KIGALI, Rwanda – Displaying both pride and pain, Rwandans on Monday marked the 20th anniversary of a devastating 100-day genocide that saw packed churches set on fire and machete-wielding attackers chop down whole families from a demonized minority.
Bloodcurdling screams and sorrowful wails resounded throughout a packed sports stadium as world leaders and thousands of Rwandans gathered to hear of healing and hope.
As we pay tribute to the victims, both the living and those who have passed, we also salute the unbreakable Rwandan spirit in which we owe the survival and renewal of our country, said President Paul Kagame.
Kagame and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon together lit a flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, which estimates that more than 1 million Rwandans perished in three months of machete and gunfire attacks mostly aimed at the country’s minority Tutsi population by extremist Hutus.
Missing from the stadium was the French government, which Rwanda banned. In an interview published in France on Monday, Kagame accused the former African colonial power of participating in some of the genocide violence.
The ceremony and Uganda’s president highlighted the influence that white colonial masters had in setting the stage for the violence that erupted April 7, 1994.
Stadium-goers watched as white people in colonial outfits jumped out of a safari car and stormed the main stage.
The wide-brim hats then changed to blue berets, the headgear worn by U.N. troops who did nothing to stop the carnage.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in his speech blamed colonization for many of Africa’s violent troubles.
The people who planned and carried out genocide were Rwandans, but the history and root causes go beyond this beautiful country. This is why Rwandans continue to seek the most complete explanation possible. We do so with humility as a nation that nearly destroyed itself, Kagame said.
At a later news conference, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said many books, movies and documentaries provide evidence of France’s genocide role.
During an intense scene on the sports field, a young girl of around 10 recounted the torture of a young boy. Spectators screamed and the severely traumatized were carried off.
The blue beret actors evacuated and Rwandan troops – symbolizing the Tutsi military force Kagame led back then – stormed the field.
Rwandans in white and gray lay scattered throughout the field, representing the dead.