It takes a deep level of forgiveness to shake hands with the killer of one’s father but Gabriel Ndutiye does it – a couple of times every year.
He was 11 years old during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that killed over a million people. He alone survived, losing five brothers and both parents. Although he can never forget, Gabriel has learnt to respectfully co-exist with those responsible for the killings.
Beyond forgiveness, Rwandans have been drilled with acceptance and oneness – such that it has become a part of them.
Fifty years after Nigeria got into a three-year civil war occasioned by the wantaway south-east region dubbed Biafra, the wounds have failed to heal and the pus has yet again forced its way to the pores’ surface – demanding attention.
The tricky business of forgiveness
“When you come to Rwanda, you can’t think something like that [genocide] happened. And that’s because of reconciliation…. but it’s still in our hearts,” said Ndutiye, a tourist service chauffeur.
Ndutiye admitted that while reconciliation is possible, forgetting is herculean.
Nowadays, he shares drinks with the perpetrators of the acts because he has accepted what happened, forgiven all involved and has resolved to be a team player in the growth of Rwanda.
But one day, he will share the painful memories with his children, who are too young at the moment to be told.
“I have to tell them,” he said.
What Nigeria can learn: Forgiveness is possible and it takes nothing away from remembrance. Quit notices and threats to secede cannot be successful without bloodshed.
‘We are Rwandans’ and Kagame’s speech
Nowadays in Rwanda, there are no Tutsis, Hutus or Twas. Everyone is a Rwandan and citizens appear determined to have it that way.
Paul Kagame’s speech of July 19, 1994, was among the catalysts for that united resolve to forge ahead in unison.
“If we look at what we have gone through and where we are heading, I feel that no one should deceive themselves by saying that we have completed the task and can now sit back and think that the problems are over,” the speech read in part.
At the time, then major general Kagame was vice president of Rwanda.
What Nigeria can learn: A bold leader uttering much-needed blunt truths regardless of whose ox is gored should be encouraged and embraced, not castigated.
Remember, unite, renew
In universities and secondary schools, young Rwandans are taught to fight the genocide ideology such that they never forget what it cost to put tribe above nationality.
Genocide memorial centres are strategically positioned around the country for people to visit and remember the past and build on their progress.
“For me, I feel blessed because I got to learn about my country’s past,” said Iradukunda Diane, a student of College St Jean, Nyarusange.
Diane – whose mother lost a sister – had come with other students to pay respects and learn about the past at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.
Yearly, between April and July, the entire nation observes what is called ‘100 days of remembrance’ – and everyone participates.
Around Kigali, thousands of banners bearing the same message hang visibly.
“Remember, unite, renew (Fight genocide ideology – build on our progress). Kwibuka Twiyubuka,” they all read.
What Nigeria can learn: Remembrance centres of the civil war deserve to be constructed and the history of the events should be taught across the country. Political elites should abandon the gospel of divisionism while the government should kickstart a ‘conversation’ on restructuring and referendum.
Building and rebuilding infrastructure
The infrastructure that has been put in place in Rwanda since 1994 is impressive, considering the fact that it’s taken other African nations much longer to develop.
Another portion of that Kagame’s 1994 speech read: “I think it is time for all of us to stand up and work together, as we did in the past in order to reach the point at which we are now, when we are establishing a government in the hope that it will lead this country along the path of its development.
“A path that will bring Rwandans together, so that the country can once again become for Rwandans, with all their liberties, and feel that no Rwandan has the right to deprive other Rwandans of their rights.”
Although the government seeks to revert to the master plan of the country, the people are being consulted, compensation is being awarded and replacement is provided before relocation is carried out.
There’s a saying in the country that ‘When it is said in Rwanda, it is done’ – which means the government and elected officials are trusted to fulfil their promise to the people.
Kigali and most parts of Rwanda enjoy stable power supply from different sources while the higher institutions in the country are now 40 from the three the entire country had after the genocide.
What Nigeria can learn: Infrastructure should be prioritised by all state governments if they are truly sincere about development. And power should have multiple sources for it to be stable and reliable.
Young power and ‘power to the women’
Before the genocide, Rwandan leaders were preaching divisionism but afterwards, the new leaders rallied round to create unity and invest in young people.
Unlike Nigeria, the young hold sway in Rwanda.
Many top positions and important roles are being played by Rwandans in their 20s-40s.
That is perhaps helped by the fact that half of all Rwandans are under 20 while nearly three-quarters are under 30.
Rwanda can also boast of an almost equal women representation in government – the best in Africa. And it was achieved within a short time.
The country’s women hold 64% of parliament seats and 39% of ministerial positions.
What Nigeria can learn: Time immemorial sentiments about women in power should be discarded and there should be several seats on the table for them while the armour of patriarchy destroyed. The youth, if not given an opportunity, will never be able to show what they can achieve.
Almost every Rwandan lost someone
“Did you lose someone?”… “Who did you lose to the genocide?”
Charles Borromeo heard the first time but stared for a moment before muttering, “a lot of them… almost nine,” in a manner that suggested the question was an understatement in itself.
And it was. Because almost everyone in Rwanda lost a family member or friend in the genocide.
Borromeo whose picture hangs in the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali – where more than 250,000 corpses were buried – lost nine people in the genocide.
His wanting mathematics acumen served as his saviour when the killers came for his family. He was at an aunt’s place, observing lessons.
Dealing with the loss, Charles says, “is not easy” but the realisation that he is not alone has helped him thus far.
He has three children one of which was adopted because he was keen to help reduce the ripple effects of the genocide – in the little way he can.
“Who am I to be alive?” he asks. “I’m so blessed to be alive at this moment.”
What Nigeria can learn: If indeed the federal government wants the south-east to feel included in the Nigerian setup, the Biafra war, which affected most Igbo, should stop getting swept under the carpet of deliberate forgetfulness.