corners of the stadium. The Red Cross first aid team would quickly rush in to take the trauma victims to a treatment room downstairs.
As the traumatised voices came out more and more, emotions rose as crowds could more often be seen wiping away tears. The memories of the gruesome ways in which the innocent victims of the Genocide were killed, seemed to be fresh in the minds of many.
At 11:20 a.m, the MC of the day announced the arrival of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the Lower Chamber of Deputies.
At 11:35am President Paul Kagame who had earlier paid his respects to the remains of over 250,000 people buried at Gisozi, arrived flanked by the First Lady Jeanette Kagame.
In her opening speech, the Mayor of Kigali Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, commended the residents of Kigali for turning up in large numbers and urged them to fully participate and own the week-long activities to commemorate the Genocide.
The mayor urged city residents to get close to Genocide survivors and help them deal with trauma, which is also the focus during this year’s commemoration.
Agatha Kabongoyire, a widow of the Genocide, narrated her story of survival after being hacked twice by militias leaving her for dead-a story that left many in tears but capped it up with a message of hope-a story of rising from near death to the prosperous person that she is today.
Theodore Simburudari, the president of the umbrella organisation of associations of Genocide survivors, IBUKA, launched a scathing attack on Genocide deniers for attempting to revise the number of those killed during the Genocide and claiming a double genocide.
“A study by Gacaca courts shows that over 1.5 million people were killed during the genocide. It is therefore surprising that some people are desperately trying to lower this number, as if, it will take away the crime that Genocide is,” he observed.
The Sports and Culture Minister Joseph Habineza also launched an attack on Genocide revisionist, including some who thought that fame from a Hollywood movie could make them leaders of a country, reminding them that ‘Rwandans have already made their choice’.
In his trademark satirical speech which triggered laughter and applause from the otherwise sombre crowd, Habineza launched an attack on those who undermine the reconciliation process calling them ‘day dreamers’ who will never reach their intended goals.
About 200 children from several schools in Kigali, wearing white dresses and purple veils recited a moving musical-poetic presentation containing messages of hope for survivors.
Two groups of prominent Rwandan artists performed their compositions containing messages of hope and support to survivors.