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We’ve turned a corner and there is no turning back — Kagame

On April 7, 1994, thousands of Hutu responded to calls to exterminate the minority ethnic Tutsi, whom the organisers of the pogrom called "cockroaches and snakes whose heads had to be crushed."

KIGALI | Rwandan President Paul Kagame warned any adversaries seeking to destabilise his country that its nationals have seen enough mess to tolerate anymore and will instead “mess up them [provokers] big time.”

Speaking during the 25th Anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Kigali, Kagame saluted survivors for their resilience, paid tribute to victims and rallied Rwandans to capitalise on the 1994 fear and anger that they have “replaced with energy and purpose” to drive the nation forward

“Facts are stubborn, but so are we. We really have to be. Our nation has turned a corner. Nothing has the power to turn Rwandans against each other, ever again,” he said.

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“This history will not repeat. That is our firm commitment.”

On April 7, 1994, thousands of Hutu responded to calls to exterminate the minority ethnic Tutsi, whom the organisers of the pogrom called “cockroaches and snakes whose heads had to be crushed.”

In the next 100 days, more than a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu — who defied the orders to rain evil on the central African country — were slaughtered.

Historical records show that the genocide was carefully planned by the ruling government of the time. There had been a deep ethnic difference running back to 1950s but from 1990 when a group of guerillas — who had helped NRA of Yoweri Museveni capture power in Uganda four years earlier — launched a war on Juvenal Habyarimana’s government, the dynamics changed.

The planning became more pronounced with several government officials reported to have openly uttered sectarian comments in public or on radio.

However, despite such evidence, some historians and revisionists insist on blaming the Genocide on RPA and accuse them of downing the presidential jet that killed President Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6 in Kanombe.

This latter account claims that the Genocide was triggered off by the downing of the presidential jet, but it is debunked by sources that insist it is impossible for such mass killing to be spontaneous.

On Sunday, Kagame posed questions on such revisionist ideas, asking why bodies were dumped into rivers and why some parents even kill their own children ‘who looked a certain way.’

“None of that started with a plane crash. So where did it come from?” he asked. “Revisionism is not merely demeaning, but profoundly dangerous. The genocide did not begin on one specific day. It has a history.”

He said the “decimation of Rwanda” was more absolute than any known weapon of mass destruction.

“Not only bodies were destroyed, but the very idea of Rwanda itself. That shows the ferocious power of human sentiments and designs,” Kagame said, adding that it is Rwanda’s prayer that no other people ever endure the same tribulations.

“The witness of perpetrators is irrefutable proof, if any was still needed, that genocide happened. Genocide hibernates as denial. Both before the killing and after, there is a long chain of events which are interconnected.”

Kagame also said Rwandans only expect an open mind from perpetrators of the killings and their supporters.

“Every day we learn to forgive. But we do not want to forget. After all, before asking others to repent, we first have to forgive ourselves,” he said.

Earlier in the morning, Kagame led a delegation of visiting dignitaries and government officials to Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Gisozi in wreath laying and torch lighting ceremony in tribute to the victims.

The memorial centre is the final resting place for remains of more than 250,000 victims. It is also a heritage site.

The leaders at the lighting of the flame and laying of a wreath included Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and First Lady Zinash Tayachew, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Congo Brazzaville Denis Sassou N’gueso, and that of Djibouti Ismaïl Omar Guelleh.

Others include the Governor General of Canada Julie Payette, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, AU commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, Former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

Kagame paid tribute to those who “had the courage to do the right thing and fight the evil” reserving special mention for Belgian peacekeepers killed on the morning of the onset of the pogrom.

Captain Mbaye Diagne from Senegal had saved many lives but was killed by the Interahamwe militia. On Sunday, his relatives were in Kigali for the memorial, as well as the families and relatives of Tonia Locatelli, killed in 1992 for telling the truth of what was to come.

Kagame also saluted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was deployed as a peacekeeper in Rwanda after the Genocide.

He those who risked their lives to confront the evil made a difference, citing the case of Locatelli and the Nyange students who defied militia orders to separate on ethnic lines.

“Nyange students who refused to be separated into Hutu on one side, Tutsi on the other. They never betrayed each other. Six were killed. Forty were wounded. All are heroes. These are examples of the Rwandans who kept us from losing everything,” the Rwandan president said.

On March 18, 1997, Interahamwe militia raided Nyange Secondary School in Western Rwanda and rounded up students, who they ordered to separate along ethnic lines.

Phanuel Sindayiheba, a survivor of that attack, recalls at first one student, Marie Chantal Mujawamahoro, defiantly told the armed militia all the students were Rwandans. Enraged, the attackers walked out and hurled grenades into the classrooms to inflict fear.

Some were injured and the attacked returned and ordered Hutu students on one side and the Tutsi to the other. But Sylvestre Bizimana shocked them further saying, “We told you that there is no Hutu or Tutsi among us, we are all Rwandans.”

The attackers opened fire and killed six students, injuring dozens of others.

Kagame later in the evening led the visiting dignitaries and Rwandans in a Walk to Remember, one of the events during the observance of the Genocide anniversary and national mourning period.

Hundreds of perpetrators have been convicted and jailed while the government has pushed through with homegrown reconciliation approach that sees perpetrators seek forgiveness from families of their victims.

However, scores of architects of the Genocide remain at large, mainly on foreign lands where they fled when the Genocide was stopped in July 1994. The majority of them got sanctuary in France.

Although current French President Emmanuel Macron has mended fences with Kagame, he did not attend the memorial in person but sent a representative.

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