‘I am not alone’: Rwandans remember 1994 genocideSun, 07 Apr 2024 18:26:43 GMT

Thirty years after genocide tore their tiny nation apart, Rwandans gathered in their capital city on Sunday for a candlelight vigil to remember the dead and hope for a better future.Thousands of people congregated at the Kigali arena, holding up candles in memory of those slaughtered, as a choir performed.Like the majority of the young nation’s population, many of the mourners were not even born in April 1994, when Hutu extremists targeted the Tutsi minority, claiming 800,000 lives, including moderate Hutus.But several attendees told AFP they shared their country’s tragic history, and had lost family members to the genocide, while others said they were bound by a sense of duty towards those who had suffered.Ange Christian Kwizera was a seven-year-old schoolboy when he was orphaned by the massacres as Hutu militias attacked the Mibilizi parish in southwestern Rwanda, where Tutsi civilians were seeking shelter.Raised in a Catholic orphanage, the 37-year-old told AFP he decided to become a history teacher so he could do his part to “make sure (genocide) doesn’t happen again”.Rwakayiro Jean de Dieu, 28, said his grandmother and uncles were among the victims of the carnage.”Though they are gone, we are here to remember them,” he told AFP.Sunday’s events mark the start of a week of national mourning, with no upbeat music allowed in public places or on the radio, while TV broadcasts must focus on what has been dubbed “Kwibuka (Remembrance) 30″.”Today is a bad day for every Rwandan,” Ernestine Mukambarushimana said quietly as she waited for the vigil to begin.Nevertheless, the 30-year-old told AFP she felt supported by the acts of mass remembrance taking place in Rwanda this week as she grieves slain relatives.”I am not alone,” she said.- ‘Impossible to forget’ -University student Kwizera Uwimana Josue told AFP he had been attending vigils since his parents took him to the ceremonies as a child.”They wanted me to know what Rwanda passed through,” he said, adding that he had since set up an organisation focused on building peace.”My dream is… a peaceful Rwanda, where citizens are united.”Today, Rwandan ID cards do not mention whether a person is Hutu or Tutsi, with the government determined to pursue a policy of reconciliation.In 2002, Rwanda set up community tribunals that ran for 10 years, enabling victims to hear “confessions” from those who had persecuted them.To help foster reconciliation, those who confessed were often treated with leniency, allowed to return home or ordered to carry out community service.Schoolteacher Kwizera, who lost his parents and other relatives to the genocide, said he believed in the possibility of forgiveness.”We forgive. It’s not easy but we try,” he said, emphasising his desire for a peaceful future.But the wounds run deep, he admitted, as he observed children file past him on their way to the vigil.”Most of these young ones don’t know genocide,” he said.”But for us, it is impossible to forget.”