7 April 2014

Rwanda: Kwibuka Flame Countrywide Tour Through the Lens of a Journalist

Over the last 100 days, the Kwibuka or Remembrance Flame has been on a nationwide tour, traversing all the country's 30 districts - ahead of today's 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

I was honoured to cover the entire tour for The New Times.

They share a sense of optimism that the country's future holds the best for every Rwanda, particularly younger folks.

Among the main achievements cited is the government's ability to come up with strategies that enabled the perpetrators and victims to reconcile and work together.

From the north to south, east to west, there is also a general feeling that hard work and team work will lead to much more success in the future.

Heartbreaking tales:

From the mountainous western and northern regions to the valleys and low-lands of the east and bustling streets of Kigali, the Kwibuka (Remembrance) Flame seemed to inspire Rwandans to use the lessons learnt both during and after the Genocide to build a brighter future.

Almost every stop attracted thousands of residents - in some cases people climbed trees to follow the proceedings. Along our countrywide tour there were moments of heavy emotions triggered by bitter memories of the killings, but also genuine appreciation for acts of heroism by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) liberators and, in some cases, ordinary unarmed Rwandans who put their own lives on the line to save others.

I heard some of the most chilling tales of the massacre of the Tutsi. In some cases, survivors struggled to describe the pain they were subjected to in the terrible events of 1994. It was indescribable.

Such was the case when survivors in Ruhango's Kinazi Sector narrated how the most vicious elements among the Interahamwe militia ate the flesh of their victims, or in Nyarubuye, Kirehe, where survivors spoke of killers drinking human blood.

In other areas, Tutsi were put under the same structure and burnt alive, according to testimonies. Others were hunted with dogs and their bodies fed to the animals. Women suffered the brunt of the Rwanda tragedy.

Testimonies about gang rapes, sticks and arrows that were shoved into the private parts of helpless women, and children who were struck against walls - including at places of worship, such as in Ntarama Catholic Church in Bugesera - were commonplace. Even the mentally-ill Tutsi were not spared, witnesses said.

It is clear that the genocidal regime and its machine were determined not just to exterminate the Tutsi but to do so in the most brutal of ways. Yet we also heard rare testimonies of heroism and inspiring stories; tales of courageous ordinary people who risked their lives to save the Tutsi.

They are the unsung heroes of our recent history. Most of them live among us. But this is a grateful society; people who saved even a single life during the Genocide are deeply appreciated. I saw it on the Kwibuka Flame tour.

In Nyabihu, one of such people, Jean Bosco Ndagijimana, saved the lives of at least 15 Tutsi, by bravely helping them to escape from tormentors and cross over the border into DR Congo. It was an emotional moment when some of those he saved joined him on stage.

One of the survivors is now his in-law after he married Ndagijimana's sister following the Genocide. The survivors also spoke of their high regard and a deep sense of gratitude for the men and women that belonged to the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the former armed wing of the RPF that single-handedly brought an end to the Genocide against the Tutsi - against all odds.

We also witnessed how survivors have since rebuilt their lives, from nothing, and are now people others in their communities look up to. Yet we also met those who are still struggling even as they remain hopeful they will also turn a corner. Most of them are elderly widows. There were also many success stories of reconciliation.

In most cases, there are stories beyond human understanding. It's not an everyday story to hear that someone who survived genocide only 20 years ago gets married to a son or daughter of the same person who killed their parents! But that is what is happening today - across Rwanda.

There were also many success stories of reconciliation. In most cases, there are stories beyond human understanding. It's not an everyday story to hear that someone who survived genocide only 20 years ago gets married to a son or daughter of the same person who killed their parents! But that is what is happening today - across Rwanda.

The people of Rwanda want to continue enjoying the prevailing peace and security and stability. Should these ingredients remain intact, they say, everything else will fall into place, especially with the trustworthy leadership at the top.

During the Kwibuka Flame Tour, many people also spoke of the fact that the future of this country rests on the shoulders of the younger compatriots, whom they said needed to rise up to the occasion and uphold the country's aspirations.

And it seems the youth are ready to take up the mantle. Sabin Rwema, a secondary school student in the southern district of Nyamagabe, put it aptly.

"As young people, we have a responsibility to safeguard the country's achievements and ensure that they are never destroyed. We must continue to work together and actively contribute towards building a nation free from any discriminative tendencies. We should be in position to defend this country, to protect its gains over the years, that's something we should never compromise on.

"The country has gone through terrible times, and the onus is on the young people to ensure that that ugly past remains in the annals of history."

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