This year marks the 26th anniversary of the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda, an organized killing spree that left more than one million people dead. One hundred days of murder began on April 6 1994 after the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, died when their plane was shot down over Kigali. No one has claimed responsibility or been conclusively identified as responsible. What commenced from that trigger point was an orchestrated campaign of mass killing.
Roadblocks were set up around the capital. Neighbors turned against neighbors. Suspicion and long-simmering tensions born from propaganda and fear-mongering erupted and spilled out onto the streets.
Jackie Mukamana, from Bugesera, said: “Today we live a better life and the children of Hutus and Tutsi attend the same schools and opportunities are offered equally. I can’t seek revenge because when you kill the person who murdered your relatives, you’ll become like that murderer.”The Guardian, 2019
To learn about how some of the Azizi Life artisans were affected by the atrocities of 1994, you can read Pascasie’s story.
April is the national month of memorial when the country comes together to remember the suffering of those who lost their lives and to focus on all that their country has achieved since then, rebuilding what was a very fractured society. Now, with the country in full lockdown owing to the spread of COVID-19, this time of remembrance is to be confined within people’s homes. Unlike in past commemorations, there will no public gatherings until lockdown is lifted; national mourning will take on a more muted note given the current crisis, but what happened will never be forgotten.
Last year, President Kagame led a candle-lit vigil at the Amahoro National Stadium, which was used by United Nations officials in 1994 to try to protect Tutsis during the killings. About 2,000 people had marched together on a walk of remembrance from parliament to the stadium. Because of COVID-19, scenes like this will not be happening.
This year, the traditional commemorative meeting of the UN General Assembly to mark the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda was postponed. However, on April 7 the public is called to reflect on a dark chapter in human history as well as honor those who were killed. A virtual observance will be held on the same day, expected to feature messages by the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations.
How Can We Play Our Part?
This is at once a somber and hopeful time. But, even as the Rwandese people are self-isolating, they are still choosing hope. This is something we can all do. We can all reach out in various ways to heal fractured relationships, cool conflicts, and get in touch with the friend or family member we haven’t contacted in a while. We can learn much from the Rwandese people, even if we have been through very different experiences.
Maybe it’s time to call that estranged family member, or the friend you parted ways with on bad terms but still think about. Let us not be socially isolated from one another. Let’s choose forgiveness and grace. Let’s choose hope.
*Azizi Life artisan partners are working hard for their families during this time of remembrance, even as the country tries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and lockdown continues. You can purchase their fair trade crafts or donate to help them through these difficult times.