The first time I heard of the Genocide against the Tutsi that happened in Rwanda was in July, 2019. Before then, I knew there was something similar to war which had happened in Rwanda many years ago. In my head, I thought it was like the Nigerian Biafra War (or Nigeria Civil War) which I grew up learning about from my father and others. Nothing, absolutely nothing prepared me for when I came to grasp the magnitude of the effects of the Genocide. I don’t know that I am able to tell this story well, but I will try.
I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial in July, 2019 for the first time. We were touring the city of Kigali as part of the orientation program for new students at CMU-Africa. I think we had even just had a jolly lunch at the city center. So belly-full and happy, I waltzed into the memorial center. From the very first door which happened to show a short documentary about the happenings of the Genocide, tears rolled down my eyes. I walked solemnly through the center, taking in the stories the images, videos and items held. From then on, I became really curious and amazed at the same time. How did a land once so devastated become such a pride to many African countries and indeed the rest of the world? I read about the incident from different sources and also was privileged to attend a few sessions in school where I learned more. That day, as we drove out of the memorial center and into the city, I took in the sights around me and I marvelled at the strength of the Rwandans.
In December, 2019, I read Yolande Mukagasana’s “Not my time to die”. I was on a trip to Gisenyi, a school trip and my friend with whom I shared a room brought the book along. She had been reading it in bits. In the evening when most people were away enjoying the night life of the city, I didn’t know what to do with myself as I couldn’t go with them. So I picked up the book. Again, nothing prepared me for the second hand trauma I experienced in those pages. I cried severally as I read. My heart sommersaulted in between severally for the author and all she went through. I eventually finished the book in the early hours of the next day and again, I marvelled at the strength of the Rwandans.
A few days ago, we had a session in school to mark the start of the annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Once again, I was in tears hearing a first hand account of my colleague and how the genocide claimed all his family safe himself and his younger brother. It was then it occured to me that every family in Rwanda was affected by the genocide, including my amazing friends and colleagues from school, church and everywhere else within the country. Many lost their families. Also, many till today suffer guilt of the roles that they or their family members played. A lot of people still carry deep seated trauma. After he shared, we watched a documentary about the Nyange school students who refused to be labelled by tribe and seperate in the face of an attack. A young girl in particular when called upon refused to identify her classmates by those labels and instead replied the killers with: “Twese turi abanyarwanda!” meaning “We are all Rwandans!” That action and refusal to betray their countrymen cost them their lives but also served as a source of strength, bravery and courage for the people of Rwanda, and indeed the rest of the world. After that session, I sat in solitude in my room, thinking of the past two years in this beautiful country of a thousand hills and once again, I marvelled, oh the strength of the Rwandans!
Yesterday, I came across a BBC documentary on a survivor from the genocide and she shared her journey afterward which included healing and having to forgive the killer of her children who had return to live in the same community as she did. The loss suffered by thousands of Rwandans through the genocide is unimaginable. However, for many that was just the beginning. Many were forced to heal and forgive, as that was the only way forward. Many today live in unity, in the same communities with people who played an active role in the genocide which resulted in the killing of their relatives. Yet, they have chosen the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. For someone who sometimes battles with forgiving people even the slightest things such as a twitter sub, I am indeed marvelled by the strength of the Rwandans.
In church today, as the choir sang several songs of hope and thanksgiving, I heard many Rwandans seated around me worship from the depths of their hearts. Some amidst sighs. Some others, amidst tears which shook their entire body. Some others sat in silence with lifted hands. Then, it dawned on me – the story of the Rwandans is certainly divine. The strength and courage to forgive and rebuild after something so disastrous can only be from above. In the past two years, I have enjoyed safety, benevolence and good will from the people of Rwanda. And as we worshipped together in church today, I lifted my hands to the heavens and thanked God for the people of Rwanda… for leadership that has brought them thus far, for the strength to forgive… for the joy and peace they enjoy today. And I also prayed that nothing of such would repeat itself again, not in Rwanda, not in anywhere else in the world! Today, as I write this, I once again marvel, very greatly at the divine strength of the Rwandans.
Genocide is a terrible thing and we all have a responsibility to fight against such ideologies. One such way is to commemorate as it is being done annually in Rwanda. Kwibuka which is the recurring theme for this period means to remember! I think this is an amazing lesson which the world has to learn. People do not heal by burying their pain or invalidating their experiences. Healing comes as we remember and commemorate, as perpertrators are brought to book and victims compensated. Healing comes as together, we make daily effort however little to ensure a tragedy such as this does not repeat itself again. Rwanda is proof of the immense power that forgiveness holds. It indeed is a country with a history so divine and yet so beautiful.
Today, I mourn with my fellow brothers and sisters in Rwanda and all over the world that were affected by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. But I also applaud and celebrate your bravery, strength and courage. And I pray, Imana y’inyembaraga ibakomeze ibashoboze muri ibi bihe bitoroshye! (May the God of all comfort strengthen, encourage and comfort you in this period) Amen!
#Kwibuka27 #Rwanda #SeriousTalk