Today, as the mourning period ends with a ceremony at the Rebero Genocide Memorial, I have to ask; “What have we, as a society, taken from this sad period; what are the lessons that our history taught us; and most of all, why do we remember the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi”?
Rwanda is a forward looking country. Our eyes are constantly craned at the road ahead and the Genocide seems like a bad dream, especially to the extremely young population of Rwanda. A huge portion of the populace was either born after 1994 or could have barely been 10 years of age at the time, and therefore have little first-hand knowledge of what transpired unless, of course, they were directly exposed to the murderous hordes.
I feel that this generation has taken for granted Rwanda’s ‘normalcy’. I feel a duty to educate them in what this nation is all about.
Watching the various ceremonies that occurred this week, and talking to young people, I got a sense of a disconnect between the mourning and young people’s mentalities. It was as if the commemoration period didn’t concern them personally.
In fact, I recall listening to some fellows last Wednesday talking about the ‘public holiday’ the next day. The ‘holiday’ they were excitedly talking about was the beginning of the 100 Days of mourning.
This disconnect shocked me. I asked myself whether this lack of collective memory was a trait shared by young people everywhere or something that afflicted just Rwandans of a certain age.
Jews, everywhere in the world, no matter their age, will never forget the horrors of the Holocaust despite the fact that they ended in 1945. The collective memory, of the gas chambers, will never be relegated to the annals of history and that collective memory is often a source of strength whenever they are threatened.
And this memory doesn’t disappear despite a strong Jewish state. The youth of Tel Aviv might be playing with their I-Pads, but they don’t relegate Nazi Germany to the past.
Remembrance and commemoration isn’t about only dredging the emotions of loss and anger. They also act as a way a nation comes together and strives to find a new identity. Rwanda is such a nation.
The hurts of yesteryear are still as raw as they were in 1995 and our entire nation, not just the politicians and genocide survivors, have a duty to share in this pain. That includes each and every young person.
If we don’t participate in our mourning, and go on with our lives like nothing ever happened, I fear that our very history will end up high-jacked by those who wish to either negate their own responsibility or introduce a fake narrative.
For while we think that the entire mourning period isn’t a ‘big deal’ to us, those revisionists and genocide deniers realize that this mourning is cementing the bonds between Rwandans, between the victims and the perpetrators, between the leadership and the citizenry.
This collective memory is a powerful tool in nation building. It helps people realize that they are in it together and that the hurt of their neighbors is their hurt as well. Enemies of Rwanda know that.
We, who stand to inherit this nation, have a huge stake in its future. We cannot dismiss mourning as something ‘for old people’.
Unless we take lessons from what started Rwanda down the genocidal route, we’ll put ourselves in a position to repeat the mistakes of our fathers and mothers. That is something that we cannot afford.