President Paul Kagame has paid a glowing tribute to Rwandans for the sacrifices they made as they rebuilt the country from the ruins of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi 20 years ago.
The Head of State made the remarks in a historic speech during the commemmoration of the 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Kigali yesterday.
“As we pay tribute to the victims, both the living and those who have passed on, we also salute the unbreakable Rwandan spirit, to which we owe the survival and renewal of our country,” he told thousands of Rwandans gathered at Amahoro Stadium and millions of others who followed the event that was aired live on local audio-visual media.
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“You have stood before the community to bear witness and listened to others do the same. You have taken responsibility and you have forgiven. Your sacrifices are a gift to the nation. They are the seed from which the new Rwanda grows. Thank you for allowing your humanity and patriotism to prevail over your grief and loss.”
The President said the people who planned and carried out the Genocide were Rwandans, but that the history and root causes go beyond the country.
“This is why Rwandans continue to seek the most complete explanation possible for what happened. We do so with humility as a nation that nearly destroyed itself. But we are nevertheless determined to recover our dignity as a people,” he said.
He added that 20 years after the Genocide was no reason for those who helped put the machine into motion to “obscure facts, lessen responsibility, or turn victims into villains,” a veiled allusion to France’s continual denial of its documented responsibilities in the Genocide.
“People cannot be bribed or forced into changing their history. And no country is powerful enough, even when they think that they are, to change the facts. After all, les faits sont têtus (facts are obstinate),” said the President, tacitly switching to French–again leaving no room to guess to whom the message was intended.
“The most devastating legacy of European control of Rwanda was the transformation of social distinctions into the so-called “races.” We were classified and dissected, and whatever differences existed were magnified according to a framework invented elsewhere,’ Kagame said, explaining the historical causes of the disunity.
“The purpose was neither scientific nor benign, but ideological: to justify colonial claims to rule over and “civilise” supposedly “lesser” peoples. We are not. We ask that you engage Rwanda and Africa with an open mind, accepting that our efforts are carried out in good faith for the benefit of all of us.
“For those who think that for Rwanda, or Africa, to be governed properly by its people, by the leaders chosen by these people still requires their endorsement, they are still living in too distant a past. We want you to know that we appreciate your contributions, precisely because we don’t feel you owe us anything.”
He said following the Genocide, Rwandans made three choice; unity, accountable governance and thinking big to turn the country around from the devastating effect of the ethnic cleansing that left more than a million people dead.
“When we passed an inclusive constitution that transcends politics based on division and entrenched the rights of women as full partners in nation-building, for the first time, we were choosing to be together.
When we sanction an official, no matter how high-ranking, who abuses their power or engages in corruption, we are being accountable,” the President said as he elaborated the key to Rwanda’s success.
“When Rwandans liberated our country, we were thinking big; When we created Rwanda’s Vision 2020 and committed to meeting our development goals, we were thinking big. When we decided to make Rwanda attractive for business, we were thinking big.
“When we invested in a broadband network that reaches all our 30 districts, we were thinking big. When we became a regular contributor to United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions, we were thinking big.”
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, the only other Head of State to address the gathering, also alluded to the historical interference by Western powers in African politics.
He said those who resisted the colonial machinations met a bitter end, citing Rwanda’s King Mutara III Rudahigwa, among others.
“He was assassinated, as was Prince Louis Rwagasore of Burundi. Rudahigwa and Rwagasore were patriots and Pan-Africanists. That’s why the parasitic forces grew desperate and started using sectarianism, assassinations and genocide. All that did not save those traitors. Where they still exist, it is on account of the mistakes of the international community,” Museveni said.
“I want to congratulate Rwandans and the Rwanda Patriotic Front for defeating these traitors and ensuring that they will never come back to kill the people of Rwanda again. We all can witness the economic growth and stability in Rwanda,” the Ugandan president added.
Many world leaders, including eight Heads of State, and several statesmen and women, were at the rendezvous to join Rwandans in remembering and honouring victims of the Genocide.