April 6, 2011, marked the beginning of the seventeenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It is a time to reflect on the unforgivable human errors that led to the despicable slaughter of close to a million Rwandans, mostly Tutsis. The horrors of the past are still visible in many layers of the Rwandan society today.
On an official level, this week will be both solemn and somber with very limited commercial activity. The main commemoration ceremony will take place at the stade Amahoro or the Stadium of Peace. Consistent with the Rwandan belief that the name of a person represents their personhood, ‘izina niryo muntu’; the stadium hosted about 12,000 people, mostly Tutsi under the protection of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide.
The Rwandan blogosphere also focused on this monumental event. A variety of themes all related to the genocide were discussed.
Kigaliwire blogger took us back seventeen years, exploring the way in which the killings were first reported. In particular, the infamous radio station Muhabura which openly incited the population to kill Tutsis. He reminds us that:
Between July 1993 – July 1994, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) broadcast from the second floor of this non-descript office building on the corner at 12 Avenue de la Paix in downtown Kigali. The second floor office is now occupied by Gapco Rwanda, a petroleum company. A mobile phone shop operates out of the ground floor and KCB bank have a branch on the first. Seventeen years ago today, on April 6, 1994, the hate speech radio station based out of this building went into overdrive,
Furthermore, he posted a prescient warning written by Lindsay Hilsum , the only foreign correspondent that was in Rwanda at the time. In retrospect, it is painful to think that the world would coldly turn a blind eye.
Writing on April 6 1994, Hilsum had sounded the alarm:
The Rwandan capital of Kigali descended into chaos yesterday as troops, presidential guards and gendarmes swept through the suburbs killing the prime minister, United Nations peacekeepers and scores of civilians.
Gangs of soldiers and youths kidnapped opposition politicians, and killed members of the minority Tutsi tribe, clubbing them to death with batons, hacking them with machetes and knives, or shooting them.”
Blogger Dan Speicher reflects on his personal visit to Rwanda about ten years ago and the horrors that he witnessed:
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago I was In Rwanda. I had just arrived a few days earlier. Now I was participating in Genocide Memorial Week. While parades and ceremonies went on outside, images of murder and hatred flashed on the every tv screen turned to public channels.
I still vividly recall mass graves. Thousands of bodies dumped into the earth, unceremoniously left to rot. A woman I met, missing part of her skull from the swing of the machete, her husband murdered just a few years before by Hutu militia attacks, was left her fending for her children on her own.
The Rising Continent blog delves into the issue of President Habyarimana’s assassination which many believe sparked the subsequent genocide:
On April 6, 1994, two missiles blew the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana out of the skies, killing all on board, including the President of Burundi and Rwanda’s army chief of staff.
That attack was surely one of the worst terrorist acts of the 1990s. Think about it! Two African heads of state were killed–President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was also in the plane , the fragile peace based on the Arusha accords of 1993 was shattered, war resumed, and masses of people were massacred.
Blogger Olga Bonfiglio raises awareness on the psychological consequences of the genocide. She writes that:
Today, not surprisingly, 100 percent of the people are traumatized by the genocide—survivors and perpetrators alike, according to priests and human service professionals I talked with last November when I visited the country.
Deep pain, guilt, embarrassment for surviving and the urge for retaliation remain in the hearts of many people, said Philippe Ngirente, a social service director.
She adds that the government as well as the church are important stakeholders in building a new Rwanda:
The Kagame government desperately wants this [healing] to happen as it continues to try to stabilize the country through policy and economic development. Reconstruction abounds in downtown Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The effort to appeal to multiculturalism is also apparent in the vast array of Western and Asian restaurants available there. A massive hotel and conference complex is being built to attract tourists and businesspeople. English was declared the official language of Rwanda last year. (Kinyarwanda and French are also the official languages.)
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has become a major player in taking on the task of emotional and spiritual reconstruction in this predominantly Catholic country. They do it through the reconciliation of genocide survivors and perpetrators.
Democracy Watch blog takes a harder stance on the government of Rwanda. Although the author is impressed by some positive gains during the last seventeen years, she is concerned that the gains are not enough to prevent a repeat of the past. She writes:
Most outsiders fail to recognize the lack of political freedoms and economic inequalities that confront Rwandans who are not members of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The vast majority of Rwandans—Hutu and Tutsi alike—who survived the genocide remain politically marginalized, extremely poor, and in many cases, traumatized by what they have lived through. Daily life for many is characterized by lack of food, clean water, and affordable and proximate health services, while the elite enjoy European coffee houses, wireless internet hotspots, new housing and shopping malls, accessible health care and other services. The gap between urban elites and the rural citizenry – some 90% of Rwandans live in rural areas – has never been larger.
It is this growing socio-economic inequity between the ruling elite and average Rwandans that makes another round of political violence possible.
But the situation is not entirely hopeless and through partnership with the international community, it is possible to build a more sustainable and democratic future. Here is the solution:
In order to maintain the peace, international actors active in Rwanda, and the broader Great Lakes Region of Africa, must push the RPF towards a real democratic opening.
Finally, Lutheran World Federation youth blog reminds the world to stand up in solidarity. They explain how:
This week, the world remembers the devastating genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Around 800,000 people were murdered. Annie Bunio, a young Lutheran from the USA, proposed to friends to wear Purple on Thursday. Purple is a color of grief in Rwanda. This should be a sign of remembrance and call for action against all other genocide and mass murders that are currently happening.