Denise Uwimana Reflects on the Rwandan Genocide After 25 Years

Rwandans arrive at dusk for a memorial service held at Amahoro stadium in the capital Kigali, Rwanda, on April 7, 2019. Rwanda is commemorating the 25th anniversary of when the country descended into an orgy of violence in which up to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by the majority Hutu population over a 100-day period in what was the worst genocide in recent history. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

(Adapted from “From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness” © 2019 by Denise Uwimana, published on April 6 by P​lough Publishing.​ The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.)

I have heard that in the United States people remember exactly what they were doing when planes hit the Twin Towers in New York. In Rwanda, too, we remember a plane crash that way. On the evening of April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutus, was shot down as it arrived in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

There is this difference: On September 11, nearly 3,000 people died. In Rwanda, smaller in size and population than Ohio, the deaths of the two presidents set off a genocidal rampage against the Tutsi people that killed three times as many as died in 9/11 — every day for 100 days.

I’m trying to help people grasp what happened, because no one can picture a million human beings killed. Not even we who survived.

April 7, the chosen launch date for the systematic slaughter of the Tutsi population, was Day One of our country’s Hundred Days in Hell.

The killing reached my town, Bugarama, in western Rwanda, on April 16. How gladly I would forget all I saw that day, but — as war veterans can confirm — such images are seared into the brain as if by a camera’s flash.

Why revisit that day’s events, then, if they were so horrific? I feel I owe it to the people who died; if I don’t tell, who will even know that they lived?

Rwanda, circled in red, in central Africa.
Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Also, I write for the sake of history. If a nation’s shameful deeds are not to be repeated, they must be recognized and remembered — not swept under the rug. As harsh as it is, American youth need to learn how Native American peoples were exterminated; Germans have to know what their country did to the Jews; and Turks must acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Mass evil can break out at any place where one group despises another.

In Bosnia, people who had previously lived peaceably as neighbors carried out the 1995 massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica. And in 2017, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar claimed around ten thousand Rohingya lives.

So, as a witness to the genocide against the Tutsi, I must tell what happened, no matter how painful it is for me to write. I hope my account will help ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, anywhere on earth. But I also write because genocide is not the end of the story — not for me and not for my beloved country.

It is still hard for me to believe that the sun rose as usual on April 16, but in fact it was a beautiful Saturday morning. I could hear birds singing. The sky had cleared again, with no sign of rain. If it hadn’t been for the dread weighing me down, this would have been the perfect day for scrubbing my floors and for washing and hanging out the laundry. I had always been an energetic mother, and liked a clean house, especially with a baby on the way.

But with all the recent happenings, I woke feeling overwhelmed, my mind tuned to an inner vibration — or was it a distant drumbeat? In this state, I could face only the most basic tasks. I tried to fix my mind on feeding 18-month-old Christian, four-year-old Charles-Vital, and the others in my apartment, and then on cleaning up after breakfast. I felt strung tight — listening, watching — and kept glancing out the window.

It was a relief, around 8 o’clock, to see my friend Faina approaching, an empty basket on her head. She was a Hutu woman I had often prayed with. Her family was poorer than ours, yet she had a generous nature, and she came now to ask if I needed anything from the market in Nyakabuye.

Touched by Faina’s offer, I gave her enough money to buy cabbage, plums, bananas, and ​lenga lenga, a spinach-like vegetable. My heart lifted a little at her thoughtfulness — and at knowing that my household would have fresh food through the weekend.

At noon, it was time to prepare lunch, but, surprisingly, Faina had not yet returned with the fruit and vegetables. Twice I glanced up the road to see if she was coming. The third time I stepped out, I saw a figure in the distance, running our direction. It looked like Faina, but I had never known her to run, and this woman was empty-handed.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service