Excellencies Heads of State and governments,
Excellency Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Excellency chairperson of the African Union Commission,
Former Heads of State and government,
Distinguished government officials from around the world,
My fellow Rwandans:
I don’t have enough words to express my appreciation to all of you, who have come from near and far to be with us, on a day as important as this. I also thank all of those who have stood with us in Rwanda’s incredible journey of rebuilding.
We are gathered here to remember those who lost their lives in the Genocide and comfort those who survived. As we pay tribute to the victims, both the living and those who have passed, we also salute the unbreakable Rwandan spirit, to which we owe the survival and renewal of our country.
To our parents, children, brothers, and sisters who survived — to Rwandans who defied the call to genocide and to those who give voice to their remorse — it is you who bear the burden of our history.
We have pursued justice and reconciliation as best we could. But it does not restore what we lost.
Time and again, these past 20 years, Rwandans have given of themselves. You have stood before the community to bear witness and listened to others do the same. You have taken responsibility and you have forgiven.
Your sacrifices are a gift to the nation. They are the seed from which the new Rwanda grows. Thank you for allowing your humanity and patriotism to prevail over your grief and loss. Thank you very much.
Historical clarity is a duty of memory that we cannot escape. Behind the words “Never Again”, there is a story whose truth must be told in full, no matter how uncomfortable.
The people who planned and carried out the genocide were Rwandans, but the history and root causes go beyond this country. This is why Rwandans continue to seek the most complete explanation possible for what happened.
We do so with humility as a nation that nearly destroyed itself. But we are, nevertheless, determined to recover our dignity as a people.
Twenty years is short or long depending on where you stand but there is no justification for false moral equivalence. The passage of time should not obscure the facts, lessen responsibility, or turn victims into villains.
People cannot be bribed or forced into changing their history. And no country is powerful enough, even when they think that they are, to change the facts. After all, les faitssonttêtus [facts are stubborn].
Therefore, when we speak out about the roles and responsibilities of external actors and institutions, it is because genocide prevention demands historical clarity of all of us, not because we wish to shift blame onto others. And those others should have their moment to be humble in the face of historical facts.
The colonial legacy
All genocides begin with an ideology — a system of ideas that says: This group of people here, they are less than human and they deserve to be exterminated.
The most devastating legacy of European control of Rwanda was the transformation of social distinctions into so-called “races”. We were classified and dissected, and whatever differences existed were magnified according to a framework invented elsewhere.
The purpose was neither scientific nor benign, but ideological: to justify colonial claims to rule over and “civilise” supposedly “lesser” peoples. We are not.
This ideology was already in place in the 19th century, and was then entrenched by the
who settled here. Rwanda’s 2,000 years of history were reduced to a series of caricatures based on Bible passages and on myths told to explorers.
The colonial theory of Rwandan society claimed that hostility between something called “Hutu”, “Tutsi”, and “Twa” was permanent and necessary. This was the beginning of the genocide against the Tutsi, as we saw it 20 years ago.