Rwanda begins week of memorial events for genocide victims
President Paul Kagame laid a wreath at a memorial site where more than 250,000 people were buried in the capital city of Kigali. Songs were sung and poems recited at the beginning of a week of events.
Speaking after the ceremony, Kagame pledged that history would never repeat itself. “That is our firm commitment. Our bodies and minds bear amputations and scars but none of us is alone. Together we have woven the tattered threads of our unity into a new tapestry.”
He said Rwandans had granted themselves a new beginning and were “wounded and heartbroken … but unvanquished”.
Officials and foreign dignitaries joined around 2,000 people in a “walk to remember” from Rwanda’s parliament to the national football stadium, where candles were to be lit in a night vigil.
Kagame, who led a rebel force that ended the slaughter, lit a remembrance flame in the capital Kigali. Rwandans will mourn for 100 days, the time it took in 1994 for about a tenth of the country to be massacred. Most of those who died were minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, killed by ethnic Hutu extremists.
“In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness,” Kagame told a crowd gathered at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. “Today, light radiates from this place. Rwanda has become a family once again.”
The commemoration activities began with the flame-lighting ceremony at the memorial. The flame will burn for 100 days. The 61-year-old president, who has led the country since 2000, delivered a speech at the Kigali Convention Centre.
Kagame will later lead a vigil at the Amahoro National Stadium, which was used by United Nations officials to try to protect Tutsis during the killings. A number of foreign leaders are in the country for the events, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
They are mainly African, although Prime Minister Charles Michel represented the former colonial ruler, Belgium.
Alice Mukarurinda, 49, whose child was killed by Hutu extremists, said she had forgiven those responsible for the mass murder.
“The anger can never give you peace. Some Hutus were killed too while protecting Tutsi friends. It was a bad leadership of the past to blame. Those who killed my families have apologised to me and I have forgiven them. The future is important to us.”
Jackie Mukamana, from Bugesera, said: “Today we live a better life and the children of Hutus and Tutsi attend the same schools and opportunities are offered equally. I can’t seek revenge because when you kill the person who murdered your relatives, you’ll become like that murderer.”
The 100 days of killing began on 6 April 1994 after the then president, Juvénal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutus, died when their plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital. Those responsible have never been identified.