Rwanda marks 25 years since genocide - The ongoing battle against historical amnesia

The sheer scale of the massacre that took place in Rwanda was enormous. And now, Rwandans will mourn for 100 days, the time it took in 1994 for about a tenth of the country, 800,000 people, to be massacred.

According to the BBC, Rwanda's president Paul Kagame, who led a rebel force that ended the slaughter, lit a remembrance flame in the capital Kigali said the country had become "a family once again.”

Most of those who died were minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, killed by ethnic Hutu extremists.

The BBC’s Flora Drury who was present at the remembrance service in Kigali, wrote:

“We had already heard the names of entire families wiped off the map read out, accompanied by a promise never to forget. We had watched students march in silence from the parliament to the stadium… But it was as the final speaker took to the stage, to describe how he survived to grow up and give his children the names of the four siblings he had lost, that the emotion seemed to bubble to the surface, and anguished cries were heard above the crowd.”

Like another genocide perpetrated in Europe some 50 years earlier that wiped out six million Jews, hundreds of thousands of homosexuals and gypsies (Roma) in the Holocaust, the language that was used to denigrate and de-humanise the intended victims were also used in Rwanda prior to and during the genocide. Words to de-humanise victims, such as “inyenzi” – or “cockroaches” – were intended to make the victims appear as vermin and therefore necessarily eradicated.

In the words of author Milan Kundera, who warned against the dangers of historical amnesia:

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”

For the sake of humanity’s future, the importance of memory cannot be understated. Lest we forget.

Click here to read about how the genocide unfolded from the BBC.

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