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Recalling the Rwandan genocide

For most Furman students, April is a time to relish the mild weather and to begin wrapping up another academic year. For Jonathan Kubakundimana, a sophomore political science major, and millions of other Rwandans, it’s a time to remember a chapter of their nation’s history that left more a million people dead and many more wondering how and, more importantly, why.

This April marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a violent campaign that targeted one of the country’s primary ethnic groups, the Tutsis, and forced many Rwandans to flee their homeland in search of safety abroad. Kubakundimana and his family were among the lucky to escape the country. In 1994, at only 6 months old, he and his parents fled to Nairobi, Kenya and from there, relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland. While he and his family managed to escape the violence, the trauma caused by the months spent fleeing paramilitaries and witnessing the murder of countless friends and family left its mark.

“The killings were disgustingly intimate,” said Kubakundimana. “They were of people you went to school with, lived beside, people you knew.”

It wasn’t until years later, as young boy growing up in Scotland, that Kubakundimana truly understood what he and his family had lived through. It was this realization, he says, that deepened the genocide’s impact on his life.

“I didn’t want to accept that, just because I was born, somebody wanted to kill me, had planned to kill me.”

However, as he got older, his experience as a Rwandan refugee gave his life direction.

“For the longest time I asked myself ‘why me?’ ‘Why did I survive?’,” he said. “The real question is, what am I going to do with the life I’ve been given?”

This past Monday, Kubakundimana told his story to a packed audience in Patrick Lecture Hall, as a part of a CLP event titled “Genocide in Rwanda: A 20 Year Retrospective.” For him, the best way to honor those lost during the genocide is to make others aware of the tragedy that happened over two decades ago and how it still impacts Rwanda today.

“As a survivor, it is my duty to tell our story,” he said.

“As long as I live, the one million Rwandans killed will never be forgotten.”

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