- April 7, 2019
- United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Dr. J. Peter Pham
- Excellency Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps,
- Excellency Ambassador to African Union, Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao
- President of the Rwandan American Community in DMV,
- Our Speakers
- Zilfa Irakoze, Rwandan Youth Representative
- Jean Pierre Karegeye, Visiting International Scholar, Dickinson College
- Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Senior Counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group
- Margee Ensign, President, Dickinson College
- Boubacar Boris Diop, Award-Winning Journalist & Novelist
- Jeanne Celestine Lakin
- Pastor Emmanuel Mutangana
- Our master of ceremony Victor Nsengiyumva
- Distinguished guests,
- Dear Friends of Rwanda and Compatriots
First of all, let me thank each and every one of you for joining us today. Commemorating genocide is essential, but it is not easy. Most of you have been our steadfast supporters, through the years as we faced one of the most trying and critical periods of our history. I thank you for your friendship and solidarity as we officially begin this period of commemoration known as Kwibuka25.
I would like to thank Dr. Peter Pham for the thoughtful statement delivered today in support of Rwandans. The U.S. has been a key partner in many aspects of the reconstruction of our country. Our relationship has flourished and expanded over the years, but I thank you also Dr. Pham your continuous support in your own right.
Our gratitude to representatives of various countries who are here with us today. Your support, solidarity and friendship with the people of Rwanda is a comforting reminder that we are not standing alone.
The eminent presenters gave comprehensive details about various aspects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. We also had a glimpse of what survivors endured during those dark, horrible 100 days through the compelling testimony of Jeanne Celestine Lakin.
Each year, we remember the loss of more than one million lives lost during the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Commemoration activities will be observed, not only here in the United States but across the world throughout the 100 days that will conclude on July 3rd.
This is a time we honor the memory of our loved ones who lost their lives and offer solace to those who survived.
Critically, we reflect on what made the unspeakable possible, the unimaginable all too real. We examine the forces that enabled genocide, and together ask ourselves, “are we doing all we can to bring peace where there was conflict, love where there was hatred?”.
And we also reflect on our journey since as a nation, left for dead just twenty-five years ago. By no means not just to celebrate our progress — although there is much progress to celebrate. Not out of pride at our accomplishments although there is much to be proud of:
We turned our nation around because we were driven by three guiding principles:
“Staying together, Being accountable and dreaming big” we found within ourselves resilience and courage to reject the politics of division and hate. We chose a path that put emphasis on our common identity as Rwandan and embarked on the politics of reconciliation.
We rebuilt our institutions from the ground up, implementing community-based justice through Gacaca courts which heard more than two million cases, and initiating a range of home-grown solutions to address socio-economic challenges at the grassroots.
Reforms like these made it possible for 3.5 million refugees to come home since the genocide.
Reforms like these allowed more than one million Rwandans to lift themselves out of poverty
Reforms like these transformed HIV-AIDS, once a death sentence, into a manageable chronic disease — and mother to child transmission has been effectively eradicated.
Thanks to these and other advancement, including near universal healthcare, life expectancy has risen by 20 years over the past two decades.
Free education now extends through to secondary school with very high participation rates.
These milestones are not just statistics designed to impress; rather they are the tangible outcome of hard work and a unified sense of purpose among Rwanda’s leadership and its citizens.
It has been Twenty-five years, a quarter of a century and we still have a long way to go. We still face many complex challenges, that today’s and future generations will be called upon to address, in order to continue building a prosperous nation.
And today as we remember, we ask ourselves once more “are we doing enough? What have we learned? What more must we do….to deepen the roots of peace, to strengthen the bonds of love?”
By remembering with clear-eyed honesty what happened in the lead-up to, and during, the three months of genocide in Rwanda, we lay the groundwork for a sustainable recovery. This is the foundational role of memory in our national story. Only by forgetting do we risk becoming stuck in the past. Memory enables the future. Forgetting endangers it.
The elements that made our justice system Gacaca successful can be found in many of the policies Rwanda has pursued over the past quarter-century. Practical solutions, grounded in tradition, built on mutual respect, committed to justice, located in communities and villages. I invite you to visit Rwandapedia online to learn about many more of the homegrown solutions that have underpinned Rwanda’s revival.
Memory, therefore, stretches centuries before the genocide, precedes independence, even colonization. We find in our ancient traditions such practical wisdom built on enduring values — love for neighbor, respect for all, a profound understanding of our shared destinies.
Memory enables forgiveness. It brings acceptance. It inspires wisdom. It serves as a cautionary tale of the devastating effects of divisive politics. Memory serves as barometer of how far we have come and where we need to go. This is why we remember. Not to dwell on the past, but for it to inform a better future.
With the passage of time, memory can fade without conscious effort. This is made worse by forces who seek to shroud events in a fog of revisionism.
Even though, like other genocides there is outright denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi, but more often there is conflation and false equivalency.
This strategy can be especially effective because it generally fits in a skewed perception of our continent by most of the outside world. One of the most conspicuous legacy of Colonialism is a portrayal of conflicts in Africa are tribal and reciprocal in nature.
A good illustration of the previous point is the resistance to use proper terminology of Genocide against the Tutsi instead of Rwanda Genocide. This persistence lends force to people who promote the Double Genocide theory or outright denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
This is exacerbated by widespread ignorance of our past – including the many decades of pseudo racial theories propagated by colonizers, as well as Hutu Power intellectuals and politicians, who paved the way for sustained violence beginning in the 1950s, culminating in genocide against the Tutsi.
1994 did not happen in a vacuum. But stripped of this history and the ideology that permeated it, it is tempting to write the events off as irrational and isolated – as yet another conflict in a continent where such conflict is commonplace.
We must therefore remain vigilant against those who will deny or trivialize the genocide.
We must keep clear eyed about conditions and context. If we don’t, the danger is we lose sight of the risks and warning signs — and the stupendous loss of life, of our loved ones, will forever be lost in the fog.
This not only insults their memory, but humanity itself will lose invaluable insights into how such things occur, and what we must do to stop them from happening again.
Young people born during or since the genocide are undoubtedly Rwanda’s future — but they are also our present. In so many ways, they are already picking up the baton of leadership in the public and private sectors. They are spawning new industries, innovations and ideas. More than ever before, they are seeking higher learning, engaging with the region and the world, and making their parents and country proud.
It is wonderful to see so many of you today. My plea to you and to others this April 7th, is to– Embrace memory. Hold fast to tradition. Build strong bonds of human solidarity. Learn and teach. Above all, continue to be a participant in our country’s growth and development.
Once again thank you!