When the Genocide against the Tutsi happened in 1994, I was about to finish high school in my homeland of Bulgaria and prepare to go to college. I did not understand much of what was actually happening except that I heard the news and people around me praying for the victims, and especially for the children of the Rwandan tragedy.
At the same time, there were ethnic massacres in our neighbouring Yugoslavia. There are people in my own country who hate others on the sole basis of ethnicity to this day.
As I spent a number of years studying in the United States, I realised that racial prejudices and xenophobia were also very much present in this so-called “first world country”.
Since then, I gradually learned the horrible details of the events that had taken place in Rwanda in that spring of horror. Films like “Ghosts of Rwanda” further opened my eyes to the brutality and senselessness of the Genocide: people killing neighbours, friends, and family members for the simple reason of being different – for being Tutsi.
And I never stopped asking the question: why did this happen? And why is it happening, be that as it may in smaller proportions, still in other parts of Africa and the world.
In August 2014, I visited Rwanda and was extremely impressed with the way the nation was recovering only two decades after the Genocide against the Tutsi. I found the capital Kigali a clean and safe place with stable institutions and friendly people. The description of Rwanda as “the land of a thousand hills and a million smiles” was well-deserved, I thought.
Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial was one of the highlights of my visit and a deeply moving experience. I learned to my surprise that the Hutu and Tutsi actually speak the same language, but the tribal divisions that eventually led to the Genocide, were propagated and enforced by the Belgian colonial masters.
I was brought to tears at the exhibit with the pictures of little children whose innocent lives were brutally taken away. My message for Kwibuka20, which I shared with the young students at the exit, were the words of Jesus: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Proper analysis of the dynamics that brought about the mass scale genocide in Rwanda deserves both scholarly and communal study. But the important question I would like to address here is:
How can people be healed from this experience and ensure it never happens again?
1. Love. The majority of Rwandans are Christians, and if Christianity is to be summarised in one word, this is it. True Christians do not hate others, not even their enemies. According to Jesus, if we only love our friends, brothers, or family we are no different from unbelievers.
Christian love and forgiveness are the best means for the continual national healing necessary in the post-Genocide context. National unity should be led by the Christian churches in Rwanda. At the same time those ministers, Catholics and others, who participated in the evil committed in the spring of 1994 should come forth, repent, apologise, and take full responsibility for their crimes.
2. Remembrance. Such tragic events should always be remembered as lessons for history. West Europeans have a condescending attitude towards Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia or other parts of the world, but they seem to have forgotten that the massacre of 10 million innocent people in the Congo Free State a century ago was orchestrated by King Leopold II from none other place than Brussels, which is presently the EU capital. The list of Europe’s colonial crimes goes far beyond that. History must not be denied, but remembered and learned from. Rwanda is quite successful in that regard with the Kwibuka (Remember) commemoration platform.
3. Seeking help. People, groups, institutions, and even nations should not try to handle trauma and post-traumatic conditions alone, but seek proper professional help to assist their healing. Most Rwandans have painful memories of those three months and the survivors have to live with that.
One thing that impressed me was the fact that President Paul Kagame invited Pastor Rick Warren more than 10 years ago to assist the healing and reconciliation process in Rwanda and he’s been traveling to Rwanda since.
I accidently happened to be on the same flight with Pastor Rick from Istanbul to Kigali in 2014 and then witnessed some of the wonderful work done in order to make Rwanda the first purpose-driven nation.
Education is an important key to building characters of integrity and removing genocidal ideology in Rwanda.
No child is born with ethnic hatred; they learn it from their family, school, friends, and environment. Rwanda is a beautiful country and my hope is that her people will cherish their land and cherish one another as one people for the sake of a better future.
The writer is a scholar at Renmin Univesity of China