by Georges Budagu Makoko

The January 6 attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., was heartbreaking and extremely hard to watch. As I listened on my car radio, and later at work, one question kept playing in my mind, “How can this happen in the U.S.?” I was reminded again of the fragility of peace and stability, and of the importance of maintaining them at all costs.

Growing up in DR Congo, and again after moving to Rwanda after the genocide, I witnessed apparently invincible government buildings reduced to rubble in just a few hours. I remain haunted by the sight of buildings in Kigali lying in ruin in 1994.

The chaos and violence displayed by the insurgents while assaulting the Capitol gave me flashbacks of traumatic experiences back home. I was deeply concerned that civil war might break out in the U.S. I have lived here for over 18 years, but never before had I worried about that.
Things can change so quickly. The night before, I spent long hours watching news of the runoff election in Georgia. Early in the morning, I woke up to the breaking news that Raphael Warnock had defeated the incumbent senator Kelly Loeffler, and that Jon Ossoff was likely to beat the incumbent David Perdue. This was huge news because it gave the Democratic Party control of the Senate.

As the news trended in the media, suddenly the turmoil of the insurrection at the Capitol raised concerns that the fury of the rioters would overwhelm the legislators who were in the process of certifying the Electoral College votes. These votes had given the nation’s leadership to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Failure to certify them, many feared, would instantly trigger civil war.

Immigrant communities, especially those from war torn countries, were troubled by this violence related to the election. An attempt to overturn the U.S. election results by force was something they had never anticipated. “Where will we go if this country falls into civil war like the ones that we came from?” a friend asked.

The night of the insurrection, I interviewed Pious Ali and Claude Rwaganje, city councilors from Portland and Westbrook respectively, and Claudette Ndayininahaze, executive director of In Her Presence. They all expressed deep concern about the situation here in the U.S.
“I was terrified when my child came running to me, thinking that the U.S. might be at war,” Ndayininahaze said. She had never seen her American friends so disturbed, she said. Some immigrants I talked to were so afraid that they bought extra food and stored it in their houses, just in case serious violence developed.

People from overseas called to check in. I received a phone call from my best friend, Alex Tung, from the U.K. He said something that encouraged me. “Despite the shocking attack at the Capitol, one positive thing must be noted – the strength of American institutions have been tried hard during the Trump era. The fact that legislators were able to go ahead and certify the election is a huge victory, and proves that U.S. democracy is strong.”

As someone who has experienced many conflicts first-hand, I have learned that “A heart full of hate and bitterness cannot yield any other fruits but devastating atrocities and death in the community.” I strongly believe we can defeat hate by proving that we are capable of loving, despite the difficult times that we are going through now. We all have a role to play in the process of peacebuilding. We must defeat self-centered attitudes and embrace the common good.