Forgive but Never Forget: 25yrs After Rwandan genocide

9 04 2019

By Chinwuba Iyizoba

crowd of Rwandan at 25 yrs of genocide

 

Forgive and forget is an old saying but not in Rwanda as it marks 25 years after the genocide that killed close to a million people. The people are convinced that peace will continue only if they never forget.

 

“We are family once again, but never again will this happen”, said Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president on April 7 during the lighting of the commemoration lamp that will burn the whole of 100 days, the time it took to end the genocide that began on April 7, 1994.

On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying then-President Juvenal Habyarimana – a Hutu – was shot down, killing all on board. The government blamed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi led guerrilla fighters in the north. The next day a well-organized campaign of slaughter began. Youth militias (Interahamwes) were given hit lists of Tutsi victims. Many were killed with machetes in acts of appalling brutality. They set up road blocks to find Tutsis, incited hatred via radio broadcasts and carried out house to house searches. The killing lasted a 100 days ending when the RPF, led by Kagame and backed by Uganda, marched on Kigali. Some two million Hutus fled, mainly to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Unlike the sowers of hatred who orchestrated the genocide and ethnic division, Kagame has fostered unity and common brotherhood of all Rwanda.

Today, the country has recovered economically, with President Kagame’s policies encouraging rapid growth and technological advancement. Growth remains good – 7.2% in 2018 according to the African Development Bank.

“The arms of our people, intertwined, constitute the pillars of our nation,” Kagame said. “We hold each other up. Our bodies and minds bear amputations and scars, but none of us is alone. He added: “The fighting spirit is alive in us. What happened here will never happen again…”

From the constant bloodletting of Boko Harm in Northern Nigeria to the threats of vicious Somali gunmen in Kenya. African sees a lot of blood and horror. The African leaders present at the ceremony are hopefully here to learn how to stop the constant bloodshed, hatred and injustice in their own countries by building bridges that create spirit of brotherhood like Kagame has done in Rwanda.

 

True peace comes from Forgiveness

Immaculee Ilibagiza

The 1994 genocide destroyed the illusion that African fault line wars are triggered by lack of religious homogeneity. With an estimated population 5.6 million, 80 percent of Rwandans are Christians, mainly Catholics, yet they ditched the truths of the Catholic faith taught to them as children to heed the screech of murder and rape.

Immaculée Ilibagiza, a woman who survived the genocide hiding in a pastors toilet for 90 days with seven other women but lost her entire family with the exception of one brother who was outside the country, in her New York Times best-selling Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, she talked about her struggles with hatred and desire revenge against those trying to kill her, and her initial inability to forgive. Then one day like one who had since been looking at a tapestry from behind seeing only a meaningless jumble of treads, she was finally given through prayers to see it upfront, and marvel at its beauty . She tells the story like this:

One night we heard screaming not far from the house and then a baby crying. The killers must have slain the mother and left her infant to die in the road. The child wailed all night; by morning, its cries were feeble and sporadic, and by nightfall, it was silent. I heard dogs snarling nearby and shivered as I thought about how that baby’s life had ended. I prayed for God to receive the child’s innocent soul, and then asked Him, How can I forgive people who would do such a thing to an infant?

I heard God’s answer as clearly as if we had been  sitting in the same room chatting: You are all my children . . . and the baby is with Me now.

In God’s eyes, the killers were part of His family, deserving of love and forgiveness. I knew that I couldn’t ask God to love me if I were unwilling to love His children. At that moment, I prayed for the killers, for their sins to be forgiven and for the first time since I entered the bathroom, I slept in peace”.

immaculee in toilet where she lived for 90 days with 7 other women

Immaculee in toilet where she lived for 90 days with 7 other women when she returned to Rwanda after the war

True, bad indoctrination can contribute to evil actions, but every evil act is still an individual act. Those who choose evil exercise personal freedom and thus are responsible for their acts.  It is heartening to note that many  Hutus chose to die rather than kill. They were true Hutus because they chose freedom rather than slavery of evil and their action are an indictment of those who took up the machetes to kill.

One can be trapped in the most horrendous and inhuman prison and yet be free, by accepting God’s will and by loving sacrifice, thinking of all the souls on earth Immaculée found her deepest relationship with God, learning to love all mankind, especially to pray and forgive her enemies.

She reached the peak of  forgiveness when she decided to visit Felicien, the man who killed her mother, and personally forgive him. After she had told him so, she asked him: “How can you have done this? Killing so many people, you can’t be at peace.” In rags, he seemed small and confused. “”I wanted to reach out to him,” she said. “I cried, and then he himself started to cry.”

The official in charge of the jail, a Tutsi who was a survivor like Immaculée  who was initially angry at her for forgiving the man latter came to her and said, “You don’t know what you did to me, when you went to the jail and forgave Felicien.  I was shocked but I learnt the necessity for forgiveness.”

Just like a tennis ball striking a soft pillow decelerates and loses its power to rebound, violence stops when it hits a forgiving heart. This is a lesson that Rwandans and millions of African victims of violence should take to heart and never forget.

By Chinwuba Iyizoba

 


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