To live in Rwanda after July 1994 meant to live with the consequences of genocide.
Twenty three years ago, Rwanda came into the global limelight for a dubious reason in 1994 when it lived a genocide that claimed more than a million lives.
In just three months (April-July), under the explicit direction of the state, a section of Rwandans across the country attacked and over a million innocent lives were brutally killed.
The country sunk into hell as the laughter kept silent. The smiles froze and the shouts of horror replaced the beautiful songs of the women and children.
To some people, it was hard to believe that in the few weeks, an unimaginable evil had turned Rwanda’s gentle green valleys and mist-capped hill into a stinking nightmare of decomposing corpses.
The killings took place in broad daylight; in schools, hospitals, clinics, churches, and other places where people sought refuge.
Doctors murdered their patients, engineers murdered the paupers, lawyers murdered their clients, teachers killed their students, the clergy murdered their flock that had run to them for refuge, politicians killed the electorate and neighbours killed fellow neighbours.
All these categories of people participated in varying magnitude with the state orchestrating and bureaucratising the Genocide, plus providing the needed hardware.
The incitements of these were made over the radio (including the national radio) and every part of society was affected by the killings – as victims or perpetrators.
Why to always remember?
Let me begin by quoting Brookner- a British novelist/ Art historian, who once said that, “Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten. And in a way that bends time so long as it is remembered, it will indicate a future. It is wiser, in every circumstance, to forget to cultivate the art of forgetting. To remember is to face the enemy. The truth lies in remembering”.
After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans within and outside the country went through the stages of grief over the course of several weeks, months and now years.
Waves of sadness rolled over Rwandans like ocean tide. Shock, sadness, and anger run their course with despair. However this, fades away as the next stage of remembrance comes by.
As a matter of fact, the 1994 tragedy is a story to be lived, a story to be told, a story to be felt and a story to be touched by many, and if not, the entire world.
This tragic event cruelly and deeply wounded the hearts of many Rwandans and brought about immeasurable consequences onto Rwandan society.
But without confrontations of these painful scenarios from the past, it is impossible to move forward with a healthy mind. Our thoughts are the first things we need to deal with if we are to build sustainable peace.
Believe me, you, wars start in the minds of men; it is in the minds that defenses of peace must be constructed. But if we refuse to make the transition in our minds and attitudes, then we are making a huge mistake because it does not change but rather stills our peace and joy.
Well, most changes come without our permission but we can learn to adapt. This is what change is all about; this is what Rwanda can teach the world.
For they (Rwandans) willed to make a mental and an emotional transition. For change to take place, we must be aware and become conscious of the very causes to the effects of genocide.
The commemoration period is to this effect a therapy to those suffering from trauma and an opportunity to publicly honour the memory of the victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
It is a tragedy that will remain for a longtime in memory. For a long time, we will have to talk about its causes and face its consequences.
With remembrance, we bridge and restore the broken hearts. It is not only a need to Rwandan society; it is also a duty towards humanity deeply wounded by the barbarity of genocide, a crime which is an ingredient denial of humanity.
We need to educate the young generation, especially the youth, to be rational, to always aim at objectivity so as to acquire free conduct and critical ways of thinking.
This plays a central role that insightfully speaks volumes of our past but has to prepare us for the future. It tells us about what went wrong down in our history, of which, we must upwardly understand the causes and confrontations for “Never again” philosophy in Rwanda.
Remembrance must play a therapeutic role to individuals and psychological role to Rwandan society and the international community.
When we remember we communicate and disseminate factual information about the barbaric actions that were openly carried out before a big part of Rwandan society. This does not, however, aim just at confronting individuals, victims or killers, but also the entire Rwandan society and world over.
Rwandans need to remember the past to correct the present and secure a better future. We spare the present and the future generations a repetition of the evil committed in the past.
The past is kept a live to oppose groups that were before or after genocide living parallel to one another. Keeping memory alive, is keeping our future in motion.
With remembrance, Rwandans have lived a cultural memory, shared past and the culture of acceptance and hope basing on history, culture and invented traditions.
Our fates and values are linked like never before. Cultural identity is very important for both individuals and societies dealing with conflict or traumas caused by genocide.
Reconciliation will always surface whenever we commemorate. This is an important aspect in creating a cohesive society in bid for peace is the baseline for unity in diversity and conflict resolution- a process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future.
The truth lies in remembrance!!
The writer is a Cultural Heritage Analyst/Philosophical Studies