Young Rwandans entrusted with the memory of the genocide
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Commemorations to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide begin today. President Paul Kagame will open the ceremony by deposing a wreath at the Gisozi memorial site accompanied by heads of state and other dignitaries. This year's tribute has focused on educating the country's youth.
In a luxury hotel a stone's throw away from Kigali's international airport, young Rwandans rehearse texts and songs for their performance to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the genocide.
Under soft drum music and a choir, a trio of two girls and a boy relive the stories of the victims.
"I survived, I'm all grown up now," reads one performer, addressing the portrait of her loved one hanging behind her on a giant screen. "I became a writer, my youngest is two."
The performers, around 30 in all, are 25-years-old or younger. Too young to have experienced the genocide, they are now being entrusted with continuing its memory.
Educating the young
"We have reached a stage where after the shock of the genocide, we now need to look beyond the horror and educate the youth about its history," explains stage director Dorcy Rugamba.
"It is their turn to keep the souls of the victims alive," he told RFI on Saturday.
A second performer reads: "Father, I remember you showing us fatherly love; you said my lovely daughter, your heart knows no bitterness…. And if you are ever treated any less than you are, do not let sadness settle in your heart."
The texts underpin the play Uriminzi, which means 'the lifekeeper' in Rwandan, and is part of the line-up for Sunday's commemorations, in which over thirty heads of state are expected to attend.
Rugamba, a former survivor and who comes from a family of artists, says he wanted to help young people put a face to the harrowing statistics.
Twenty-five years ago, a 100-day campaign of ethnic cleansing left some 800,000 Tutsis and 30,000 moderate Hutus dead.
"For me I was here, I was a young man then in 1994, and I can imagine the gap between me and them, because for them they have only the narrative. [...] and you cannot identify with a statistic," said Rugamba.
Facing the trauma
A few kilometers away at Amahoro stadium, dozens of young participants on Saturday were also putting the final touches to their choreography ahead of Sunday’s penultimate performance that will conclude with prayer vigils.
Some 30,000 people are expected to gather at the Amahoro stadium, where a genocide survivor and a rescuer who helped hide Tutsis, will share their testimonies. Counselors will also be on hand to help mourners and survivors deal with the trauma of remembering their lost loved ones.
During the genocide, the stadium became a refuge for many Tutsis fleeing persecution from Hutu extremists. For 13-year-old Denis Nwtali, the site is steeped in history.
"It makes me feel like I’m going back in the past, and I get to understand the whole meaning of being Rwandan."
What does it mean to be Rwandan?
"Being strong, part of a nation, a strong nation. Because if you see where we’ve come from, this is such a great improvement," he told RFI.