Tonia Locatelli, an Italian nun, flew to Rwanda in 1972, when she was 35 years old. Little did she know that she would be a victim of the genocide against the Tutsi, twenty years later.
In remote Nyamata, Bugesera district, Eastern-Rwanda, she engaged in humanitarian activities for two decades. Sometime in February 1992, Hutu neighbors stormed Tutsis’ homes, looted their belongings, torched houses and killed others. Weeks later, over 600 Tutsi, who had sought refuge at a nearby church, were massacred.
Tens of others ran into Locatelli’s facilities. Government soldiers shot her dead.
The killings were a test carried out by government militias (Interahamwe) for a planned operation, later in April 1994 that became the worst genocide in human history.
Beginning April 7, 1994, over a million Tutsis were murdered across the country, in 100 days. Over 11,000 were killed and buried at the Nyamata Catholic Church.
Buhigiro who lost all his seven children to the genocide, recounts how Interahamwe militias ‘macheted’ and dumped him among the bodies, thinking he was dead.
Every April 7, Buhigiro joins millions of Rwandans to commemorate the genocide, emphasizing the message of ‘Never Again’.
This year, the country commemorates for the 21st time. Rwanda has now recovered, thanks to a reconciliation drive that has re-united Hutu and Tutsi who share a common identity.
On April 2, President Paul Kagame who stopped the genocide with his Rwanda Patriotic Army, said that the country has moved on and communities are focused on rebuilding. With a development plan (vision-2020), the country intends to transform into a middle-income-economy.
Running from a financially empty government just after the atrocities in 1994, domestic revenues have now grown to finance the $2.5 billion budget at 62% at an average 8% annual growth.
This year’s commemoration theme focuses on educating the world against genocide denial and revisionism to ensure such heinous crimes don’t happen again, anywhere.
Kagame said that genocide denial might never go away, even during the painful commemoration period, but encouraged Rwandans to focus on rebuilding their country.
Back in Bugesera, Locatelli’s soul along with those of thousands of Tutsis, rest in peace as the country mourns their inhumane departure.