Rwanda’s Genocide Survivor Works to Protect the Memories
Every weekday, Aline Uwase Turatsinze gets up, washes her face and rides a motorbike to the site where more than 60 members of her family were buried after being murdered.
The quiet woman with the long braids is a guide at Rwanda’s genocide museum, a memorial to the killing that claimed 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu lives after the then-president’s plane was shot down on April 7, 1994.
Uwase, who turns 25 on Friday, was two days old when the bloodshed began.
“I lost a lot of people,” she said.
“It’s a responsibility to be standing here … I am protecting the memory but as well putting the ‘Never again’ slogan in action so that it might not happen anywhere in the world. Not in Rwanda, not anywhere in the world.”
The Gisozi Memorial site is the final resting place of more than a quarter of a million people killed during the 100 days of genocide. Uwase wants visitors to see the memorial as a place of respect and learning, not bitterness or recrimination.
“We have reconciled,” she said, echoing the line of a government that strongly discourages any talk of ethnicity. “It doesn’t matter who I marry, the son of a survivor or the son or a perpetrator. The future is brighter.”
Each day, she walks through the memory room filled with the photos of children who were killed, accompanied by details about their favorite toys and the manner of their deaths. UNICEF estimated more than 300,000 children were killed. Most were hacked or beaten to death.
“You never get used to this,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Every time I enter that room, I am never the same person when I get out.”
For a long time, Uwase avoided the videos of bodies floating down the river and of Hutu militias killing people with machetes because it makes her think of the father she never knew, a designer and painter whom she feels still watches over her.
“I don’t know how he was killed, but I imagine his death resembles this video. The murderers had machetes. Clubs…” she tailed off.
Other rooms contain an exhibition of genocidal violence around the globe, and Rwanda’s search for justice through an international tribunal and traditional local courts.
After the killings ended, shattered communities had to rebuild themselves as survivors sometimes returned to live next to those complicit in the killings of their families.
As the country recovered, some opposition leaders have criticized the government of President Paul Kagame for keeping a tight reign on the media and politics. Kagame won nearly 99 percent of the vote in 2017 polls on a 96 percent turnout.
Uwase dismisses such criticism, pointing out that Kagame ended the genocide when he fought his way to the capital at the head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel force.
“I should have been dead like any other person but I am here because of the RPF,” she said. “I can tell those critics: you can’t talk about something you don’t know.”
Now Rwanda is focused on the future, she said. While some of its neighbors stagnate in corruption, the small east African nation stands out for its ease of doing business and rising investment. Although there is still poverty in parts of the country, downtown Kigali is full of new buildings lining its clean and well-kept streets.
Many visiting business people come to the memorial, Uwase said. One recent visitor was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who stars in the television series “Game of Thrones”.
“Every person who comes here has questions to ask … Every time someone comes here it challenges them,” Uwase said. “I have something to teach the world about what happened to Rwanda and my family.”