“In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness. Today, light radiates from this place. How did it happen? Rwanda became a family once again” – President Paul Kagame
The Rwandan family that was disintegrated in 1994 became one once again. I asked myself the responsibilities that come with being a family member at a time of loss. The family of Rwandans lost relatives. And in any family, nuclear or extended, when a member of the family dies, there’s a period of mourning to pay respects to the deceased, to support each other in moments of grief, and to assure the most affected people that we stand by them.
Having a family to belong to brings opportunities and responsibilities. We feel safe, protected, and a sense of support in moments of self- doubt; our shortcomings will not be so glaring to keep us from looking forward to the next day with optimism. Family gives us hope about today and tomorrow. Our own lives and those of our offspring are given meaning and purpose through this sense of family.
However, the strength of a family is measured by the solidarity its members have towards one another. Without a sense of solidarity between relatives, a family loses its meaning and the advantages outlined above cease to exist or manifest in our lives. Kwibuka is an opportunity to reflect on the opportunity to belong to the Rwandan family and the responsibility that comes with that.
Kwibuka is for all of us Rwandans. It’s a moral obligation not so different from what is expected from family members when a relative dies. We sombrely congregate to sympathize at the wake (ikiriyo). We make contributions so that the family member isn’t burdened twice: the loss of life and the financial burden. So that they don’t feel they are alone during such difficult times.
This is the decent thing to do (Abavandimwe bafatana mu mugongo). A family member, who doesn’t show up at the wake and burials is said to lack common decency (Ubumuntu n’ubupfura). In the African tradition, they were called witches. They were said to wish for the misfortune to befall others and would celebrate calamity as night dancers on the graves of the dead. In short, it’s unbecoming in decent society to abandon a relative in times like these – gutererana.
After reflecting on the responsibility of a relative towards another who has lost a loved one, I confronted those who have said that Kwibuka and having memorials is vengeance (inzika) that sustains guilt (gutera ipfunwe abantu). Certainly, a person who had been at the wake and has paid respects to the dead, as decent society demands of him or her, would not claim that paying respects to the dead is an attack on anyone. On the contrary, such a reaction reveals that you have not attended the wake. It’s a way of exposing to the family that you have been partaking in night dancing.
Moreover, the Rwandan healing and reconciliation experiences are unique. Even those who have played part in the genocide against the Tutsi – directly or indirectly – are invited to atone by their presence at the remembrance ceremonies where they come to pay respects, show solidarity with survivors, and reflect on how to make “Never Again” a reality. In fact, only genuine remorse can grasp and appreciate the uniqueness of this gift extended by survivors of the genocide, which is forgiveness. Through our unique experience, those who are remorseful begin the process of self-redemption for the wrongs they have done to the family and help build collective responsibility in the fight against genocide ideology. It is a means of repairing one’s own humanity that was lost by taking another’s life. In fact, those who have a responsibility in the tragedy ought to demonstrate greater responsibility in the mourning as a path to atonement, thereby restoring their right to claim all the advantages of belonging to the family.
With sadness, I have also been confronted with young people saying that April exhausts them. Those with the means leave the country to go “preserve” their mental health. I have to admit that when I was younger, without a sense of responsibility to the family, I used to feel exhausted, or bored as some put it, in the build-up to the commemorations beginning in April of every year. Time is the counsel of men; I now know better. April offers an opportunity to remember, unite, and renew my commitment to the family (ntawurambirwa cyangwa ngo arekere kwibuka abe).
Kwibuka is a burden only to those who have denounced the family and for whom night dancing is a way of life. For the decent, the responsibility to the family overrides any other petty quarrels. Kwibuka is for all of us; the survival of the Rwandan family literally depends on it.