KIGALI, Rwanda – Displaying both pride and pain, Rwandans on Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the devastating 100-day genocide that saw packed churches set on fire and machete-wielding attackers chop down whole families from a demonized minority.
Bloodcurdling screams and sorrowful wails resounded throughout a packed sports stadium as world leaders and thousands of Rwandans gathered to hear of healing and hope.
"As we pay tribute to the victims, both the living and those who have passed, we also salute the unbreakable Rwandan spirit in which we owe the survival and renewal of our country," said President Paul Kagame.
Kagame and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon together lit a flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, which estimates that more than 1 million Rwandans perished in three months of machete and gunfire attacks mostly aimed at the country's minority Tutsi population by extremist Hutus.
Missing from the stadium was the French government, which Rwanda banned. In an interview published in France on Monday, Kagame accused the former African colonial power of participating in some of the genocide violence.
The ceremony and Uganda's president highlighted the influence that white colonial masters had in setting the stage for the violence that erupted on April 7, 1994. Stadium-goers watched as white people in colonial outfits jumped out of a safari car and stormed the main stage.
The wide-brim hats then changed to blue berets, the headgear worn by U.N. troops who did nothing to stop the carnage. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in his speech blamed colonization for many of Africa's violent troubles.
"The people who planned and carried out genocide were Rwandans, but the history and root causes go beyond this beautiful country. This is why Rwandans continue to seek the most complete explanation possible. We do so with humility as a nation that nearly destroyed itself," Kagame said.
SIMON MAINA / AFP - Getty Images
Rwandan women hold candles during a night vigil and prayer for genocide victims at the Amahoro stadium in Kigali, Rwanda, on April 7, 2014.
Ever since the killing spree, the world community has been forced to acknowledge it did nothing.
"We must not be left to utter the words 'never again', again and again," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the crowd, according to Reuters
"Many United Nations personnel and others showed remarkable bravery. But we could have done much more. We should have done much more," he said. He added that there were new challenges in the region and mentioned violence in the Central African Republic and Syria.
The Rwanda-France diplomatic feud escalated as Jeune Afrique published an interview Monday in which Kagame accused France and Belgium of having done too little to save lives. He accused France of participating in the execution of parts of the genocide violence.
In response, the Paris government said France's justice minister would not travel to Kigali as planned. France's ambassador to Rwanda says he was then barred from Monday's ceremony.
The Associated Press
First published April 7 2014, 12:35 PM