Elisabeth Kaneza

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I find pride in calling myself a Rwandan. I’m proud to belong to a nation that rejects discriminatory categories. A nation that values human dignity . A nation that experienced horror and against all odds took the decision to rise from the ashes.


I was asked to say a few words regarding the Rwanda Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi. And I was wondering where to start. 

I don’t remember when April 7, 1994 started. I was seven and my days were structured in morning, noon, afternoon and evening. If I had a sense of time in the bigger sense at all, then I guess my years were divided into periods of school time  and holidays. At the age of seven I had never left Rwanda. The most distant place I had been to by then was most likely the village of my grandparents. My personal world took place somewhere between my parental home and my school. And my centre was my family, most notably my parents who always seemed to know what should be done. 

I don’t remember when April 7, 1994 started. All I remember is the fear all around me. I could almost grasp it. All I remember are the many people searching for shelter, whispering, with anxious eyes listening to some program on the radio. All I remember are the closed doors, the darkness, the waiting for something we all didn’t seem to know. It was the first time I stopped believing that adults hold the key to every problem. It was the first time I saw dead corpses. I think it was the first time I was really, really afraid. I didn’t know why. It was later that people referred to it as Genocide. The Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi. 

I was seven. I didn’t understand anything. I couldn’t understand how people who looked alike could harm each other in such a way. When we finally left our house my mother looked at the many eyes starring at her. She said: “Ni abantu. Turi abantu. They are human beings. We are human beings.” What I wanted her to say was: They are human beings. They can’t hurt us. I believed this. I was seven. I wanted this to be just another bad dream. 

But nothing would ever be again the way it used to be. Everything changed drastically. Soon the unexpected reached everyone. I don’t think that anyone was aware of the scale of the horror that people went through. People seemed to have become inward-looking, focused on their fate, counting their days. And everyone who survived, regardless of the categories people had given to her or him, felt guilt for being able to breath while others had perished. Loved ones. Years later a relative told me: “It’s not right. We shouldn’t be carrying our children to rest. We shouldn’t say farwell to our parents and grandparents so soon. It’s not right.” But so it was. And over the years, what helped me coping with this fact were the words of my mother. Turi abantu. We are human beings. 

Inspite of the hardship, the pain and the sadness, I experienced humanity. I experienced so much love and compassion. And I will always have gratitude for the people who showed self-giving sacrifices in order to save the lives of others. Many lost their lives because they saved others.One said: “They are looking for Tutsi? Twese tubaye abatutsi! We are all Tutsi.” Others refused to take sides and yet others served as saving shields. Because it has never been about categories. Behind categories like Tutsi, Hutu, Jew or non-Jew, Christians or non-Christians, are human beings. If you kill, you kill a human being. If you save, you save a human being.

Those who saved lives didn’t do it because they wanted to save people labelled Tutsi, half-Tutsi, Tutsi-looking or Hutu moderates. These are categories. They took the decision to save human life. Without looking at your ID, your kinship or your height. They gave value to human life, to God-given life. They did what was right and just. They were God’s angels on earth, saving the dignity of humankind.

A saying says that if you save one life, you save the whole world. And even in Rwanda, in our darkest hour, they were there. As we mourn and remember the many lost lives, let us uphold humanity. Let us remember the many acts of humanity in our darkest hour.

I never found meaning in categories and labels. But today, more than ever, I find pride in calling myself a Rwandan. I’m proud to belong to a nation that rejects discriminatory categories. A nation that values human dignity . A nation that experienced horror and against all odds took the decision to rise from the ashes. A decision to re-start and to re-build, knowing that nobody would come to its rescue. This is an act of self-reliance.  

I’m proud to belong to a nation that would come to your rescue not because you belong to any group. But simply because you are a human being. Simply because you need help. And we keep guarding human life within and outside our borders. This is an act of humanity.

Today, we should follow the example of Rwanda’s helpers and helpers’ helpers. From near and far. As a sign of solidarity and respect for the journey of the Rwandan people, let us all say: “I’m a Rwandan.”

I’m a Rwandan. I’m a human being. I lost and I survived. And I shall re-build. Starting from April 7, 1994. 

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