On April 7, Rwandans the world over commemorate the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. It was on this day twenty-six years ago that Hutu extremists started a campaign of slaughter against the minority Tutsis that led to the death of 800 000 people in just 100 days. This year is the first time public ceremonies and remembrance events like the Walk to Remember have been postponed indefinitely, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Rwandans are observing the anniversary by changing social media profile pictures to a black background or sharing the term “kwibuka”, a Kinyarwandan word meaning “to remember”. Rwandans watched from home as President Paul Kagame visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial to light the flame of remembrance and address the country.
In France, April 7 has also been designated as an official remembrance day of the Rwandan Genocide. Last year, President Emmanuel Macron invited to the Élysée Palace members of IBUKA, an NGO whose mission it is to address the welfare of survivors and preserve the memory of the genocide and its victims. He announced the creation of a commission to research and report on France’s role in the genocide. The commission has presented a preliminary report setting out its research parameters to President Macron, and is expected to release the final report by April 2021.
Being confined at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 presents a particular psychological strain to Rwandans, even among those born after 1994. Psychotherapist Amélie Schafer-Mutarabayire, who was born in Rwanda, explained to Le Monde that, “Ordinarily, it is in our culture to group together to talk. Today, due to the confinement, the feeling of isolation is strongly felt among victims, and there are risks on the psychological level.” Remaining indoors can bring back memories of the fear and distress survivors felt while in hiding, and for their descendants the ongoing stress from COVID-19 combined with heightened emotions during this time of remembrance can trigger a latent trauma passed down from their parents, a phenomenon observed in descendants of Holocaust survivors.