A plaque at the entrance of the Kigali Genocide Gemorial Centre reads; “This is our past and our future, our nightmares and our dreams, our fear and our hope.”
The remains of over 250,000 people who were killed during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi are buried at the centre.
As I stroll in, the mini-biographies on some of the walls tell chilling stories. I am particularly struck by one which reads;
Name: Fillete Uwase
Favourite toy: doll
Favourite food: chips and rice
Best friend: her dad
Behaviour: a good girl
Cause of Death: smashed against the wall
Like many other Rwandans killed, she was young and innocent. As we continue to commemorate the Genocide, we should always remember our brothers and sisters. A genocide in which over one million Tutsis were killed in 100 days by their neighbours; an astounding average of 10,000 a day. As one commentator put it at the time, “there are no more demons in hell, they are all in Rwanda.”
In April 1994, I was a few months shy of my 13th birthday. I was in Standard Seven at Shimoni Demonstration School in Uganda. At the time, the Ugandan media were saturated with stories of Lake Victoria turning red with blood from the thousands of corpses of Tutsis dumped into River Akagera.
It was upsetting, knowing my kinsmen were being butchered in Rwanda, yet there was not much to do to stop it.
I remember some of my classmates complaining that my kinsmen had polluted the Lake and they could no longer enjoy eating fish.
The killings did not make any sense and I remember asking my mother why our people were being killed. She reassured me that it was one of those things which I would understand when I became older. I am now older, but even after so many years of reflection, the enormity and gravity of the genocide is difficult to comprehend.
During the genocide and its immediate aftermath, Rwanda was written off as a failed state which would never recover from the demons that consumed its soul.
Today, Rwandans can look back with pride on the great strides made in education, healthcare, dispensing justice, infrastructure, peace and nation building.
If the Genocide was testimony of man’s capacity for cruelty against fellow man, then post-genocide Rwanda is testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, man’s capacity for reinvention and God’s enduring love for his people.
As we reflect on the genocidevis-a-vis the new Rwanda, we should immensely be grateful to God for this great transformation He has brought to our nation.
Once in utter despair, we now have hope. Once wallowed in self-pity, we now carry ourselves with dignity. However, rebuilding the infrastructure in the country has proved to be the easy part.
Reconciliation and forgiveness is on course too. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of those who sinned against us”.
Yet, how do you ask a genocide survivor who only managed to keep alive by drinking the blood oozing from the dead to forgive the perpetrators of this heinous crime? How do you ask genocide survivors to follow God’s commandment to forgive, yet they feel that God abandoned them in their greatest hour of need?
Asked why she forgave the man who butchered her family, Rosaria, a survivor who is the subject of a documentary entitled “As we forgive” had this to say about the person who butchered her family;
“How can I refuse to forgive him yet I am a forgiven sinner? According to God’s word, I am called to forgive him, for I did not create him. Neither did I create my family that he killed. His crime was against God whose creatures he killed. So I place everything in God’s hands. If he has confessed his sins before God and asked for God’s pardon, then I forgive him”
Rosaria must have realised that no punishment handed to her family’s killer by any court in the world could ever refill the void in her life. The only way she could release the weight in her heart, the bitterness in her soul and lead her life meaningfully was by finding in her heart the grace and the courage to forgive her family’s killers.
Through a number of outreach programs by the government churches and NGOs, many surviving families have reconciled with genocide perpetrators and now harmoniously live side by side. Nevertheless, a lot still needs to be done to bring about reconciliation amongst all Rwandans.
The Nobel peace laureate and head of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said “True reconciliation is never cheap; it requires forgiveness which is costly”. As we continue to heal collectively as a nation, we ought to continue to pray for God to bring about true reconciliation and forgiveness in our nation.
To the Gatetes, Uwimbabazis, Uwases, Ndolis and other Rwandans killed during the genocide, we continue to renew our solemn promise to you; to honour your memory and to ensure that this nation will never again endure another genocide.