Rwandan discusses genocide

April Samuelson

Justine Rukeba Mbabazi speaks to students and faculty about the need for healing, reconciliation and forgiveness in Rwanda. KATIE ROUPE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

The most difficult thing for Rwanda after genocide is finding reconciliation, said Justine Rukeba Mbabazi.

“Reconciliation is a long road,” said Mbabazi, an international lawyer, genocide survivor and women’s rights activist. “In Rwanda, it is a hard one. It is not something you can cut and paste. You are reconciling with your own blood, with your own neighbor. How do you reconcile with the father that killed your own mother?”

About 150 people came to hear Mbabazi speak in Oscar Ritchie last night.

Mbabazi is Rwandan, but she was born in a refugee camp in Uganda. She learned how to read and write by studying the Bible.

“I went through a formal primary education,” she said. “I started at grade two under a tree because I could read and write. I went up to grade five. I went up to grade six. By then, I had three textbooks. It was a big promotion.”

Mbabazi said her father had a first-grade education, and her mother dropped out of school in third grade to become a midwife. They didn’t know what she was supposed to do after she was done with school.

“My parents were refugees,” she said. “They didn’t know where I went after that. My father said, ‘Wow, she’s done.'”

Mbabazi passed a national test to continue her education but was rejected from receiving a government scholarship because she was not Ugandan. Mbabazi said her sister got her a Ugandan name for a bribe. Mbabazi passed the test again and got the scholarship.

She went to school under the false name. This was when she realized she wanted to create change. Her first rebellious act occurred when she told her principal she was a Rwandan refugee, and the name she had been using wasn’t her real one.

“Not knowing there was law school, I knew there was a way to bring justice around,” Mbabazi said.

Mbabazi said the Rwandan genocide has changed the way history is taught.

“We are proud of our history before the 1950s, and then from the 1950s to 1994, we are afraid of our history,” Mbabazi said. “It’s a history we don’t know what to do with.”

Colonization and the Catholic religion were major influences during this time, Mbabazi said. Mbabazi told the audience about how the colonists killed the king’s mother and the king because they rejected Catholicism.

“We don’t know about this language we are speaking,” she said. “We don’t look like these people, and now they bring names, names that don’t mean anything.”

Mbabazi said her first name Justine has no meaning to her.

During the genocide, people ran to hide in the churches for protection.

“Priests killed other priests and got people killed,” she said. “The first nun to ever take a machete and cut another’s neck was from Rwanda. That is our history.”

Mbabazi told the audience about AIDS patients who were released and raped women.

“Women always suffered a double killing,” she said. “On top of being butchered, they were raped.”

Mbabazi is now using her experience in Rwanda to make a difference in the rest of the world. She said the two things she is proud of are teaching law school and drafting laws. Currently, she is working in Afghanistan to attempt to change the way the international community works with other countries.

“The international community should never have an agenda over another country,” Mbabazi said. “What they do have to do is support and aid them.”

Andrea Allen, senior applied communications major, said the speech was a call to action.

“I thought it was good, and it was important to know what is happening so that we can take action in our own country and move outward,” Allen said.

Mary Johnson, freshman electronic media production major, said she hadn’t known most of the information Mbabazi spoke about, and it inspired her to volunteer to make a difference.

“I am going there for an internship and to make a difference in someone’s life,” she said.

Contact religion reporter April Samuelson at [email protected].