Published in the October Issue of MiNDFOOD Magazine is my article on Rwanda. From past to present, this African country inspires and will leave you with a want to be a better person and do better in the world.
You could be mistaken for being in a different country when visiting Rwanda. Forget the raw, authentic and traditional Africa. It is unlike other African countries, maybe even unlike any other country in the world. The roads are impeccably maintained, rubbish is nearly non-existent and the feeling of safety is strong.
It was slightly refreshing to see a different Africa. A progressive Africa that is quickly moving forward, that is considerate of the environment and conservation, that values the expression of arts and culture and where things are going well.
It was a long and painful road to get to this point however.
A phrase commonly uttered on the clean streets of Rwanda is “love means forgiveness”. If you know anything about Rwanda’s history, you will understand the importance Rwandans place on forgiveness. Love and forgiveness have been the driving force behind the country’s astounding progress and development following the tragic events that occurred in 1994.
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Over a 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as many as 70 percent of the Tutsi population.
This widespread slaughter of Rwandans ended when the Tutsi-backed and heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame, took control of the country. An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.
The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, a conflict begining in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule.
This led to waves of Hutu violence against the RPF and Tutsi followed Rwandan independence in 1962. The “Hutu Power” ideology was born as many Hutus reacted with extreme opposition. On 6 April 1994, an aeroplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali. The assassination of Habyarimana ended the peace accords and the genocidal killings began the following day.
The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighbouring countries. As a result of rapes during this time, HIV infection spiked, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows. Infrastructure was destroyed, and the severe de-population of the country crippled the economy.
A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial provides a better insight into Rwanda’s harrowing past. Thirty-two-year-old Lydie Mutesi guided me around the memorial. She would have been eight years old at the time of the genocide, just a child. Now a mother with children herself, at times she paused to regain composure, the pain still evident in her recollections.
“It will always hurt, but we have to move on,” she confessed.
Taking some time to absorb the immense emotions that overcame me, I moved to a quieter part of the memorial grounds. Walking through the memorial stirs chilling emotions while reading stories of the lives lost and the survivor’s despair, tragedy and courage as panicked silent screams ring out in deafening imagery. The memorial’s simplicity allows the drama of the story to have maximum impact.
Both sides of the conflict have learned how to ask forgiveness as well as forgive their aggressors and now work beside each other in rebuilding their communities. They have fallen in love with each other and even started families together. Such an inspirational story of reconciliation and reunification is remarkable to learn from and witness first-hand.