Today, there is a growing interest in Rwanda for one reason or the other but the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is one of the most tragic and difficult heritage lived in the country.
In just three months (1994), Rwanda came to limelight due to unimaginable deliberate human destruction under the explicit direction of the state. Rwandans across the country attacked and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people, with the principle targets being members of the country’s ethnic Tutsi minority.
The country sunk into hell amidst the evil that turned the gentle green valleys and mist-capped hill into a stinking nightmare of rotting corpses.
This year marks 22 years of remembrance since the debacle took place.
Every year, Rwandans spare 100 out of 365 days to remember the victims of 1994 Genocide and celebrate – the survivors – the true heroes of humanity.
The 100 days of remembrance leaves us with complex and pressing questions to ponder and difficult answers as to why events occurred: How could the genocide happen? What kind of history could give rise to this violence?
Why did the international community fail to intervene? How can Rwanda continue to re-build and avoid similar debacles? How can the ideology of hate be terminated in Rwanda? These questions and many others have lingered in the minds of many Rwandans in the last two decadesas many try to dig deep to discover the horror that took place and seek to understand how and why violence of this character and magnitude could have happened in our time.
As we seek to answer the very complex question as to what led to the 1994 debacle, there is need for a paradigm shift from prejudice and bigotry to justice and tolerance – shifting from ideology of hate to that of love and bringing up good people that value humanity-- for the 1 million or so Rwandans who died is not a matter of abstract statistics.
For unto each person there is a name, an identity; each person is a universe. As our sages tell us, “whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe.” Conversely, whoever has killed a person; it is as if they have killed an entire universe. Thus, the abiding imperative: we are each, wherever we are the guarantors of each other’s destiny -- this is the only way that our memories can bear fruits of love, peace and harmony among Rwandans.
For some time, there are conceptual issues that seem not to have permeated fully in our society, yet they are prudent in understanding the moral questions inherent in genocide and ideology of hate. Rwandans ought to; avoid comparison of pain, use good precision of language, choose carefully the source of information and avoid stereotyping descriptions and most importantly avoid oversimplifying the genocide. Therefore translating our memories to actions requires an all-round interdisciplinary approach to citizens’ education – an approach that helps Rwandese move from thought to judgment to participation.
Citizen education on genocide helps Rwandans to understand the forces that undermined peace and egalitarianism in Rwanda, betrayed a generation of youthful Rwandans and later to the genocide forms – for these forces are still with us. We need to educate our people to discover how their decisions make a meaningful difference in the community and a nation that Rwanda is.
The lessons are many and varied: We ought to know that the genocide in Rwanda resulted not only from state-sanctioned incitement to hatred, but from crimes of indifference, from conspiracies of silence – of the international community as bystander. This shows that it is our obligation as Rwandans to write our own history – translate our thoughts into actions and participate in cultivating the ideology of love and pragmatism. Let us live by past memory and turn it into action. Yes! We need the past so that we learn from our own history, connect the present to the future, and find solutions to our own problem. So, we should remember all those who perished, young and old and shape the country’s history for a better Rwanda.
Let’s join our hands together as Rwandans in championing the struggle to remember – and celebrate – the survivors of the genocide – the true heroes of humanity. For they witnessed and endured the worst of inhumanity, but somehow found, in the depths of their own humanity, the courage to go on, to rebuild their lives as they helped build our communities.
With them Rwandans must remember – and pledge – that never again will we be indifferent to incitement and hate; never again will we be silent in the face of evil; never again shall we indulge in ethnicity; never again shall we ignore the plight of the vulnerable; and never again shall we be indifferent in the face of mass atrocity and impunity.
Remembrance is one vital tool to manage and live such a difficult heritage in the post–conflict society like Rwanda. It is through this kind of shared history and memory that personal and national identity are practically expressed, binding and linking all Rwandans together as one.
The writer is a Cultural Heritage Analyst/Philosophical Studies Expert.