Rwandese peacekeepers mark the end of their genocide and offer lessons for peace
Twenty-five-year-old peacekeeper Doctor Celine Kalingirwa’s mind is awash with a mixture of thoughts and emotions.
The 4th of July is a difficult day for the army captain and the 1,000 uniformed and civilian Rwandese colleagues who serve with her as UN peacekeepers in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, as they come together to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their country’s Liberation Day.
Liberation Day marks the end of a three-month-long bloody conflict in Rwanda in 1994, during which 800,000 people were killed in a genocide. That day also signaled the beginning of a long journey to the much brighter, peaceful and prosperous future that Rwanda enjoys today.
“At that time there was no hope, but right now, Rwandese have been able to build their country - seeing how far Rwanda has come - I am really proud to call Rwanda my home,” says Captain Kalingirwa. “We have been able to go even to other African countries to help in peacekeeping.”
The 25-year-old was only few months old when Rwanda’s conflict ended, but today she is able to offer lessons for what other conflict-ridden countries might do.
“As the theme of the 25th anniversary goes, that ‘together we prosper’, it shows this is what Rwandese used,” she explains. “Unity through the development process … so as African countries are trying to come together, they should unite, so as to help each other to build their countries.”
“When they are divided, it will be really hard for them, but with unity they will be able to go as far as Rwanda has come,” she says.
Rwanda’s recovery has seen it progress to become the fourth largest contributor worldwide to UN peacekeeping operations, with over 3,000 peacekeepers based in South Sudan.
The peacekeepers play a vital role in protecting civilians, including engaging with communities through projects like environmental clean-ups, student exam escorts, and passing on skills to make energy-saving stoves for displaced families in Protection of Civilians sites.
“It is notable and commendable that a nation that has endured worst atrocities just about 25 years ago should today avail its soldiers, its police, its young people, and women to ensure those kind of atrocities do not take place anywhere in the world,” said the UNMISS Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General – Humanitarian Coordinator, Alain Noudéhou, at the Liberation Day event.
He said Rwanda experienced many lessons for humanity but had worked hard and risen in a quarter of century as a pioneer of the sustainable future humanity strives for.
“Let us pledge to work together to build a harmonious future for all people everywhere, because this is simply the best way to honor those people who lost their lives tragically in Rwanda 25 years ago,” he said.
Genocide survivor, Janet Mutamuliza, could not hide her pride and joy, as she watched performances that marked the day.
Traditional Rwandese drummers joyfully sang and danced to uplifting music and drumming, honouring men and women who sacrificed their lives during Rwanda’s conflict.
“It’s a great day for me – it’s a great day for us Rwandese and, especially, it’s a day for genocide survivors. It’s a day which we came from darkness to light after three months of genocide,” says Mutamuliza, who was 17 years old when the conflict ended.
“I am proud of where we came from and where we are heading,” she says. “My message to Rwandese, to South Sudanese people and the whole world is to be united - be united as a nation and build yourselves and build your country.”
The day’s events in Juba were also punctuated with serious shows of military march-pasts, and prowess that included martial arts by the Rwandese peacekeeping contingent.
“The liberation we are celebrating today was occasioned by the determination to restore peace, dignity, full rights and hope to all Rwandans,” said the Brigadier General Eugene Nkubito, Rwandese Sector Commander in Juba.
The anniversary of the Liberation Day was celebrated at the UN compound in Bentiu as well. The two-hour ceremony was mostly dedicated to pondering how South Sudan can overcome its numerous problems, just like Rwanda did after the 1994.
Speaking to the audience, Peter Dio Diew, chairperson of Community High Committee at the Bentiu protection site for the internally displaced, compared the situations experienced by the two countries. “What happened in Rwanda in 1994 [mass-killings and genocide], has also happened here in South Sudan. People were killed by their friends and neighbours here as well,” he said. “But the most important thing is how Rwanda restored the peace and reconciliation that we are celebrating today. This is what we need here in South Sudan."