1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Genocide: Rwanda's village of reconciliation and unity

Isaac Mugabi in Kigali
April 15, 2024

In the Rwandan village of Mbyo, Tutsi who survived the genocide now live together with rehabilitated Hutu perpetrators. But they tell DW it has been a difficult journey.

A woman and three men sitting on plastic chairs in front of a house.
It took time for survivors of the genocide to sit together with those who killed their family membersImage: Isaac Mugabi/DW

When the genocide against the Tutsi began on April 7, 1994, Kazimungu Frederick and Nkundiye Tharcien, both Hutu, actively participated and killed their Tutsi neighbors, with whom they had lived in peace for many years in Rwanda. But now both men, aged 56 and 74 years respectively, live side by side with survivors of the genocide whose family members they killed.

The two men had been convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, but after asking for forgiveness, they served only nine years and were released back into their community.

They live in Mbyo, a village located 40 kilometers (24 miles) from the capital, Kigali. It is one of six reconciliation villages where perpetrators and survivors of the genocide live together and attempt to reconcile their past.

 At least 400 people, both Hutu and Tutsi, live in the reconciliation village structured like an ordinary Rwandan village with tin-roofed houses in small plots adjacent to farmland.

President Paul Kagame's rebel group, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, stopped the genocide after 100 days, seized power, and has since ruled Rwanda unchallenged. 

Family photographs of some of those who died hang on a display in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.
Rwanda just marked 30 years since the genocide against the TutsiImage: Ben Curtis/AP Photo/picture alliance

A new Rwandan identity

"I pleaded guilty and asked for forgiveness from survivors whose family members I killed, and now we leave peacefully both survivors and perpetrators. We no longer identify ourselves along ethnic lines," Tharcien told DW.

"No one forced me to reconcile. And those who live outside Rwanda who think we were forced to reconcile with the Tutsi want to tarnish Rwanda's image," Tharcien added.

"While in prison,I sent a letter to Anastasie detailing how I killed her family members and asking for forgiveness," Tharcien explained, adding that "those perpetrators who have refused until now to admit their roles in the genocide should confess, and maybe they could be released."

Like Tharcien, Fredrick, now a father of seven, asked for forgiveness and was released from prison. However, he blames the former government for pushing civilians like him to kill their Tutsi neighbors.

"From childhood, we had been told that the Tutsi were our enemies and had colonized the Hutu for a long time. So, when the killings started, we had to kill the Tutsi," Fredrick told DW. 

Survivors remember Rwanda's 1994 genocide

A difficult reconciliation

Usengimuremyi Silas and Mukamusoni Anastasie — genocide survivors and neighbors to the two men who killed their family members — say they have reconciled with the perpetrators thanks to government efforts to push for reconciliation. 

In 1994, when she was 20, Anastasie recalled the helpless Tutsis she saw at roadblocks near Mbyo village.

Tharcien killed Anastasie's first husband, but now they are neighbors and help out each other in times of need. "When I need help, Tharcien is always available," Anastasie told DW.

"I hated the Hutu so much to the point that I could not agree to meet them," she said, adding that it took a long time "to think that I could interact with a Hutu."

At first, Anastasie didn't welcome the idea that perpetrators would return to communities. But now she has to live with them in Mbyo Reconciliation Village, which some Rwandans cite as an example of how people can peacefully coexist 30 years after the genocide.

Like Anastasie, Silas told DW that in the beginning, it was tough to forgive the perpetrators who killed his father and other family members during the genocide.

A need for closure

"Initially, we were terrified to hear that genocide perpetrators would return to communities. We didn't have any choice because many didn't tell the whole truth about their participation in the killings. However, we needed some form of closure to heal," said Silas.

"The government convinced us that all the people are born the same, and so slowly, we learned to live together," Silas told DW, adding that they were skeptical about living alongside the culprits.

"The healing process was difficult, but we reconciled after the perpetrators asked for forgiveness. They showed us the mass graves where they had dumped our loved ones, and we finally forgave them." 

Anastasie emphasized that she now relates to Tharcien and other perpetrators in the village well. For her, ethnic labels are meaningless. "I don't see them as Hutu who killed my family members," she said

Struggling with the past

While Rwanda's reconciliation story seems to be working despite criticism of it being artificial, Rwandans continue to struggle with the legacy of the genocide.

Phil Clark, a professor at SOAS, University of London, told DW that Rwanda has made enormous strides in post-genocide reconciliation. "When you consider that hundreds of thousands of convicted genocide perpetrators are today back living in the same communities where they committed crimes, side by side with genocide survivors, and most of these communities are peaceful, stable, and productive, the progress that Rwanda has made is clear."

However, Clark says there has been too much focus on these model reconciliation villages where the government wants to take foreign visitors to show the country's advances in reconciliation.

"Those models aren't even necessary because reconciliation progress is visible in almost any community in the country. It isn't confected for outsiders' benefit—it's just part of daily life."

According to Clark, the more important story is how hundreds of thousands of convicted génocidaires have returned to their home communities and been able to rebuild their lives and contribute to the development of those communities.

Colonial roots of the genocide in Rwanda

Unity and development projects

More than half the residents of the reconciliation village are women, and their projects — which include a basket-weaving cooperative and a money-saving program — have united so many of them that it can seem offensive to inquire into who is Hutu and who is Tutsi.

"We've been able to reconcile and do joint projects like farming and basket weaving in the case of women," Fredrick told DW.

His sentiments are similar to Anastasie's. She says they now live in harmony and consider themselves friends and family.

"Whenever I have a problem that needs solving, I turn to neighbors like Tharcien and Fredrick," she said. For instance, last year, my husband was hospitalized, and since I was always by his side at the hospital, they took care of my children," Anastasie said.

Rwandan authorities have promoted national unity among the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi and Twa by creating a government ministry dedicated to reconciliation efforts.

The government has imposed a strict penal code to prosecute those it suspects of denying the genocide or promoting the "genocide ideology." Some observers say the law has been used to silence critics who question the government.

In addition, Rwandan ID cards no longer identify a person by ethnicity, and lessons about the genocide are part of the curriculum in schools.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu