Rwanda genocide memories during coronavirus lockdown

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Valerie Mukabayire lost her husband in Rwanda’s genocide. Now she and her family need to stay strong to honour his memory as they join the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

Government orders to stay indoors to curb the spread of the disease prevented a family gathering to remember Sylivestre Shumbusho, a teacher in Kigali, one of 800 000 killed in 1994.

The 64-year-old and her three children –  aged 12, 10 and nine when their father was killed – usually visit a memorial site. This year they will watch on television as the country marks the 100 days of slaughter.

“This morning my children sent me messages, told me on a WhatsApp group we must remain strong despite tough times in a bid to honour their dad,” she told Reuters by phone about a conversation between her, her daughters and son.

“We survived the genocide and now we must ensure COVID-19 does not kill us,” said Mukabayire, a former teacher who heads AVEGA Agahozo, an association of widows supporting 19 000 women.

Rwanda has 105 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Last month it closed borders as a part of a broader lockdown designed to curb its spread.

It ordered citizens to stay indoors and go out only for essential activities and restricted movement between towns and regions. Neighbouring Uganda imposed curfews and suspended international passenger travel. Kenya has done likewise.

FLAME OF HOPE

President Paul Kagame said in a recorded speech on the state-run broadcaster Rwanda had to remember the genocide despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Some 800000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate ethnic Hutus were killed in the violence starting on April 6, 1994, after President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi – both Hutus – died when their aircraft was shot down over the Rwandan capital. The attackers have never been identified.

For last year’s 25th anniversary, thousands marched from parliament to the national soccer stadium. After they entered, lights were extinguished and the darkness broken by a sea of flickering candles as survivors spoke.

This year, Rwanda started week-long commemorations with families under lockdown and radio stations and television channels airing programmes and songs to remember the victims.

“This year’s commemoration is especially challenging for survivors and families and for the country, because we cannot be together physically to comfort one another. It is not easy,” Kagame said.

He laid a wreath and lit the Flame of Hope at the Gisozi memorial site, where more than a quarter a million of people are buried.

Authorities are still exhuming the bodies of those killed.

“We will keep searching for bodies as people tell us they are sure bodies were dumped there in the genocide,” Fred Mufuluke, governor of Kayonza province, told Reuters after finding 15 in a dam.