It is April. The seventh. Twenty-one since ‘94. Early morning, everything is quiet. You only hear a bird’s call. There is almost no traffic on the streets. Quite like in the previous years, on the same date.
Things are different today. No crowd is headed to Amahoro Stadium, the biggest in the country. Crowds are heading to the new meeting points. We meet here for the monthly meetings after the community service known as Umuganda.
This year, we gather to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at the village, umudugudu level.
There are approximately five hundred people here. I join them. Calm and reserved. I take a seat. There is no protocol. I show myself around.
At the gathering, there is a Senator. A Professor and an Army official. There is a boutique owner. There is a student, a young boy, and a young girl. There is a businesswoman; a taximan and a construction worker. A nurse, too. We all sit together. We all live in the same neighbourhood.
A woman takes the floor. She reaffirms why it is important to remember and what Kwibuka21 is all about. She is well listened to.
A man takes the floor. He details the history of ethnicity in Rwanda — one we have listened to over and over again, over the years. But there’s always something new to learn.
The young and the old listen. Carefully, as they all sit side by side.
An old man stands up, he re-affirms the origins of Tutsi, Hutu and Twa labels. He says he used to be called Tutsi; that, maybe, his grandfather (who owned no cattle or other properties) might have been something else — Hutu, or Twa. He goes on to explain the old strategies of the white.
There seems to be no absolute voice here. People speak freely and enthusiastically.
A young lady steps forward. She expresses gratitude to the people who have tirelessly shared their knowledge about Rwanda’s history over the years, and those who’ve spoken on the subject today. She, however, suggests the need to keep identifying and publicly acknowledging experts in the country’s history.
Another man speaks. He sounds uncertain, and his words sound unclear — at least to my ear. Some people in the crowd disagree. They laugh — in a strange sound of a “booo”. Some seem to agree. Others, simply chill.
At this point, people here discuss. They debate; they cheer, share, agree or disagree. They also exchange critical thinking. It’s all allowed. But above all, they honour those who lost their lives by re-exploring the past, looking farahead.
A young boy stands up. He looks 11. Or 13. Well, he’s definitely no older than 16 — you can bet. He greets the crowd: “Muraho!”
He says his name is Ngendayimana. He’s confident and clear. He uses words like “murabyumva” — in the polite sense. He also says, “twese turakuze.” We are all mature. He warns parents who do not want to share their knowledge of history with their children just because they “think we’re just kids” and not ready. He wants to see parents educating their children about Rwanda’s history, so that his generation too, is better equipped to do the same in the future.
It rains. But the exchange continues.
Few minutes later, at noon, we take a minute of silence. Seconds after, we listen to the President’s speech. It’s live on TV and radio. Poignant, like always, and reassuring — he says, “this country has changed. It will never be the same.” He adds: “It has changed for good and forever.”
Indeed. Rwanda has changed — better off.