Speech by His Excellency Paul Kagame
President of the Republic of Rwanda
Kigali, 7 April 2009, 15th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi at the Nyanza Memorial Site in Kicukiro
• Friends of Rwanda who have come to join us today;
• Fellow Rwandans:
I would like to thank you all for coming to this commemoration of the genocide for the fifteenth time. We have come to remember many things – but before I talk about remembrance; I wish to thank in particular the people who have come from neighbouring countries and those who have come from other African countries. I would like to thank your countries, through you, for everything that you have done towards Rwanda’s reconstruction.
There are other friends who have come from outside Africa who are here with us. I know that you have not all been mentioned and I would like to use this occasion to acknowledge, not only your presence, but also your continued contribution in our reconstruction effort.
There are also people who have come from countries which did not play a particularly positive role in our history. They are here because they have condemned, in their own right, what their countries did, or they have joined others to expose that negative role that some in their countries have played. I simply want to express our appreciation.
We are here to commemorate the genocide. In this process of commemoration we always remember a number of things, all linked to the genocide that took place here in Rwanda, in which people were killed because of who they were born as. It is linked to our history and what characterized that history. Most importantly, we remember the people who perished in that genocide.
There have been lots of debates and discussions on our history and what really happened in an attempt to get to the truth. Even when the truth does not come out immediately, it will do so at some point, because as we say in Kinyarwanda, “the truth passes through fire but it never burns”. It looks like there are some people who are still trying to “burn the truth” but that can never happen.
When the truth is revealed, we have to decide what to do with it, considering all the repercussions. What matters is that one knows the truth. So there is the need to remember, based on what really happened.
Another thing that we must remember, besides our history, is how people have survived genocide and its aftermath, and are moving forward. Even as we recall the past, we must look and move forward. When we remember, we should not be distracted from our other duty, which is to shape our future. We should see in our history the roots of our future. All this should be part and parcel of our commemoration.
This history that we remember is a history in which people lost lives. This realization should urge us to realise that life must continue, that we need to extricate ourselves from the bondage of what befell us.
So as we remember, life must go on. We must continue to build for a better future. This is the constant underlying message: that while we must remember the past, history, events, and facts – we must also remember to shape our future.
It should be understood that building on the ashes of the lives of a million people is not easy. It is not easy at all. But we have to face that problem. We will never be able to solve our problems unless we face them. We have managed to achieve a number of things that were at the time judged to be beyond our capacity and there are many more that we must achieve. In the last fifteen years, since 1994, we have managed to do things that I personally never thought we would be able to do. But I will tell you why we have succeeded.
One reason can be seen through the children that we just saw singing in front of us. Some were born after genocide and some may have been born during the genocide. But you heard what they told you. Others are studying, and they have formed associations like the AERG, that initially brought together students at university who survived genocide and were aware of the problems including trauma, faced by the younger ones. They helped the younger children to stay in school and complete their studies.
This association has now grown and has a membership of more than 6000. This is a self-help group where some children bring up their younger brothers and sisters. You can imagine a child bringing up siblings – a child that would under normal circumstances also need the attention of parents. Now, if that is possible, anything else is possible.
We can even consider the other side. When those who have played a role in the genocide admit their guilt, confess, look to the future, and choose to join other Rwandans in rebuilding their country – anything else is possible.
When survivors of genocide manage to live with those who killed their loved ones, it shows that anything is possible. Sometimes we ignore this fact.
Deniers of genocide, cynics and others – some of them are so-called scholars, or experts of some kind, who are given a lot of airtime to express their views; I don’t mind that – have accused us of exploiting the guilt of those who could have done something about what happened here in Rwanda – the genocide.
You want to know about guilt? Yes, there is a lot of guilt. Guilt is written all over, the world is guilty no doubt. But the children you saw here lighting the candle – their understanding and their courage – you know they have overcome the difficulties of this history. The way they are determined to shape their future has absolutely nothing to do with exploiting the guilt of anyone! So I remind those experts that they need to go back to school.
