The day in time to remember the past. the day when the dark cloud hit the nation’s skies and the cries of our beloved innocent children, women, men engulfed the nation.
Monday, 7 April 2014 is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. It is also the official UN day of remembrance for the victims of the genocide.
In 1994, in the space of 100 days, up to one million people categorised as Tutsis – as well as moderate Hutus who rejected the genocidal ideology around exterminating any Rwandan perceived as being from a different group – were killed by Hutu militias in a calculated act, fuelled and perpetrated by Hutu extremists in the then ruling government.
Up to 20 per cent of the population were killed in what came to be known as the Rwanda genocide against Tutsis. It was one of Africa’s defining moments, and arguably one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the late 20th century, causing a shockwave across the world that still echoes today.
During the genocide events and in their aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, Great Britain and Belgium were criticized for their inaction, including failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers. Observers criticized the government of France for actively supporting the genocidal regime.
The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries. The pervasive use of war rape caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows. The decimation of infrastructure and a severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy, challenging the nascent government to achieve rapid economic growth and stabilization.
20 years after the Genocide, Rwanda is trying to shake off its image associated with the 1994 genocide against Tutsis and the government argues the country is now stable.
Annual economic growth has exceeded five percent in the last 20 years, driven by coffee and tea exports and expanding tourism. Yet, despite positive movement, poverty is still an issue and Rwanda is still dependent on aid. The majority of the population are subsistence smallholder farmers and of these at least 80 per cent are women who survive by farming on a small piece of land for food to feed themselves.
What is the mood like?
The mood can be described as that of calculated silence, as the national flag is half-mast across the country and all official activities for the next one week will be half day. It’s the week of mourning for all those families who lost their loved ones. The mood is that of remembering anchored under the theme: ‘’Remember- Unite- Renew’’.
People are naturally sombre as they look back and this is to be expected. Rwanda was totally scarred by the atrocity with few families left unscathed: Rwandans have come through very difficult and challenging times. Yet overwhelmingly, the mood looking forward is positive. There is increasing optimism amongst Rwandan people that Rwanda is turning a corner. Young people in particular want to see they are part of a sustained, united Rwanda and one that does not recognise the previous societal differences. As the world pauses to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsis, it is also important not to forget the appalling atrocities committed 20 years ago, it is equally important for the Rwandan government and its development partners to look to the future by investing in its children and young people. ‘’Remember the past, Invest in Young People and Children for a better Rwanda.