This annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide is important in fostering unity and reconciliation among Rwandans. Across the country memorial events are taking place starting with a major commemoration that the national football stadium, but also many smaller events are organized across the country from district to neighborhood level during one week. Messages which are disseminated during those commemorations help to restore hope for a better future which was the theme for this year events: "Learning from history to shape a bright future."
Many expatriates are leaving the country during that period and some advised me to do the same, because during that week activities are reduced and in particular "fun" activities like sports or entertainment in respect for the memorial.
I decided not to follow their advice and to stay in Kigali. I did not attend the major event in the stadium mainly because it being in Kinyarwanda, the local language which I don't understand. Instead I attended the event organized in my neighborhood (they call a neighborhood a village here). I always try to attend the meetings in my village and there is always someone helping translating what is said. This was the case again as someone sitting next to me translated all that was said in French for me during the three hours meeting.
It was a very simple meeting organized the African traditional way where everyone (about 50 of us) sat around a fire to discuss and listen. The ceremony started with the village chief explaining the objectives of the meeting and the theme of this year anniversary. Then a man explained the definition of a genocide and took us through a short historical review of the events that lead to the Rwandan genocide.
A woman survivor who lived in our village in 1994 shared her terrifying history with us relating it to places nearby that all of us could relate to. She was very animated and made us live through the fear she lived through for weeks, especially that she was eight months pregnant at that time. She told us how she was able to save her baby girl (now 18years old) from the massacre. She was helped by people that didn't even know her.
Then a group of 5 young people with two guitars chanted songs of sorrow and hope. Their soft voices covering the sound of the fire in the African night were very emotional.
Finally another woman spoke about the impact of the events on children, in particular the orphans who saw their entire family slaughtered in front of them. For months they would not speak, unable to express their feelings, thinking they were dead and living in another world. Many of them have been helped by NGOs. Often allowing them to draw their feelings has been helping them opening up.
It was a very emotional meeting for me. I was the only "white" person attending and many came to me at the end thanking me for attending and sharing these moments with them. In attendance were the mother of the president and the minister of health both living in my village and attending as simple citizens.
After the holocaust, the world said "never again" and yet it seems incomprehensible how this could happen again. And even now, the world is not helping much Rwanda bringing 65 genocidaires hiding mainly in Europe and identified by the government to justice. While Europe deployed many efforts to bring the people responsible of the Srebrenica killing of 8,000 Bosniaks during the Bosnian War to the International Court of Justice, they seem less interested in pursing the Rwandan genocidaires. It seems that once again we are turning our backs and that African lives do not have have the same value...