Today, April 7th, 2021 marks 27 years since the Rwandan Genocide began. In this post, Arthur, one of our founders from Rwanda, shares in his own words, why we observe Kwibuka or The Day of Remembrance.
What is the Day of Remembrance?
To understand The Day of Remembrance (also known as Kwibuka), we have to understand what it is we’re remembering. As I talk to people today, many don’t know about the Rwandan genocide, which started on April 7,1994. It is important that this genocide, or any other before, must be remembered, because we have an obligation to make sure that it can never happen again. On that day, the majority Hutu ethnic group murdered up to 1,000,000 minority Rwandan ethnic Tuti’s, in 100 days.
The Day of Remembrance is on April 7th, which commemorates the month of remembrance. It is a somber period of the year. It is a time for people to openly speak, diligently listen, and fervently remember those they lost. There are public educational and informational events for the youth. On television and radio, survivors courageously speak of that horrific time, not to relive a dark past, but to broadcast survival information through stories of yesteryear. This is a remedy to remind ourselves to recognize and get rid of small acts of evil, that lead to inhumane results.
Around the world, vigils are held amongst world leaders, diaspora and Embassies. Though the 1994 genocide itself lasted well over 100 days, this month gives us a moment as a people to not bear the pointless torment the murderers left behind, but to endure it together, understand and believe in its purpose to restore our dignity and self-worth as one people.
How is it observed?
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is our largest memorial, there are about 8 others throughout the country. This memorial has been and continues to be a place of remembrance, and learning, to honor the victims of genocide, and to ensure it never happens again. There are exhibitions, educational facilities and resources for students and visitors, a place for people who have lost family to spend time praying, healing, and remembering. Throughout the month the stories shared on TV, billboards, events, and with each other remind us of the atrocity so that we don’t fall back to the seemingly subtle signs of dehumanization and visceral hate speech that got us there.
Why is it important to remember?
We choose to remember because sometimes it is the best tool we have left that latches onto the memories of those we lost. The consequence of remembering what should remain buried with the dark past, is pain. But we have chosen not to bear the pointless torment the perpetrators left behind with us, but rather, to endure it, so we can understand and believe in its purpose. We always say, “We can forgive and always move forward but we must never forget.” Forgetting means we're not passing on survival information through storytelling to future generations, and we risk it being repeated.
How did Rwanda heal?
You never really heal. Neither do you ever move on. You cope and start a continuous process of reconciliation for generations to come. And I don’t think Rwanda is done healing. Like a well paced marathon, she is still finding her rhythm towards a more sustainable homegrown approach of healing, and it should never be rushed by anyone. To this day, 27 years to date, arrests of genocide perpetrators and the arc of justice of the blood that was shed have found a way to help us reconcile. The wounds continue to show themselves even when you think they are gone or done. Recovery is a process, and there isn't a finish line to it.
What other countries are seeing that has been both intriguing and yet perplexing to many in the West, is how Rwanda has dealt with high levels of legal processes in the attempt to bring justice to hundreds and thousands of perpetrators of the genocide. Contrary to the rest of the worlds’ seemingly modern court system, Rwanda is about to complete one of the most ambitious transitional justice experiments in history. Appropriately phrased by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, “our nation has embraced an African solution to African problems.” Blending local conflict resolution traditions with modern punitive legal systems, the GACACA courts (derived from the word “grass” - a place where communities gather to resolve disputes) has tried approximately 1.2 million cases, compared to just under 10 cases through the modern International Tribunal Courts.
When the genocide ended, our prisons and the system itself was taken beyond its capacity. The courts infrastructure and systems were in shambles. And because of this, the courage to embrace our homegrown traditional systems has done exactly what they were intended to do - to make sure Rwandans welcome the courts’ swift work and the extensive involvement of local communities, stressing that GACACA has helped them better understand what happened in the darkest period of the country’s history and has eased tension between the countries two main ethnic groups that any modern court system would not accomplish in the immediate post genocide cloud that occupied all our minds. Most perpetrators would have opted to be locked up in a cell, where they would hide both their shame and whatever integrity was left. But if you’re out in the open, your most valuable asset; your family name would be the center of the community’s trail. How society ultimately judges you, becomes a disdain for those before you, and generations after you. It’s almost like a scarlet letter for life. You’d rather be in prison than face the GACACA courts.
One of the biggest outcomes of this traditional process was its power to bring closure to the victims and their families. Through the GACACA Courts, the perpetrators were compelled to give survivors what they valued most. They would tell the surviving family members how and where they killed the victims, and finally, where they potentially could find their remains. A dignified burial brought them more than closure, for even in death, a dignity endures.
What can the world learn from how Rwanda has healed over the past two decades?
The GACACA court system naturally invited a number of skeptics. It was not surprising...and only because it is not for everyone. And because of this, I don’t think the world has something to learn from this, other than learning that what works for certain cultures, may not work for others. Fortunately we all come from a singular race - the human race. We have more in common, than in difference. What keeps us civil as a community, nation, and globe, is our ability to accept the indifference that is a collective sum of a specific people, race, religion or otherwise. It is a reminder that we all have a different identity, history, and thereby life’s journey that make up our colorful world.
Storytelling has become the most powerful tool in human history that is used to help us understand and accept these indifferences, and how to preserve what works for some, but not for others. It is this recorded information that is passed down from generation to generation that has become survival information that sustains the very fabric of human connection. Hearing and telling stories is so important and has kept us from making the same mistakes, but also seeing the signs, sounds and actions that get us to dark places like genocides. It helps us understand the values of where someone is coming from and how empathy can be passed through that.
Why are we launching a coffee this month?
There’s a number of charged objects (or items that get meaning because of the stories attached to them) that have played the significant protagonist role in the reconciliation story in Rwanda. It starts with people! More specifically, the women of Rwanda!
Amongst thousands of stories, the women of the Hingakawa Co-op, have played a huge role in stitching back together the hearts and minds of a once torn society. Using coffee as the silent listener at every gathering and conversation, they have made it the centerpiece of coming together to unify as one. The authentic infusion of PeopleXCoffee has played a huge role in not just its economic benefits, but the social capital it demands! Similar to the consuming nations, where it is natural to say, “Let’s get together for coffee,” is a moment to connect, share stories, discuss a business, resolve a dispute, and even propose a marriage engagement to share the most intimate times of life together.
The women who founded the Hingakawa Cooperative are a collection of women who courageously came together from opposite ethnic groups. And because of this, growing coffee became a therapeutic and healing way of life. They would meet for coffee, but not in the customary consumption social habits most meet for coffee for, but grow it, harvest it, process it, sort it, and sell it all together. The mill where all these activities took place became the epicenter where seeds of hope were planted for the future generation to live in a peaceful and recovering Rwanda!
We are releasing a new coffee next week to pay homage to that product that connects us and bonds us. We have so much to learn from the courage that comes from the most unlikely of places. In a time where the entire world is being simultaneously engulfed by biological and social pandemics, we have been reminded of the value in our inability to connect, talk and humanize.
Our access to charged objects that become agents of connection are numerous. At Stori Coffee, we have selected coffee for that. Coffee is the world's most shared connection, chosen on a daily basis. To drink Stori Coffee is to share a story with a friend, family member, or a stranger. Everytime a new story is shared, it is an opportunity to leave behind an old divisive story.