It’s eerily quiet this morning. The only sound is birds signing, a rooster crowing somewhere in the distance, and rain lightly tapping on the roof. No cars, no people walking around, no voices. The only human noise I’ve heard so far is the neighbours’ little child crying.
Today Rwanda commemorates the beginning of the Genocide in 1994. Over the 100 days that followed, over 800,000 people were slaughtered.
23 years ago, on 6th April, the plane carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it was descending to land in Kigali. The next day, the Genocide began. Rwandans are still coming to terms with what happened and every year the anniversary is marked by a week of mourning. During this period everyone is expected to behave in a respectable way: no loud music is to be played, football matches are cancelled, driving is frowned upon. This is the time to remember, reflect, and honour the dead.
Commemorations will be taking place across the country at a village level, and today in the afternoon Rwandan youth will take part in a Remembrance Walk from the Parliament to the Amahoro stadium where a night vigil will be held. The media also report that the Rwandan diaspora in other countries, including Canada, Ghana, and The Netherlands, will also be organising similar marches. Rwandan Police have issued a statement that anyone suspected of hate crimes during the commemoration period will be brought to justice; statistics show that instances of such crimes targeting Genocide survivors and their livestock usually spike at this time. This year’s theme for the remembrance period is “Remember the Genocide against the Tutsi – Fight Genocide Ideology – Build on our Progress”.
Last month, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the role the Catholic Church played in the Genocide. He “expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which unfortunately disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a ‘purification of memory’ and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace”*. This statement followed a formal apology from Rwanda’s Catholic bishops last year. However, many Rwandans still feel betrayed by the Church, mainly because a number of those priests and nuns who actively supported the Genocide were later helped by the Catholic network to leave the country and avoid justice; many of them continued to work in parishes in Europe. As a result of this resentment, a lot of Rwandan Catholics have joined other Christian churches. It took the Catholic Church two decades to formally acknowledge its participation in the Genocide so Pope Francis’ statement was welcomed, but the feeling is that words are not enough. The Church should be taking part in the rehabilitation process, not to mention reparations. Rwandans hope that the Pope’s apology will lead to the Catholic Church’s wider involvement in rebuilding the country.**
If you want to know more about the Rwandan Genocide, now officially called the Genocide against the Tutsi, check out my post about the Kigali Genocide Memorial where you will find a list of books and films worth knowing; and my review of probably the best book on the Genocide.