The Rwandan youth – who represent the majority of the population – are actively involved in preserving peace and prosperity in their nation. Through participating in Never Again Rwanda’s commemoration activities where their voice is heard, appreciated and taken into account, NAR fights to always make never again a reality.
By Ingvild Gundersen
After the 1994 Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi, a long and painful process of healing and societal reconstruction was embarked upon by the Rwandan government. Since those dark days, despite all the suffering and pain, Rwanda has seen great success; one of resilience, reconciliation and transformation.
Despite the growing success of rebuilding the nation twenty years after the Genocide, there is still a great need for people to come together to remember, to reflect on the past and to unite for a better future. Part of this healing and reconstruction is facilitated through the annual 100-days Commemoration period, which begins in April. People are brought together to collectively remember, reflect upon and learn from the past so they can construct a brighter future.
Never Again Rwanda has been a key partner in this process, with a particular focus on youth as the power and the future of the nation. NAR believes that youth and civil society are best positioned to change the nation, by being at the forefront of Rwanda’s healing process and engaging youth in peacebuilding. On April 3rd, Never Again Rwanda and its partners organized and hosted the 3rd National Conference on Policy and Practice on Genocide Commemoration. The conference, entitled ‘Rebuilding Rwanda, Preservation of memory – 20 years after the Genocide Perpetrated Against the Tutsi’, served as a space where young Rwandans could voice their opinions and concerns related to the policy and practice of commemoration. Under this year’s national Kwibuka theme “Remember-Unite-Renew”, the conference was envisioned as a public space that could act as genuine public dialogue between the youth and the stakeholders.
Around 200 youth participated in the conference, held in Kinyarwanda, which was meant to be highly participatory. After each presentation, NAR had set aside time for youth to ask questions and express their feelings and attitudes towards the different topics presented. Dr. Naasson Munyandamutsa’s presentation was entitled “How can we engage the post-genocide Generation in upholding the constructive memory conservation?”, whilst Kantengwa Odeth from Commission Nationale de Lutte contre le Génocide (CNLG) gave a presentation on “The psycho-social effect of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda” and Mukayiranga Laurence from National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) gave a presentation on “Reconstructing Rwandaness “ Ndi umunyarwanda.” NAR experienced lively discussions after each presentation by an engaged group of young Rwandans.
For this year’s conference, NAR implemented the World Café dialogue format, where youth were divided into small groups to discuss two preselected topics regarding the peacebuilding process in Rwanda. In this way, the youth were able to express themselves more freely and, at the same time, listen to other people’s views and ideas. The World Café demonstrated a remarkable capacity to foster authentic conversation among people, some who had never met before. The powerful questions aimed at the youth got their attention and many were eager to contribute to the group conversations. The purpose was to engage youth in a critical thinking process, where mutual respect and understanding were of importance, as the World Cafe was meant to teach youth how they can be part of restoring the nation and achieve long lasting peace. After the small table conversations it was time for mutual reflection, where all participants could listen to other ideas and reflect on issues as a large group. For the youth, it was a great opportunity to discover the deeper themes or questions that became prominent during the discussions.
Thoughts and suggestions were gathered from every youth participant, and some of the opinions were to advocate for proper leadership, good governance and freedom of speech and to give youth space in decision-making processes. Also mentioned was that one needs to talk about and discuss the past in order to learn from history. In relation to teaching history, youth saw the importance in hearing stories from other groups of people so they can connect with each other and keep rebuilding relationships damaged by the Genocide. The importance of imitating heroes that have achieved peace, such as Nelson Mandela, was essential, as youth cannot forget the importance of hard work and dedication to peacebuilding. Similarly, empowering and encouraging youth to become ambassadors for peace was a topic that continued to emerge.
Never Again – a reality or a dream? How can Rwanda achieve long lasting peace in a nation that was totally destroyed by hatred 20 years ago? The answer lies in the spirit of the Rwandan people. The youth especially, as they represent the majority of the population, shows they are concerned and involved in preserving peace and prosperity in their nation. Through participating in NAR’s commemoration activities where their voice is heard, appreciated, and taken into account, NAR fights to always make never again a reality.
Ingvild Gundersen is currently finishing a master’s degree in Intercultural Relations and Social Advocacy at Lesley University in Cambridge MA. As part of the program, Ingvild is completing an internship with Never Again Rwanda, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation. Born and raised in Norway before moving to the US to study, Ingvild hopes to to pursue a career within human rights and peacebuilding.