Genocide commemoration: Memory, Learning, Striving

Rwanda, the small but beautiful land of my forefathers is commemorating the Genocide against the Tutsi for the 19th time — an opportunity for Rwandans to remember the past, reflect on the journey travelled, and also find the needed time to let go the feelings and emotions.
Joe B. Jakes
Joe B. Jakes

Rwanda, the small but beautiful land of my forefathers is commemorating the Genocide against the Tutsi for the 19th time — an opportunity for Rwandans to remember the past, reflect on the journey travelled, and also find the needed time to let go the feelings and emotions.

The sole purpose of the 1994 Genocide, at least from the master minders’ perspective, was to systematically exterminate the Tutsis whom they despised, vilified and called vile names such as “cockroaches” with long tails and deserved only annihilation. It remains unclear as to what the international community had in mind by its inaction.

The reoccurring questions remain as the world continues to witness other terrible massacres in other places. Why such indifference? Why folding your arms in the face of mass atrocities, death and destruction?

Why always selective intervention? Why choose self-interests over international peace and security? Of course, anyone with the right mind would come up with hundred reasons why such a state affairs prevails.

As the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once stated, "Rwanda's peacekeeping mission was considered a second class operation" and as far as the genocide is concerned, "a genocide in Africa has not received the same attention that genocide in Europe or genocide in Turkey or genocide in any other part of the world.

There is still this kind of basic discrimination against the African people and African problems”.

Rwandans learned tough lessons the hard way, and thankfully the country is now in a much safer place to understand the responsibility to actively challenge these prevailing attitudes and beliefs against Africa and Africans.

Everyone has a heavy burden put on the shoulders to speak out that human rights transcend geopolitical agenda and interests, and always act in defiance against those who tell us to discriminate against others and also defend those being discriminated against.

Even in the post-genocide period, some international partners remain ambivalent and have shown little or no interests in trying to apprehend those who committed this heinous crime, or indeed have failed to try them in their own lands.

Others have turned themselves into genocide belittlers by using various methods whereas the authorities look away.

Rwandans are no longer naive and are aware the obvious tyranny of political self-interests and role it plays in international affairs.

This is in no way to suggest the Rwanda will relent in seeking justice or that it will be forced into isolationism if it presses ahead, why should it be the case?

It is within every country’s legitimate rights to challenge the culture of impunity, double standards, and hypocrisy that are prevalent in international politics, and this is even more so for Rwanda after 19 years of inaction.

By not acting and choosing to remain passive in the face of injustice and oppression, we become compliant and responsible for the outcomes, whatever they may be and wherever they may occur.

I fully appreciate, some of you will never relate to the atrocities of 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, but hope we all can actively work in the fight against discrimination, oppression, racism and hatred in our own little ways.

For those  in the 'developed' world, look no further than your neighbourhood (of course unless you live in the high gated communities), workplace, and sports grounds to realize that racism is alive and well; where the elected politicians are busy actively changing laws on one hand to subjugate entire groups of people (i.e. millions in poverty) based on their income and social class; and favoring the wealthy who earn (i.e. millions in fraud and tax evasion) because of unchecked and unregulated policies established by the people we vote to represent us.

If and only if, people would realize that power does not lie in the hands of those with wealth and guns, but in the hands of ordinary people whose will to reject being subservient is immeasurable.

This year’s theme is “Let us commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi as we strive for self-reliance”.

In other words, your future depends on many things, but mostly on you and a secure individual knows that the responsibility for anything concerning life remains with himself- and this is a true picture of where Rwanda finds herself as a country.

Today’s Rwanda is one of hope. Regardless of one’s opinion on how the country is governed and relentless campaigns to discredit the progress that has been made since the genocide; I think the vision is there, direction is clear, speed is noticeable, and determination is resolute to become a self-reliant state.

The post-genocide Rwanda has achieved a lot in gender equality, health, economy, tourism, governance, IT, security to name a few.

Rwanda, if anything, teaches lessons on how to overcome your own fears and anxieties in order to interact with others around you. One of my all time inspiration figures, Martin Luther King, once said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

With this genocide commemoration week, let us look at our neighbors into our communities and stand defiant against the evil and always respond with love because it is for peace and justice that we shall persevere, and preserve the memories of those we have lost.

The Genocide in Rwanda that claimed over one million lives in the summer of 1994, is today far from the top concerns of the international community.

But for many Rwandans and thousands of still grieving survivors, it is impossible to forget and why should they?

Remembering does not only mean honoring those gone before their time or giving their deaths meaning, but it also means preserving history and enhancing Rwanda's continuity.

With the 19th commemoration, we know there will be more to come and keeping those memories will define us and help us keep focused on the goal of our national mission. At the same time, let us be reminded that forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption.

Let the history remember the name "Rwanda” for our recovery, resilience and self-reliance and also let the world know that our pride in our own heritage is a reminder of our common humanity and that no one should be dehumanized or killed because of who they are different.

The country's renewal and quest for self-reliance must provide the context for purposeful living for all those who survived this tragic episode.

May my own beautiful grandparents and relatives whom I never saw, continue to rest in peace with their saviour, may all Rwandans who lost their lives from the ethnic violence of 1950s, 60s, 70s and the subsequent genocide of 1994 be forever honored, and may the memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice trying to save lives be always remembered.

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