30 Years Later


30 Years Later

In April 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda began. Looking at intergenerational Rwandan literature, one finds that not only the older generation of writers continues to grapple with this trauma
Patrick Nzabonimpa

Patrick Nzabonimpa (Tom) is a writer, poet and journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda. 

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is one of the darkest chapters in human history, as it claimed over a million innocent lives in 100 days.

Three decades on, the echoes of this tragedy reverberate through Rwandan literature. Both the younger and older generations, whether residing in the country or in diaspora, persist in wrestling with its lasting impact. From memoirs and autobiographies to historical accounts and children’s stories, Rwandan authors continue to offer rich voices and perspectives on the complexities of memory, trauma, and resilience, ensuring that the voices of the Genocide victims and survivors are never forgotten.

Immaculee Ilibagiza | Left to Tell | 2015 pages | 9,99 USD

Rwandan-American Immaculée Ilibagiza is one of the authors who played a significant role in bringing stories of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to the global limelight, with her New York Times bestselling memoir Left to Tell, released in 2006.

The memoir delves into the 91 days she spent in a church bathroom with seven other women during the Genocide, how she survived and what life looked like from a survivor’s perspective.

Yolande Mukagasana | Not My Time to Die | 210 pages | 9,99 USD 

Much like Ilibagiza’s book,  Yolande Mukagasana’s Not My Time to Die also offers harrowing firsthand accounts of survival and loss during the Genocide, providing a testament to the brutality of the atrocity while also affirming the resilience of the human spirit. 

Originally published in French as La mort ne veut pas de moi in 1997, this book is said to be the first survivor testimony published about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. 

The memoir follows Mukagasana, a nurse living a normal life in Kigali with her family, until the onset of Genocide. As a successful woman and Tutsi, she becomes a target and is forced to flee for her life.  The author recounts her experiences of betrayal, unexpected assistance, and her hope of finding her children amidst the chaos. 

Omar Ndizeye | Life and Death in Nyamata | 94 pages | 14,95 USD

In the spirit of sharing more books followed, including Life and death in Nyamata by Omar Ndizeye who was 10 during the Genocide. The book features how he witnessed the brutal murder of loved ones at a time when making it to the next day was almost unimaginable. He sought refuge in a church located in Bugesera District in the South of Rwanda. The memoir articulates the Genocide from Ndizeye’s perspective which was written with a sense of gratitude despite the atrocious and traumatic experiences he went through.

Denise Uwimana | From Red Earth | 200 pages | 11,69 USD

Themes of despair, acceptance and closure are explored in Denise Uwimana’s From Red Earth, which tells a story of how the author lost several loved ones, including her husband, during the Genocide, which was around the time she gave birth to her third son. To her surprise, Uwimana’s life and that of her children were spared by a Hutu (a member of an ethnic group that was not being targeted).

Frida Umuhoza | Chosen to Die, Destined to Live | 176 pages | 30 USD

Frida Umuhoza, the author of Frida: Chosen to die: Destined to live also recounted her story during the Genocide where she witnessed the brutal murder of her entire family, received a blow to head and was buried alongside 15 family members, only to regain consciousness and find refuge with someone unexpected. The memoir explores themes such as trauma, healing and how to rebuild one’s life after tragedy.

The depiction of childhoods shadowed by tragedy recurs in many Genocide memoirs, echoing the ordeals endured by survivors who faced such horrors at a young age.

Josiane Umulinga | Survived to forgive | 180 pages | 30 USD

The book Survived to Forgive, recounts Josiane Umulinga's childhood in Rwanda before the Genocide, characterised by a joyful atmosphere surrounded by family and friends. However, the atrocity abruptly shatters her world, claiming her mother and five siblings. The author recounts the harrowing experiences of survival, moving from place to place with her remaining family members. Despite the immense loss and challenges she faced, Umulinga chooses to forgive those who perpetrated the atrocities, finding solace in prayer and understanding that forgiveness frees the wronged rather than the wrongdoer. 

Albert Nsengimana who was 7-year old during the Genocide also wrote about shocking testimonies depicting how Genocide was prepared and executed with extreme cruelty until a mother kills own child pitilessly. 

