Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has led commemorations marking the 25 anniversary of the genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people with a stern warning to those with plans to destabilize the country.
“For those from here or from outside who think our country has not seen enough of a mess and want to mess with us, in defense of those children you saw and our nation, I want to say, we will mess up with them big time,” Kagame told thousands of people gathered to remember those killed in 1994. “We claim no special place, but we have a place to claim. The fighting spirit is alive in us. What happened here will never happen again.”
In the lead up to 25th genocide commemoration, tensions have been mounting between Rwanda and Uganda.
Rwanda accused Uganda of supporting groups opposed to the government in Kigali. Uganda rejects those accusations.
A frequent guest to commemoration events, Uganda President Yoweli Museveni was absent this time. He was represented by his foreign affairs minister Sam Kuteesa.
“We are the last people in the world who should succumb to complacency. The suffering we have endured should be enough to keep our fighting spirit alive,” said Kagame.
The commemoration began with lighting of the flame and laying of wreaths at the Kigali Genocide memorial where close to 250,000 remains were buried. In all, about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists.
Honore Gatera, coordinator of Kigali memorial center said the flame they were lighting was a symbol of courage and resilience that Rwanda has shown for the past quarter of a century.
Young Rwandans, aged 25 years and representing the new generation of Rwanda, handed over the flame that will burn for the next 100 days to Kagame. One of them said “This is a light of remembrance, the light of life.”
President Kagame thanked countries who have been with Rwanda through its journey of reconstruction.
“On a day like this, when language fails, the first words that come, are words of gratitude. To you, the friends by our side on this heavy day, including the different leaders present, we say thank you, he said. “In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness. Today, light radiates from this place.”
President Paul Kagame also paid tribute to foreigners who helped survivors and later died too.
“Joining us today are families from other countries, whose husbands, fathers, sisters, and aunts were claimed by the same deadly ideology,” said Kagame. “The only comfort we can offer is the commonality of sorrow, and the respect owed to those who had the courage to do the right thing.”
A notable absentee at the commemoration was French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country stands accused of aiding the genocide. Macron proposed an annual day of commemoration for the Rwanda genocide on Sunday, according to AFP.
A Rwandan-born Member of Parliament Herve Berville who was orphaned in the 1993 violence led the French delegation.
Belgium, which colonized Rwanda. was represented by Prime Minister Charles Michel, who admitted part of responsibility of Belgium in the 1994 genocide.
Michel said genocide was a failure of the international community. He said he was moved by the courage, resilience and empathy of the Rwandan people.
In a tweet, British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote, “Today I am reflecting on the thousands of lives lost in the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. This was a tragedy and it remains as important as ever to make sure such atrocities are not repeated.”
Sunday’s ceremonies marked the beginning of 100 days commemoration.