Everybody involved in the pursuit of preventing genocide, has a moment when they switch onto its horrors and vow that 'this must never happen again - not on my watch'. For me, it was Linda Melvern's words that did it at the 10th anniversary conference organised by Never Again and the Imperial War Museum. Her words haunted me to the extent that I continue to have trouble writing down what she said - it was about the women who were raped every day of the genocide and still die every day of the after-effects. Since then, despite becoming incresingly involved in peacebuilding, I have avoided reading Melvern's very clinical, forensic books about the genocide, which she has worked tirelessly on since conducting some of the first interview about it in 2006. Call it cowardice if you like. But it is true that everybody, whether or not they feel they have any involvement in building a more peaceful world, has a responsibility to at least listen to what was done in their name, or if not in their name to the detriment of humanity.
I've finally started reading Conspiracy to Murder, which has been updated and republished in paperback this year. It does have the hard-hitting style that I expected but so far has been less haunting than interesting and compelling. In the first two chapters Melvern outlines the history of genocide - 'a deliberate attempt to reconstruct history' - detailing the different theories behind ethnic division in the small African country and the methods used by different parties to exacerbate and take advantage of two groups that lived, worked and built families together.
From the first two chapters, you can see that some of the conditions that caused genocide are still there. A densely populated country with limited space and a mobile population. A one-party state and reports of arbitrary arrests. Even the idea of communal work, twisted into massacres, still finds echoes in the much more positive pursuit of Sunday tidy-ups which Rwandans sometimes grumble about in the New Times. I wonder why Rwandans are so quick to condemn Amnesty International now when they were often the only organisation drawing attention to what was happening in Rwanda before the genocide.
The biggest difference, I hope, is in the youth. As I read over familiar names, I think of Ladislas, our Clubs Chairman who has walked great areas to set up Groups that now inspire youth to meet across divides. The issue of unemployment is also being addressed by Never Again as well as many other groups in income generating projects.
Another difference is in connection. Rwanda is quickly establishing itself as a green country with a multiligual, charming population who can talk to those of us in other countries who were born with all the opportunity in the world - admittedly this is still far too limited. They have the sort of confidence that is taken for granted in the West, but is rarely suggested for the 'poor Africans'. I remember being told that nobody in Rwanda ever starved and that Rwanda was the place where God might leave, but he would always come back. Many young Rwandans - most of those I met there who became my friends - grew up outside the country and are now back in the only place they can call home. As long as they continue to turn their back on violence and to work in fellowship with those who witnessed the horrors as children, I have a lot of hope for Rwanda.