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Bernard Pollack Headshot
Danielle Nierenberg Headshot

Rwanda: When 'Never Again' Happened Such a Short Time Ago

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Crossposted from Border Jumpers.

We've never traveled anywhere quite like Rwanda.

Fifteen years ago one of the largest modern genocides occurred here.

More than 1 million men, women, and children were senselessly murdered, not by strangers, but by their own government, their own neighbors, and in some cases, their own family members. It was one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. If you were a Tutsi (an ethnic tribe, now about 15 percent of the population), you were marked for death, with very few places to hide.

Our visit to the genocide memorial museum in Kigali, was a painful reminder to us that, as Jews, our shared global commitment of "never again" was just words. The world turned away as this happened. Former President Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, now admit that the United States and the world failed Rwanda.

Today Rwanda, a decade and a half after the atrocities that occurred here, knows all the right things to say. The newspapers are strictly controlled by the government--and censored. New nationalistic slogans have emerged: "One Rwanda, One Country" is the motto heard everywhere.

Yet, we couldn't help but wonder as we walked the streets of Kigali that anyone over 30 years old was likely either a culprit or victim. And today Hutus still occupy Tutsi homes, many possessions were never returned, and mass-graves continue to grow as bodies are discovered. Although, more than 180,000 people went to jail under a village-by-village court system -- many evaded punishment, received minimal sentences, or were freed a few years later on good behavior.

It's clear that the country and communities are creating spaces for healing. Radio, print, and TV are filled with multi-ethnic dialogues about renewing and rebuilding Rwanda. Communities are holding public forums, counseling is offered, and dialogue is growing everywhere.

We also found a country bustling with energy as it rebuilds. A lush landscape of green hills and trees, filled with infinite possibility. Cities are now becoming used to a growing number of tourists, with WiFi hotspots, European and Chinese restaurants, and growing numbers of satellite televisions.

With the growing stability and security, the international community is coming back. Traveling in the countryside we saw many success stories, including the work Heifer International is doing to train farmers and increase food security.

Yet, Rwanda also feels lost, still struggling to find itself, still deciding what direction it will go. Its wounds may never completely heal -- especially when "never again" happened here such a short time ago.