By Sonia Uwimana
Please note the ‘friend’ featured in this dialogue is not a particular person but a composite. It is meant to reflect numerous conversations I have been having with my American friends for many Aprils over many years.
Friend: It’s commemoration again, I see.
Me: Yep. It is.
Friend: Don’t you ever get sick of it? It’s so depressing.
Me: Well, I guess it’s a sad time, for sure. But I don’t get ‘sick of it’.
Friend: I mean, you know, move on from the past…
Me: It was only 19 years ago: 1994, not 1894.
Friend: But, still. I don’t know. I just I think people might get tired of it.
Me:What ‘people’? You?
Friend: No, no. Not exactly. But I feel like I’ve heard enough about it.
Me: I don’t think that’s possible.
Friend: It’s not possible to hear enough about the genocide?
Me:We need to keep relearning the history, honing our understanding.
Friend: To honour the dead, you mean?
Me: Partly, sure. But to honour ourselves, too. And future generations. The genocide was one of the most extreme examples of brutality and mass violence, ever. The people who say they have “heard enough” are often the same people who think that it was just a slightly worse than average outburst of run-of-the-mill African savagery. Or, worse, they believe that it was a civil war that veered a little out of control. Or that the victims themselves brought it on. Or that both sides were as bad as each other. Or that we were all perpetrators, except for the actual perpetrators who are the new victims.
Friend: Well, how does Rwanda benefit by making half the country feel guilty and turning the other half into permanent victims?
Me: It doesn’t. The vast majority of Rwandans today — wherever they were in ’94 and whatever they were doing — are part of a shared journey of reconciliation and recovery. As a people, we all survived the genocide. Outsiders insist on believing there must be some sinister undercurrent of ethnic persecution going on, but that’s because they have no way of comprehending Africa except through the lens of primitive tribal score-settling. They’re ignorant and wrong.
Friend: I still don’t get how this constant reliving of history helps.
Me: Put it this way: better to over-learn the lessons of 1994 than under-learn them! And, anyway, we’re not reliving history — actually, the opposite is true. National commemoration is about making sure we Rwandans, and anyone else on the planet for that matter, never has to live through events like those ever again.