How can I explain a celebration of a 100 day genocide in which a million people were murdered coming to an end. In America today fireworks are being exploded, as Independence from English rule is celebrated. A war put made sure the declaration of independence was permanent. In Rwanda, women, children, unapologetic violence erupted 20years ago and no distinction was made between civilian and military. Today the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front who helped to put the genocide to a close gave a tremendous speech as the now president of the Republic of Rwanda.
We woke up and the sole thing on our agenda was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Liberation with the Rwandan people at their National Stadium. We arrived trying to get there early enough to find a good seat. Fortune was on our side. Many people were already lined up to be searched by military police before being allowed to go inside. Manu led us up to the check point creating his own line to get us in quicker. Manu was searched and allowed in and then Mike went to be patted down. They saw his backpack and camera (which I had my own of as well) and was then taken off to the side and the rest of our group joined him. We explained to the military leader that we were a part of a Rwandan coffee company with partners from the US. To our surprise he took us to a special section to have our bags scanned. After explaining our situation to a few more people we somehow ended up the the special badge only section. After waiting another hour or so we ended up even closer sitting next to a member of parliament and probably could have thrown something at the President.
As we sat and waited for the official ceremony to start spontaneous eruptions of joy happened all over the stands. Dancing and singing from the thousands of excited Rwandans celebrated their liberation and freedom to live without the fear of being stopped and murdered because of their perceived inferiority. The military put on a marvelous show. I never knew marches could be entertaining but you could see in their precision and unity that they had come a long way. They introduced the President of Kenya, Burundi, and South Sudan who were attending to stand in solidarity and unity with other African countries who love Rwandans and appreciate the journey they have experienced.
The ceremony was beautiful but the speech by the president was remarkable. They have come a long way, much more to do, but these people have not given up the fight to survive. They have not given up the right to exist as a country and have done such amazing things. From the unity of all Rwandans, the excelling of Rwandan women (65% of government leadership positions) and others striving towards their goal of a better country.
“Too much was lost to commemorate the 4th of July of 1994 as a triumph, and our liberation struggle is far from over. But we have come far enough, these past twenty years, to permit ourselves a moment of sober satisfaction as we recommit to the journey ahead.”
The recognize the journey they have taken and see the joy in the striving they have taken. Yet they also recognize they tragedy and loss of the dark period in their history but they refuse to allow that to define their future. Yet, “nothing about the past is an excuse for failure, even where real wrongs were done.” Paul is leading this country to a better tomorrow.
In meeting the people of Rwanda and seeing some background on the realness of the event 20 years ago made me realize that to be here for this event was something to be cherished. This was an event I won’t forget, to celebrate not a triumph of winning the Revolutionary War, but overcoming a tragedy, recovering, and healing like I don’t think I could. Meeting more and more of these people makes me know that crazy awesomeness I have experienced in their spirit will ensure their future.
After the celebration we went and practiced our haggling skills at a craft market. Tomorrow we participate in an industry they are trying to grow by going to a national park to experience a safari and see some of the natural habitats of beautiful animals.