Burundi: I Am Because You Are

In 1994, two African sons, Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then UN General-Secretary, and Ghanaian Kofi Annan, then Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, watched Rwanda burn down.

Despite several warnings, they decided not to use their influential positions – and other world leaders followed suit. One hundred days later, more than one million people had been slaughtered in the most horrific genocide the world has ever known.

Today, twenty-one years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, the Kigali Genocide Memorial stands as a testimony of what happened and the failure of the international community to protect innocent civilians. It is a place I and many Genocide survivors call home.

Since its establishment in 2004, the memorial has been visited by more than one million people from all walks of life, including celebrities, renowned artists and leaders. Many visitors leave saying three things: “We were warned and did nothing,” “This place shows the failure of humanity,” and, constantly, “Never again.”

As I watch what is happening in Burundi, one thing comes to mind: I don’t want another genocide memorial to exist. No one deserves to experience the horror that millions have endured. The memory is still near and heavy.

A few days ago, on the first international Genocide Victims day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the importance of remembrance to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. But looking at the silence and inaction of the international community while innocent Burundians die everyday, one cannot stop wondering: has the world learnt nothing from Rwanda?

How true are the words written in the Kigali Genocide Memorial guestbook? How real are the tears cried by world leaders at the memorial? Is it remorse or simply empty gestures?

Hypocrisy and inaction, the result of selfish interests during tragedies and atrocities such as the one taking place in Burundi, cannot be the values we turn to when we try to honour the victims of genocide. Our failures 21 years ago in Rwanda are cast like a shadow over our collective conscience. To dignify the memory of genocide victims, we must ensure there are no more victims to mourn.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial fosters ‘Ubumuntu’ – a sense of shared humanity. The philosophy is simple: “I am because you are”.

In his 2003 book on the Genocide in Rwanda, Former UN Force Commander Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire wrote, “We are in desperate need of a transfusion of humanity. If we believe that all humans are human, then how are we going to prove it? It can only be proven through our actions”. His words are as true today as they were then.

It is time we wake up, condemn the perpetrators, act to protect the victims and, most importantly, restore hope and rebuild lives.

This time we, the brothers and sisters of Africa, will not allow ourselves to be indifferent. We are informed, we have been warned and have the power to do something. Now.

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