The North East Rwanda Association, also known as NERA, held a commemorative event at St. Nicholas Cathedral Parish Centre in Newcastle, England, for the 22nd Anniversary of the Genocide Against the Tutsi. The High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the UK, Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi was invited as guest speaker, joined by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle Ian Graham, Member of Parliament and Shadow minister of Culture and the Digital Economy, Mrs Chi Onwurah, some friends of Rwanda and fellow Rwandans based in the North East region of the UK.
Addressing the 100+ guests in attendance, many of whom were non-Rwandans, the High Commissioner took the opportunity to share some background on Rwanda and the facts about its political history, reminding that the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was never an isolated or sudden occurrence, that B. Russell’s research talks about the 1963-64 Rwanda Tutsi pogrom as being the most systematic massacre of human beings since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, and before that there was 1959, which saw thousands of Tutsi families flee Rwanda to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, with more massacres taking place in 1973 and, of course, then came 1994. The High Commissioner added that strong advocacy was in action to simply ignore those previous pogroms, and that we still face the same threat today with individuals demonstrating revisionist tendencies through literature and other means, as well as the threat of Genocide Denial.
Speaking of the progress Rwanda has made, the High Commissioner said that Rwanda now has an enlightened leadership which has a citizen-centered approach to governance. Rwanda’s home-grown initiatives, drawn from Rwanda’s culture, such as Gacaca, the traditional courts, which brought restorative justice and reconciliation to a once divided nation; Ubudehe, supports rural communities to collectively solve problems related to poverty; Imihigo enables citizens to keep their leaders accountable; Girinka gives one cow per poor family; Umuganda brings citizens together to clean their communities. And there are many others, have greatly contributed to the Rwanda that we see today. A country at peace with itself, that has accepted its past and looking positively to its future.
The Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor Ian Graham, expressed his support for the people of Rwanda andthe survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi, and how proud he is of the city of Newcastle’s ‘City of Sanctuary’ initiatives that welcome and support survivors, as well as run activities and campaigns to raise awareness about Genocide and the impact it has on people.
The guests listened attentively to a world class Cello musical piece performed by international concert
artist and opera singer, Simon Wallfisch, who also shared a moving reflection on the Jewish Holocaust, of which his Grandmother was a survivor. He reflected that the preservation of all lives is a concern for humanity and not just a particular race or people. That the holocaust and the genocide have shown us that it is within our human potential to be murderers and turn to evil, therefore it is particularly important to acknowledge this risk and put our efforts into encouraging peace and unity, rather than destructive ideologies.
Labour MP for Newcastle Central and Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, Chi Onwurah, sympathised with the survivors of the Genocide in Rwanda, drawing from her own experience of divisionism politics, discrimination and extermination during the Biafran war in Nigeria, which saw her family forced to flee Nigeria.
Sarah Smart, Coordinator of Newcastle City of Sanctuary organisation, emphasized the importance of raising awareness of Genocide, saying that by working in schools, she hopes that children will develop a better understanding of the world around them, and develop a better understanding of the impact of Genocide and the issues faced by its survivors.
“We are the ones wo carry those scars of things seen, done and lost, we are the ones who must never let those who are not here be forgotten by the new” read a poem recited Eric Manzi, a member of the Rwandan youth community in Newcastle, as he reflected on the significance of ‘Kwibuka’ and why we commemorate. Children from Newcastle also recited a poem about reconciliation and unity, which they later followed with the lighting of candles in an act of commemoration and one-minute silence.
Alice Gaparay, chair of NERA shared the vision and purpose behind Kwibuka, its motto of “Remember-Unite-Renew” and this year’s theme of Fighting against Genocide Ideology, with the diverse audience.
Calling on all the guests, young and old alike, Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi said “as we fight the terrible threat of genocide ideology and denial, let us continue rebuilding Rwanda and ourselves, and let us do it with the dignified spirit of determination, unity and reconciliation that defines us as a people.”