I have long wanted to come to Rwanda. I have been drawn by what happened here.
Drawn not by the horror of the killing, where neighbour turned on neighbour extinguishing the lives of a million people in three months, but by what followed after – a profound path of forgiveness and reconciliation that enabled remarkable renewal and revitalisation.
How does something like that happen? I found some answers at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a site that holds the remains of some 250,000 victims.
At the museum, there is an account of what happened here. The colonial story of divide and conquer that created separation between the Hutu and Tutsi.
How anger was used to seed chaos. The merciless killings that happened. We’ve seen this familiar pattern in many places around the world.
Narratives of injustice are used to rally people to rise in rage to destroy others.
That much is not unique in the Rwandan story. What is unique is the country’s turn after the Genocide.
People decided that retribution was not the answer and it would only seed another cycle of anger. Forgiveness was the only way forward.
Councils were created to help create reconciliation all across the country. Furthermore, the Government decided to erase tribal differences so people could not be identified by ethnicity.
And a path towards progress was charted with remarkable success in drawing international funding. Sometimes, it is when everything falls apart that something new can be born.
It is not an inevitable outcome but a path that has to be chosen, nurtured and cultivated.
At the memorial, I walked on a terrace overlooking the city where the bodies were interred. Here, in this tranquil space filled with flowering trees and singing birds, I had a sense of the power of how forgiveness can create peace.
It echoed the message of “attend and befriend” that I had shared in a session on resilience at the African Leadership University (ALU) MBA programme.
Attend and befriend – to lean into hurt with compassion – is a contrast to the path of fight or flight that is our default human disposition.
Our actions, regardless of the triggers or circumstance, are ultimately a choice. This choice represents huge power to transform the world for better or worse.
ALU seeks to cultivate this sense of self-empowerment in its students, to cultivate the capacity to choose to envision better possibilities and act to bring them to life.
Seizing this power is the mark of great leadership demonstrated by the likes of Nelson Mandela who wrote on his release from decades of captivity: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
In a continent that has much promise and has seen much pain, Rwanda represents a shining example of our ability to shape a new narrative and craft a different ending regardless of what has occurred.
In the end, this readiness to cast aside the cloak of victimhood and to claim our power to choose our actions that represents the greatest power we truly have.
It is a power to release the ghosts of the past and write a new narrative for the future.
On the way to the airport, the driver whose family had been killed in the Genocide played a country music tune by Don Williams, ‘We Got Love.’
As we approached the airport, we were stopped by armed guards who checked the car and then the bags with sniffer dogs - it was the first of four security checks before I got on the plane.
Love may be deeply desired but Rwanda is clearly not leaving ‘Never Again’ to chance.
The writer is the Director of the Center of Leadership at the African Leadership University (ALU). ALU School of Business is the first Pan-African postgraduate institution offering MBA degrees. It is accredited in Rwanda since May, 2016
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.