Remembering On Purpose
"Given the scale of trauma caused by the genocide, Rwanda has indicated that however thin the hope of a community can be, a hero always emerges. Although no one can dare claim that it is now a perfect state, and that no more work is needed, Rwanda has risen from the ashes as a model of truth and reconciliation." - Wole Soyinka
This upcoming July will mark exactly two years since my wife, our children, and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean with all of our belongings (about 22 bulky luggages, to be exact) to restart our lives here in the "Land of a Thousand Hills," Rwanda. This big move was necessitated by a strong desire to reclaim our mental health. For me especially, having been born and raised in the United States, I desperately needed a change of environment, as being racially discriminated against had become a common occurrence for me - one that seemed to intensify as I progressed in age. I frequently felt undervalued. I frequently felt expendable. I could never quite figure out how I was supposed to present myself to make others feel safe[r], beyond already attending some of the finest schools, being an upstanding citizen who never landed in legal trouble, and being a deeply-devoted family man. In a nutshell, constantly living in fear for our lives was a level of 'exhausting' that words simply cannot describe. Of all the African countries we had considered relocating to, Rwanda emerged on top. Aside from its stunning views, pristine cleanliness, and modern infrastructure, Rwanda ultimately captured our hearts because of how far it has come since the Genocide Against the Tutsi in 1994. The words of Nigerian playwright and poet, Wole Soyinka, are spot on.
For many outsiders, the “Rwandan Genocide” is typically the first and sometimes only marker that this small but mighty country is known by. This catastrophic event, lasting for 100 days, resulted in approximately 800,000 ethnic Tutsis (as well as moderate Hutu and Twa people) being raped, mutilated, and murdered by Hutu extremists and armed militias. While it may seem hard to fathom anyone wanting to recall this tragic past, Rwandans do so with intentionality every year on this day (and throughout this week). Today, Kwibuka Day, is centered around remembrance and “never forgetting” what took place here in 1994. Proverbially re-opening this wound is so that healing, reconciliation, peace, and unity remain core to the country’s identity - so that those flames are never quenched. It is a day for us all to renew our commitment to Rwanda and its advancement. I find this to be absolutely beautiful and compelling. In fact, I believe that other countries like South Africa and the United States could benefit from intentionally confronting the ghosts of Apartheid and slavery (respectively) in this same manner, as opposed to each country’s ruling body trying to continue to operate in denial, as if those eras do not continue to have lasting, damaging impacts today.
My family and I are still undergoing our healing process, but are doing so alongside of our Rwandan brothers and sisters, most of whom lost their parents, siblings, and other loved ones to senseless violence in 1994. On this day and forever, we stand in solidarity with them. We applaud their resilient spirits. I say to Rwanda: Imana iguhe umugisha. Imana ikurinde. May you remain in everlasting peace and tranquillity.