By David Toovey
April 7 marks 19 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. During a period of 100 days more than one million women, children and men were slaughtered in the world’s most brutal and efficient killing spree.
Half a century of ethnic division, first propagated by European colonisers, saw Rwanda bereft of respect for life and human dignity. The country was torn apart from its core by the events of 1994, leaving virtually every social and political institution destroyed.
To this day, many Rwandans have not been able to bury their loved ones and some who planned and carried out the genocide still walk freely on the streets of nations like France.
I’ve lived in Rwanda for just over a year now and I’ve seen the incredible strength and resilience of my friends and colleagues, many of whom lost brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers during the genocide. I don’t know how they do it, and my respect for them cannot be measured, let alone described in words.
Rwanda today stands out as a development success story. Child mortality rates are approaching the global mean, primary and secondary education is virtually universal, more than 90% of people have health insurance and 56% of the country’s parliamentarians are women (the highest in the world).
By no means is Rwanda perfect and much progress is still needed, but what I’ve witnessed is a sense of national unity that would have seemed beyond impossible in the days and months after the genocide. It’s a unity not based on the ‘us and them’ paradigm, but on the desire to build a nation together – to reclaim the hope, opportunity, dignity and respect for life that was lost with each and every murder in 1994.
The genocide didn’t affect me or my family and it probably didn’t affect yours either, but it is our collective responsibility to make sure that the events of 1994 never happen anywhere ever again.
Just as Rwandans stand together to mourn those that were lost, we too must stand together to fight racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination. We must stand against all those who wish to divide us.
Rwanda has taught me that a people united are capable of anything. And that gives me great hope for the future.