Rwanda: Kayonza – Reunion Groups Bridge Divide Between Genocide Victims, Perpetrators

Thirty years ago, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Interahamwe militia, including Augustin Ngendabanga, attacked and killed eight of the 11 family members of Valentine Mukarusine in Mukarange Sector, Kayonza District.

Ngendabanga was convicted, imprisoned for seven years, and later released on a Presidential pardon.

“I could not meet him face-to-face; I was filled with fear and anger. I tried by all means to avoid him, even when moving around the neighbourhood. One day, a neighbour and the leader of a reconciliation group approached me and told me he had a message for me.

“Ngendabanga was asking for forgiveness. The group was having heart-to-heart discussions about what happened, during which I felt some relief and chose to forgive Ngendabanga,” Mukarusine said.

Among the many reconciliation groups in Kayonza, Mukarusine attends the Association Modeste et Innocent (AMI). These groups provide psychosocial rehabilitation to the most vulnerable, including survivors of the Genocide, prisoners, and ex-prisoners who seek forgiveness.

“I lived in shame when I came back from prison because of the genocide crimes I had committed in my village. In prison, they taught us about the importance of reconciliation and seeking forgiveness. Finding reconciliation groups helped me; they were a channel to ask for forgiveness from the families of my victims. They forgave me, and we are living peacefully as neighbours. I call upon genocide perpetrators to ask for forgiveness because it frees the heart. Acknowledge our past mistakes and work towards a better future for our children,” Ngendabanga said.

In Mukarange, a group of young people born to Genocide survivors and perpetrators have come together in a reconciliation group. They discuss their role in promoting reconciliation and healing in their community.

It is through these conversations that the younger generation can challenge the misinformation they have received and learn the truth about our history, a group member said.

Olivier Mwizerwa, 23, said: “We discuss reality from experiences we have with our parents and disseminate the information they share as a group of youth. Sometimes you find youth have different information about genocide because of the sources of information they acquired it from, and some parents lie about what happened during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It is our responsibility as youth to break the cycle of hatred and promote unity among our people.”

Speaking to The New Times, Kayonza District Mayor John Bosco Nyemazi said: “Reconciliation groups have provided a safe space for open discussions and the sharing of personal experiences between victims of the Genocide and perpetrators, to foster unity and resilience among communities.”

The Mayor called on religious entities to uphold the value of instilling unity and resilience among their followers.

He said: “Religious leaders play an important role in promoting unity and resilience among their followers. We encouraged them to use their influence to bridge divides and strengthen the believers’ ability of unity and resilience.”

He also urged the perpetrators to reveal the locations of the missing bodies of genocide victims, allowing the victims’ families to properly lay their loved ones to rest, giving an example of Midiho–a mystery surrounding the fate of some 200 people killed there.

The mayor emphasised that unity and resilience can only be achieved when both victims and perpetrators come together to acknowledge the past, learn from it, and work towards a better future for all Rwandans.

During the 19th National Council Dialogue – Umushyikirano, Minister of National Unity and Civic Engagement Jean-Damascene Bizimana, while making a presentation on ‘Rwanda’s journey of unity and resilience’, urged the youth to fight against anything and anyone who can distort the progress of unity and reconciliation achieved so far, stating that they are the strength and future of the country.

Latest data indicates that Rwandans’ unity and reconciliation rate increased from 82.3 per cent in 2015 to 94.7 per cent in 2020.

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