ON APRIL 7 Rwanda will mark the official 20th anniversary commemorating the Genocide against the Tutsi. Rwanda is one of the four places around the world where genocide has occurred in the last 50 years, including Bosnia, Darfur, and Cambodia.
As the world watched, within a space of three months, about one million people lost their lives during a cruel process that turned a country previously known as “a tropical Switzerland in the heart of Africa” into one of the darkest places on the continent.
It will also be twenty years since myself and a group of other curious youths found ourselves in the Rwandan countryside where most of the horrific killings took place. Like millions of other young people around the world with a Kinyarwanda heritage, we were inspired by the struggle of the ‘Inkotanyi’, fighters of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, their invasion and eventual liberation of Rwanda.
During this time, around the month of September 1994, visible scenes of killings and evidence of decomposing bodies were still commonplace in different parts of the country, including Kigali.
The euphoria that surrounded the return of Abanyarwanda Diaspora to their country after decades as refugees, and among all others who supported the RPF revolution, it was mostly that of forward looking, eagerness for new beginnings, and determination for building a new Rwanda.
In avoiding our own discomfort, in confronting the ugly reality of mass killings of innocent people, we have allowed these memories to fade, and in the midst of celebrating progress and achievements neglected to pause in reflection on lives of those who were caught in this inferno and whose lives were destroyed.
As a result, I realise that I and many others who should, do not really know beyond the basics of what everyone knows. We have not fully heard the voices, personal stories, reflected on images of children whose lives were tragically cut short, and confronted the face of evil in human form of those who committed these atrocities. To a great extent, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is yet to be acknowledged by our generation as the worst tragedy of our time.
Early this year, as the 20th anniversary commemoration activities (Kwibua20) got underway, I kept telling myself that I should mark this milestone by visiting one of the Genocide memorials. Gisozi in Kigali was the closest so I decided to go and pay my respects on March 1, 2014. I had made an earlier attempt years ago, but to my ‘relief’ it was a Sunday and the memorial centre was closed.
The visit to Gisozi (Kigali Memorial Centre) left me with more questions than I had answers for, and a deep sense of shame of my own cowardice to have failed the courage to deal with the un-comfortable reality. I realise now that we ran away from responsibility, because acknowledgement comes with the duty of doing something about it.
It is important to note that this failure has not remained at an individual level; it extends to nation states and other important institutions, especially those in Africa.
For example, whereas Rwandan embassies around the world have marked Kwibuka20 with a series of events, no country has independently, on its own, deemed it important to mark this day with an activity in solidarity with the victims and survivors.
Not even the African Union has adopted a motion to annually commemorate this activity as something to reflect on, with its magnitude as the most horrific genocide that has ever happened on the continent in our lifetime. Going forward, we should preoccupy ourselves with the study of how it was possible to cause a loss of almost a million people in just 90 days.
If we say NEVER AGAIN and mean it, we should ensure this memory lives through education and passing on stories of survivors, especially to the young generation. The young generations should learn and be aware of what can happen when leadership fails, and how destructive human behaviours can get when hate is left to manifest itself into an ideology.
Genocide destroys not just the political or economic structure of a country but it destroys the spirit of that country as well. Once the spirit of the country is destroyed, it takes a miracle for that country to ever recover, and today a miracle has happened in Rwanda. Like President Paul Kagame said in the past, “Rwanda’s body was assaulted, it was tortured, it succumbed, but he spirit never did”.
The country has recovered beyond all our imagination and has since emerged as one of the best examples Africa has to show to the world, let’s honour the memory and this resilience by ensuring that such tragedies never happen again, through community education and sensitisation of our young generation.