For the next one hundred days of Kwibuka, Rwandans and friends around the world will remember and honour those we lost, and comfort those who survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
We also pay tribute to Rwandans and our leadership for their courage, sacrifices and resilience that brought Rwanda back to life.
What many around the world witnessed, through newspapers and TV screens in 1994, was the result of decades of colonialism, and post-colonial leadership, that entrenched ethnic division, hate and discrimination.
One million, seventy four thousand, and seventeen people, brutally killed in one hundred days.
Hundreds of thousands of orphans, widows, widowers, disabled people.
Almost the entire surviving population internally displaced or refugees in Zaire, Burundi, Tanzania.
Destroyed infrastructure: banks looted, schools and hospitals abandoned.
Collapsed state institutions
This is the apocalypse that met the RPF liberation movement, that stopped the genocide. Rwandans felt abandoned during the genocide, and we were left alone to pick up the pieces.
If I may recall some historical facts, on 11th April Belgian peacekeepers withdraw from ETO school in Kicukiro, Kigali leaving 2,000 Tutsi to be killed. And, more than 100 Tutsi patients at Kigali Hospital were killed by Government soldiers.
If it wasn’t by the sacrifices of men and women lead by President Paul Kagame, there would be no Rwanda today.
The new post-genocide government, had to rebuild everything from scratch, including the hearts and minds, of a traumatized people.
The RPF led the creation of a Government of National Unity, that became the corner-stone of the rebuilding process. It was underpinned by the principles of inclusion, fighting injustice, equal rights and opportunities for all Rwandans.
Being a child of a Genocide perpetrator, my mother who is serving a life sentence in a Kigali prison, for her role during the Genocide, I am a result of that defying policy of equal rights and opportunities to all Rwandans and a living testimony of the new Rwanda.
In a complex post-Genocide environment, Rwandans have built an upright nation, where the child of a Genocide perpetrator and the child of a Genocide survivor, have equal access to education, health care, jobs, leadership position.
However, as much as the country’s politics sets the tone, the journey of healing and reconciliation requires a lot of every individual.
I was 12 years old when the Genocide happened. My two siblings and I lived with my father. During the whole period of Genocide, we had no idea where our mother was. My father knew but did not tell us because we were too young to understand and at our early age we thought our mother was dead.
The first time I learnt about my mother was in 1996. I was in the 2nd year of secondary school, when one of my fellow students showed me a newspaper article, with a picture of my mother, my name and names of our relatives. The headline was: Famous Interahamwe captured.
It was the worst day of my life. One day I was a survivor, child of a Tutsi father, who had lost his parents and relatives in the Genocide, and instantly I became a child of a Genocide Perpetrator!
I went through a series of difficult phases:
First came denial. I simply refused to believe it. I decided that my mother was dead.
But society wouldn’t let me forget. I lost most of my friends who were Genocide survivors. To them I was a liar and a traitor. I faced rejection from all sides and lost identity.
Next came facing the reality and acceptance. I eventually realized, that I could not run from reality forever.
Everywhere I went, my mother’s reputation preceded me.
Indeed no one can run from the truth forever! Be it individual or countries, you can try to attenuate the situation, call it different names, defend yourself but facts do not fade or disappear… soon or later, one has to face them either as a victim then you embrace your history to build a brighter future or as an actor then you have to take responsibility and face consequences.
I decided to face the truth and started meeting my mother. It was tough and heart-breaking. I wanted to know the truth about what happened. At the same time, it was too much for me. There are things you never wish to hear from a parent, a mother.
It was only through our Rwanda’s unique homegrown solution to Justice and Reconciliation: Gacaca that I could find the truth.
Even though heavily and unfairly criticised, mainly by non-Rwandans, Gacaca facilitated healing.
Survivors got information about what happened to their relatives.
They learned where victims’ bodies had been hidden and were able to rebury them in dignity.
Perpetrators were given a platform to repent, ask for forgiveness and serve sentences with healed hearts.
One million, six hundred and seventy eight thousand, six hundred and seventy two people Genocide suspects that were tried in the Gacaca courts, which closed in 2012 after running for 10 years.
And people like me, those related to perpetrators, and keen to know what exactly happened, finally found out the truth.
Gacaca helped me get the truth that I desperately needed, to be able to reopen my heart to my mother. There is no way to repair what she had done, and I will never understand the reasons behind her actions. But at the very least, I wanted to see if she would regret and repent before I could forgive her.
I was able to unburden myself of guilt and disassociate myself from her crimes.
As a born again Christian I experienced the power of forgiveness for healing and reconciliation. I forgave my mother and was able to visit her, take care of her with a healed heart and today I even take my children to visit her. At the end of the day a mother is a mother and ever irreplaceable. On the other hand, she is accountable of her actions, she is serving her sentence with a healed heart and a peace of mind knowing that her children live in a country where: children will never be responsible or held accountable for the crimes of their fathers or mothers.
As my President, Paul Kagame said: “We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future, and to ensure that what happened never happens again.”
Today I am not proud of my mother’s actions but again I am not held by that shadow, I choose to leave it behind, set my own path, live my story.
I consider myself privileged to live in a country committed to rights and justice for all, in policy and practice.
As a young girl of 14, I exercised my rights to see my mother. For the last 20 years till today I have never been prevented from seeing my mother.
As a young woman, I have been able to study to advanced levels. I competed for positions in public service, and been evaluated based on merit. I worked for the Prime Minister and today, I am Deputy Chief of Staff of a great statesman, President Paul Kagame. This can only happen in a country that is committed to Human Rights without any discrimination.
Young Rwandans were once used to commit Genocide and destroy their own country. Today, the youth, 70 per cent of our population, is active in rebuilding Rwanda.
“Never Again” is a principle we live by. We are redefining ourselves, through our dialogue in Ndi Umunyarwanda: I am Rwandan, where we have restored our common identity as Rwandans. This came at a high price, men and women sacrificed their lives, Survivors had to go through painful moments of mourning their loved ones but also live with Genocide perpetrators next door, each one had to live with his/her wounds but also help one another to move forward and out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. Having lost everything, coming back from chaos the only thing that matters to everyone is to never go back and thus together we stand as one, in Unity beyond what the external world can imagine.
We have decided to take responsibility for our well being, our dignity, our future. We strongly believe that no one can know better what is good for us and we are committed to take necessary actions, make necessary changes for a stable and prosperous Rwanda. If this requires that President Kagame leads Rwanda for another 7 years, 10 years or 15 years, then let it be! He has proven to us Rwandans that he cares and delivers. After all, isn’t it that type of leadership that we all want? The one that delivers?
You have been and will be told diverting stories by those who find you here or in your respective countries looking for protecting their own interests but that is not the reality about Rwanda, the reality we live on a daily basis is this one, of an inclusive country, a people with common identity, united for a life, a vision, a destiny.
As we work to transform Rwanda, we are fully aware that the struggle against Genocide ideology is a continuous one, one that requires regional and international partnership.
I thank my government, for creating and sustaining a new nation, where we can all be fearlessly and proudly 100 per cent Rwandan and I want to say thank you to all of our friends, who have been by our side in the last 22 years, supporting us in our journey of development, as well as in the fight against Genocide denial.
To my fellow Rwandans, Ndagira nti: Mpore! I wish all of you strength and peace during Kwibuka and always.
Nelly Mukazayire is the Deputy Director of the Cabinet in the Office of the President of Rwanda. The article is extracted from a speech delivered at the at the 22nd Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi at the UN headquarters in New York.