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19 years after genocide in Rwanda

19 years after genocide in Rwanda

19 years on, the genocide of 1994 is still not truly behind Rwanda. Many young people entering adulthood today are the children of rape inflicted on women during the hundred days of violence which began on 6 April 1994.

There is still considerable stigma attached to being born as a result of this dark period in Rwanda’s history. Many mothers recall the terrible decision they faced after childbirth, of whether or not to keep their baby, and of the mixture of emotions they experienced at the time. Children describe their own horror at discovering the truth of their parentage, and the added trauma of being the offspring of such a nationally significant sequence of events.

Many families have moved on from the terrible events which created them. Mothers now describe how they have overcome the trauma of their child’s conception to appreciate their sons’ and daughters’ as individuals. Children tell stories of the difficulties they experienced growing up, of being dubbed “hyenas” by relatives and peers, and of the struggle to get by without concealing their origins.

As a generation, most young people derive their understanding of the genocide from memories imparted by their families. As explored in an article on peace-building courses for young Rwandans, this means a lot of young people inherit the prejudices which led to the terrible events of 1994. As some schoolteachers observe, old Hutu/Tutsi divides manifest themselves in an undercurrent of animosity between children. This is compounded by the fact that the official version of events sets the two ethnicities against each other. Last year, a journalist was jailed for genocide denial after claiming that Rwandans killed “each other” rather than Hutus targeting Tutsis.

Rwandan foreign policy too has developed in the shadow of the genocide. The Hutu extremists responsible for the genocide fled Rwanda for neighbouring DR Congo, and after the Congolese president failed to banish them, the Rwandan government lent military support to rebels fighting for his overthrow. Though Rwanda withdrew troops in 2002, it was accused by the UN only last year of training rebel forces in eastern DR Congo.

Until Rwanda can move on politically and have an open discussion about what happened in 1994, it will be difficult for the next generation to escape the spectre of genocide. Young people have fantastic resources available to them. In Kigali, the Genocide Memorial Centre educates people about what happened during those terrible 100 days so that it never happens again - you can watch a moving video of a visit there by some schoolchildren on the Our Africa website. As the video shows, young people are ready to forgive, but they need to form part of a culture which is prepared for reconciliation in order to ensure tribal tensions never again result in killing.

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