Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The closing event of this year’s Tri-Co Peace Week was a mix of music, dance, serious reflection on the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The evening started in the Lang Performing Arts Center with a solemn welcome from Stephanie Nyombayire ’08 who reminded the audience that the purpose of the event was not only to celebrate peace but also to “remember what happened” in Rwanda thirteen years ago and to prevent it from happening again. Nyombayire’s brief introduction was followed by a performance from the Vanga Inanga Cultural Troupe, a Rwandan dance group. With the shaking of bell encircled ankles, the dancers communicated the history and sorrows of the Rwandan people.
More welcomes were extended by Maurice Eldridge ’61, Vice President for College and Community Relations, who voiced his support for Tri-Co Peace Week. He was amazed at how the student-created Peace Week was a manifestation of “conviction turned into action.” The originator of that “action” was Brandon Lee Wolff ’08 who took the stage after Eldridge. Wolff himself focused on the fact that, after only two years of having a Peace Week and after just one year of Bryn Mawr and Haverford’s involvement, this year’s festivities were bolstered by the participation of the two other Tri-Co colleges.
After Wolff’s discussion of the origins of Peace Week, Nyombayire returned to the stage in order to introduce Kaliza Karuretwa Ines, the Economic Attache to the Rwandan Ambassador in Washington D.C. Ines’ talk was reinforced by a Power Point presentation which illustrated her points. She began by simply describing the physical attributes of Rwanda in order to provide a framework in which to understand the 1994 genocide. Rwanda, surrounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi, is a very small country with a very high population density — 829 people per each of its 10,169 square miles. It’s landscape is hilly and, thus, is often called “the land of a thousand hills.” All of these hills are covered in agricultural development. Ines showed a powerful picture of an inactive volcano completely covered in farm land to illustrate the importance of agriculture.
Ines segued into her discussion of the 1994 genocide by reminding the audience of Rwanda of days gone by. Before Belgian colonists arrived after World War I, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa lived in relative harmony with one another. Belgian colonists, using a variety of bizarre techniques such as measuring the size of noses and skulls, pointed out the Tutsi to enforce their rule. This created a “non-authentic division” in the Rwandan people, as brothers and sisters could be forced into different social groups based on their physical appearence. After Rwanda gained independence in 1962, many high up Hutu government officials encouraged the killing of Tutsis. According to Ines, the media and even the Rwandan Catholic church played a large part in facilitating the genocide. After just 100 days, 937,000 Tutsi were dead.
The genocide ended in July of 1994. Rwanda was destroyed financially, physically, and spiritually. Ines concluded her talk by discussing Rwanda’s future. The main goal is to reform the country both socially and governmentally using the Vision 2020 plan. Gacaca courts have played a large role in reshaping the justice system and helping the country cope with the aftermath of genocide. Gacaca are elected elders who do not go to law school but are provided with certain judicial training and are “empowered to address justice issues in communities.” The Gacaca are not in power “to punish but forgive. Rwanda is also trying to promote democracy by re-writing its constitution in 2003 with a provision stating that thirty percent of women must be represented at all levels of government. Women, one of the largest groups remaining in Rwanda after the genocide, are thus forced to “take charge.”
Ines then proceeded to exhort the community at large to get involved in preventing future genocide. To this end, Rwanda itself has sent 2,000 troops to Darfur to help keep the peace. Ines hopes that a mechanism will one day be put in place that will make the United Nations more responsible in the stopping of genocidal killings. All must continue to be active in rebuilding countries that have suffered and in promoting peace.
Ines was followed by Jacqueline Fox ’10, a memeber of the Bryn Mawr Student Union and later by Suad Monsour and Fatima Hahoun from Darfur Peace and Development. The program concluded with a performance by Tribe 1 and a return of the Vanga Inanga Cultural Troupe. Overall, the evening stressed action and involvement. Whether by participating in Peace Weeks to come or by being activists in other respects, students should never cease to speak out.