TWENTY YEARS AND COUNTING – RWANDA REMEMBERS AND HONOURS HER DEAD
(Posted 06th April 2014)
‘This is a day of painful memories, a day when Rwanda remembers her losses, a day when we remember how the world stood by and watched when nearly a million of our compatriots were slaughtered in the most brutal way. But it is also a day when we reaffirm our country’s new direction of forgiveness for the sake of peace, for the sake of healing those deep wounds, for the sake of national reconciliation. Our Gacaca Courts have dealt with almost all cases of perpetrators who came forward to admit their complicity and crimes and asked to be forgiven. But make no mistake, those who masterminded these unspeakable crimes, those who fueled the violence, promoted and facilitated it, we shall hunt them down until the last has been brought to justice. We can proudly say we share the NEVER AGAIN with the Jews and like they do, we shall never let down our guard, reduce our vigilance and stop defending our newfound spirit of RWANDAISM, one people in one country, united’ wrote a regular contributor when asked to share the sentiments as The Land of a Thousand Hills starts the annual commemoration of the Genocide this coming Monday, which swept across the country in 1994.
‘President Habyarimana’s plane shot down by rebels … kill the cockroaches’ those false reports and inciting and inflammatory messages were flying across Rwanda’s airwaves the moment the presidential jet had been brought down while on the final approach to Kigali International Airport, by a ground to air missile fired by his own troops opposed to his peace talks in Arusha, as it is now conclusively known. The international radio stations like the VOA and the BBC reported within hours that mass killings had started across those parts of Rwanda which were still in the hands of the regime at the time.
State media in Rwanda told their regime supporters to go on a killing spree, machetes were handed out, long drawn up lists distributed of targets for killing in Kigali and other Rwandan towns and the UN forces in the country, instead of being re-enforced were eventually withdrawn, leaving hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, earmarked simply for their ethnic background and in some cases for their political affiliation and convictions, to the merciless killing squads, which, when finally driven out of the country as they ran across into the Congo, left nearly a million dead in their wake.
Those killers however, many of them at least, are still camped out in the wilderness and mountains of Eastern Congo, still sworn to return and finish the job they started in 1994 and the FDLR clearly operates under the tacit approval by the regime in Kinshasa. The FDLR militias, which in reality is nothing but a terrorist group, often works hand in hand with the Congolese national army and has todate been spared by the UN intervention force in Eastern Congo, which in stark contrast went after, what has been perceived as pro-Rwandan militias, with a vengeance last year, pulling out all the stops to finish them off. Once again, and I am not alone in saying this, has the UN failed Rwanda by acting selectively and by showing clear bias in favour of Rwanda’s enemies, enemies which stand accused of the most vile crimes against humanity, in 1994 and since then by inflicting at times barbaric treatment on Congolese citizens as well as those Rwandans in exile in Eastern Congo they think do not toe their line.
Having seen and experienced close up and personal back in June 1994, what traumatic impact these mass murders had on the gentle people of Rwanda, who were mowed down, clubbed to death, bombed and burned by frantic frenzied mobs who indiscriminately set upon babies, children, women, the elderly, boys and men, nearly a million of them, it is with some degree of awe, even for me being a very regular visitor to the country, that I write this today. 20 years after a morning broadcast by the BBC short wave service for Africa broke the news as I sat up in my bed in Kampala to catch the day-break Focus on Africa broadcast, I am in awe about how this country rose from the ashes, I am in awe about how the new Rwanda today stands several heads above her neighbours when it comes to infrastructural developments, traffic discipline, security, anti-corruption policies and economic progress. I stand in awe as Rwanda has made tourism a core industry, percolating benefits down to the grass roots, has invested heavily in the development of her national airline and was the first country in Africa to grant all citizens of African Union member states Visa on arrival. I stand in awe as the country has turned genocide sites into memorial sites, monuments and museums, showing that a painful history is nevertheless a history and as such is to be kept alive for future generations as well as for present generations, Rwandans born before and after the genocide and of course for visitors coming from abroad. Many today do a pilgrimage of sorts, similar to the way foreign visitors continue to visit the Nazi concentration camps where they pay their respect to the dead. I stand in awe as Rwanda implements herground breaking forestry policies which have seen forests like Nyungwe and Gishwati restored, replanted and vigorously protected where in other countries in the region and beyond they still face the axe. I stand in awe as the country has embraced information technology like few others in Africa and it is little wonder that Rwanda has become an IT hub in Africa, besides having been named as a country where starting a business and doing business is rated as among the best in the world.
My eyes are not closed to the challenges Rwanda faces but being run like the proverbial ‘Rwanda Incorporated’ the country is on the right track and economic growth, combined with a strong, principled and disciplined leadership across the echelons of government, will in years to come no doubt prove critics wrong and friends right.
My sympathy goes out to the people of Rwanda, among them hundreds of friends, as they commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide and, as a nation united, walk together and uphold the memories of those 100 days.
And as an addendum, with France playing silly buggers, probably more out of shame than about their perceived injury by President Kagame calling a spade a spade, here is a revealing piece of information about the French involvement in 1994 – time to offer an unconditional apology to the people and government of the new Rwanda, they so desperately tried to prevent from happening.