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Rwanda's comeback

Fourteen years after genocide, trust has replaced fear, pride has replaced pity, and dynamism has replaced despair.

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Francine Murengezi Ingabire, a happy 12-year-old, was hacked to pieces with a machete in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

Her story is told at the genocide memorial in Kigali. The building is a carefully constructed contradiction. Its subject is tragedy, yet its design – sharp lines, stalwart gables – suggests hope. That contradiction is, it seems, intentional and perfectly encapsulates today's Rwanda, perhaps the most successful and optimistic nation in Africa.

The statistics of the genocide are devastating: About 83 percent of the Tutsi population was murdered in a Hutu version of the Final Solution.

The survivors carry terrible scars – physical and mental. Thousands of women still cope with the trauma of rape. Many were intentionally infected with HIV, itself a weapon of genocide.

To those unfamiliar with the current state of Africa, Rwanda remains synonymous with genocide. Though the killings occurred 14 years ago, ethnic slaughter still dominates outsiders' impressions. That is a shame, since Rwanda is proud of the progress it has made as a nation and is optimistic about its future.

Rwanda seeks admiration, not pity. And rightfully: The people should be seen as an example of the resilience of the human spirit, not of the despair that too often defines Africa.

But how does a nation come to terms with genocide?

The answer lies within that memorial in Kigali. The exhibits construct a narrative that facilitates closure. This narrative maintains that there is only one native Rwandan people who share a common language and culture. Hutu and Tutsi are not ethnic divisions, but social classes – those labels, "Tutsi" and "Hutu" were meant to define the number of cows a family owned.

During the colonial period, the Belgians turned those otherwise fluid divisions into rigid ethnic identities as part of a strategy of divide and rule. Hasty decolonization then left the country prey to demagogues who manipulated the divisions further, eventually resulting in the genocide of 1994.

The future is built on faith: Rwandans have convinced themselves that they were once a harmonious people and can be so again. The narrative of the genocide evades certain painful details, but what matters is that Rwanda now believes itself to be the greatest country in Africa. Instead of being dragged down by despair, people walk on the balls of their feet.


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