On April 7 every year, Rwanda starts a 100-day commemoration period of the 1994 Genocide against The Tutsi that took more than one million lives. This year, just like 2020, Kwibuka 27 comes at a time when Covid-19 pandemic has halted gatherings and public events.
For 25 years, the commemoration period had been characterised by gatherings and events from family level to national level. Night vigils, visiting genocide memorial sites, public talks and performances would go on for three months. This year, some events will be conducted virtually.
At Kigali Genocide Memorial, a resting place of over 250,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi, there used to be a daily schedule of Kwibuka events from April 7 to 14. This year, there are no planned events.
“We used to host Kwibuka events every day during the commemoration week before Covid-19. Many local and international guests would visit every day. This year, we have neither planned events nor expect guests. Only families of the victims will be allowed to visit in groups of 15 people,” Didier Rutagungira, Communications Officer at Kigali Genocide Memorial told The EastAfrican.
He said some events were shifted to virtual platforms and others were simply cancelled.
One of the popular commemoration events include Walk to Remember and a public night vigil in various stadiums countrywide. Both events would attract thousands of Rwandans and government officials. None of the events took place in 2020 and certainly not this year either courtesy of movement restrictions to contain the pandemic.
The shift to virtual and remote gatherings is also being exercised by AERG, an association of student survivors of the Genocide against The Tutsi.
The association usually holds commemoration events in schools and universities. Most of their events aim at educating the younger generation about the genocide and its history.
Venuste Mutijima, AERG coordinator at University of Rwanda, Huye campus, said that only one event will be held and only a limited number of people will attend. He says they have shifted to WhatsApp group conversations.
“We used to hold daily events at the campus for a week and public talks throughout the 100 days. This year, we will only have one virtual official event. We have decided to shift our Kwibuka conversation on WhatsApp groups and Zoom,” Mutijima said.
What’s lost in virtual space
Safi Mukundwa is a genocide survivor from Karongi district but resides in Kigali. She plans to travel to her home district in western Rwanda, to lay a wreath where her family is buried.
Unlike in pre-Covid-19 times, she will travel alone. Although the pandemic will not stop her from remembering and honouring family, the essence of Kwibuka is different for her.
“Commemoration for me is not just personal. It is the spirit, togetherness and empathy during night vigils, testimonies and events. The pandemic will not prevent us from remembering. I totally understand that we have to keep safe, but it is still not the same,” she said.
Events during the commemoration reflect on historical facts of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi and in due course, educating the youth.
Mutijima says AERG’s mission to educate the younger generation might have been lost this year.
“We used to host at least 3,000 people on the opening night vigil only in one campus. It was the campus spirit. People would attend out of interest. But today, with a virtual event on Zoom, we barely get 100 people to attend. Our message does not reach as far,” he explained.
He says today more than ever, the youth are exposed to misinformation and need to be educated, advising that the government should create more educational digital content on Rwanda’s history.