THE BLOG

We Are the Light

04/07/2014 10:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2014

The primary responsibility of a state is to provide peace and security. Without peace, a nation cannot make progress. Twenty years ago today, in Rwanda, there was no peace; there was no nation. Close to a million people had been slaughtered in genocide. The nation was in ruins. The forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP) stopped the genocide after the UN had pulled out its troops, allowing the genocidaires to unfold without hindrance.

Today, 20 years later, the world came to Amahoro stadium to commemorate the genocide; 20 years ago the world turned a blind eye and in fact the colonial power of Belgium, the French and the Catholic Church are all in various ways implicated in the genocide.

The Secretary General of the United Nations spoke: "The UN could have and should have done more," he said. He went on though to recount the current trouble spots: Central African Republic and Syria, where the murder continues daily.

The young people of Rwanda, all age 20, reenacted an all too realistic scene for the genocide -- all the while women and men were being carried out of the stadium wailing with grief.

I had the great privilege of attending today, sitting in the section with the fighters, the RPF who stopped the genocide. Sitting between-Tito Rutaremara, who conceived of using Gacaca as a mechanic for healing and justice, and Emile Rwamasirabo, a surgeon in the RFP and a surgeon and the director of the King Faisal hospital in Kigali.

President Museveni of Uganda gave the audience a bit of a history lesson on colonial rule ending with the thought that Africans now can take care of their own problems.

But it was President Kagame who with force and eloquence summarized the 20 years of progress and the challenges remaining. In a strong voice he said there are three choices Rwanda made in 1994. First he said, "After the genocide we chose to remain together rather than allowing the country to be divided, or to decline into a failed state." "We could easily have become a UN protectorate," he said, remembering the devastation that the RFP found in the whole country. When refugees returned -- many who had participated in the genocide, we reintegrated them, he said, "We chose to stay together." When dealing with the perpetrators we chose justice and reconciliation. That was the basis of Gacaca, the system of community trials that tried more than a million people. We stayed together through Gacaca.

"We chose to hold everyone accountable-that is how we have built trust and unity." From the local system of Imihigo, where elected officials sign performance contracts with their citizens, to the zero tolerance of corruption, Rwandans held themselves accountable. It is the reason, I believe, that Rwanda has come so far so fast-people feel their are responsible for their behavior, for their own individual contributions and for the common good.

Finally he said, "We chose to think big: We wrote Vision 2020, that says Rwanda will become a middle-income country by 2020." Many scoffed at the goals when the document was released. Now, with the rapid economic growth averaging 8 percent the last decade, with the ease of starting a business, with its low corruption and high-ranking in Transparency international Rwanda will come very close to that goal. Its progress in education and health care, agriculture and the environment are models for the entire world. "When we sent troops to assist the African Union," President Kagame said, we were thinking big.

President Kagame, also spoke to the involvement of the Belgians and while not directly criticizing the French -- in French -- he did say, "Les faits sont tétus." ("The facts are stubborn.") (Not, "it is not possible to change the facts," as is being reported in some of the media outlets.) There are many facts that still must come to light so we can all understand who planned and supported the genocidal government of Habyarimana.

There is much still to learn and understand about how and why the genocide happened -- to prevent future genocides. But one thing was clear today: Rwandans are proud of thinking big -- and they should be.

The song written for Kwibuka 20, the theme of Remember, Unite, Renew speaks to all of these themes. One stanza stands out as best representing Rwanda twenty years after it was destroyed:

"We are alive, we are the light. We are alive and we remember. We remember, and we spread light, the light of life."