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Rwanda Genocide 20 years on: Twitter Q&A

Yesterday (Monday 7th April, 2014) marked the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Many people across the world deeply understand the effect a genocide can leave in a people's history, and many who don't understand are curious - how can a country move on from such tragedy?

I was really touched by Elisabeth's story, and something she said in this video brought into focus just how incomprehensible her situation was to me. It's so alien, so distant from anything I've experienced... I can't imagine how much strength she must have as a person.

That's why it was really interesting for me to be able to help Sulah, pictured top, field questions about how Rwanda has dealt with the genocide after 20 years.

Below you can see how the Twitter conversation helped to paint a clearer picture of how community and solidarity play a central role in moving forward.

 

Q: How are children taught about the genocide?

A: The children today are being taught about the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Rwanda. They are taught how Hutus, Tutsis and Twas lived together in all these periods with the first genocide happening in 1959. That’s when many Rwandans labeled as Tutsis were killed, properties destroyed and forced out of the country. Children are taught how bad that was and how such divisions led to the most fatal period in 1994 when over one million Rwandans were killed.

 

Q: Is schooling separate?

A: Schooling in Rwanda is not separated on recognition of Hutu, Twa or Tutsi, its all about performance. All Rwandans irrespective of their social differences now have equal opportunities to education. This is a total diversion from the previous government that separated schooling along social groupings of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa.

File 23075Children learn in an early childhood care and development centre in Karongi district, Rwanda.

 

How accurate was the film Hotel Rwanda?

A: Yes and no. Yes in a sense that it depicts the events of Genocide and what happened at the hotel. People took refuge at the hotel, some died and others survived the killers. Many people took shelter in churches, houses or schools but were still killed. It’s a controversial question because the government doesn't seem to agree with the main character who is believed to have taken a heroic action to save people at the hotel.

 

Q: How is the genocide remembered in Rwanda - is there a memorial?

There is one week of mourning but for 100 days people continue to mourn, rebury the dead or give them decent burials. The week of mourning is characterized by testimonies from survivors & giving decent burials to those whose bodies can still be recovered. There are night vigils in different families or at different administrative levels. People also visit the memorial sites to give respect to their fallen ones.

 

Q: What happens on the anniversary day?

A: Throughout the country its mourning and the mood is somber. It’s a day of reflection of what happened and also looking forward from where the country has come from to where it needs to go. There are always testimonies from the survivors at official gatherings at all administrative levels/structures of government.

File 23076A genocide memorial site

 

Have the perpetrators been brought to justice?

A: Certainly not all perpetrators have been brought to justice. Some are still at large like the chief financier of the Genocide Felecia Kabuga, the former first lady Agath Habyarimana. There is also a general feeling of appreciation that at least genocide is treated as a crime and many people who committed genocide have been tried and some are serving their sentences in prisons.

The story of reconciliation in Rwanda encompasses the whole country and is based on traditional justice systems thro which most perpetrators have been tried. These are rooted within traditional social structures and people understand them: those tried under such traditional justice had to admit to their crimes and give restitution as demanded by local elders. We have to remember that the courts had to deal with tens of thousands of accused men and women and only the ringleaders / most prolific killers were dealt with by the justice system and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. It is fair to say that the vast majority of Rwandans accept this was probably the best way to deal with what happened because so many were implicated in the killings and the country needed to recover as quickly as possible.

 

Q: How will Rwandans prevent genocide ever happening again?

A: By putting aside their social differences as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa but as more Rwandans. The leadership should ensure that all Rwandans are equal and one and justice should be for all. Also the government should ensure the end of poverty or hunger and must provide basic needs for all Rwandans.

File 23078

 

What can be learned from the genocide?

...People are killed, their property destroyed, women and girls raped and children killed in a most brutal way.

People must live as one irrespective of their differences or ethnic divides as all are faced with one problem of poverty and injustice.

 

Do social divisions continue today?

Rwandans now try to live as one. The national IDs don't recognize the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa groupings. Our nationality is Rwandan. Rwandans don’t recognize Tutsi, Twa or Hutu as ethnic or tribal groups but socio-economic groups & have a lot in common as one nationality.

 

Q: How represented are Hutus in the current government?

A: Since Hutu, Tutsi and Twa are not recognized as ethnic groups, there is no official measurement for their representation in government. However, there are many of those one would say are Hutus or Tutsis in the current government. Their appointments into the government are not dependent of their Hutu, Tutsi or Twa, but probably their loyalty to the President, ruling party or political consensus recognition. The current constitution has that the Prime minister, Speaker of the lower and upper (senate) chambers of parliament must not come from the same party or even that of the ruling party or President.

 

What can we do to support the Rwandan people?

A: Increased funding to pre-primary and primary education, increased support to other sectors of education via teacher training and support in provision of infrastructure like classrooms and materials. There is a need for more financial support in women smallholder farmers to increase their production and get out of hunger. This can propel development in Rwanda, what is needed is increased advocacy by all friends of Rwanda in the international community and governments to focus their support towards ending poverty in Rwanda through supporting children and young people.

File 23079