Home Voices Kwibuka 30: Forgiveness As A Necessary Choice for Rwanda’s Future

Kwibuka 30: Forgiveness As A Necessary Choice for Rwanda’s Future

by Francisca Mujawase
4:30 pm

Dignitaries laying the wreath at Kigali memorial centre during the launch of 30th Genocide commemoration week – Kwibuka 30, April 7, 2024

Rwanda is among a few countries in the world that experienced Genocide, the worst crime recognized under the international human rights laws.

The suffering of Rwandans bared witness to the negative consequences of bad governance, the irresponsibility and ineffectiveness of institutions such as the United Nations and the International community.

While the worst happened to the Rwandan people, no one had the best answer on managing the effects of the tragedy that befell on the country. Some scholars and politicians put it in this way, “Rebuilding Rwanda was going to be complicated if not unachievable.”

A UN observer under the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) told me that he had no hopes whatsoever for Rwanda to become a state again as he boarded a plane back to his country over a failed mission.

With over a million Tutsis slaughtered in 100 days, plus two million Rwandans crossed to refugee camps in the DR Congo and thousands in prisons over charges of participation in Genocide, one would say that there was no appealing strategy for reunification and reconciliation for the world had never encountered such a tragedy and there were no relevant lessons to share on the Rwandan case.

However, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Inkotanyi, currently the Rwanda Defence Force in its ideology of fighting for a purpose, envisioned a strategy to manage the humanitarian crisis and envisaged a model to prevent trans-generational genocide ideology and long term hatred as an immediate way-out which was phrased as “Uniting and Reconciling”.

Rwandans achieved this commendable, miraculous and sacrificial success by undoubtedly embracing the power of forgiveness thoroughly and successfully resolving the systemic differences established by the former government and societal misunderstanding that was built on bad governance and the effects of colonial divisions.

“For Rwandans Genocide didn’t end the day the nation was liberated on July 4th 1994 from the hands of the killers but rather the journey towards unification which was the ultimate success of the cause for the fight”.

Planning for post genocide journey was paramount: The government’s strategy to pursue unity and reconciliation through forgiving was not an easy fit looking at the level of devastation, broken hearts of Genocide survivors and the dark future of a nation, but it opted to be a sacrificial option to start over and build a scattered nation. As a result, we witnessed institutions such as the mother church and the international community embrace the concept of confession, bend on their knees to recognize their key role and negligence in stopping the worst crime, 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

One would say, for the Rwandan case, forgiveness seemed impossible given the gravity and impact of Genocide committed against the Tutsi in 1994 on the nation. Justice for Genocide survivors was well justified but instead they found themselves at the center of finding solutions to uniting and reconciling with the Genocide perpetrators and repair the damages caused by the war both physical and mental.

The adopted national Gacaca justice system built on traditional values was very much developed with the concept to give justice to both the victims and the perpetrators. The model itself was defined with an element of forgiveness that played an integral role in the success of courts and shaping the nation. This strategy was at the heart of government’s efforts to achieve national unity and reconciliation. We do see many justice failures around the world but Rwanda formed a traditional justice system to address the effects of the Genocide that wouldn’t have been solved by the international conventional justice systems which was slow and inefficient in settling Genocide cases.

According to the current Rwandan government, ‘the integration process was going to entail the implementation of programs that brings about a change of mindset’ and create a new national narrative, a new moral order in which there is no fear and mistrust among Rwandans. In this line, post-genocide Rwanda was defined on the basis of equality among Rwandans across all facets of life including access to justice, trauma healing and reconciliation and progressive development as crucial for the reconstruction of the country and its society. This approach prioritized built trust and consensus among communities allowing social cohesion, and peacebuilding and harmony, all of which were considered necessary for the society to move forward socially and economically.

His Excellency Paul Kagame once speaking at a panel discussion centered on the topic of “Understanding”, with a focus on forgiveness at the Nantucket Project event in Massachusetts said ” Forgiving and rebuilding were a necessity, we were a country that lost everything. The entire population was affected, whether on the side of victims or the perpetrators. We had to find a way to reconcile. We looked each other in the eyes and asked: How do we reconcile and start building? So we had to make a choice. It was also about having a conversation with each other on what went wrong and why and how can we turn the tide.

For Marie Claire Umuhoza, a Genocide Survivor, “forgiveness means acceptance of living with all Rwandans including those that killed my family. They left us with no options than to forgive them because we were going to live with them in the same community we go to the same churches, markets and buses.”

On where the strength comes from, Umuhoza says; “I got the courage to forgive from prayers, otherwise I wouldn’t have managed by my own understanding. I know that God is the right judge. I didn’t find the equal punishment to the Genocide perpetrator, because none of the measures would meet the gravity of my lost ones. The government’s efforts to reconcile Rwanda through Gacaca however, gave us some solace and we progressively found the truth and importance in the concept.”

Did forgiving shape your life, and Umuhoza’s answer is YES.

“When I forgave, I found inner peace that boosted my positive mental health and character growth and focused on starting over made a family and contributed to the development of my country. Basically the lense of my past became my guiding star to my current and the future which could speak for mean in this case,” she said.

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