Kigali, Rwanda | AFP | Every April 7, Rwanda recalls the hundreds of thousands of people who perished in the 1994 genocide — an occasion that for many survivors triggers terrifying memories.
But for the two-thirds of the population born in the aftermath of the slaughter, the trauma is of a different kind.
They face burdens of their own, having grown up in the shadow of unspeakable atrocities while carrying the crushing weight of expectations of a brighter future.
“For us, people who grew up after the events, one would tend to think that it doesn’t affect us directly,” said Bruce Muringira, aged 24.
“But I would say it does… it takes a toll on us too.”
Muringira works for an advertising agency in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
He was born a year after the mass killings, in which Hutu extremists and soldiers mainly targeted the Tutsi minority for three months.
“It is a painful memory, and for a lot of families, they have found the best way to cope is to try and put it in the past,” said Muringira.
“But it’s not an easy thing to do. So every April, when it comes, you see people changing. You see people withdrawing into themselves more and more.”
Young people feel the absence of those they never even knew; grandparents, even their own parents. The gaps in family are constant reminders of those who were lost.
Trauma lingers in the succeeding generation as well. Youths speak of their responsibility to ensure that the horrors of 1994 will never happen again.
– National unity –
Learning about his family history was painful, said Muringira. “I went through a lot of moments of insecurity, confusion and questioning,” he said.
It is a feeling echoed by others.
Jean-Paul Haguma, now 26, was a one-year-old baby when the killing began. He does not want to talk about the details of what happened to his family.
“It is a difficult time,” Haguma said. “But it is the history. It happened, it became part of our life.”
Many of the young regret that the image of Rwanda abroad today is still all too often only that of the story of the genocide.
Supporters of the government praise the advances Rwanda has made in term of peace and reconciliation, and speak of its economic success.
Young people echo the rhetoric of Rwanda’s tough government in supporting development for the small, densely populated nation of hills.
“The youth should support the development… to implement, with all our energy and will, the government programmes,” said Diane Mushimiyimana, a 23-year-old student.
Those who grew up after the genocide were taught the core concept of Rwandan unity, and how splits between the different groups paved the way for the massacres of at least 800,000 people.
– ‘Part of our history’ –
“My dream for Rwanda is, first and foremost, to be able to move past what happened,” said Muringira.
“I’m not talking about forgetting it, because when you forget your own history, there’s a risk of repeating it…My hope is that we might be able to see ourselves, more than anything, as Rwandans – not as one tribe or another, not as victims or perpetrators.”
Emmanuel Habumugisha was born in May 1994, in the middle of the genocide. His father was killed.
From the pain and loss, he hopes there is a lesson for the future. There is a benefit in reading the history of Rwanda’s genocide, and of other countries that have seen such suffering, he said.
“Then they will know the value of a person, know how to relate to each other,” Habumugisha said. “Then they will come together to help each other to develop – instead of fighting.”
Every person deals with the legacy of genocide in their own way. Some try to remember. Others do everything to forget.
Some, like Muringira, see the act of remembrance as a way to build a more positive future.
“As much as we were not there, it is part of our history too. It is a defining feature of who we are as a country – but also who we are as individuals,” Muringira said.
“Those of us who understand that, we are trying our best to make our communities and our country a better place.”