Even for those who were not in Rwanda in the early days of April 1994 each year brings a sense of how the mood was 23 years ago. Many have talked about how climate change has affected rain patterns but the rains of April still show up each year to remind the rest of us what it was like for Tutsis who were being hunted by killers who were only slowed down by the same rain and later stopped by gallant soldiers of RPF Inkotanyi.
Each year at this time, life slows down to give room for Rwandans and the world in general to remember and reflect on how a nation of one people descended into such savagery while most of the world stood by and watched. For some, standing by was not enough, they instead fuelled the whole crisis by training, arming and later protecting those who killed innocent people. The Rwandan state at that time (mis)directed a section of the population to wipe out another.
State resources and facilities were deployed in the execution of the world’s most brutal genocide with state media cheering and even directing the killers to where more victims could be found. Schools, hospitals, churches, stadia name it, were all not safe havens for those fleeing for their lives. Many simply served as a collection points that made work easy for the killers.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi happened at a time when all I could hear about it was through the news headlines on TV and in the papers from a much safer Kampala. About 10 years later I moved to Rwanda and learnt so much more about what happened in 1994, what the people of Rwanda resolved to do about it and why it is important for people to remember so as not to forget.
The significance of this remembrance lies in the fact that Rwandans prioritised rebuilding the place they call home before anything else. This process to rebuild could not be done without acknowledging the past and using it as a foundation of what the future should never look like. This has been the guiding philosophy for the country in the last 23 years. A philosophy that has seen the country achieve so much that it can now be mentioned without genocide being the theme.
Rwanda appears in talks about ICT, tourism and conservation, orderliness and local solutions to problems, in aviation. All this is testimony to the commitment by the Rwandan people not to ever walk towards April 1994 but to learn from it and walk towards prosperity the best way they know how. In here are vital lessons for Rwandans neighbours to borrow.
The first lesson is that we need to be cognisant of our past so as to fix the present and ensure we have the kind of future that accommodates us all. Almost all countries in the region had experienced a moment that requires serious reflection on the future of the country in question. Burundi has had the closest thing to what Rwanda went through. Uganda has endured years of civil wars and tribal conflicts.
Kenya has not had a civil war but its history is dotted with moments of civil strife with the 2007 Post Election Violence up there as the worst moment. Tanzania is still dealing with the rocky relationship it was born out of, when the mainland joined with Zanzibar. I don’t have to even talk about South Sudan which is still work in progress.
What we all need to do is learn from Rwanda’s experience and create value for human beings. Here it is called Agaciro or dignity and it is a key philosophy that we can all borrow and work with. Why should politicians or anyone get a slap on the hand for using hate speech inciting some against other? As Rwandans were beginning the commemoration week it was reported that some people with ill intentions had hacked a cow belonging to a genocide survivor. Yes an innocent cow.
People with ill intentions will always be in our midst but we must not get tired of reminding them that their attitudes will not be tolerated. Those keen on derailing a nation exist both inside and outside but the resolve to move forward remains stronger. The efforts towards reconciliation continue to this day and this is what makes remembrance important. The lessons are still ongoing and we should all be attentive. Never Again