So why are you in Rwanda? Well chances are, you are somehow involved in forgiveness, reconciliation, empowerment, development, or studying/visiting the gorillas. And when you are constantly in the midst of these types of discussion, and these efforts, it is easy to forget how far the country actually has come.
This is the official week of remembrance. April 6, 1994 President Habyarimana’s flight from a peace process in Arusha, Tanzania was shot down and he was killed. Rwanda was instantly launched into chaos by the popular hate radio stations calling for the extermination of the people behind the attack on their president. What followed was 100 days of killings and man hunts that are normally reserved for horror films. Rwandans say 1 million were dead by the time current president Paul Kagame and his rebel forces took control in July of 1994. Western estimates generally put that number at 800,000, but either way, the number of dead given the number of days it took is astounding.
It is far too easy to criticize Rwandan society and progress from the inside of an American run NGO or an organization focused on reconciliation. But 17 years ago, there was nothing here at all except for some corpses and ruined buildings.
This is why we remember. To know where we came from, in-order to have hope for where we are headed.
As an outsider with stores of academic knowledge on the “art of reconciliation”, I can easily see what else must be addressed, who needs to do and say what. This is a vital trait for a conflict mediator. But for one living with and (trying to) build(ing) relationships with the local population, I too must remember how far the people have come.
This society is traumatized. Undoubtedly so. I don’t want to think about what life was like here 17 years ago. Neither do they. But this week alone I have heard the Youth Minister, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission Against Genocide, and three pastors talk about the necessity of remembering the past. Because, they all say, covering over the pain and memories, or ignoring them entirely, does not heal anything. World Vision’s representative said “pain that is not transformed is transferred.” To prevent the continuation of hatred and bitterness, it is important to recognize the pain, address the pain, and transform it.
So yeah, the society is hurting. There is still so much I can point out that must be said and done. But if I can remember where they were 17 years ago, I can recognize the insane progress they’ve made. And if they can remember where they were 17 years ago, they might recall the intensity of the pain, and recognize what produced such pain, and ultimately understand how to avoid a repetition of the horrors created by underlying and unaddressed hatred.