By Mekdes Mezgebu
Between October 9 and 11, six McGill Echenberg Human Rights Fellows who are working or living in Africa gathered in Kigali, Rwanda. The focus of the two day meeting was on human rights and governance issues. So far, the Fellows have had the opportunity to meet with the First Lady of Rwanda, as well as the Inspector General of the Supreme Court of Rwanda. The following post are reflections from Fellow Mekdes Mezgebu, from Ethiopia, who attended from conference.
While in Kigali for the regional meeting of Echenburg Human Rights fellows, it’s impossible to escape the signs and scars of the genocide that devastated the country 17 years ago.
Flying into Kigali airport, one couldn’t help but think that the same tarmac helped spark the genocide in 1994, when the plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents was shot down as it was preparing to land.
The cleanness of the city, its greenery and its orderly structure makes it hard to believe that this is a country where hundreds of thousands of people perished in a mere three months, streets and streams filled with bodies of women and children.
Driving to our hotel, I saw the hotel “ De Mille Collins”, the now infamous hotel with its courageous manager who sheltered families from the onslaught of machete-carrying militia, roaming the city for human prey. Again, nobody could help but feel a sense of pain when passing through its door. Your knowledge of a terrible past mixed with the reality of a calmer present.
In conversation with Rwandans, I was told that I look Rwandese. Some tried to speak to me in their language, sure that I was one of them. One man told me that many Ethiopians in Rwanda were killed because they had Tutsi-like features. It is often reported that during the genocide Tutsis were told to leave Rwanda and go back to their motherland – Ethiopia.
Stories, conversations, social interactions – memories- are all traced back to the genocide.
Rwanda has been — and will remain to be for some time — defined by the genocide. A day spent talking to ordinary Rwandese, the first lady, a judge from the supreme court and the ministry of justice showed us that the genocide and its aftermath informs the development agenda of the country.
I asked the first lady if she is hopeful of the future and if she has any worries of the country lapsing into the same history.
She simply said “the conditions that precipitated the genocide in 1994 no longer exist in Rwanda. There will not be another genocide. There is a constitution and strong leadership in place to ensure that it will never happen again.’
If Rwanda can rise up to the challenges of building a post-genocide society, that is hopeful, optimistic and committed to building a democratic system, anything is possible.
It is a lesson to all of us that, no matter what the challenges we face, and no matter what lies in our country’s past, if we are committed to a better future, we can walk swiftly towards it.
Rwanda has made an excellent start.
First Published by sienaanstis on October 11, 2011 at %I:%M %p under Africa Fellows Meeting, Food for Thought.
Ms Mezgebu is a member of the AUHRM Committee