Rejecting Revenge, Rwandans Embrace Forgiveness-the Heart of their Nation’s Revival
by Aimee Herd : May 17, 2008 : Christiane Amanpour – CNN.com
“People were so badly aggrieved they could easily have turned on those they thought were responsible for this and actually killed them in another wave of killings. But that did not happen . . . we said building a nation is the most important thing.” -President Paul Kagame of Rwanda
(Rwanda, Africa)-In an amazing story of a nation resurrected after the devastating atrocity of genocide, Rwanda has risen up as a model to the rest of the world, of the healing power of forgiveness.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviews a victim, her family’s killer [she’s forgiven him], and the president whose inspired plan of reconciliation has averted another plunge into violence in revenge of those heartlessly murdered.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (whose own family was slaughtered) explained to CNN that it was a conscious choice Rwandans had to make to forgive those responsible, and move on in the renewal of their country. (CNN Video)
“We were in danger of having another genocide,” said Kagame. “People were so badly aggrieved they could easily have turned on those they thought were responsible for this and actually killed them in another wave of killings. But that did not happen.” Averting an outpouring of vengeance, President Kagame instituted the “Gacaca process”-where the genocide masterminds and worst perpetrators of the violence were sent to jail, but those thousands of lower-level killers were allowed to confess and ask forgiveness publicly before their victims’ families and the court.
“In the Gacaca court, I told them how we killed our fellow men, and I asked for forgiveness in front of the court, and the whole district was there,” explained Bizimana, one of those convicted of genocidal murder.
Hard as it was, Rwandan victims chose to forgive, and the healing of their nation began.
Iphigenia Mukantabana, whose husband and children were killed by Bizimana, said of the reconciliation process, “It has not just helped me, it has helped all Rwandans because someone comes and accepts what he did and he asks for forgiveness from the whole community-from all Rwandans.” (CNN Video)
She added, “I am a Christian, and I pray a lot.”
Today, a basket weaving program-where the U.S.-based Macy’s department store buys baskets from Rwandans who make them-is helping to restore a sense of security and entrepreneurship.
Rwanda is now an inspiring example of not just the rebirth of a country, but also an example of the cleanliness and health that can be achieved in a community working together. The African nation has one of the lowest crime rates, as well as the lowest rate of HIV-AIDS. According to the CNN report, plastic bags are banned there, and even members of the government must participate in a monthly clean up.
In addition to the plan of reconciliation, citizens are no longer known as either Hutu or Tutsis-there are only Rwandans. Summing up his country’s renewal success in the face of great tragedy, President Kagame added, “We said building a nation is the most important thing.”