Lawson Mabhena Assistant News Editor
Travelling around Kigali over the weekend, the vestiges of one of the worst mass killings known to man are almost impossible to find.
In fact, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is the only outstanding reminder of Rwanda’s dark past.
In just 100 days, 25 years ago, more than 800 000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed by government-allied Hutu forces. Although tribal hate was long standing, the immediate cause of the genocide happened on April 6, 1994, when plane carrying then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali.
Everyone on board, including President Cyprien Ntaryamira of neighbouring Burundi, was killed.
The two leaders were returning from Tanzania where they had signed a peace agreement with rebels from the Tutsi minority group.
Simple calculations show that over 8 000 Rwandans of Tutsi origin were butchered daily for 100 days.
With the story of the genocide in mind, one expects to find a people in despair. One expects to be met by abject poverty, chaos and perpetual sense of fear.
The lack of all the elements associated with mass killings, civil war and tribal cleansing is exactly what has made Rwanda the beacon that it is today.
In 1994, the average Rwandan had a life expectancy of 28 years yet today, Rwanda’s life expectancy is one of the highest in Africa at 67.
Rwanda is 15th fastest growing economy in the world; and is nicknamed the Singapore of Africa.
After the veil of hatred was lifted from their eyes, Rwandans put development at the core of the national agenda.
World class hotels are everywhere in Kigali. Where the hotels don’t stand, new ones are under construction.
For the first time ever, the saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness” actually makes sense. There is a local saying in The Land of a Thousand Hills that God spends the day elsewhere, but returns to sleep in Rwanda.
Where else can God sleep? Rwanda is rated as one of the cleanest cities in the world. Born from a filthy past, Rwanda has embraced cleanliness as one of the major selling points in attracting foreign investment. Rwanda’s journey to recovery is captivating, inspiring and forces one into self-reflection mode.
At the Kigali Convention Centre on Sunday, people from various parts of the world and from all walks of life converged to satisfy their souls with inspiration. Recounting their stories in film, theatre, poetry, music and speech, the ever-inspiring Rwandans did not disappoint.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who as an 18-year-old served as part of an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1995, retraced his footsteps in The Land of a Thousand Hills and heaped praise on Rwandans.
“The mistakes of yesterday have propelled your country to greater heights,” Abiy said.
“Acknowledging the dark past of history but choosing to move into the light is a courageous act of perseverance.”
This year’s edition of the Kwibuka – the annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide – was significant in that France was expected to finally take responsibility. On Friday last week, French President Emmanuel Macron set the tone when he appointed a panel of experts to investigate France’s role in the genocide. Rwanda has accused France of complicity in the mass killings – a charge repeatedly denied by Paris.
Julien Allaire of Survie, a Paris-based non-governmental organisation that focuses on relations between France and Africa, told the BBC that there was already ample evidence of “France’s diplomatic, military and economic support for the Rwandan government before, during and after the genocide”.
Instead of taking responsibility, President Macron on Sunday proposed a day of commemoration for the Rwanda genocide. In a statement, the French president proposed April 7 as an annual remembrance day in France.
Expectedly, he drew immediate criticism from activists for failing to attend the start of commemoration events in Rwanda on Sunday, instead sending a personal envoy, a Rwandan-born MP Herve Berville who was orphaned in the 1993 violence.
France’s poor showing did little to dampen the event.
“Those among us who perpetrated the Genocide, or stood by passively, are also part of our nation. The willingness, in a number of cases, to tell the truth, pay the price, and re-join the community, is an important contribution.
“The witness of perpetrators is irrefutable proof, if any was still needed, that genocide happened,” President Kagame said in his keynote address at the Kigali Convention Centre.
He saluted the many non-Rwandans who saved lives or died trying.
“The Belgian peacekeepers, murdered twenty-five years ago this morning. Captain Mbaye Diagne from Senegal, who saved so many lives. Tonia Locatelli, killed in 1992 for telling the truth of what was to come.
“The only comfort we can offer is the commonality of sorrow, and the respect owed to those who had the courage to do the right thing. Other people around the world also stood up and made a difference.
“Ambassador Karel Kovanda from the Czech Republic joined colleagues from New Zealand and Nigeria to call for action to stop the Genocide, despite the indifference of more powerful states.
“And my brother, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, knows where Rwanda is coming from, having served in an Ethiopian peacekeeping contingent after the Genocide, together with troops from elsewhere in Africa and beyond,” he said.
After President Kagame’s speech on Sunday, formal proceedings ended and 100 days of national mourning began.
Most visitors to the commemorations have left Rwanda but we all have had something to learn. For Zimbabwe, the lesson was simple: We can rise above indifference and build the nation we all deserve.