Kigali, Rwanda — In a country with an estimated population of 12 million people, with 50 percent of them being female and 60 per cent being 24-years and below; Rwanda has one of the youngest populations in the world.
The country's population and stability was adversely affected during the 1994 genocide. Women and young girls suffered sexual assault and rape at the hands of the genocide perpetrators while young children were deprived of the comfort of growing up with their parents. According to a report by the UN, an estimated 100,000-250,000 women were raped during the three months of genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
Rape committed during war is often systematic and intended to terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic make-up of the next generation. Sometimes it is also used to render women from the targeted community incapable of bearing more children.
The report added that after the genocide, Rwanda had among the highest proportions of child-headed families in the world -- some 42,000 households struggling to raise an estimated 101,000 children.
Imbuto Foundation Deputy Director General, Geraldine Umutesi who was only 16 in 1994, says surviving the genocide was a miracle. She is among those who lost her parents. If not for the support of the government through the Genocide Survivors Fund; she would have been unable to complete her education through to university.
Umutesi who was one of the panelists in a discussion on preserving memory; upholding values at 16th edition of the Umushyikirano, recently held in Kigali, Rwanda. The word Umushyikirano translates to a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Today Umushyikirano is known as the National Dialogue Council. It aims to be a leading example of participatory and inclusive governance, as it serves as a forum for Rwandans to hold their leaders and government to account.
Umutesi recounted how a number of the women who were violated during the genocide, were infected with HIV/Aids and other young girls got pregnant. One study by African Rights carried out in 2001 found that 70% of rape survivors from the Rwandan genocide were HIV-positive.
Umutesi knows of about 2500 women who are living positively as they and their families were assisted together to get health care at special clinics created specifically for them with the support from the first lady Jeannette Kagame.
"... we wanted to live and we had to work for it, the Genocide survivors started to work immediately after, we created an association for Survivors and 40, 000 members joined with a view that we had to look for solutions to our problems," says Umutesi.
Umutesi says the support from the government helped then create families that provided the genocide survivors with emotional support which included assistance for young people to go back to school as well as counseling for survivors of the genocide.
"... liberating us showed that life is possible. We now have our own pieces of land and are able to farm , we own animals and can drink milk... ,"she said. She is however quick to note that even if most young people with mental health issues were been helped, more needs to be done to completely rid society of the genocide ideology 24 years after it happened.
However Dr. Jean Damascene Bizimana the executive secretary for the Commission for the fight against Genocide (CNLG) said there has been 85 percent reduction in the ideology to propagate genocide.
"Among the challenges that we face in reconstructing Rwanda, is that there are some parents and adults who are still instilling hurt in their children . There are also youths who are exchanging hurtful messages, but we are working round the clock to ensure that the genocide ideology is killed completely."
In July this year, members of the Rwandan Parliament passed a law against genocide ideology. The law seeks not only to punish those who deny genocide -perpetrated in Rwanda or abroad but also those who will try to sensitize others people to commit genocide.
26- year-old Sophia Mukandaneme says parents have the responsibility to tell their children the truth so that they will be able to destroy the genocide ideology. Sophia was two in 1994 and as she grew up, she could not understand why her father was in jail because no one, not even her mother was willing to tell her the truth.
Sophia says she had to find out the truth herself by visiting her father in jail, who told her, he had been charged for taking part in the mass killings. She adds that knowing the truth make her interact freely with other children because they have chosen to heal their land.
26-year-old Emmanuel Muneza believes that the youth have a huge role to play in changing the country's destiny in spite of what they have gone through. He noted that the genocide ideology remains rampart on social media and there is need for consented efforts in maintain that which the country has achieved so far.
Their words echo those spoken by the speaker of the Chamber of deputies in the Parliament of Rwanda, Rt Ho. Donatille Mukabalisa on April 11, 2018 during the 24th commemoration of the Genocide held at Nyanza in Kicukiro.
She said " to fight against genocide ideology, we need to constantly carry on the fight because some evil people including some Rwandans, have not yet come from evilness and still teach revisionism by preaching hatred to their children. We must combat those who deny and trivialize the Genocide against the Tutsi by all possible means. We do not have to wait for what they said; we rather have to preemptively tell our true story."
The author is a Zambian Journalist and a member of the Graca Machel Trust women in media network. She was invited to attend and cover the Umushyikirano National council by the office of the Governments spokesperson of Rwanda.