21 years ago I was lucky to have a teacher who kept close tabs on regional politics. The old man who has since returned to his creator made it a point to always flash the front page of the one of Uganda’s daily newspapers so we could know what was happening in Rwanda.
We were too young to process what genocide was or why it was happening; all we picked was that there was an orgy of killings and that he was worried about the fast rising death toll. Each morning the teacher would show us a new front page as the numbers went through the roof up the official estimates of more than a million innocent people slain in a mere 100 days.
Each year in the month of April, Rwanda sets aside a whole week to commemorate the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. It is that time of the year again. Flags are flying at half mast and Rwandans meet regularly to remember, pray and honour the lives that were lost in that moment of immense horror.
More importantly this time is used to reflect on how a country descended to the lowest levels of morality with neighbours killing neighbours and relatives killing their own using the crudest methods of mass murder ever known to mankind. The killers were only stopped in their tracks by the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front.
It is also important to point out that from the time the killers laid out their plans up to the time of execution, the rest of the world looked on. The countries that had the ability to prevent it from happening embarked on semantics on whether what was happening was genocide or acts of genocide as if creating new description of what was happening was a remedy in anyway.
The only bit they were willing to do was evacuating their citizens (and their pets) or like in the case of France, assisting the government that had resolved to kill its own people. This assistance involved logistics, physical cooperation and the creation of a safe corridor for the killers to escape. Not surprisingly many are still guests in Paris to this day.
While Rwanda was undergoing all this abuse, there was no social media for keyboard warriors to alert with a trending hashtag or to post pictures on Facebook and write blogs like we see these days. The local media houses were instead being used by the killers to coordinate the killings.
After the country had been liberated, there were no solidarity marches across the world. All that Rwanda was getting was some humanitarian aid and half hearted apologies from those who knew what was happening but didn’t think Rwandan lives mattered at all.
However, the real story of Rwanda is not what happened in the 100 days but how Rwanda has managed to rise up, dust of the image of a failed state and embarked on a dignified path towards self reliance. Dignity (Agaciro) is now a common phrase in Rwandan parlance and it embodies the soul of the nation.
The commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is actually aimed at restoring the dignity that was robbed from the one million people in a mere 100 days. Many of them have been accorded decent burials, their photos can be found in the memorial sites and their names are scribbled there as well. Their life stories are told by the survivors and a vow has been made to ensure that what happened to them never occurs ever again.
In this age of global terrorism, Rwanda stands out with lessons others can pick. What countries like Kenya can learn from Rwanda is that dignity cannot be outsourced. Do not get obsessed with whether the western media gives Garissa as much coverage as the terrorist attack in France.
The lives of our people need no validation from western media houses. Our own grief is enough or is a good starting point. It is us to pick up the pieces, give our dear ones decent burials and keep them in our memories so their deaths are not in vain. There must be a commitment to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
They may have died a gruesome death but it is we, the living, who are tasked with restoring their dignity. And we cannot outsource this respect and dignity but rather give it ourselves.