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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rwandans Uniting 5 Years After Carnage




KIGALI, Rwanda -- Critics wonder how long the government can keep its mandate, which rests on having defeated the Hutu powers that planned and carried out the killings. But there is no question that the events that began on April 6, 1994, when the plane of the Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and the massacre of Tutsis erupted, still seep into every corner of life.


Esther Mujaway, 40, is one of only a few dozen counselors in Rwanda. Her husband, Paul, was killed on the road outside the school where he taught. She helped start a widows' support group.


"In the beginning it was easy," she said. "People let you talk. Now they tell you, 'Five years f you should be getting on with normal life.' But for you it never stops."


Rwanda remains a traumatized country. It has not even cleared all its human debris. Bits of leg bone, a child's sandal poke out from the rubble on the church grounds in Nyarubuye, where 10,000 were killed.


Exactly what is happening with all that trauma? The government has emphasized again and again that people must overcome the trauma and unite.


From top Tutsi officials to Hutu opposition politicians to farmers who scrape a living from sloping plots, an official version has emerged: It was the Belgian colonists who divided Rwanda, issuing identity cards that marked Hutu or Tutsi according to the colonists' own ideas about race. At independence in 1959, Hutus staged a revolution against the Tutsi monarchy and hundreds of thousands of Tutsis died.


In 1994, this version goes, it was malevolent Hutu leaders, worried about losing power to Kagame's Tutsi guerrillas, who exploited that division and drove Hutus to kill their neighbors.


This narrative, accurate in its basic outline, justifies the government's policy of directing punishment at organizers of the killings, arguing that many ordinary Hutus were caught up in calibrated hysteria. It also gives ordinary people, Hutu and Tutsi, a way to live together again without blaming each other directly.


In scores of interviews, Rwandans seemed eager to embrace the theory of unity. But when it came to specifics f the dead family, the husband in jail f the picture looks less hopeful.


"The problem I have is to live with the wives of the killers," said Mukagatare, a Tutsi woman who nearly died from machete wounds. "The women are against me, seeing me survive alone without any family. Even the children tell me I should have died."


At the UN genocide trials in Tanzania, some defense lawyers argued it was not an organized effort to erase any ethnic group. While few people in Rwanda argue that publicly, the idea remains divisive, and many Hutus are angry about the number of Hutus killed, both when Kagame's Rwandese Patriotic Army took control in 1994 and in the army's battle against Hutu extremists.


Andrew Karas, field coordinator for the International Rescue Committee f a U.S.-based organization that has built houses, schools and water projects with the United Nations f said Rwandans are trying hard. "But I think they are really aware of this tenuous relationship," he said. "Enough people have convinced me that this is a real turning point."