By Olive Mukahirwa
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda reminded Rwandan high officials, diplomats, and ordinary citizens who gathered at Kigali Genocide Memorial on April 7 to commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsis that Rwanda had no choice but to move forward after the tragedy which claimed almost one million Tutsi lives over a period of 100 days in 1994.
Kagame said, “It’s very clear that the wounds are still deep, but Rwandans – I thank all of you for refusing to be defined by this tragic history. People have been ready and willing to do the most difficult thing. They have decided to forgive – but we can’t forget.”
Kwibuka, the annual week of mourning which opens the 100-day annual commemoration period, includes activities of remembrance across the country. Flags fly at half-mast and people come together to share tragic testimonies and also talk about ways to prevent further tragedy. Genocide survivors often say that while what happened to them in 1994 was beyond human understanding, they have decided to forgive in order to heal their hearts.
Appolinaria Uwamaliya, 55, a survivor, is a mother of 8 children, two of whom died when she was 26 years old, during the genocide. She spoke of her experience. “In genocide, I was married, and my family lived in Kigali with two children – one was 3 years old and the other 6 months old. I used to hide in the woods, in the water, and in the forests with those children, who always cried. Some events remain in my memory, as if it happened yesterday; it’s like a movie I watch every day. I will never forget when my children died, where we were hiding in Sainte Famille Catholic Church. My children died because of hunger. The one of 3 years old died asking me for food. But me too, I was extremely hungry … the last one died at my breast.”
At the official closing of Kwibuka week, which took place on April 13, the country honored the politicians who were killed during the Genocide in retaliation for their opposition to the genocidal ideology and its implementation. Uwemeyimana Aloys, a national hero who risked his life to rescue Tutsi who were targeted in his district of Rusizi, a district of the Western Province of Rwanda, spoke at Rebero Genocide Memorial, the location where most politicians who were killed at that time are buried.
“During the genocide I was working as a volunteer for the Red Cross… . Because I was used to taking care of vulnerable people and hated injustice, I told people in my neighbourhood that I would take care of any Tutsi survivor – a statement which later threatened my life … killers identified me … and searched for me to kill me … . I managed to rescue more than 120 people in two months, they all survived and some still live in Rusizi now,” Aloys said.
Though the country resumes activities of ordinary life after the Kwibuka mourning week each year, people continue to commemorate the 100 days until July 4, when Rwanda celebrates Liberation Day.