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Rwanda's youth seek to heal genocide wounds

Nasra Bishumba
April 26, 2021

In 1994, Rwanda's ethnic Hutus massacred an estimated 1 million Tutsis. The country's younger generation is seeking to heal old divisions between the groups, but this comes with its own set of challenges.

A group of young people sitting on a wall with drinks.
Rwanda's millennials are free to marry without fear of an ethnic backlashImage: DW/S. Krauß

Stanislas Niyomwungeri and Jacinta Murayire's love story seemed ill-fated from the beginning. Both were born and raised in the same village in Rwanda's southern province. However, Stanislas is a member of the Hutu ethnic group, while Jacinta is a Tutsi.

During the Rwandan genocide, Hutu extremists massacred an estimated 1 million Tutsis. Stanislas's father, Silas Bihiza, killed Jacinta's paternal uncle. Bihiza was later convicted of the murder and served more than 10 years in prison.

When Jacinta told her family she had fallen in love with Stanislas, their reaction wasn't one of joy but of extreme anger. "When I decided to move in with him, the hatred was intense," Jacinta told DW. "My family didn't want anything to do with me," she said. "Whenever I saw any of my family members, they would beat me up or spit in my face."

"Whenever I saw my father, he would get so angry and spit at me," Jacinta said. "I started wishing that I didn't have to see him anymore. So my fiancee and I decided to move away from my family's neighborhood."

Love conquers hate

Though the rejection from Jacinta's family has hurt Stanislas, he said their relationship had remained strong. "The conflict between our fathers was unending. We just decided that, since there was no end in sight, we would create our own happy life as a couple," Stanislas told DW.

"If there were a family wedding, we would only hear about it as a rumor. We would not be invited, but we would send our gift to show that it wasn't us who had a problem with them."

After Stanislas' father was released from prison, he was determined to reconcile with Jacinta's father, Valence Rukiriza. Gradually, they have begun to make amends.

"I started approaching him slowly but cautiously. I took it a day at a time, and, finally, his anger and hatred towards me began to reduce," Silas said. They soon started talking, he added, and the relationship improved to a stage where they would meet and share a drink.

A military orchestra in concert
Members of Rwanda's military play a song to commemorate the genocide Image: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP/Getty Images

"People in our community were happy about this," Silas said. "Our children brought our families together on their wedding day, we embraced, and there were loud cheers from our guests."

A change of heart

Rukiriza acknowledges that he was against the relationship for a long time. But, today, he feels differently. "I disowned her. Her mother disagreed with me on that, but I did not want to hear anything about that relationship, Rukiriza said. "But eventually, I came around. We hosted the traditional wedding ceremony, and it went really well."

Stanislas and Jacinta's story embodies the saying that "love conquers all." But they're not alone in their experience. As Rwanda looks ahead to the 30th anniversary of the genocide in 2024, the country's younger generation looks set to play a big part in the healing process, as they choose love over hate.

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