20 years after the Genocide: A country with healing scars

A country with unbelievable physical beauty and yet, a country whose citizens proved during the Genocide that humans were capable of the most appalling cruelty. In the end, it remains very difficult to understand what drives men to commit crimes of such magnitude in the name of preserving one group above the others.

A country with unbelievable physical beauty and yet, a country whose citizens proved during the Genocide that humans were capable of the most appalling cruelty. In the end, it remains very difficult to understand what drives men to commit crimes of such magnitude in the name of preserving one group above the others.

Indeed, the world’s top psychiatrists and psychologists have not been able to provide adequate explanation as to why the Germans, for instance, were audacious enough to kill 6 million Jews.


As a historical fact, April to July 1994 was Rwanda’s darkest moment and this East African country was the scene of massacres, as the government carried out a massive and well planned operation to kill the Tutsi minority.


The Hutu were encouraged to demonise, hate and kill because some of them truly believed the Tutsi were foreigners who therefore needed to be wiped out.


However frightening and mind-boggling this is, one ought to note that the propaganda machine used to psychologically manipulate the populace and methods deployed to physically annihilate the Tutsi were the most barbaric, not only in Rwanda but probably in the African continent’s history.  

In this hostile environment, one can easily be tempted to assume that all the Hutu participated in this madness but this could not be far from the truth because there were moderate ones who explicitly opposed the government’s racial policy as well as the direction to which the leaders were taking the  nation.

In every tragedy, however, there are always heroes too. Thankfully, there were a few Hutu who dared and tried to hide the Tutsi and, yes, they did and some lost their lives in the process. Those were the voices of moderation that craved for a political change and hoped for a more united Rwanda.

Two decades later, Rwandans are focused on rebuilding a shattered country, uniting people and reconciling their differences, and making progress on economic development.

The most asked question by observers looking on, especially those with limited knowledge of Rwanda is whether such horrific event could happen again in Rwanda.

It is quite inconceivable that people could even suggest this idea, but again not the first time the country was totally written off and yet managed to survive.

Rwanda remains a country with deep and fresh scars but these scars are somewhat healing and fading; thanks to the resilience of Rwandan people who opted for reconciliation.

The country’s history dictates that they swear not to forget and why should they? The real question should be whether the world is any better since 1994 or the so called international community is less polarized.

Clearly not! The nations live in polarisation; the elite and big business have defined new geopolitical norms and the security of ordinary people is no longer high politics.

The positive news from Rwanda, however, is that they now know better and can never fall into the vicious trap of expecting foreign and miraculous saviours. The genocide is and always will be a reminder that in the time of need the eyes of the world looked away.

One has to ask, have their attitudes towards Rwanda and Africa shifted in the slightest over 20 years? Surely not, and most of those in positions of responsibility at the time remain unapologetic whereas others have no shame whatsoever and continued to live in denial.

Rwandans need to note this simple fact: Nobody owes you anything and you owe everything to yourselves. It is okay to have France vehemently denying its shared responsibility in the Genocide as it is fine to hear the West, NATO and especially to Belgium, the former colonial power questioning their inaction in 1994.

Ultimately, it is about what Rwanda does going forward in defending national identity, pride and interests which is a primary responsibility of any independent state.

The eyes should only be on transformation and hope for better 20, 50, and 100 years ahead. How this is achieved is the critical phase and economic indicators for the last decade have proved that Rwanda is on the right path.

Can this track be sustained? Who leads this process? How is it done? Whose interests are at the centre of the agenda? Are all the stakeholders fully involved? These are simple questions that deserve more attention.

Nothing to suggest Rwanda has derailed from the trajectory, and for as long as the people are the heart of the development process; the country’s outlook remains promising.

In the end, the tasks of nation building are greatly immense under any circumstances and Rwanda’s case is a special one. Fostering a sense of national identity, healing the wounds and achieving genuine reconciliation and continuing to pursue economic development is incredibly challenging and will require firm, dedicated and visionary national agenda and leadership.

There is no national goal that is too ambitious, only people’s ability to aspire and turn their dreams into actions. The journey travelled for the last 20 years is impressive but this did not mean there were no challenges, and surely more lie ahead.

They were overcome by Rwandans whose vision was at the centre of their dealings with foreign partners, who in fact contributed a big chunk of the country’s budget; and the country’s ability to withstand the often stormy weathers of international politics.

Looking into the next 20 years, the onus is on Rwandans to ensure they create a more secure, peaceful, equal, democratic and economically stronger nation for the next generation.

With the continued effective use of its limited resources and foreign aid, the country is slowly becoming synonymous with transformation and hope rather than genocide and anguish.

Yes, a country with healing scars; a place of joy and shame, survivors and perpetrators and also a territory where faith overcomes fear. In Rwanda, griefs are of more value than triumphs, for they impose duties and require common effort.

The author is a researcher in Diplomacy and International Law based in the United Kingdom

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