On the seventh of April, we Rwandans, joined by the international community, commemorated the day on which darkness descended on our beautiful Land of a Thousand Hills.
On that day, our country bled as intolerance, hatred, and malice got the better of many people in what would turn out as the worst one hundred days in our history. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was initiated by a clique of people who advanced selfish gains. What followed was a massacre that saw close to one million people die in just one hundred days. Now just so you can see the dirty picture, it means close to ten thousand people were killed daily on average and close to four hundred and seventeen people per hour. It was indeed a bloodbath that shocked not just Rwanda but the whole world.
Now, the world maybe asking, why commemorate such dark history? Why doesn’t Rwanda just get over the genocide and live on? If you do not have a clear understanding of the situation, it is easy to ask such questions; however, we the Rwandan people, guided by the wisdom of our leaders. believe that in remembering our past, confronting it and accepting it, it is the beginning of healing, national reconciliation and the start of a new chapter in our story. Each year between April and June, we hold a national mourning which reminds us of the time when we reduced ourselves to inhumanity and then enables us to reaffirm our stand for Never Again.
After the Holocaust, the world was shocked by the degree of evil that was manifested and the international community in unison resounded that Never Again should such thing happen anywhere in the world. However, as history will show, genocides took place in Rwanda, in Bosnia and in a few other places. Extremism and terrorism, which are hinged on religious intolerance, present a very big threat of genocide and therefore the world must take caution not to let this go unwatched.
Today, the world celebrates our progress in Rwanda. Twenty-one years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda is on a steady road to progress. Our economy is many more folds better than it was 21 years ago, our nation is more politically stable, our country is reputed as the cleanest in Africa. I would like to focus on a few things which I feel are responsible for this progress;
“Ndi Umunyarwanda” is a policy which is literally translated as “I am Rwandan” and through this, our government and people are promoting oneness of the Rwandan people. We fully understand and appreciate that those that sowed the seeds of genocide banked on our ethnic differences—and therefore as a policy, Rwandans have decided not to front ethnic differences. As a result, we do not refer to ourselves as Hutu, Tutsi, or Batwa, but rather Rwandan. We as a people believe than by teaching ourselves, and our children, and the children after them not to look and judge people by their ethnicity, height, or shape of nose, then we are bound to form a just society.
If you have been to Rwanda on the last Saturday of every month, you may have noticed everything else comes to a stop and people (including the President) engage in community work. This policy is called “Umuganda” and this is when we as Rwandan people take off time to do work for the benefit of the entire community. This may include renovating the house of an elderly person in the community, or clearing the drainage of a community well, digging new roads and so on. By doing this, our people are able to work together, united. We are also able to remember the values of community service, of charity, of social responsibility, and above all, of community.
To touch on our history furthermore, after the genocide, our prisons were filled to the brim with perpetrators and people accused of crimes of genocide. The country’s justice system was facing insurmountable stress. It was during this time that as a country, we decided to resort to our traditional “Gacaca court” system to help try the offenders. Gacaca literally means “grass” and the Gacaca courts were called so because back then (as is still now) communities would gather, seated often down on grass to resolve conflicts and try offenders. The government used this and it helped try and free many offenders; especially those that cooperated and repented their sin. Anyway, often after being tried in Gacaca, many of these perpetrators were asked to serve a sentence to remedy their wrong. That is when the policy of “Tige” came into play. These perpetrators were asked to do community work most of which involved repairing the infrastructure and property they destroyed during genocide. If you have seen the stonecast roads in Rwanda, this is an example of work done by former perpetrators of genocide.
On 7th April 2015, we held the first official 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi commemoration at Earth University in Costa Rica. This event was in line with such similar commemoration—or “Kwibuka”—events taking place all over the world to mark twenty-one years after the genocide.
For me, this commemoration marks an important element or characteristic that has been sowed amongst the young people of our country. The majority of us were born during or after the genocide and therefore most of our experiences of the genocide are marked by our long stay in exile, or from books we read, from commemoration sites in Rwanda, or from the stories our elders tell us. However, despite this secondary knowledge, young Rwandans continue and have continued to take responsibility for our history and to actively participate in rebuilding our nation. We represent a new generation of Rwanda that is committed to transforming our bad history into the very fabric of our national strength. It is on this note that I salute youth Organizations in Rwanda such as iDebate Rwanda, Never Again Rwanda, Peace and Love Proclaimers (PLP), and Girl Up Rwanda, all of which shaped my knowledge and continue to groom not just me but many other young people in Rwanda.
On 7 April, we lit candles in the Amahoro stadium and from one candle; the stadium came alight with thousands of candles. This is symbolic of the national spirit that we should groom as a country. A famous saying goes that a candle loses nothing by lighting another, instead, it achieves more light.
Rwandans and friends of Rwanda, as we grieve, let us also remember that from this grief, we have curved one of the most beautiful things: the land of a thousand hills, a country admired and loved by many. Let us keep doing this. May the innocent souls whose light was extinguished rest in peace.
While in high school, Mutoni Shadad developed a passion for debate, public speaking, and writing which continue to be part of her life today. She runs a blog “Insights from a Rwandan lady in Costa Rica” (from which this article comes), where she raises her voice on various issues. While back in Rwanda, driven by a desire for volunteerism, she served at iDebate Rwanda, RYCCA, Never Again Rwanda, PLP and Girl-Up Rwanda; organizations she continues to be part of.