These children you saw, do you think they are here because they are exploiting anybody’s guilt? Do you think they are saying those words because they’re exploiting anybody’s guilt?
Well, there are people who are guilty, no question. Those who abandoned people they had come here to protect and left them to be murdered, left them to the dogs… aren’t they guilty?
Aren’t those who distort the history of genocide, the history of our country – aren’t they guilty? And by distorting the truth I think they are even insulting the courage, resilience and wisdom of the people of Rwanda.
We do not need to exploit guilt, or anything else for that matter. What they are assuming is that we are not capable of standing up to the challenges we face – I don’t think it is correct.
In fact there are two kinds of guilt I want to talk about. One is the fact that those whose guilt we are said to be exploiting are guilty because they are part of the history and the root causes of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda – a history going back many decades. There are those who shaped that history to lead to what we saw in 1994. The truth about it, it doesn’t matter how we twist it, it doesn’t matter if we do not want to accept it – like we said before, “the truth will go through fire but it will not burn”.
Of course, apart from being part of the history that gave rise to this situation, the second form of guilt, is indeed how the people of Rwanda were abandoned at their time of need by people who were here supposedly to protect them. This contributes to what we continue to see in terms of distorting our history.
Looking at the demand for justice – part of our achievements has been how we have addressed the need for justice and the need for reconciliation, with all the underlying complexities, and managed to make progress.
As we forgive, as we reconcile, there is certainly a need for justice, and for justice to be seen to be done. We improvised with Gacaca, and people criticised us for it and accused us of many things. So we asked for an alternative they could give us that would be better than Gacaca, to no avail.
We have also been rebuilding our justice system for the last 15 years, with tremendous and very significant progress – but some still say they cannot allow genocide cases to be tried in Rwanda because they are not fully satisfied with the justice system, claiming it cannot deliver any justice.
I want to point out the double standards and hypocrisy in this. The authors and masterminds of genocide move freely in Europe, America and other places, and this is a problem that we have raised endlessly with the countries concerned. But the answer is always: “no we cannot give you these people because we are not happy with your justice system”.
We have told them the matter is simple: if they cannot give these people to Rwanda because they are not happy with the way we do things, how about using their own system to try the suspects? The fact that these countries are not happy with us trying the fugitives does not mean they should not be the ones to try them.
The end result should not be that these people remain free all over the world. And yet, everybody tells us they really want to see progress in Rwanda in terms of bringing to justice to those who are responsible for genocide. Isn’t this hypocrisy? I don’t think it helps us in any way.
In any case, I will leave that to those concerned, those who feel they have any kind of guilt, those who practice double standards, and so on, I leave it to them; they know how to deal with their own guilt.
It is up to the people of Rwanda – up to me and you – to know how to build our future. The kind of future, the kind of life we deserve – and we deserve nothing less than what any other human being anywhere else in the world.
No one else other than ourselves owns that future, no one can decide it for us. But we welcome all those, including the friends I mentioned earlier, to give a hand in helping us to shape that future.
For us, we mean what we say – we always try to do what we say. We are not like those who said “never again” yet abandoned those they were responsible for, those they were supposed to protect, and abandoned them even before a single shot was fired.
I can only conclude that this is not just guilt, it is also cowardice – the world is full of cowards. But we are not going to shy away, we are not cowards. We have been tried before and we are not worried about being tested to prove our courage in the future.
I think I can say confidently that from what I saw in the eyes and body language of the children who were here earlier, we have to continue to move forward. That is what will give real meaning to the many sacrifices that the people of Rwanda have rendered to their country.
I thank you all for coming to this event. I thank you for your self-sacrifice, your courage and cooperation. We, Rwandans, should be in the vanguard of solving the many remaining problems and in building our country. I would also like to thank all the friends who have joined us in the process of rebuilding our country and a better future for Rwandans.
On a day like this one, rather than being overwhelmed by grief, we should be motivated to solve the many problems that remain, and I will always remind you of this. Our achievements so far give us hope that we have created a firm foundation on which we can build further.
God bless you all.