Like migratory birds, Rwanda receives an influx of tourists during December and January. Many of them here simply because its too cold in their home countries. Temperatures of negative ten degrees Celsius, meter high snow and biting wind are very few people’s idea of a good time. If you have money you take time off to sunbathe in Africa, the Caribbean, South America or any place south of the Equator. And why not? Its miserable over there. And like a flock of geese, these tourists come at around the same time every year and leave at about the same time as well.
On the 7th of April, which is in almost exactly two weeks, Rwanda and Rwandans will begin the annual week of mourning, ‘Icyunamo’, when we remember those that perished during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Instead of readying their hearts and minds to begin standing shoulder to shoulder with the survivors, many people I know are actually planning their annual leaves around that period. As one young lady told me, explaining why she was going to go to Kampala, “this week is boring”. “Not fun”.
To say that I was both angry and disheartened would be an understatement. I felt that the young lady was guilty of not only bad taste, but the lack of basic human emotions of empathy. To me, it seemed that she believed that mourning was for ‘certain’ people. And when I mean certain people, I mean genocide survivors.
Honestly, what bothered me the most was the fact that the lady in question would have been targeted if she were here in 1994. I am not saying that one section of the Rwandan population is ‘supposed’ to mourn more than the other (after all, it was a NATIONAL tragedy and not merely a sectarian one). What I’m saying is that mourning is a NATIONAL activity; nay, a national DUTY. To leave it to the millions of genocide survivors is tragic.
Rwanda is a country that is extremely ambitious, well run and beautiful beyond words. It is a place of clean neighborhoods, well-paved sidewalks, nine-year basic education and affordable healthcare. There are many positives. However, I cannot forget some of the terrible things that have befallen this country. More than a million people were killed simply because of who they were. How horrible is that? Through no fault of their own, they were hunted down like animals, raped, beaten, bludgeoned and murdered in the most gruesome ways possible. That is our country and that is the legacy that we have to live with. And that is what we’ve done.
Rwandans enacted laws that ban language that could be defined as liable to cause sectarian division; Rwandans have gone down hard on genocide ideology (and to hell with the know-it-all Amnesty Internationals’ of the world), instituted Gacaca courts to try the hundreds of thousands who partook in the mayhem, supported the survivors through FARG and put in place the CNLG (the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide). And once a year for a mere seven days nightclubs would close, television stations would stop showing soap operas, fun and games would be put aside and we would stand shoulder to shoulder with those mourning while taking the time to reflect on our past and our future.
Sadly, I feel that some of us, especially those who don’t have first-hand experience, have started to look at the mourning period as a ‘waste of time’. Or even ‘boring’. I understand that we must continuously look forward. I understand that in our helter-skelter daily lives, one can forget just how extraordinary this country is. But it IS extraordinary; we cannot change that. Rather, we should embrace who we are and what this country is about. We are not Burundians. We are not Ugandans. We are not British or Americans. Acting like you don’t have a personal stake in the country; as if you are a passerby in a strange land, is foolhardy. Stay and play your part.