“Today I have the honor to speak for people who decided that their pain would not be in vain; a people who turned their hatred into sacred lessons for us to learn from, a people who believe that change does not come from thinking and acting the same. I speak for a people who took their broken fractions and patched them to make a whole, for the spaces between them that once were holes.”
Those were the opening remarks of Rwandan poet, actress and social activist Malaika Uwamahoro (formerly Angel Uwamahoro) at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, April 7.
The occasion was the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda.
The International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda pays homage to victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and other such mass crimes against humanity.
Uwamahoro had a special message for the world leaders in attendance. It was a message of remembrance and hope, and it was titled; “I speak for a people.”
It was first broadcast on the UN radio on April 6, before the poet preformed it at the UN headquarters the following day.
Uwamahoro was born in 1990, four years before the Genocide. Because of the instability in the country even then, her mother was forced to flee with her to neighbouring Uganda, where she would stay for the first seven years of her life.
“Then we moved to the U.S. and when the country was stable again in 2001 we moved back and I lived there for most of my adolescence.
In 1994, I was four years old, but I was very aware of what was happening because my family was constantly on the radio listening to what was happening and I didn’t really understand at that age why my mother or my grandmother, were always crying but I could sense it as a child.”
This experience would later shape her decision to pursue art seriously:
“When we moved back to Rwanda in 2001, even though I was born in Rwanda this was the first time I actually got to experience Rwanda and find out what happened first hand and not through my mother telling me. That’s when I realised I can’t be an artist who is just going to entertain, I have to do something with my art –give messages of hope and tell the stories of what happened because at that age I couldn’t believe that something so heinous had happened.”
“Art is a very powerful platform and the UN is a great platform, the UN influences a lot of politics and influences a lot of leaders, so if I can come and give a message about hope or about how this should never happen again –it’s straight from the artist to the leaders, and an artist speaks for the people so I feel like this is the perfect place to send a message,” she added.
The poet shed some light on the country’s post-genocide dispensation with regards to efforts toward reconciliation and rebuilding of the nation:
“I think Rwanda is doing a really good job. We have come so, so far, and it’s amasing to watch the progress and yes, there are still so many problems … I mean, it was a genocide; there are orphans and victims that are still alive –there’s so much that still needs to be taken care of but I really do think that as a nation and as a people we’re doing the best that we can.”
The International Day on Reflection of the Genocide in Rwanda has been marked every year since 2005, following a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly.