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Last Updated: 04/09/2009Remembering Rwanda
Rwanda is a small country, but it occupies a central place in the discourse of peace and conflict studies, illustrating the full range of the human capacity for violence, as well as forgiveness and reconciliation. The events surrounding the 1994 genocide have also given peace and conflict theorists a lot to think about in terms of causes and drivers of the conflict, among them: the legacy of colonialism in Africa, political and economic instability in the region, the role of the Rwandan media in fueling ethnic tension and inciting violence, the world media which turned its attention elsewhere while the months of killing passed, France's support for the Habyarimana government, various issues of scarcity, and the failure of the United Nations to recognize the conflict as a genocide and intervene.
Debates about the relative importance of these and other factors have led to the publication of many thoughtful and articulate articles on the subject, many of which have enriched our understanding of conflict and strengthened our resolve for peace. This special edition of the Peace and Conflict Monitor is a collection of such articles, some of them new and others from our archives, all of which share this resolve. Beyond the diversity of authors and perspectives, they point to at least two common conclusions.
The first is that responsibility for the 1994 genocide cannot be limited to a certain place or group of people. There is no question that those who took part in the violence must take responsibility for their actions, but it is important to recognize that they are connected to regional and international structures of power and powerlessness, some of which have merely continued patterns of division and exploitation established in Rwanda during the era of direct European imperialism.
There are other points to consider as well, such as the many parallels between the Rwandan genocide and instances of extreme ethnic discrimination and violence in other parts of the world, and the millions of people who stood by in silence and allowed such tragedies to go on. There is no escape from the conclusion that forgetfulness and division must give way to remembrance and solidarity.
Equally clear is that the way forward from here is through forgiveness and reconciliation. Holding onto the bitterness of revenge can only lead backwards, to more discrimination and violence, to more pain and sorrow. Again, this is not limited to Rwanda; all nations and ethnicities are faced with this challenge.
It is not hard to see that some of the most belligerent groups today believe themselves to be carrying out some sort of historical justice, or at least justified in their actions by historical wrongs against their own kind. Whether or not they are responding to legitimate grievances, however, today's violence will almost certainly fuel tomorrow's revenge. It is a monumental challenge, but that cycle must be broken.
When we begin with reconciliation, rather than revenge, our shared humanity becomes obvious – and our shared desire for justice is just another step behind. It will take some maturity on our part, but we must find ways to forgive each other, and settle our differences without falling into the trap of violence.
Let us take this lesson from our remembrance of the Rwandan genocide: we have much more in common with each other than we have differences – a fact which we ignore at our peril.
Ross Ryan is Editor-in-Chief of the Peace and Conflict Monitor.