Sep 262012

The one thing most people know about Rwanda is that in 1994 there was a terrible outburst of genocidal violence. We had done a little reading about it before we came and knew that the colonial system introduced the classification of two groups in this tiny country which led directly to the slaughter. Our orientation focused on what happened and why. We learnt that the targeting of Tutsis was a political strategy implemented over many years by extremists within a government supported by the outgoing colonisers. A militia was trained in secret for the purpose and there were many earlier attacks. In preparation for the final horror of those days in April, 5 thousand machetes were imported. Eight hundred thousand people were murdered in a hundred days.

To learn of the reality of what happened from someone who had lived through it was a moving experience. In one sense everyone here over 18 is a victim of what happened. Many people will tell you quietly who they lost:grandparents, fathers, mothers, siblings, children. You can see machete wounds on some;some have lost limbs. But so many are ‘walking with trauma ‘ which you can’t see. The women we are meeting in the co- operatives experienced all forms of sexual violence and many were infected with HIV. At the orphanage there are adults who were abandoned as babies by fleeing genociders or who had lost their parents when the army of exiles arrived to stop the killing. Some of these had been living wild in the forest when they were found. At the Genocide Memorial in Kigali there are 250 thousand bodies buried in mass graves, some of them unidentified, some only recently found. There is a Children’s Room with portraits of just ten of those killed. You see the name, a description of their known likes and dislikes, personalities and then how they killed. As the sign on the wall says these might have been Rwanda’s heroes, stars of the future; these few symbolise all.

So it is all the more remarkable that Rwanda has established a unified country with one language as before colonisation, refused to let revenge take hold, implemented not only justice through the legal system but also set up local courts where the perpetrators face their neighbours and the truth, used reconciliation processes to heal, protected the children of the militia and emphasised the need to go forward. This is a peaceful, safe place where the two groups mix and live together. The original ‘ social culture’ of Rwanda is a key factor. Here people naturally support the community and there is a continual greeting, exchanging of news, stopping to enquire that we have seen in a short time.

As our co- ordinator says, ‘You can’ t let pain imprison you. So you have to forgive.


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