2019 marks 25 years since the Rwandan Genocide, and much has been done to commemorate it. The tragedy is burned into world history as a genocide between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Civil war broke out in response to then-Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana dying in a plane crash, which lead to the quickest killing spree the world has ever seen. Hutus made up the ethnic majority with Tutsis and Twa in the minority. It is imperative that we commemorate this tragedy and do so correctly for a couple of reasons. To commemorate correctly is to connect empathetically with the victims as human beings and understanding ideologically what was done to obtain the end state.
What it means to connect empathetically as human beings is to be able to agree on a standard of treatment for humans regardless of race, class, ethnicity or any other identive category. Humans tend to divide themselves by their differences and this causes us to justify violence in the name of in-group and out-group thinking. The Hutus and Tutsis were fundamentally the line of divide that enabled the Rwandan genocide to occur. It is important to commemorate objective empathy for those who suffered this tragedy. We should all be thinking “no one should be killed for their ethnicity alone, regardless of what that ethnicity is culturally associated with.” Cultures often broadstroke groups of people in this nature, with stereotypes which is what associates a characteristic with a norm or action. This empathetic-based assertion is what helps create a standard of treatment for human beings, which exists exterior of law created by any government.
It is important to understand reprehensible ideology as to not repeat it and so to some degree, we must remember exactly what happened. This can be a harsh thing for museums and statues to do because it paints a bloody picture. People try to forget tragedy; we have a tendency to shove it in the back of our minds as a means of coping with it. But it is imperative we tell the story exactly how it happened because that is how we avoid repeating it. This way we learn from it and bring it to the front of minds. Then we ask ourselves “how did this happen and how can we stop it from happening again?” The victims of the Rwandan Genocide were not spared details and so neither should we simply because it makes us uncomfortable to think about. It is within this discomfort that we begin to deal with these tragedies as an issue that can be avoided if paid attention to.
There is a dual balance to be had between connecting with victims through vicarious thinking and remembering our past, regardless of difficulty as it occurred. Empathy allows us to remember why we should care. It brings thought into an ethical domain which is where we all should be. With this, we begin having conversations regarding what should be as opposed to how things currently are. Any sustainable prospering society worth its salt has ethical fabrication ingrained in it somehow.
Maintaining historical accuracy allows us to face what happened and begin to figure out how to detect when something similar occurs in the future. This is how historians develop precursors to genocide, almost as a warning sign for societies to be wary of. For example, one precursor to genocide is something called Identicide, which is ideologically similar to what has already been addressed. Simply, it is the killing of any people based solely off a group characteristic.
President Paul Kagame led a memorial ceremony in the capital of Kigali. A flame was lit at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and will continue to burn for 100 days as a metaphor for the genocide itself, as it lasted 100 days and resulted in the death of 800,000 Rwandans. Many African leaders were in attendance to show support. Additionally, survivors give testimonies and a night vigil is held.
We do make steps to commemorate our fallen and this is a good sign. I wrote a recent article regarding erasure of history as something that should fundamentally be avoided. The points run synonymously with this one. 25 years have passed since the Rwandan genocide, yet we still take steps towards violence both intro-nationally and intra-nationally in the name of division. Possibly we have not learned enough and need to continue to commemorate and learn from our past as to diminish tragedies like it for good.