A Story of Forgiveness from Bugesera

Jul 25, 2019 | Featured, Rwanda

Karuna Center Peacebuilding Associate Seth Karamage shared these reflections after a meeting of a community Dialogue Club in Bugesera district, where he has been mentoring new dialogue facilitators as part of our Healing our Communities program in Rwanda. The program is strengthening social cohesion and reconciliation in 16 communities throughout Rwanda, as people continue to cope with the effects of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi.

I can’t keep what I saw at the Bugesera Dialogue Club meeting to myself.

This Dialogue Club has for the past two sessions been talking about the theme of gusasa inzobe—literally meaning bitter truth. It is difficult to translate exactly, but it means being sincere in all you tell others.

First of all, for the Dialogue Club members to be able to speak truthfully about their experiences regarding our unity (and disunity) as Rwandans, it all depends on how good the facilitators are. I therefore want to appreciate Tutagengwa and Violette, and everyone who has worked with them to build their skills as facilitators. I can’t say that my two days of training have made them as great as they are. They were already wonderful.

As facilitators, Tutagengwa and Violette have embraced the approach of letting discussants speak whenever they are ready or when they want to. Because of this approach, some Dialogue Club members felt freed to speak openly with no pressure and no fear of the other members around.

On Friday, one genocide perpetrator, named Gahigi, took the floor and spoke about his involvement in the genocide and confessed that he killed people at the former Commune Gashora. After telling his story, he knelt down in the middle of the entire circle of Dialogue Club members while he was crying, and sought everyone’s forgiveness. There was a deep silence. Then, people started talking. These are a few quotes I captured: 

“Gahigi, from today onwards, I would like you to be my true friend because of the truth you have told us. There are so many hypocrites who are hindering our reconciliation because they cannot tell the truth as you did,” said a Tutsi lady who had returned back to Rwanda after the genocide.

She added, “I have always perceived Gahigi as a killer because I knew he killed people–but I now see him as a human being because of his confession today. I forgive you, Gahigi.”

“If all people were like Gahigi, the world would be a paradise,” another genocide survivor added.

Many people wanted to express their feelings after listening to Mr. Gahigi, but time was very limited. We all realized that if we continued to conduct these dialogues within only two hours, it would demotivate the Dialogue Club members from continuing to speak the truth. The group members all, there and then, agreed that their dialogue sessions would be lasting for at least 3 instead of 2 hours.

How do we really spread the great outcomes of these dialogue sessions? I think it would be great to keep a record of people like Gahigi and the survivors, and bring them to a platform where their voices could be heard or read by many people across Rwanda. In the meantime, I thought it would be good to share Mr. Gahigi’s story for you all to know the result of the good work the Healing Our Communities team is doing for a better Rwanda.

Murakoze cyane–Thanks a lot.

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This Dialogue Club is one of 16 that have been established as part of the Healing our Communities program throughout Rwanda. Through the dialogue clubs, local facilitators and members are addressing difficult post-genocide issues. Sometimes survivors do not know what happened to their loved ones, and former killers who are returning from prison/work camps can help by providing some closure.

The Healing Our Communities program combines community dialogue with trauma healing and youth-led initiatives, and raises community voices to advise government. The consortium includes Karuna Center and three Rwandan organizations: Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace, which developed the “Dialogue Club” model; Aegis Trust; and Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities. It is supported by a grant from USAID.

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