Rwandan activist recalls genocide, urges more action in Darfur

Albert Nzamukwereka, secretary-general of the international peace group Never Again: Rwanda, told Yale students that they and their peers have a responsibility to start talking and thinking about the ongoing genocide in Sudan, at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea Wednesday afternoon.

At the tea — which drew such a large turnout that the audience was moved from the master’s house to the Trumbull common room — Nzamukwereka discussed his experiences in Rwanda, from the 1990s outset of the massacres between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups until the present day, and the importance of large rallies for demonstrating strong concern to the government, both at home and internationally.

Nzamukwereka, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history at the National University of Rwanda in 2003, works for the Rwanda chapter of Never Again International, a group that organizes students and political leaders worldwide to help manage conflicts through education and active debate. The violence in Rwanda during 1994 — when almost 1 million people were killed in 100 days — should be seen as a lesson for the present, Nzamukwereka said.

“If you have seen the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ you might have an idea about what was going on back then,” Nzamukwereka said. “People were in desperate need of help, just like the people of Darfur are right now. … You should act as people who have the future in their hands.”

The action of international governments and the United Nations on the violence in Darfur — where the Janjaweed militia group has killed large populations of certain ethnic groups since 2003 — has been too weak to effectively end the conflict, Nzamukwereka said.

While Nzamukwereka did not provide extensive discussion of specific solutions to the ongoing conflict, he said there are groups currently formulating creative ways to prevent violence from reemerging in areas like Rwanda. Nzamukwereka works on a popular radio show in Rwanda called “Radio La Benevolencija,” which employs a soap-opera style to tell the story of the 1994 conflict and to remind listeners of the dangers of discrimination.

Nzamukwereka said Rwanda has recovered rapidly during the last decade in both the educational and governmental sectors. But further progress, he said, requires a solid media infrastructure to promote free expression and social discourse.

“There’s still a lot to do,” he said. “Right now we have only six radio stations and are lacking in human resources to start a newspaper, but it is coming.”

Some students at the tea said they found Nzamukwereka’s passion inspiring.

“You could literally feel the tension that closed in upon the room as soon as Mr. Nzamukwereka entered,” O’Hagan Blades ’10 said.

Sara Rahmon ’09, who has studied genocide issues in classes at Yale, said Nzamukwereka’s discussion was relevant to her own interests.

“Key issues were addressed, and I now have a lot of things to think about and do research on,” she said.

But Matt Dickhoff, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, said the issue of genocide is so complex that the hour-and-a-half discussion did not truly do it justice.

“It’s just a shame that there wasn’t more time to discuss this topic,” he said.

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