Every April Rwandans in the UK come together in a series of national events commemorating victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. This year Oxford was host to one of the four major Kwibuka (‘remember’) ceremonies, which marked the 24th anniversary of the Genocide. Held at Mansfield College Chapel on 21 April, the commemoration coincided with the opening of Kwibuka Rwanda, a photographic exhibition curated by the Centre for Criminology’s Dr Julia Viebach.
Members of the Rwandan community in the UK were joined for the commemoration by Oxford residents and academics. In her opening remarks, Professor Mary Bosworth commented on the importance of research such as Julia’s in the aftermath of atrocity and to prevent atrocities from happening in the future. Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK, Yamina Karitanyi, also spoke, along with Jean Fooks, the Lord Mayor of Oxford, and a panel made up of British and Rwandan speakers.
The panel, discussed ways of remembering and recovering from the 1994 Genocide, which resulted in the deaths of more than one million Tutsi. Two survivors (academic, Dr Richard Benda and Oxford resident, Lilian Umumbyeyi), spoke of a duty Rwandan parents have to explain the tragedy to their children, as well as the challenge that this task poses. Lilian stressed that memory is all survivors have left and therefore remembering is of utter importance for them. The audience also discussed the crucial role played by colonialism in Rwanda, which constructed the ethnic division by its divide and rule strategy.
Participants in the commemoration next heard a moving testimony from Antoinette Mushimiyimana, who witnessed the slaughter of her family by the Interahamwe militia at only twelve years old. Antoinette was forced to hide out in a pig latrine within earshot of the militia for three weeks, surviving on rain water.
Kwibuka Rwanda was curated in consultation with members of Ishami Foundation, the Rwandan community in Oxford, and the Pitt Rivers Museum. It will be open until 28 September 2018.