PRESIDENT Paul Kagame and his wife stepped forward, laid wreaths and lit a flame at the mass burial ground of 250,000 victims at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, signaling the beginning of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the genocide that ravaged the country in 1994, leaving close to a million people dead in its wake.
Speaking at the event, Kagame told the world that 25 years after the start of its genocide, Rwanda was rebuilding with hope and shines with a new light, adding that Rwandans would never turn against each other again. “Our bodies and minds bear amputations and scars, but none of us is alone.
We Rwandans have granted ourselves a new beginning. We exist in a state of permanent commemoration, every day, in all that we do … Today, light radiates from this place,” Kagame said at the ceremony attended by several heads of state.
In attendance at the ceremony were world leaders from Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Niger, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, the African Union, and the European Union, among others. And one after the other, they made moving speeches: “I am moved beyond words at this memorial to tragedy,”
said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.
Time can never erase the darkest hours in our history. It is our duty to remember.” Songs, poems and plays about the rebirth of Rwanda after the genocide were later performed at the Kigali convention centre.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said, “The duty of remembrance must be a sacred requirement.”
Belgian peacekeepers were among those killed in Rwanda during the genocide.
The Ethiopia’s prime minister expressed solidarity with Rwandans and said under Kagame’s leadership,
seeds of unity and never again had been sowed.Then followed a procession through the capital to Kigali’s National Stadium where are many as 30,000 participated in an evening candlelight ceremony.
“Twenty-five years ago, Rwanda fell into a deep ditch due to bad leadership. Today, we are a country of hope and a nation elevated,” Agnes Mutamba, 25, a teacher who was born during the genocide said in Kigali.
“Today, the government has united all Rwandans as one people with the same culture and history and is speeding up economic transformation,” said Oliver Nduhungihere, Rwanda’s state foreign affairs minister. The mass killing of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority was ignited on April 6 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, killing the leader who, like the majority of Rwandans, was an ethnic Hutu.
The Tutsi minority was blamed for downing the plane and the bands of Hutu extremists began slaughtering the Tutsi, with support from the army, police, and militias.
Kagame’s government had previously accused Hutu-led government of 1994 of being responsible for shooting down the plane and has blamed the French government for turning a blind eye to the genocide.
Sometime this year, the French President, Emmanuel Macron ordered a government study into the
country’s role in Rwanda before and during its 1994 genocide.
Macron ordered a commission of researchers and historians to investigate the “role and involvement of
France” in Rwanda from 1990-1994. It is to make conclusions within two years.
Kagame has, however, won praise for ending that violence and making advances in economic development and health care. Ethnic reconciliation is a cornerstone of the rule of Kagame, Rwanda’s de facto leader since the genocide ended in 1994 and the country’s president since 2000.
He is credited with bringing Rwanda stability, economic growth, and improved health and education.
Meanwhile, a quarter-century after the genocide, bodies of victims are still being found. Last year, authorities in Rwanda discovered mass graves they said contain 5,400 bodies of genocide victims.
HOW THE GENOCIDE BEGAN
In just 100 days in 1994, about 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists.
They were targeting members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
About 85 per cent of Rwandans are Hutus but the Tutsi minority has long dominated the country. In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and tens of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries, including Uganda.
A group of Tutsi exiles formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda in 1990 and fighting continued until a 1993 peace deal was agreed.
On the night of April 6, 1994 a plane carrying then-President Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi – both Hutus – was shot down, killing everyone on board.
Hutu extremists blamed the RPF and immediately started a well-organised campaign of slaughter. The RPF said the plane had been shot down by Hutus to provide an excuse
for the genocide.
Whoever was responsible, within hours a campaign of violence spread from the capital throughout the country, and did not subside until three months later. But the death of the president was by no means the only cause of Africa’s largest genocide in modern times.
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Ethnic tension in Rwanda is nothing new. There have always been disagreements between the majority
Hutus and minority Tutsis, but the animosity between them grew substantially since the colonial period.
The two ethnic groups are actually very similar – they speak the same language, inhabit the same areas and follow the same traditions. However, Tutsis are often taller and thinner than Hutus, with some saying their origins lie in Ethiopia. During the genocide, the bodies of Tutsis were thrown into rivers, with their killers saying they were being sent back to Ethiopia. When the Belgian colonists arrived in 1916, they produced identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity.
The Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Not surprisingly, the Tutsis welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbours. Resentment among the Hutus gradually built up, culminating in a series of riots in 1959. More than 20,000 Tutsis were killed, and many more fled to the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.
When Belgium relinquished power and granted Rwanda independence in 1962, the Hutus took their place. Over subsequent decades, the Tutsis were portrayed as the scapegoats for every crisis.
BUILD UP TO GENOCIDE
This was still the case in the years before the genocide. The economic situation worsened and the incumbent president, Juvenal Habyarimana, began losing popularity.
At the same time, Tutsi refugees in Uganda – supported by some moderate Hutus – were forming the RPF, led by Kagame. Their aim was to overthrow Habyarimana and secure their right to return to their homeland. Habyarimana chose to exploit this threat as a way to bring dissident Hutus back to his side, and Tutsis inside Rwanda were accused of being RPF collaborators.
In August 1993, after several attacks and months of negotiation, a peace accord was signed between Habyarimana and the RPF, but it did little to stop the continued unrest. When Habyarimana’s plane was
shot down at the beginning of April 1994, it was the final nail in the coffin.Exactly who killed the president – and with him the president of Burundi and many chief members of staff – has not been established. Whoever was behind the killing its effect was both instantaneous and