Rwandans’ reconciliation: Navigating unity through confession and hope

By Esther Muhozi
On 19 January 2024 at 09:45

As the 30th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi approaches, Rwandans and friends of Rwanda reflect on the arduous path towards unity and reconciliation. The scars left by the genocide run deep, affecting both survivors and the Rwandan community at large. A 2020 study by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission revealed an impressive increase in unity, reaching 94.7%, up from 92.5% in 2015 and 82.3% in 2010.

Despite strides taken, Rwanda’s leadership remains steadfast. The upcoming 19th National Dialogue Council aims to delve into the nation’s journey of unity and resilience as it approaches Kwibuka 30.

One significant chapter in this journey unfolded at Muhanga Prison, formerly Gitarama, where the program of unity, reconciliation, confession, and guilty pleas took root in 2000. Mukantaganzwa Domitille, current Chairperson of Rwanda Law Reform Commission, spearheaded this initiative.

Hatangimbabazi Augustin, a former leader of Kirimahwa cell imprisoned for genocide crimes since 1996, played a pivotal role. He was among the first five in Muhanga Prison to confess, apologize, and seek forgiveness for their roles in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In the face of resistance from fellow extremist inmates, Hatangimbabazi upheld President Kagame’s assurance that retribution was not the answer.

The challenges were profound; those who confessed faced torture from fellow inmates. However, they persevered, growing in numbers. The turning point came when 300 individuals paraded through Gitarama, proudly displaying signs of their guilt and remorse.

Despite initial skepticism, the Gacaca Courts, which operated from 2002 to 2012, facilitated trials for those who admitted guilt. Some were sent home for trial, a process that continued until 2007 despite threats of reprisals.

Yet, some remain in prison and have refused to plead guilty. Ruzigana Emmanuel, former Mayor of Nyamabuye Municipality, serves a 30-year sentence for rejecting admission of guilt. Regret now looms over him as he contemplates the price of his decision.

Hatangimbabazi’s personal journey underscores the transformative power of confession and seeking forgiveness. His 11-year sentence was a testament to the commitment to rebuilding a fractured society. Education became a beacon of hope for his children, symbolizing the government’s acknowledgment of his efforts.

Today, over 30,000 individuals, some serving 30-year sentences, remain in Rwandan prisons, including those handed life sentence. The refusal to disclose the locations of victims’ bodies for dignified burials underscores the persistence of genocidal ideologies.

However, Hatangimbabazi has emerged as a beacon of hope, actively participating in programs of unity and reconciliation. His advocacy aims to dissuade the youth from embracing divisive ideologies, emphasizing the importance of preserving Rwanda’s hard-fought progress.

The Gacaca courts, which resolved two million cases over the past decade with a budget of $52 million, played a pivotal role. Statistics reveal the breadth of justice served, addressing both property destruction and crimes against individuals during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.

As Rwanda approaches Kwibuka 30, the nation stands as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring pursuit of unity in the face of a tragic past.