Sitting at the top of the beautifully constructed public library which has a trendy ‘Innovation space’ and café at the top serving coffee, pastries and delicious mediterranean food – it’s difficult to imagine that I’m in the same country as the one depicted in the news stories, films and literature that emerged from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
To define this amazing country by the events of 1994 (which, sadly, is still too often the first thought in peoples’ minds when you mention Rwanda) would be a travesty. Rwanda has moved forwards with unbelievable grace and success; there is so much more to discover here than horror stories and memorials. From the breathtaking volcanic hills surrounding Lake Kivu, to the dense jungle revealing mountain gorillas, to the classy restaurants and not so classy nightclubs of Kigali – Rwanda has so much to offer. In fact Kigali was recently voted the most beautiful city in Africa by the United Nations! However, to forget about what happened here would also be a travesty, and it is impossible to deny the legacy left behind by the Genocide.
Any visit to Rwanda should include the Genocide memorial museum in Kigali. There are no words to describe the experience and I won’t attempt to. Suffice to say one feels confronted with the darkest possible side of humanity. Not only does the memorial act as a museum, it is also the burial site of 250,000 genocide victims and serves as an important space for loved ones to come to remember and reflect. It is maintained and run by the Aegis Trust – https://www.aegistrust.org/
This fantastic organisation treats genocide and crimes against humanity as a public health problem and use a specific prevention model:
Phase One: Primary Prevention
Research, remembrance and learning about the past, creating community resilience against the risk of genocide in the future
Phase Two: Secondary Prevention
Evidence-based campaigns to stop mass atrocities in the present
Phase Three: Tertiary prevention
Supporting survivors and communities to rebuild when genocide is past
Their work in Rwanda has included a peace building education programme reaching many thousands of young Rwandans and helping them to understand what happened and how such a tragedy could be prevented in the future.
The organisation also currently operates in South Sudan and Central African Republic (where mass atrocities have left 5,000 dead and over a million more displaced thanks to divided religious communities).
Part of moving forwards requires looking back at the past in order to make sense of what happened and learn from the mistakes that were made. I have just finished reading Romeo Dallaire’s book –
‘Shake Hands with the Devil’.
It doesn’t make for a particularly enjoyable read, and I felt that there was a somewhat defensive tone throughout the book. Nevertheless, its undoubtedly an essential text for anyone wanting to understand the failures of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the Genocide. The true extent of the international community’s indifference to the thousands of Rwandan lives that were being lost is beyond shocking. As Ban Ki Moon recently stated “We could have, and should have, done more”. The subsequent influx of foreign money that followed 1994 was no surprise. But, as Lt. Gen. Dallaire points out in his account – no amount of aid money will ever be able to make up for the way in which America and the U.K. turned their backs on Rwanda.
If there are any lessons we can take from this, perhaps it should be that never again should we allow our governments to determine that some lives are worth more than others.