Rwanda Rises: 30 years on from the genocide against the Tutsi

07 April 2024
Rwandan President Paul Kagame lights a memorial flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Rwandan President Paul Kagame lights a memorial flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Today, Rwanda is one of Africa's fast-growing economies and is seen as a model for sustainable growth and resilience. However, thirty years ago, the world’s attention was focused on Rwanda because of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, shocking mass killings where it is estimated that almost a million Rwandans died. 

This year, Rwanda has planned a series of memorial events, Kwibuka30 with the theme ‘Remember-Unite-Renew’. The commemoration week began on 7 April 2024, and similar ceremonies will take place throughout the world. The word ‘kwibuka’ means to remember. The country will also stage a walk to remember and night vigil to honour the victims and survivors.

The commemoration activities include a flame of remembrance which was lit by the President of Rwanda, HE Paul Kagame, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, one of four memorial sites. The flame will burn for the next 100 days as the country honours the victims of the tragic massacre.  

In a powerful address at the BK Arena, President Kagame spoke about the collective grief of the nation. He said:

“Our journey has been long and tough. Rwanda was completely humbled by the magnitude of our loss, and the lessons we learned are engraved in blood. But the tremendous progress of our country is plain to see, and it is the result of the choices we made together to resurrect our nation.”

“The foundation of everything is unity. That was the first choice: to believe in the idea of a reunited Rwanda, and live accordingly. The second choice was to reverse the arrow of accountability, which used to point outwards, beyond our borders. Now, we are accountable to each other, above all.”

To a packed audience filled with world leaders, heads of international organisations, other dignitaries and thousands of Rwandans, including survivors, the President shared touching personal stories, including the loss of a close family member. He also paid tribute to those in the international community who supported the country during the tragic time.

Leaders including The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, former US president Clinton and former president of south africa thabo mbeki
Leaders including The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, former US President Bill Clinton and former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki join Rwandans in marking 30 years since their genocide.

The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, is currently in the country with a delegation, including the Assistant Secretary-General, Professor Luis Franceschi, to show solidarity with the people of Rwanda during the solemn occasion.

The Secretary-General also laid a wreath at the Nyamata Memorial Church, where one of the worst massacres took place. She attended a service and prayed for the victims, perpetrators, survivors, the country and for peace in the world. 

The Commonwealth Secretary-General noted that the visit was quite emotional. She reflected: 

"After 30 years, how can I be so profoundly shocked by the inhumanity of the genocide? The searing pain I experienced as I looked upon the remains of the 10,000 killed in one day and the 45,000 who are buried in the mass grave at the site of the old church is almost unbearable. 

"To have recovered from such a grievous injury to the soul of a nation is miraculous. Rwanda is that miracle and it enables us to believe that with enough love and forgiveness the human spirit can rise and overcome anything."

She also noted that Rwanda's journey has been transformational over the past thirty years. The World Bank estimated that Rwanda's economy grew at 7.6% in the first three quarters of 2023 and should maintain that growth trajectory over the next few years due to increased tourism earnings, new construction projects, and increased manufacturing activities. As an example of its robust growth, Rwanda received over 1.4 million tourists in 2023, almost triple the number of visitors in 2021. 

President Kagame noted that the young people of Rwanda, almost three-quarters of the population, continue to give him hope and optimism. He said:

“Our youth are the guardians of our future and the foundation of our unity, with a mindset that is totally different from the generation before. Today, it is all Rwandans who have conquered fear.”

As was seen when Rwanda hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2022, the country is a respected voice on the global stage. Undaunted by the tragedy in the recent past, the country has excelled by harnessing its rich culture, biodiversity, investment in education, and impressive infrastructure.  By doing so, the country’s leaders have forged a brighter future for the people of Rwanda.

President Kagame is currently Chair-in-Office for the Commonwealth, a baton he will pass on to the Prime Minister of Samoa in October at the next CHOGM, to be held in Apia.