Good Friday; not really for Rwandans!
“Tomorrow will not be a good Friday here,” my Rwandan friend said, melancholically, as we rounded off our call. And I got the message.
Today (the tomorrow she was referring to) may have been ironically named Good Friday by Christians (in commemoration of the day Jesus Christ was murdered), but for Rwandans, today is literally and metaphorically (a) Bad Friday. It marks the 29th anniversary of the luciferous genocide which wasted over one million lives in the former Belgian colony. That was the day the plane flying Juvénal Habyarimana, Rwanda’s second president, was shot down near Kigali airport signaling the commencement of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis.
Incidentally, I happened to be in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, last week. Nothing even mildly suggests such a horrific event had occurred in the pristine and functional city-neither the people’s demeanor nor the façade of the city right from the small but mighty Rwanda international airport. But the full impact of the tragedy kind of dawned on me, on Saturday April 1st, when I undertook a tour of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, one of many that dot the country.
Beyond my devastation after going through the ghastly photos, videos, human skulls and bones, I totally lost my appetite for food for the rest of the day. I literally could not stomach some of the nerve-wracking stories I heard at the Museum.
Back in my hotel room, I stayed awake for the better part of the night wondering what really went wrong. I mean, what could make a man kill his spouse and vice versa? Just because they came from two different ethnic groups? I wondered how otherwise close friends and neighbors would kill themselves because of their ethnic differences. I shuddered at the idea of a mother drowning her three children because they were born of a father from another ethnicity. And guess what? One of the children survived and eventually identified her mother, who was then tried by the tribunal! What level of hate could have led to such barbaric actions? How did they get there?
As I lay there, sweating under the chilling air conditioner, images of the mass graves, the broken bones and cracked skulls at the memorial threatened to turn the bad dream into a nightmare. Then, I started wondering how Rwandans were able to overcome their individual and collective grief. I marveled at their high sense of forbearance and how they have moved on after the devastation. I remembered seeing some people who came to “greet” their folks ensconced in those ghastly graves. It sort of dawned on me why Rwandans could forgive Paul Kagame, their ebullient and inimitable President of any offence. It is because he has led them gallantly and productively away from the horrible effects and thoughts of the genocide.
You cannot but marvel at the resilience of Rwandans and their sense of forbearance. Rwanda can be described as a pearl, the crown jewel of Africa! The country has come a long way. Not only has the country recovered from the genocide, it has also made great advancements in education, infrastructure, agriculture and technology-in spite of the emotional scars of the genocide and their oft troublesome neighbors. Thanks to the giant strides (pun fully intended) of the 6 footer President Kagame, Rwanda has been placed firmly and strategically on the global map to the extent that Britain is sending her excess immigrants to live there. When I raised the issue disapprovingly, my friend defended it saying that it was because Rwandans have experienced life in exile and probably has the best environment, in terms of security and infrastructure, to host the migrants arriving from the UK. Point taken! Case closed!
Needless to recount in detail what happened on April 7th and for over 100 days afterwards. Pointless revisiting the historical antecedents of the genocide and the past atrocities against the Tutsis. What matters most today is that Rwanda appears to have significantly healed. The way those identified as perpetrators of the heinous crimes were tried spoke volumes in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as I earlier stated, the country has advanced significantly in technology and infrastructure. Quite a lot seems to have been achieved in the area of the rehabilitation of both the victims and the villains.
Throughout my flight from Kigali through Addis Ababa to Dubai, I buried myself in a book by Charles Petrie with Spike Zephaniah Stephenson entitled “The Triumph of Evil”, in which the former United Nations staff detailed, among many other heart-rending stories, the failure of the international community, especially the UN, to prevent or arrest the genocide. To him, Rwanda paid for the failures in Somalia. In fact, I was still on the book when my friend called from Rwanda after which I decided to do this remembrance piece.
War is bad. Genocide is definitely worse. No comparison. The savagery which occurred in Rwanda is despicable and unspeakable. It is gratifying to see and feel that Rwandans have healed. Many are still in the process of healing, though. It is not easy. While a cut on the palm will heal, the mark will remain ever visible, according to an Mbaise proverb! Several policies emplaced by the government have aided the healing process and ensured that never again would such happen. I even learnt that the Hutus and Tutsi have started intermarrying again! That is truly amazing and quite touching.
I cannot end this memorial without saying a prayer for those who perished in the Rwanda genocide. May their souls rest in perfect peace. I also pray for the survivors that their hearts may find peace. May fortitude continue to support and console them. As Rwandans remember 29 years after the genocide, I congratulate the government and people for their inspiring turnaround and I pray they truly really forgive themselves and never again must such a calamity befall them. Of course, beyond the remembrance, it goes without saying that no country should experience what Rwanda experienced before they learn their lessons. Those who exploit ethnic differences for political gains must be told in unmistakable terms to stop and desist!!!
Oparah is a public affairs commentator.
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