April 7th of each year Kwibuka Remember-Unite-Renew is Rwanda’s call to never forget the tragic death and circumstances of the Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in 1994. Each year Rwanda mourns the death of over eight hundred thousand people during a 100 day period from April 7, 1994.
I am honoured to be able to visit such a resilient and inspiring country through my work with the Wellspring Foundation for Education. In my recent book, Learning and Leading in the Land of a Thousands Hills, I share my experiences after serving with Wellspring for the last seven years. Chapter three in the book entitled, Do Not Ignore the Truth, relates my emotional and heartrending feelings after visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
This year marks the 26th year since the Genocide. As a frequent visitor to Rwanda I stand in remembrance and solidarity with my colleagues, friends and all of the people of Rwanda during this 26th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Chapter 3 – Do Not Ignore the Truth
Buy the truth and do not sell it— wisdom, instruction, and insight as well. Proverbs 23:23
Rwanda is known as The Land of a Thousand Hills, and in my personal experience, you could also say that Rwanda is also the Land of a Thousand Smiles. I have found the people friendly and full of warmth and joy. For a country and people that suffered such significant loss and experienced so much grief due to the 1994 Genocide, it is impressive how hopeful this nation’s people are. When the discussion of the 1994 Genocide occurs though, the smiles do tend to vanish. I can understand why, as I continue to visit Rwanda.
For me, the warmth and joy disappeared for a while when I took in an informative, moving, and emotional visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. I wanted to further my knowledge of the country and to do so; I needed to look at Rwanda’s history, including the events and impact of the Genocide. This visit gave me a realistic perspective on what the people and culture went through during this time.
All individuals would be moved by the Genocide Memorial exhibit. This experience out of all my experiences in Rwanda was the most impactful. A range of emotions washed over me during my two hours at the Memorial; sadness, disbelief, grief, loss, and anger. While sitting close to the mass graves, I asked myself, “Why did this happen, and why was this not prevented from happening?”
What became evident while moving through the exhibit was that actions to stop the atrocities from happening could have occurred. Information was apparent that such crimes were happening. Leaders took little or no effort at the outset to prevent the Genocide. The world’s initial response was to ignore and to seek more conclusive evidence. Leaders in other parts of the world, not wishing to face the truth and information that they were receiving from Rwanda, ignored the situation, and did not act. The resulting consequences were devastating, with estimates of over 20% of the population killed, many injured, and so many scarred emotionally.
Rwanda’s experience is a sobering example of what can happen when you ignore the truth. However, I have also realized that consequences also can occur in much less severe situations. Ignoring truth happens daily. Don M. Aycock and Mark Sutton in Still God’s Man propose that when we ignore truths and disregard situations we do not like to hear, we tend to react with apathy, disbelief or we get angry at the individual or situation. Many of us do not want to face the truth because it requires difficult decisions, taking definitive action, and courageous leadership to face the truth and effect change.
Many find it much easier to avoid, deny, or point the blame elsewhere. It takes strong-willed, principled leaders to confront challenging situations to combat inaction. Even though it may be hard to deal with and act on complex issues, it is the courageous leader who faces these situations to avoid consequences from occurring. Thankfully, there were leaders who intervened to prevent the Genocide from continuing.
Most of us rarely face such situations that occurred in Rwanda, but I believe we can all learn a valuable lesson from this sad and emotional time in history. Two life-altering hours made me realize that I need to take personal responsibility for my actions, not ignore the truth, and respectfully confront those who harm others.
Regretfully, in a short period, it is estimated that over 800,000 people died. The repercussions of the Genocide still reverberate throughout the country. However, the people of Rwanda are remarkably resilient and hopeful; their focus is reconciliation and forgiveness. It is now over twenty-five years since the Genocide and the process of reconciliation continues. The country is forgiving but is not forgetting. “Never Again,” is the call to action for the Rwandan people. They have not ignored the truth, and they are a notable example for all of the world to emulate.