Content warning: Some of the contents of this article, a section describing graphic violence and death, may be distressing to some audiences.
Kwibuka means to remember.
On Saturday, April 9, the 28th Annual Commemoration of the Genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda was observed on campus at Oklahoma Christian University.
The genocide was preceded by years of rising ethnic tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. The Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded Rwanda from Uganda in 1990. The RPF consisted mostly of people from the Tutsi tribe, and the Hutus, who were in governmental power at the time, blamed and killed hundreds of Rwandan-Tutsis in massacres until a ceasefire was called in 1992.
The outcome of negotiations left unrest and Rwandan President Cyprien Ntaryamira was assassinated in 1994 by culprits still unknown. The blame, however, was placed on the Tutsi tribe and from April 7 to July 3, the Hutus hunted them, killing as many as 800,000 while the RPF tried to regroup and liberate the country.
In July 1994, the RPF gained control of most of the country, causing nearly 2 million Hutus to flee. Paul Kagame, the leader of RPF, is the current President of Rwanda.
Now they hold an annual commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi.
Part of the commemoration stressed the importance of terminology, stating although some claim it was a war between two ethnic groups, it was, in fact, a genocide, as it had the intent of targeting and destroying a particular ethnic group.
Antionette Mutabazi survived and, in an interview with UNILAD, told her story.
As the genocide began, her father gave Mutabazi and her siblings a warning.
“He said, ‘If you hide, don’t hide together, because if you are together, they will kill you all,’” Mutabazi said.
Following the warning her father gave her, she survived by hiding alone in various places: a bush, a field, a pit latrine and even among the dead bodies in a church. Hiding, however, did not hide the horrors from view.
“If you had money and you will give it to them, they will kill you by shooting you,” Mutabazi said. “If you didn’t, they cut your head off.”
At one point Mutabazi witnessed Hutus ask a woman with a child for her ID, a card that included her tribe. Seeing that she was a Tutsi, they cut her head off.
“Seeing this woman killed, the child sucking from its dead mother, I was devastated,” Mutabazi said. “I could not pick her up. I wanted to, but I was so afraid to run around with this baby.”
At other times, people would be fed to dogs. There was also a time that Mutabazi was captured.
“I wasn’t really worried. I wasn’t like ‘oh, I’m going to be killed!’ I was just like ‘Yeah, that’s what is happening,’” Mutabazi said. “It was only when there were two people ahead of me that someone shouted, ‘The bank in Kigali has been broken into, they’re robbing the bank.’ All the killers around us wanted to go and get the money. I survived that day because of the greed of people.”
While Mutabazi survived, not all of her family did. Her father and one of her brothers survived, but her mother, aunt and two other brothers died. Years later she met with the man that killed her aunt, her aunt’s former husband, and forgave him.
“Forgiveness is the key to your freedom; that’s how I see it,” Mutabazi said. “It’s a choice and it’s a journey and it’s not easy … but it is the key to your freedom.”
However, Christelle Wa-Mana, a participant in this year’s commemoration at Oklahoma Christian, said forgiving is not forgetting.
The commemoration included a silent walk around part of the Eagle Trail, a symbolic candle lighting, the video of Mutabazi’s interview and several speakers.
After the event concluded, Wa-Mana and master of ceremonies Tessy Mugisha were interviewed about why they remember, how others can help and what they hope people take away.
“(We) remember to unite as one, not as ethnic groups,” Mugisha said. “We remember to educate those that don’t know and we remember to not let it happen ever again, in Rwanda or internationally.”
Mugisha said referring to one another by their tribe was in part the cause of division; they now identify as Rwandans. However, Mugisha also said the proper way to refer to the event is a sensitive subject: They do not call it the Rwandan genocide but the genocide against the Tutsi.
As for educating oneself, Wa-Mana said people should do their own research and also ask questions and have conversations with Rwandans on campus.
“Even though this sounds like it’s a very sensitive subject to bring up to someone who’s Rwandan, I can testify that we’re all open to talk to you about it,” Wa-Mana said. “The internet also has resources; some are good, some bad, but also you can be like, ‘hey, I read this on internet, is this right?’”
Both also said they wished for their peers to be aware of the 10 stages of genocide so they can help spot and stop it from occurring anywhere else.
Wa-Mana said she hoped people came away informed and impacted.
“This is just an example of how sometimes, as humans, we might fail,” Wa-Mana said. “But I think it’s also a success story that shows we can overcome our differences. One way of doing this is just remembering to love one another, to look beyond your differences and find in your heart the power to forgive even in unimaginable circumstances.”
Mugisha invites readers to join next year’s commemoration and offers her email for anyone that has questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.