On Saturday April 21st, 2018, Rwandan faculty, staff, and students at Michigan State University (MSU), in collaboration with the Rwandan Diaspora Community in the Midwest, organized “Kwibuka” to commemorate the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The term means to “Remember” in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s language.  Every year, Rwandans worldwide celebrate the lives of relatives and friends who died by remembering them, honoring them, and sharing memories of times spent together. It is estimated that over 1 million innocent lives were slaughtered in approximately 100 days. Supported by several units on campus, the event was held at the International Center, with 300 people in attendance.
Dr. Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement, welcomed everyone, explaining why the event was hosted at MSU. As one of the first land-grant institutions founded over 160 years ago, MSU promotes an inclusive culture and atmosphere that encourage all people to reach their full potential. He added that MSU has the most faculty in the country engaged in Africa-related research, teaching, and development work. He called for renewed commitment and resolve in sustaining relationships and ended his remarks by saying: “We cannot, should not, forget a past event as harrowing and heartbreaking as the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi. MSU faculty, staff, and students are here to unite with you, and work with you.”
Dr. Jean Kayitsinga, a faculty member from Rwanda and co-organizer of the event, recalled the sociohistorical and political contexts and factors that contributed to the Genocide, including the role of Belgian colonization in the social construction of ethnicity and fragmentation of Rwandan society, institutional discrimination of the Kayibanda and Habyarimana post-independence regimes, and hatred ideologies that transformed local populations into killer machines. His presentation was followed by a song of remembrance by Callixte Kayiranga from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
In her keynote address, Honorable professor Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States of America, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, thanked MSU faculty and students for organizing the event and the MSU administration for its friendship, solidarity, and support for this event. She said: “It is moments like this when friends come together.” She thanked the Rwandan community in the Midwest and Canada who traveled long distances to MSU to remember and celebrate together the lives of their loved ones.
Ambassador Mathilde recalled that in January of this year, the United Nations for the first time accepted to call what happened in Rwanda 24 years ago the “Genocide against the Tutsi.” The commemoration is a healing experience.  Tutsis call it: “Gufatana mu Mugongo,” meaning we’ve “Got each Other’s Back.” It’s a nation of survivors that help each other because they no longer have families and friends to help them. It is a national journey that takes generations.
Ambassador Mathilde indicated that in 1994, most societal institutions were in disarray, including the state, churches, schools, and families. Rwanda would have been called a “failed state,” but people refused to surrender to despair. They collectively understood what happened, when neighbors turned against their neighbors, and killers knew their victims. Through Gacaca, a community-based traditional court, Rwandans punished the killers and, at the same time, created a dialogue for forgiveness and reconciliation. Rwanda now has a new identity: “Ndi Umunyarwanda,” meaning “I am Rwandan.” This new identity symbolizes peace, unity, and renewal for a better life.
Ambassador Mathilde said about the genocide: “This was not just a Rwandan failure, it was also a major failure for the international community.” She then added: “I am very proud of my people. We faced big challenges, but we successfully confronted them together as Rwandans. We now live in peace. Rwanda has turned the corner. People are happy and there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Remember, Reunite, and Renew – Twibuke, Twiyubaka.”
The audience was taken back to the dark days and nights of April through July 1994 by listening to powerful and painful testimonies of two survivors: Kizito D. Kalima, Founder and Executive Director of the Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Mathilde Mukesharugo from Toronto. Survivors’ testimonies were followed by candle lighting, messages and a poem of hope, and a panel discussion on the themes of “Unite and Renew.”
In closing, Dr. Kayitsinga thanked sponsors of the event, including the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, International Studies and Programs, University Outreach and Engagement, the College of Social Science, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Department of History, and the Julian Samora Research Institute. He also thanked the organizing committee, especially the students, and hundreds of Rwandans and non-Rwandans who attended the event.