This Friday, April 7, Rwanda starts the 23rd annual commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, remembering more than 1 million Tutsi who were killed.
Flags will fly at half-mast during the national commemoration week (#Kwibuka23), which marks the beginning of the 100-day genocide memorial period. Government launched the Genocide on April 7, 1994, and stopped on July 4th by Rwanda Patriotic Army.
President Paul Kagame will light a flame of hope on Friday at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. The flame, which will stay lit throughout the commemoration period, symbolizes Rwanda’s hope of a better future.
More than 400 guests including international leaders, dignitaries, survivors and their families and representatives of survivor organisations will attend the ceremony.
It is followed by a walk to remember in the afternoon, then a night vigil at National stadium.
“The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a place for remembrance and learning. As we mark the 23rd Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, we welcome and will support those who come to pay respects to their loved ones buried here. During #Kwibuka23, the memorial will inform and educate visitors about genocide prevention and Rwanda’s progress since 1994. We invite all Rwandans and international guests to visit the memorial for Kwibuka23,” said Honore Gatera, Manager of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Meanwhile, commemoration takes place at village level; through the national commemoration week, Rwandans in their neighbourhoods attend sessions where testimonies about preparation, execution and players of the genocide are shared.
While April 7 is a holiday, offices close in the afternoon when sessions take place throughout the national commemoration week.
Several organizations are wrapping up preparations to provide services to genocide survivors and the general public during the whole period of commemoration.
The Ministry of Health has trained a number of volunteers that will help in addressing #Kwibuka23 trauma cases for the next several months.
“We will spend the rest of our lives fighting genocide ideology – with all the tools in our possession. Good governance, continued and sustainable growth and remembering our loved ones are our weapons of choice,” said Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide.
More than 1000 volunteers last week finished a two-month training course on psychological assistance and mentorship.
The 1300 community health workers, psychologists, and other experts will be stationed at 500 health centers around the country to help treat anyone that needs trauma counseling.
Rwanda Biomedical Centre has put aside nearly 200 vehicles, including ambulances, pick-up trucks and buses, to help in trauma interventions.
They will help in, among others, transport of patients to health centers, transport of counselors to the patients’ home whenever needed be.
Anyone can dial 6200 to reach a free hotline for trauma counseling and counselors will come in to help.
“We have decided to join forces, especially with health and local government representatives, to tackle trauma, which is particularly characteristic of the commemoration week,” said Dr Jean Damascene Iyamuremye, Director of Psychiatric care at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC).
According to Dr. Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the Mental Health Division Manager at RBC, more women than men tend to seek treatment for trauma during this period.
Last year, of the 2,267 people traumatized, 2,023 (89 percent) were women. Countries that suffered genocide have high rate of trauma.
In Rwanda, Israel and Cambodia, trauma is rated at 26 percent compared to 2 percent in Denmark, according to a report by World Health Organization (WHO 2009).
The media itself is prepared. According to a communiqué by Rwanda Media Commission, a self-regulatory organ of the media, “the media, especially internet based should be careful while verifying and publishing information that were published on several platform.”
The warning makes sense; during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, hate media propagated Genocide ideology and helped interahamwe militia dislodge Tutsi from their hiding.
Meanwhile, bookings are open for buses that will carry family members to mourn their loved ones on the dates they were killed. Several institutions have finished building a monument bearing some names of former employees that were perished during the Genocide.
Many Rwandans and friends of Rwanda will flock to Genocide memorials to mourn the victims. Officials at Kigali Genocide Memorial told KT Press that a huge number of visitors are expected, such that they might need to reinforce the guiding team by other staff at the memorial.
“Every year, the number increases because visitors tell their fellow countrymen what they have seen and encourage them to also visit,” Didier Rutagungira, who oversees communication at the memorial, told KT Press.
Last year, the number of visitors at Kigali Genocide Memorial was the highest ever, with 92,000 visitors from 152 countries.
Alongside those traveling to Rwanda, other foreigners will join Rwandans in the diaspora to remember. Previously, commemoration events took place in Rwanda’s embassies in Belgium, US, Senegal to mention but a few.
Already, some institutions in other countries are commemorating the Genocide.
Carnegie Mellon University, a US university based in Pennsylvania with a campus in Kigali has already a commemoration monument and painted it with Rwandan flag’s colors.