Albert Nsengimana | Ma mère m’a tué |179 pages | 10,99 USD

In his memoir, “Ma mère m’a tué” translated as My Mother Killed Me, he recounts the story of his horrendous experiences where his mother took part in the death of his siblings and attempted to also kill him. He paints vivid picture of how his mother used to take his children to Interahamwe militiamen including his uncle to be killed.

Moi, le dernier Tutsi translated as Me, the last Tutsi written by Charles Habonimana in collaboration with French national Daniel Le Scornet, further reflects bitter history Habonimana went through during the Genocide, where he lost both parents, relatives and siblings.

Charles Habonimana | Moi, le dernier Tutsi | 189 pages | 3,99 USD

Habonimana, who was 12 years old at the time, saw Interahamwe militia killing relatives with his own eyes but lived with them and accompanied them during different attacks to kill Tutsis. The memoir shows how Genocide unfolded in Habonimana parents’ village in the former Mayunzwe Sector, Commune Tambwe of Gitarama Prefecture in the current Ruhango District of Southern Province, among other information.

Dimitri Sissi Mukanyiligira | Do Not Accept To Die | 184 pages | 30 USD

Another notable Genocide memoir Do Not Accept to Die by Dimitri Sissi Mukanyiligira was released in 2022. It features stories about the author’s near-death experiences during the Genocide and a contrast of her life before and after the tragedy. Themes of resilience and hope alongside distress and fear are explored, as a journey of healing comes into play. 

Crafting illustrated books have become essential in conveying the narrative of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to young audiences. 

Claver Irakoze | That Child is Me | 15 FRW

Books like That Child is Me by Claver Irakoze are gently written whilst at the same time captures the pain and heartache of the author’s journey during the Genocide. The words are accompanied by eye-catching illustrations by Mika Hirwa, which help bring to life Irakoze’s story for a young audience. The book includes discussion questions which aimed at contributing to important dialogue between parents and their children.

Rupert Bazambanza | Smile Through The Tears | 72 pages | 16,65 USD

Smile Through the Tears: The Story of the Rwandan Genocide by Rupert Bazambanza is another illustrated book on Genocide. Written in the style of a graphic novel, the book is a detailed account of the genocide whose graphic depiction of the events of 1994 make it suitable for older children. 

The contributions of authors born post-Genocide

Dominique Alonga | Tracing the Cracks | 99 pages

In recent times, there has been a noticeable shift in Rwanda’s literary scene, with more and more young authors, aged under 30, stepping up to tackle significant topics like the Genocide against the Tutsi. 

As the culture of writing and reading gains momentum, and young writers find inspiration in their role models, the narrative landscape is undergoing transformation.

Some of the notable contributors include Dominique Alonga, whose novella Tracing Cracks: A Rwandan Story paints a vivid picture of contemporary life in Kigali. Through the eyes of a young woman from the post-Genocide generation, Alonga takes readers on a journey of personal and communal grief and resilience.

Laurette Annely Akaliza | Wet Under the Rainbow

Another contribution comes from Laurette Annely Akaliza with her book Wet Under the Rainbow, which delves into the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi on the younger generation. Inspired by the strength of Rwandan youth, Akariza explores their daily struggles, depicting how trauma is passed down and the challenges they face in supporting their parents' healing while dealing with the complexities of modern life.

Honoré Busoro | Ikosa Ryemejwe  

Ikosa Ryemejwe by 28-year-old author Honoré Busoro offers yet another insightful perspective. Motivated by the prevalent misconceptions about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi among young people, Busoro embarked on a seven-year journey of research and interviews. His first edition, released in 2019, aimed to dispel myths and answer questions. Due to continued interest and reader inquiries, he released a second edition, now available in Kinyarwanda, English, and French. This updated version includes new chapters exploring themes such as the spread of false narratives, the importance of youth involvement in commemorative events, and the intergenerational trauma stemming from the Genocide. Busoro's goal is to promote understanding and contribute to the healing process in Rwanda.

Overall, both the older and post-genocide generations of Rwandan authors continue to contribute to recounting the narrative of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In their works, one finds not only the harrowing truths of those dark days and a testament to the indomitable resilience of the human spirit, but also a beacon of hope illuminating a future marked by peace, justice, unity, and reconciliation.