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Utah Rwandans Say Never Again At Commemoration For 1994 Genocide

Photo of parade.
Rocio Hernandez / KUER
Utah Rwandans participated in an annual commemoration of 1994 Rwandan genocide over the weekend in Salt Lake City.

Valens Musoni was about five or six years old when the Rwandan genocide began 25 years ago. He grew up in the capital city of Kigali with his parents and 15 siblings, including half-brothers and half-sisters. He remembers his parents working on a farm, his siblings bring him treats from their school. 

But Musoni’s whole world would change when violence broke out April 7, 1994.

Musoni remembers hearing on the news that Rwandan President Juvénal Habyariman had died in a plane crash, but because he was only a child at this time, Musoni said he didn’t fully understand what was going on.

“My family was really worried about what’s going to be next,” Musoni said. “We stayed home, if I remember, a couple days. Then people tried to flee from the [sic] homes because there were some attacks.”

About 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, are believed to have died during the tragic event.

When the attacks started, Musoni’s family took refuge at a church but soon it became too crowded and they had to move to a high school. When he and his family got there, they saw United Nations (U.N.) soldiers were there.

“We felt hopeful that we would be safe,” Musoni said.

But the U.N. soldiers later left and a militia took over and attempted to kill the group.

The family eventually got separated in the chaos, but an older sister stayed with him and held his hand. Musoni said his sister would pull on him to make his little legs go faster so they could flee the violence.

“That makes me think my sister is a strong woman,” Musoni said.

Musoni and some of his family members survived the attack, including his older sister who now lives in Canada. About six years ago, Musoni was able to come to the U.S. legally when he won a visa lottery. He now lives in Salt Lake City.

The 31-year-old has since met with other Rwandan genocide survivors in Utah. Together, the group organizes annual events to commemorate their country’s tragic past. Event organizers estimate there are 100-150 Rwandans living in northern Utah.

“We want people to join us and be aware about the genocide (so) it won’t happen again,” Musoni said.

Photo of vigil.
Credit Rocio Hernandez / KUER
Utah Rwandans lit candles in honor of those who died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

On Saturday, the group did a 1-mile walk from Utah Capitol to the Hilton Hotel in downtown where they had speakers including Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, filmmaker and Rwandan genocide survivor Emmanuel Habimana and Dr. Daniel Wilderson, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education at St. Cloud State University.

The event included a solemn moment when attendees held up candles honoring the lives that were lost in the genocide.

“We want also the world to remember (and) the community to know what happened to our home country and fight the genocide idealogy,” said Jean Claude Kamali, the event’s coordinator.

Habimana was nine when the genocide took place. He said he’s heard some people deny that the Rwandan genocide ever happened. He urged the audience, especially the youth, to help him make sure another genocide doesn’t happen again.

“The hatred is everywhere, but I believe strongly that whatever our differences … we can create something better,” Habimana said.

The Rwandan government marked the 25th anniversary on April 7 by lighting a flame at the capital city of Kigali. The flame will stay lit for 100 days.

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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