Rwanda Puts on Brave Face, Blinders for 20-year Commemoration of Genocide

Country's media blame UN for mass slaughter, preach positive thinking, praise President Kagame to the skies.

A Rwandan survivor of the 1994 Genocide
A Rwandan survivor of the 1994 genocide prays over the bones of victims at a mass grave in Nyamata, Rwanda on April 6, 2004, during the 10-year commemoration of the mass slaughter. AP

As Rwanda prepares to begin a week of commemorations for the 20th anniversary of its 1994 genocide, the country's newspapers appear to be playing up three themes: Rwanda has rebounded; President Paul Kagame is all things good, and the slaughter of upwards of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days was not so much Rwanda's fault as that of the United Nations, which did nothing.

The commemorative week, which begins Monday, "should remind the world of its shortcomings; especially the United Nations that abandoned the victims in the slaughterhouse yet … had a mandate to protect them," declared The Sunday Times in an editorial that made no mention of the people who did the killing.

Meanwhile, France has pulled out of the ceremonies in protest against Kagame's accusation, published in the weekly Jeune Afrique, that France and Belgium played a "direct role" in the political preparation for the genocide.

Kagame, a Tutsi who has led the country officially or unofficially since 1994, when he led the military victory over the Hutus that ended the genocide, has been accused by France of plotting the assassination earlier that year of then-Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, which set off the massacres.

Kagame has the stature in Rwanda of a sun king. The News of Rwanda described his visit to Brussels: "Cheers of victory, hope and acknowledgement are all over Brussels, Belgium as hundreds of supporters of President Paul Kagame paraded to welcome his presence in the European capital."

In a Sunday Times op-ed titled "Rwanda's 20 years of hope and growth," Allan Brian Ssengyonga wrote: "As President Kagame always says, Rwandans should not forget where they are coming from but more importantly they should not allow [themselves] to be defined by it. As we remember the lives lost in 1994, we need to stay the “Never Again” course and be part of the Rwandan success story …"