Why we preserve the memory of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

Nyamata 15The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was the result of a long prepared and intentionally executed plan by the government. Years of discrimination helped to dehumanise the victims and provided ‘justification’ for eliminating Tutsi.

Earlier violence of 1959, 1960s and 1973 brought out a belief that Tutsi could be looted of properties, have their houses burnt and their lives destroyed. At that time however, extremism and propaganda had not yet peaked and so not all were affected by the genocidal ideology. Many parts of the Rwandan society were still connected by cultural values and Hutu and Tutsi could still tie the knot.

The killings of Abagogwe (a group of Tutsi) in 1991 in Rwanda’s north-west and of Tutsi in Bugesera in 1992, revealed how the plan to carry out the genocide plan was rehearsed and refined. By 1994, militias were trained and equipped and the killing machinery was ready for the ‘apocalypse’. The consequences of the genocide have been severe and long lasting. The genocide has left a legacy of distrust and wounded hearts and yet, for all Rwandans, life had to go on and people had to live together again.

At the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, the team works to collect and preserve the evidence of our horrible past. Some of the archive staff survived the genocide and carry with them the memories of 1994. In many ways, these memories are similar to what they see in the audio-visual testimonies they actually collect. Other archive staff did not survive or directly witness the genocide, but through their work have come to learn about the complexity and horror of the genocide against the Tutsi.

Even though it is difficult for survivors in our team and other staff to work with genocide memories, it still is significantly important for the team to do their work. Two of the archive staff share their views and express why it is important for them to carry on.

Martin Niwenshuti

Martin is the archive collection team leader. He survived the genocide and has spent the last ten years conducting interviews with survivors, rescuers, elders and perpetrators. Here Martin describes what it means to him to work at the archive:

“I can hardly believe it has been ten years since I started working at the archive. The beginning was quite difficult. I first met survivors. It was only ten years after the genocide and recording them was like opening unhealed wounds. But they wanted to tell their stories. I had to connect, listen attentively and try my best to collect the details of their traumatic memories. At end of the day, I could link some of the stories to my personal experience. It was hard and sad.

“I also interviewed perpetrators. Some of them were brave enough to describe how they killed innocent people and talked about the atrocities they committed. I did not mind meeting them but got upset when some tried to avoid talking about their true role in the genocide and and rather described things generally. I did not get angry though. Rather I spent my time trying to imagine what and how they think today when they remember the crimes they committed. I guess it must be difficult and painful for them too.

“Recording testimonies is still hard but I am happy that I am doing it for a good cause. I want my children to know what happened and the testimonies we record are essential for that. Preserving the memory of genocide helps to prevent further genocides and educators can use our materials to teach younger generations about peace. The cause is what helps me to carry on.”

Mimi Frank

Mimi is the Genocide Archive of Rwanda projects coordinator. She was in Zambia during the genocide but her mother’s family in Rwanda were targeted in the genocide.

“The work I do here at the Genocide Archive of Rwanda has not only taught me about the importance of peace building, but also about the importance of spreading the lessons learnt. By doing what I do here in the archive, I am contributing to a bigger purpose: assembling educational material that my children will use to learn about the genocide. These are materials that will be used to educate generations to come.”

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Rwanda today has a very young population. Those who were born after the genocide are 20 years old today or younger. They did not witness the genocide but still live in the shadow of it and sometimes they become victims of secondary trauma. It is important that they learn their history so they can be part of shaping a peaceful nation and sustain Rwanda’s recovery. Information preserved within the Genocide Archive of Rwanda supports this peace building process. The archive team develops educational materials that help people understand both the history of genocide in Rwanda and the reconciliation initiatives taking place in communities across the country.

Despite the challenges of working with the memory of the genocide, remarkable progress has been made. Our team is constantly developing skills and gaining experience. We also always learn new things. We hope today, and long in the future, people will access and use the archive to learn about what happened, teach peace, social cohesion and actively engage in the prevention of mass atrocities all over the world.


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