Getting up again

by Dieudonné Munyankiko

Guilt (Issue II/2019)

In 1994 I was 19 years old and experienced the catastrophe myself. My father is a Hutu, my mother a Tutsi. My mother's family was almost completely erased during the genocide against Tutsi. It was clear to me that I had to do my best to ensure that nothing so evil could ever happen again. It is my duty as a survivor. The genocide has made me a peace activist.We Rwandans are a traumatised society. I am convinced that you can never recover from a trauma if you don't deal with what happened.

For the healing process, the perpetrator and the victim must face the truth. In 1994 the country was virtually on the brink of collapse – politically, economically and socially. The courts were totally overwhelmed by the situation: over two million people had to be sentenced. That was almost half the population.

For us peace activists, the first thing to do was to help people get up on their feet again. By “getting up,” I mean looking at the situation honestly and making the best of it. Of course, that was very difficult. Not a day had gone by before without us seeing bodies on the street. In this situation, most people did not really want to talk about peace or reconciliation. But for us the situation was also an opportunity: Everyone needed food, shelter and help to survive. That's why we started to tackle these basic problems first. We encouraged people to form neighbourhood groups, work together in the field, share tools, even if that meant survivors working with relatives of a perpetrator.

In Rwanda, people are not used to talking about their grief, their feelings or their problems. Many think that this is a weakness. Actually, it is the key to processing what happened. In my work I try to create a safe environment in which people feel comfortable. We form groups of twenty people, ten perpetrators and ten victims. The first thing is to understand what actually took place. Perpetrators talk to perpetrators, victims to victims. With therapeutic help, they reflect on what effects these events have on the present, such as forging a lack of trust: If your neighbour has killed relatives, it is understandable not to trust them. Many survivors are very insecure and think: “These people came one morning and killed us! How can I be sure they won't do it again?” Lost trust doesn't get restored overnight. It takes time.

That's why the next step is to talk to the other group, to address the problems honestly and evolve a joint plan for the future. This phase is the most complicated, but it also triggers the most progress. As the horrors of the past remain hidden deep in the heart, it means that they are stronger than you are. Only when you can speak out about the crimes you have committed, and those which have been done to you, does the past finally lose its grip.

This year we are celebrating the 25th year of the day of the genocide. Our children were born after the genocide, but they grew up in a very difficult environment. To safeguard their future, we must give them a sense of stability and security.

transcribed by Gundula Haage

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