Busy hardly describes Emmanuel Zirimwabagabo. His mission today is to finish tilling Nyirabaganizi’s back yard before dusk. Zirimwabagabo, a convicted genocidaire, is more than ready to compensate for the pain he caused when he massacred Berlia Nyirabaganizi’s family during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Zirimwabagabo is one of many genocide perpetrators in Musanze district who lately reconciled with survivors through a programme organized by the local Anglican Diocese.
“I can’t throw away the forgiveness that I got. It’s a great relief that I can now live in harmony with people that I hurt the most,”says Zirimwabagabo.
A smile of satisfaction confirms how Zirimwabagabo perceives unity and reconciliation.
For him and many other Rwandans, unity and reconciliation turns out to be the magical road to development. In fact, for those who continue to advocate for reconciliation, it’s a way to look beyond the 1994 tragedy.
BerliaNyirabaganizi, a Survivor who has now reconciled with the man who killed her family members, says she is no longer afraid.
“I now have a lighter heart, thanks to forgiveness. I can share good and bad moments with genocide perpetrators, yet I was always scared of them,” says Berlia Nyirabaganizi.
Nyirabaganizi says she is happy to live in harmony with people that massacred her husband and five children.
“If he truly repents, why should I not forgive him? I am not God to judge, and I have my own mistakes as well,” she says firmly.
Nyirabaganizi says the link to God is the only thing that led many survivors to forgiveness, thanks to the help of churches and other civil society organizations.
Ninety per cent of survivors and perpetrators forgave only because church and organizations intervened, according to Marithe Mukayizere, the President of AVEGA Agahozo in Musanze district.
AVEGA is an organization that brings together Genocide widows.
“We got weekly trainings, by the Anglican church of Rwanda.
This is when we learnt that forgiveness is as important as apologizing,” says Anne Mukankubito, another survivor.
Mukankubito says the church’s sensitisation programmes enabled her to forgive people that raped and infected her with HIV/AIDS during the Genocide.
Though she had vowed never to forgive, Mukankubito met her turning point when she heard several forgiveness stories facilitated by the Anglican Church.
When Bishop John Rucyahana, current Board Chairman of the Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR), preached about forgiveness to Musanze people, they received it enthusiastically.
According to the Musanze Diocese, the struggle to put into practice unity, healing and reconciliation continues, though some results are already tangible.
“The Anglican church of Rwanda had a difficult task.
The starting point for the church was to preach about forgiveness followed by routine meetings with people with the same experiences.
During the first weeks of training, participants faced miserable memories, pain and guilt, but later there were great returns,” says Marithe Mukayizere, the Avega president.
“As Avega, we have done our best to follow up on widows, but we had never thought of forgiveness as an additional way to live in harmony,” says Mukayizere.
Mukayizere was among those who attended a meeting with survivors of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. Marithe Mukayizere says that testimonies from those survivors helped Rwandans in Musanze to realize the need to forgive.
The group was brought in by the Anglican Church.
The next step was acts of service, where perpetrators were encouraged to show their sincerity. That is why Emmanuel Zirimwabagabo was tilling his neighbor’s garden.
“For sure we wouldn’t and still can’t bring back the Tutsis that we killed.
After the teachings, we opted for acts of service, and doing what the deceased would have done for their families. This was the key way that made survivors trust us again,” said Zirimwabagabo.
Currently, survivors attend perpetrators’ weddings, and support them in many other ways. Both groups have gone as far as forming joint income-generating co-operatives, things that seemed impossible before.
“Whatever the church told them, really worked. It’s amazing how survivors and perpetrators interact in co-operatives. That came as their own initiative,” says Jean Damascene Iyamuremye, the Executive Secretary, Busogo Sector.
In Busogo, co-operatives between genocide perpetrators and survivors are growing. In those co-operatives, people see poverty, not the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as the current problem.
“Each week, each member contributes 200 francs, that is used to buy a goat for any vulnerable member, whether he or she is a survivor or not,” says Ernest Mugabo, Chairman for Abatwara Umucyo, one of the co-operatives.
Iyamuremye acknowledges that nothing can be 100 percent perfect, but he and local residents say reconciliation has taken the right course.