Moving Past the Single Narrative

April 14 is the final day of Rwanda’s annual weeklong commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Over the past week, every village in Rwanda has hosted events. People meet to remember their loved ones, and to learn how the horrific genocide that killed more than a million Rwandans in only 100 days in 1994 was organized and perpetrated.

I have to admit to knowing next to nothing about this tragic chapter in Rwanda’s history before visiting the country for the first time last year. It’s still hard for me to grasp.

Fighting genocide ideology is the theme for Rwanda’s 2016 genocide commemoration. Every person who shares their story is doing their part towards fighting genocide ideology globally.

I want to do my part by sharing a piece written by a young Rwandan, Maureen Kalimba Isimbi.

I am a mentor for Maureen through SHE-CAN. One of Rwanda’s top scholars, Maureen will enroll as an engineering student at Tufts University in Boston next fall.

Maureen’s essay is part of a forthcoming compilation of essays from SHE-CAN’s Rwanda scholars (SHE-CAN blog).

Raising awareness is key to fighting genocide ideology. Please read Maureen’s story. And share.


Genocide isn’t the whole story: moving past the single narrative

By Maureen Kalimba Isimbi

When most people want to visit Rwanda, their first interest is learning more about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi since it is the definition of our country to most outsiders. Surprisingly, Rwanda does not look like Genocide as many people assume.  Rwanda has good leadership based on her population and highly decentralized administration. She is extremely clean, has awesome development activities and a high rate of tourism. However, this would not have been achieved if many efforts weren’t applied.

During 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, mass killings spread all over Rwanda with more than 1,000,000 Tutsis slaughtered in only 100 days. In addition to the brutal mass killings, systematic rape was also widely used as a weapon of war during the Rwandan genocide. As if that was not enough, there was extreme destruction of people’s properties and public infrastructure. Women became widows, children turned into orphans. Rwanda was a dead nation.

I bless the day that the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) began to make gains on both the battlefield and in the negotiations led by Tanzania. By early July, the RPF had control of the majority of the country. Fearing reprisal killings, hundreds of thousands of Hutus fled the country and others were imprisoned. On July 4, 1994, Rwanda was liberated. This began the new journey of Rwanda– the journey of unity and reconciliation, the journey of rebuilding our nation, the journey of excellence.

Rwandans are increasingly united. There is a strong patriotism and belief in the government. We can never forget our tragic past but do not want to be defined by it.

Today, Rwanda is commemorating for the 22nd time, and she is surely a beacon of hope. More than a million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty. The proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has more than halved, and when they reach seven years old, they can nearly all go to school. Most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen more than 85% since 2005. Crime is very low. Today’s Rwandan Government opened a window of opportunity for women’s involvement in decision making where 64% of the parliament is composed of women.

It means that hard choices still need to be made. Rwanda has ambitious economic targets. Rwanda aims to become a middle-income nation by 2020, while political and social transformation continue as she enters a new vision of 2050.


  1. Kalimba Isimbi Maureen said:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Jodi!

    April 15, 2016
  2. Jadine Lai said:

    Thanks for this post, Jodi. What a great idea to include Maureen’s story on your site! Thanks to Maureen for sharing.

    April 14, 2016
  3. Virginia said:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. The stories coming out of Rwanda in the ’90s made it seem so hopeless. It is great to hear about the progress in Rwanda from one who lives there. I will be following the blog.

    April 14, 2016

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