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25 Years After The Rwandan Genocide, Survivors Share Their Stories In Atlanta

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25 Years After The Rwandan Genocide, Survivors Share Their Stories In Atlanta

25 years ago, in April of 1994, the country of Rwanda was embroiled in a genocide. 

Author Tharcisse Seminega shares the story of how he and his family escaped the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in his new book.
Author Tharcisse Seminega shares the story of how he and his family escaped the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in his new book.

Led by the Hutu majority government, an estimated 800,000 members of the Tutsi ethnic group were murdered. 

Listen Listening…

Tharcisse Seminega, a professor at the National University of Rwanda and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, wasn’t part of any political rebellion or movement.  

Yet, he was still marked for death simply because he was Tutsi.

But just when death seemed certain, Seminega and his family were saved by other members of his faith who were Hutu, part of the majority group that was carrying out the genocide. 

Seminega writes about this harrowing time in his book, No Greater Love: How My Family Survived The Genocide in Rwanda.

He and other survivors will share their stories tonight at the National Center For Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

 John K. Roth, Edward J. Sexton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College

“One could begin with acknowledging that genocide is never inevitable. It does not have to happen.  So, human choices—personal and institutional—are always at play. I think a key factor in “making the difference” is whether individuals take moral responsibility for one another.  This means not only helping those who are in dire straits but also holding each other to account as decisions are being made.  We have to be responsible for each other.  Only then can the best moral teachings gain the strength needed to resist the worst that human beings can do.

“The interface between religion and genocide is as complex as it is longstanding.  Religion can aid and abet genocide—it has done so and even provoked genocide—because religion is usually a factor in invidious us/them divisions.  The Holocaust, for example, could not have occurred without centuries of Christian hostility toward Jews and Judaism.  But religion is also, at least potentially, a source of opposition and resistance against genocidal tendencies.  Embedded in religion are ethical imperatives that ought to curb genocidal inclinations.  Indeed, where efforts to prevent and intervene against genocide take place, including rescue of targeted people, religious impulses are in the mix.  The challenge for religion is to eliminate the impulses that incline toward genocide and to accentuate and emphasize the qualities that make religion genocide-resistant.

“To start, I think a salutary aspect of the Jehovah’s Witnesses tradition is its refusal to put allegiance to a state ahead of allegiance to God.  By putting/keeping God first, the tradition also defends the preciousness of human life, which is created in God’s image and bears traces of the divine.  Where these priorities prevail, genocide cannot.”

James Jay Carney, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology, Creighton University (on sabbatical 2018-19), Visiting Professor, Uganda Martyrs University

“Churches throughout the world – and especially in Africa – work closely with the state, especially on social development projects. For example, Catholic groups like Caritas and Catholic Relief Services depend on public sector grants (in addition to church funding and private donor contributions) to do their extensive development work all over the world. This type of collaboration is not inherently bad; all Christians are not called to be Anabaptists (or Witnesses for that matter). But in Rwanda the church-state symbiosis seemed to cross a threshold. To cite just one well-known example, the Archbishop of Kigali, Mgr. Vincent Nsengiyumva, was for years on the central committee of the ruling MRND party. Ultimately the Church – especially but not exclusively the Catholic Church – was a junior partner to the state, dependent on the state for patronage, security, funding, and even pedestrian issues such as the approval of schools and hospitals. Ultimately, the Church wanted to be a “player” in Rwandan society, shaping the nation into a Christian civilization. This meant that it generally marched to the State’s tune. In turn, the ethnic and political divisions ran through the churches, preventing them from adopting a more prophetic, alternative voice against the state. (It should be noted that there were always individual Catholic voices and church groups – such as Bishop Thadeé Nsengiyumva of Kabgayi or Fr. André Sibomana and Kinyamateka newspaper – that did offer prophetic critique of the state. Sibomana ultimately paid for this witness with his life). 

“According to Prof. André Guichaoua’s excellent book, “From War to Genocide: Criminal Politics in Rwanda” (2015), the Catholic bishops tried to issue a statement on the radio during the first week of the genocide, but they were denied access. Individual bishops apparently spoke out, although the documentation is still scanty. Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders seemed divided on how to approach the interim government, but their instinct was still to “trust the authorities,” “work within the system,” and “defend the country” from invasion. I think many feared the repercussions from the military and Interahamwe if they spoke out too boldly. In turn, religious leaders were divided on what posed the greater threat – the genocide against the Tutsi, or the invasion of the RPF and the feared “subjugation of the Hutu” that was sure to follow. Many religious leaders bought fully into the notion that this was a “double genocide”; even the statements that were finally issued in May and June 1994 apportioned blame to both sides. There also seemed to be an apocalyptic mentality among many Christians and their leaders, fed in part by a misreading of the prophecies of “rivers of blood” associated with the Our Lady of Kibeho apparitions in the early 1980s. Ultimately, all the churches were rent/torn by ethnic and political divisions, including the hierarchies…this made it difficult for the churches to speak with any kind of collective voice. And of course, there were clergy and religious who supported the killings. 

“Jehovah’s Witnesses do not try to run the country. Even in the USA, many Witnesses refused to fight in World War II, and others refused later to recite the Pledge of Allegiance introduced in 1954. So there is a long tradition among the Witnesses of opposing state violence, abstaining from violence, and maintaining a tightknit community. In other words, they are formed in nonviolence long before the “final test” comes. In H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic typology, the Witnesses fit the “sect” type…they are a counter-cultural community of Christians gathered out of the world to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, often in opposition to the dominant society. Nonviolence is a central tenet of their community, and their numbers are small enough in Rwanda that the church can reinforce the witness of its members. Even if the Catholic Church was inclined to share this nonviolent, apolitical witness, it would be almost impossible to get 6 million Rwandans to march to the beat of the same drummer. When you are talking about 2,000 members, it is much easier to command loyalty and allegiance. It should be noted that the minority Muslim community was also notable for its general abstention from violence during the genocide.”

Culled from GBPNnews

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Ameyaw Kissi Debrah, known professionally as Ameyaw Debrah, is a Ghanaian celebrity blogger, freelance journalist, and reporter.

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