By James Munyaneza
April 7, the day when Rwandans began a week-long official commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, was obviously a difficult day for me and my family.
Although, I was not personally in Rwanda at the time when the most ruthless of humans feasted on the unborn, young and old Tutsis alike, my ancestral home was cruelly uprooted along with all its inhabitants.
Many Rwandans have a much more depressing story. Many lived the situation. Thousands of survivors virtually resurrected from the dead. They agonizingly crawled themselves out of heaps of severed bodies of their own children, parents and siblings, and somehow, survived so they can tell the story. Many others were not fortunate enough to outlive the Genocide, as Interahamwe militia, government soldiers and other extremists did everything possible not to let any Tutsi slip through their bloody hands.
The genocide machine was designed so effectively to confine Tutsis to the books of history. How else would you explain the cruelty of parents smashing their neighbors’ babies against concrete walls for just a ‘fraction of Tutsi blood’? Where fetuses were ripped out of their mothers’ wombs and then pounded like grain; and all Tutsi-connected females, including young kids and grandmothers, repeatedly gang-raped, before they were brutally driven out of the land of the living! We’re told in some cases killers went as far as cutting some organs off their victims’ bodies and eat them.
With their Tutsi targets nearly decimated and the world idly standing by, God knows what would have befallen this country had the RPA liberators not put their own lives on the line by charging, against all odds, and eventually defeating the marauding genocidaires, to restore sanity! My guess is that, after skinning all the Tutsis around them, these killers-turned-vultures would have gone on to clear the country of any flesh, before eventually tearing each other apart.
As President Paul Kagame rightly put it, on Thursday, the genocidaires may have taken away the body but not the spirit of their victims. The killers may have afflicted unquantifiable misery to survivors and, indeed, the entire nation, but if the past 17 years offer any lesson, it’s the fact that the Good shall always prevail over Evil.
Today, Rwanda is much stronger than ever before, and Genocide survivors have not only picked themselves up but also ensured they do not lag behind in the country’s fast-paced development.
Women who watched as their children and husbands were slaughtered and were themselves subjected to horrific forms of torture, including being infected with HIV/Aids, have since come to terms with their serostatus and, thanks to the adequate availability of ARVs and the universal healthcare system in the country, most of them are still actively involved in production work. Many have since grown into successful entrepreneurs.
Children, who, somehow, survived the killings after spending weeks without food and enduring the usually severe cold weather in Rwanda around April and May, are now grown-ups and full of life. Like other Rwandan children, they have benefited from the government’s all-inclusive education system (where ethnic identity and birthplace are no longer a basis for education success). Many have already graduated from the university and are enthusiastically contributing to the country’s development.
They’re no longer those young kids who were frantically scampering for safety wondering what they and their parents had committed to be hunted down like animals. Today, they understand that their only crime was that they were born Tutsi. Yet, they’re not cursing their identity; no, they instead despise the past discriminatory policies and are actively partaking in building a united and prosperous Rwanda. Their bravery did not stop at withstanding the Genocide; they have successfully raised younger genocide orphans, whom they have relentlessly fended for over the past 17 years, even though they still needed parental care themselves. Above all, they and millions of other Rwandan youths stand out as a symbol of resistance to all attempts to distort the history of Genocide. They’re using all sorts of platforms available to preserve the truth, including songs, publications, poems, painting and cinema.
These youth may still be fragile (in fact quite a number of them will show signs of trauma upon viewing footage of that chapter of our history), but they’re determined to jealously guard that history, because they know that a nation in denial about its past, or one that allows distortion of its history, can hardly tell where its heading to.
Many survivors have since forgiven the killers butchered their family members, and have not sought revenge. Instead, they have embraced the government’s reconciliation drive. Yet they and other Rwandans continue to be victims of genocide denial and revisionism.
For their resilience, I will always hold the survivors of the 1994 against the Tutsi in high esteem.