By Olive Mukahirwa

Every April 7, as Rwanda begins the annual 100 day period of Kwibuka, the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which claimed between 800,000-1,000,000 lives, all Rwandan flags fly at half-mast for a full week both within Rwanda and in front of every Rwandan embassy in the world. In addition, the Kwibuka flame, a light of hope, is lit at all 207 genocide memorials in Rwanda.  

The 1994 genocide left uncountable orphans, homeless people, widows, widowers across the tiny Central African country of Rwanda, which gained its independence from Belgium in 1962. These people had lost all hope. The same year marked new discriminatory measures instituted against the Tutsi by Rwanda’s leaders.

Betty Nyiramukiza was only six years old when the genocide began. She had nine siblings, but only three of them survived the killing. Nyiramukiza said that during the genocide “the killers hit me with a log on my head, and since then I have suffered longtime insomnia, and now I rarely sleep.”

Now married with three children of her own,  Nyiramukiza said that the period after the genocide was extremely difficult to live through. 

“After the genocide we struggled to live. I was the elder sister beside my orphaned siblings. It was horrible! Imagine a child taking care of other children, dealing with hunger, scars on our bodies. But God strengthened me.” – Betty Nyiramukiza.

Somehow Nyiramukiza continued her studies and earned a master’s degree. She works as an evangelist with her local church, and has her own evangelical Youtube channel. Prior to covid she also worked in business in Kigali.

Nyiramukiza said it is important to her to work hard to try and fill the gaps created by the loss of  so  many family members. She said she never stops honoring the memory of her parents and siblings. In addition to the trauma from the genocide, covid has also provided challenges – Nyiramukiza had to shut her business in Kigali because of restrictions and lockdowns.

 Aaron Nagiramungu, another survivor, talked about the important role education has played in his life and the life of others who were also young at the time of the genocide. “We relied on government support for our education. We went to school – some started from primary school, others continued secondary school through university. I was one of them. We clung to our studies because they held our hope for the future. I joined a survivors’ association for comfort, where we designated from within our members a mother and a father. It was the only family we had.”

During the 2022 National Commemoration Ceremony on April 7, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda had harsh words for the powerful nations that abandoned so many Rwandans during their time of need, but currently preach loudly about justice and democracy.

He said, “We are a small country, but we are big on justice, and some big and powerful countries are very small on justice. But we are not the same. That’s why we did not kill another one million people on top of the ones already lost … some of whom are protected, even now, by the very countries that talk about justice, that give lessons about justice.” 

 President Kagame said he doesn’t understand why there are people who still deny the facts about the genocide.

“The name ‘cockroaches’ was reserved for a specific group of people….to say that it was a genocide targeting the Tutsi, how can it be wrong? How can it be questioned? How can it be argued about? Unless you have something else, some other problem,” he said.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, tweeted on April 6 that the genocide in Rwanda was neither an accident, nor unavoidable.

 “As we remember the bloodshed 28 years ago, we must recognize that we always have a choice: To choose humanity over hatred, compassion over cruelty, courage over complacency.” – António Guterres.

The COVID19 pandemic has imposed new conditions for Kwibuka 28 in Rwanda, and  some annual events such as the “Walk to remember” and the “Night vigil” were not held. The theme for the commemoration is Remember-Unite-Renew.

In Portland, Maine, a Walk to Remember and a commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi were held on April 16. Photos to follow.