16 Years Later, the Rwandan Genocide Remembered

On April 7th, Rwanda commemorated the 16th anniversary of the genocide that took the lives of as many as 800,000 people and traumatized a whole region to this day. The genocide is commemorated to keep the memory of the victims alive and honor them but also to help the country move forward in the spirit of unity and reconciliation. Survivors of the genocide recall those 100 days when humanity as a whole failed them immensely and consistently. Many of them are involved in the reconstruction process, creating networks to sustain coexistence. In the aftermath of French president Sarkozy recent visit to Kigali and acknowledging in a joint press conference with President Kagame that “mistakes were made” in 1994 (fr), bloggers discuss the meaning of Genocide Memorial Day (although commemorations really last a week) and the complexity of Rwanda's international relations.

Tutsi survivor Norah Bagarinka recalls how she was stopped by militiamen but was eventually saved by one of them who happened to be her gardener:

He took us, my other and three other ladies, aside on the other bush. When we reached there, he got some leaves, bandaged my hand, and he told us: ” Run, run for your safety”. And he apologized.

The project Voices of Rwanda records the life stories of Rwandans – not just stories about the genocide, but about their lives as whole. This testimony from a survivors explain why she feels compelled to remember and provide her testimony:

” If I die without telling my story here, my lineage will be snuffed out”

(For more details on Voices of Rwanda, read the article on The Hub at Witness)

Blogger Mamadou Kouyate posts an article on the recollection of a group of Australian soldiers from the UN peacekeeping team of the Kibeho massacre:

“Many of the vets have a lot of guilt about what happened because they were not able to do the best they could do to save lives. They could not do anything to defend those who couldn't defend themselves.”[..] “All that seemed to remain was the stench of genocide and children abandoned by war pathetically wandering the streets, traumatised by the death and destruction they had witnessed.”

The commemoration in Amohoro (Peace) Stadium were followed by 20,000 people in a calm and uplifting atmosphere. Sara Strawczynski provides a description of the Walk to Remember in the streets of Kigali:

During my months living and working as a Kiva Fellow in Rwanda, I’ve had a hard time reconciling what I know to have taken place with what I experience day-to-day. Kigali is a safe, clean and beautiful city. The countryside is lush and stunning. [..] That said, signs of Rwanda’s genocide are never far beneath the surface [..] we passed two groups of prisoners, easily identifiable in their pink, orange and blue jumpsuits. Rwanda’s prisons are filled with people accused and convicted of genocide and war crimes, and its incarceration rate is among the highest in the world.

Jenny Clover attended a commemoration at the Church of Nyamata where 10,000 people were killed:

The church at Nyamata is filled with the clothes of all 10,000 people who died there – thousands and thousands of shirts, dresses, socks and trousers piled on church pews. They start to blur into one after a while – just a muddy pile of tatty clothes, pulled from a mass grave where the murderers tried to cover up what they had done. [..] There's a lot more to say about the memorial at Nyamata: the rows and rows of skulls neatly lined up in the cold underground crypt, some with clean machete cuts right though them..

This is the second time that Jina Moore is in Rwanda during Memorial Day. She is torn between “the obligation to attend and the urge to stay away“:

Many are marking something they know from memory; others are remembering the loss of family, even if they were abroad and did not face genocide themselves. But this is not my memory. Without a doubt, I will spend the better part of today thinking of my friends who are survivors, and thinking of the family they lost who, through my friends’ stories, feel almost like people I knew, too. Perhaps I will mark some part of the day with those friends. Perhaps not. There is often discussion among the mzungus here of whether it's intrusive of us to go to these programs, or on the other hand whether it's disrespectful not to. I don't think there's a rule.

Many local bloggers have also reacted to the complex relations between Rwanda and the international community.

Stephane Ballong explains that the relation between Rwanda and France is still a bit tense (fr):

En août 2008, Kigali qui a rompu ces relations diplomatiques avec Paris, avait menacé de traduire en justice 33 personnalités françaises. Dans un rapport de 500 pages, les autorités rwandaises ont dénoncé l’implication du gouvernement français dans le génocide. Le document confirmait les responsabilités directes de treize politiciens et vingt militaires français dans ces tueries.

In August 2008, Kigali severed diplomatic ties with Paris and threaten to pursue in court 33 French personalities. In a 500-pages long report, the Rwandan authority denounced the involvement of France in the genocide. The document confirmed the direct ties of 13 politicians and 20 French army personnel in the killings.

Christophe Ayad goes into more details about these allegations that will be published in a dossier  called ” «La France au Rwanda»    (fr):

Dans «Là haut, sur la colline de Bisesero», Jean-François Dupaquier fait le récit des premiers jours de l'opération Turquoise -opération militaro-humanitaire controversée et destinée à «stopper les massacres»- à travers le témoignage long et détaillé de l'adjudant-chef Thierry Prungnaud, gendarme du GIGN. Il est envoyé en élément précurseur sous le commandement du COS (Commandement des opérations spéciales). Pendant plusieurs jours, il ne comprend rien à la situation. Et pour cause. Voici le tableau de la situation qu'on lui a dressé avant sa mission: «Les Tutsis exterminent les Hutus. Nous sommes venus pour les protéger, mettre fin aux massacres (…) Votre rôle est de vous informer de la situation sur le terrain, de voir où en sont les rebelles du FPR». C'est exactement le contraire de la réalité: les Tutsis sont massacrés par les Hutus et le Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) n'est en rien impliqué dans le génocide, qu'il cherche plutôt à stopper.

In “Up in the Bisesero Hill”, Jean-François Dupaquier tells the story of the first day of l'opération Turquoise- a semi-humanitarian military operation destined to stop the massacres- through the testimony of Thierry Prungnaud, member of GIGN armed forces. Prungnaud is sent on a reconnaissance mission under the command of the COS ( Special Operation Command). For days, he cannot make sense of the situation. Indeed, he was told before his mission that: Tutsis were exterminating Hutus. We are here to protect them and end the massacre (..) your role is to stay informed about the situation on site and to determine the location of the FPR rebels. It is quite the opposite of reality: The Tutsis were being massacred by the Hutus and the FPR (Rwandan Patriotic Front) had nothing to do with the genocide, instead they were trying to stop it

France is not the only country being accused of involvement in Rwanda's tragedy. Mamadou Kouyate posts on his blog an article by Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research that claims that the war in Rwanda and the ethnic massacres were part of US foreign policy.

All these allegations and the still palpable trauma from the tragedy make for a very complex diplomatic and political scene in Rwanda. Local bloggers are weary that a few months away from the elections ( scheduled in august 2010), political tensions might rise again. Jean-Marie Vianney Ndagijimana writes that the opposition party, Les Forces Démocratiques Unifiées-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) has been under duress on several occasions, namely by being denied passports, being subject to arbitrary police investigations and physical threats.

(Global Voices in French author Abdoulaye Bah contributed to this article with links. For bloggers’ reactions to last year's Genocide Memorial Day, please read Elia Varela Serra's compelling article).


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