Today Rwandans officially kick off the commemoration of 26 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but unlike the past years, this year’s commemoration will be different due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Coinciding with the measures put in place to stop the spread of the new Coronavirus, Rwandans will commemorate from their homes as they continue to observe the lockdown, with a couple of national events expected to be attended by a very small number of people.
According to Dr Jean Damscene Bizimana, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), this year’s commemoration week is going to be different and limited in size compared to the past editions, in line with the national measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“We are going to have a brief event, not more than 30 minutes, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. It will not be very different from the ones we have annually to kick start the commemoration week but it will be short and attended by a small group of people,”
“It will commence at 10am as usual. The rest of the people will follow the proceedings on radio and Television from their homes. This is still a very important event for the country, regardless of the situation we are in,” Dr Bizimana said.
He said that there will be a minute of silence which people will observe from their homes and then a keynote address.
“We encourage people to follow the event and pay attention to the speeches and the safety measures that we are all observing. We want to ensure that we commemorate without putting our lives at risk,” Dr Bizimana said.
Previously these events would be attended by many people while many others also convene at the village level to pay tribute to the over one million people killed over 100 days beginning on April 7, 1994 and also hold talks on important subjects such as genocide denial and more.
This year there will be no wreath-laying events by the different groups of people as visits to memorial sites are restricted at least until the lockdown is lifted.
During the week, the country carries activities related to paying tribute to more than 1 million Tutsi who perished during the Genocide that was meticulously prepared and perpetrated by the government between April 7 and July 4 in 1994.
Both the opening and closing events fall under dates which are within the lockdown which is supposed to end on April 19, if not extended.
In an interview with KT Radio, Egide Nkuranga, the 1st Vice President of Ibuka, the Umbrella Association of Genocide Survivors said that genocide survivors have accepted that this year’s commemoration will be different from the past years but it does not take away the importance of the event.
“Definitely this year’s commemoration will be different but we recognise the importance of commemoration. Normally people commemorate in different ways, in big groups, at home as a family or even as an individual,”
“This year we will do it in our families. If you have young people at home, share with them stories, show them photos of victims and explain to them what exactly happened and the circumstances in which they were killed,” Nkuranga said.
He, however, said that this should be done carefully to avoid hurting or traumatizing young people or confusing them but emphasized the need to teach the youth who were born during and after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Nkuranga said that for people at home, they can also use different social media platforms to follow live events or different sessions and also use the period to read more and educate themselves on the genocide and also pay attention to the weak who are likely to experience trauma and mental breakdown.
Police caution on Genocide ideology
In the meantime, Rwanda National Police has cautioned the public against engaging in acts of genocide ideology or genocide denial during the commemoration week and also emphasised the need to continue observing measures against the spread of COVID-19.
“We are urging all Rwandans to desist engaging in acts of genocide ideology, genocide and other acts of intimidation or violence targeting genocide survivors. All these acts and other actions that divide Rwandans will not be tolerated and are punishable by law,” said CP John Bosco Kabera, the RNP Spokesperson.
“We encourage Rwandans to call a toll free line 112 or send a Whatsapp message to +250788311155,” CP Kabera said.
CP Kabera said that RNP is aware that the commemoration period is normally a difficult time for people and the COVID-19 lockdown will make it even worse but they should desist from engaging in acts that contravene the law or the measures put in place to avert the spread of COVID-19.
Among other things, he cautioned members of the public against lying about what they are going to do. To some people who have to go out during this lockdown because of the essential services they provide, he told them to desist from allowing in their cars individuals who are meant to stay at home as per COVID-19 restrictions.
CP Kabera said that people who contravene these rules will be dealt with and their vehicles impounded.