Rwanda’s portrait : reborn from its ashes

Rwanda is a small East-African country bordering Burundi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Devastated by a genocide in 1994, Rwanda became the symbol of the fragility of collective harmony. How do you put yourself back together and get back on top after such a tragic event ?

The “country of the thousands hills” is accurately named : the capital city, Kigali, is surrounded by hills covered with greenery. Rwandan wildlife is abundant : The national park of the Akagera is home to giraffes, warthogs, impalas, buffalos or elephants. Behind the beauty and wonders, the country bears the scars of a tragic history.

2014 turned out to be the 20th anniversary of the genocide. The capital was thus full of commemorations and tributes : rebuildings of slaughter places, exhibitions with narratives of survivors… Meeting with the latter is a striking experience. Among them, Eugénie tells her story : She was thirty during the genocide. After being hidden, she saw her mother and sister get killed and her childhood house burn down. After the slaughter, Eugénie had to overcome the trauma just like all the Rwandan population. 

© Lou ATTARD (DR) 2014

Watching these people work, talk and live, it is difficult to imagine what they went through twenty years ago. From the French point of view, it is unreal to figure out the proximity between the survivors of the genocide – victims and executioners side by side. With unbelievable calmness, a Rwandan can explain that he lives in front of the one who killed his family : “In the past, I knew that man could kill a man, since he killed men all the time. Now I know that even the person you have dipped your hands in the dish of food, or slept with, he can kill you without embarrassment.” (Dans le nu de la vie, Jean Hatzfeld). 

Eugenie’s story, as dreadful as it is, is one among others, and not so unusual among Rwandans. The journalist Jean Hatzfeld helped survivors – victims and killers alike – to overcome their silence. From this work, he drew out a series in several volumes recounting the stories of Tutsi survivors, Hutus executioners and giving a voice to the new generation, born afterwards. These striking narratives rebuilt a violent and tragic history while also opening the path to a new Rwanda. The beauty of this country lies in  the strength of its inhabitants to move forwards and to forgive. After being the place of the worst atrocities  mankind can do, Rwanda rises up and gives to his visitors a cultural wealth and a limitless will to share. This is what makes it, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. 

© Lou ATTARD (DR) 2014

Lou ATTARD

Cover : © Lou ATTARD (DR) 2014

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