When Denise Uwimana made the decision to forgive her Hutu neighbours, some of the other survivors called her a traitor. But 25 years after the Rwandan genocide, she says the act of forgiveness can heal—and has now written a book to tell her storyby Suchandrika Chakrabarti / April 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Three months after witnessing the 1994 Rwandan genocide—and seeing her own relatives murdered in front of her—Denise Uwimana returned to her hometown of Bugurama and publicly forgave her Hutu neighbours.
Leaving her parents’ home in the relatively safe capital, Kigali, Uwimana took her three small sons (the third of whom was born on the day the killings began) and went back to the ransacked house she’d fled because she needed her job at the local cement factory, Cimerwa. The company also owned her home, so she had little alternative. Her husband Charles had gone into hiding before the killings began, and she never saw him again.
After returning to her pillaged house, Uwimana reflected on how unlikely her survival had been: an estimated 800,000 Tutsis like her had been killed between April and June 1994.
Her house had been emptied, even the crops torn out of her allotment outside town. The final straw came when she saw a woman outside her house wearing a dress that had been a gift from her now-missing husband. He had given it to Uwimana to celebrate the birth of their third child, and the dress had not yet been worn.
When I sat down with her, she tells me this was the violation that made Uwimana “boil over with anger.”
Uwimana’s memoir of the time, From Red Earth, is published this month on the 25th anniversary of the killings. I met her in a quiet room in a London hotel, a world away from the story she describes.
Uwimana looks petite and delicate, but she speaks clearly about her decision to tell her story: if she stays quiet, the meaning she has found in processing the horror will be lost. It is important to forgive, she says emphatically, but not to forget that Rwanda still needs rebuilding.
When Uwimana returned home in August 1994, she decided to find a way to co-exist with former friends, despite her anger. The next day, at a gathering of the villagers, Uwimana said that if the…