Atrocities and killings of innocent people marked the year of 1994 in Rwanda. The country’s majority Hutu population planned to kill the minority Tutsi population and anyone who opposed those genocidal intentions. The numbers of victims of the dreadful 100-day-long conflict in various sources differ from 500,000 to almost two million victims. What's more, almost two million people were forced to leave the country because of the warfare.
Twenty-three years after the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, tensions in the country continue. People move to surrounding African nations or Europe to escape the dismal political situation.
Finnish photographer Miia Autio met Rwandan refugees living in Europe and visited Rwanda to capture places where they used to live. “It changed the concept of home, which, to me, is now more of an idea rather than a particular place,” said Autio. The latest series by Autio deals with the displacement of the Rwandans refugees who came to seek new life in Europe fleeing the atrocities of the civil war and the subsequent genocide.
The exhibition “I Called Out for the Mountains, I Heard them Drumming” is on display in Galleria Uusi Kipinä in Lahti, Finland, until April 30, 2017. The author says that the title came from the Rwandan proverb: “The drum is greater than the shout.” In the saying, the drum stands for the former kings of Rwanda, and the shout symbolizes the voice of the people. “It means that in Rwanda, the state always has more power than the population, and in my series, I let the Rwandans have their voice be heard. After all, Rwanda's current policy denies its people their opinion, so they have to run away if they want to express it,” said Autio.
The genocide went on for a period of 100 days in 1994, but the horrors did not stop afterwards either. “Almost all my family was killed in 1997, years after the end of the war,” revealed the man portrayed above. “I fought against the government, first as a citizen and later as a politician. But they were chasing and torturing me, and I had to leave my country,” he added.
“Only bad news come from Rwanda,” said this woman, who since 2005 lives in Norway. She survived the massacres of 1994, but was later blackmailed when she decided to testify for her neighbor who had been unjustly accused of taking part in the genocide. “That’s why I fled the country; I thought I would lose my life. Today, I am a Norwegian citizen, but it doesn’t help me. I am Rwandan.”
“My mother died in prison, and my father was incarcerated, although he hadn’t been in the country during the war,” said this woman. She ran from Rwanda to Kenya, and later to Cameroon with her two little sisters. Eventually, she came to Belgium. “I was accepted here. I found my place in Belgium and even started a family here. But I miss Rwanda, and I still feel more Rwandan,” she added.
People continue to flee from Rwanda. This man said it is too hard to talk about the reasons why he left his home. He wants to return to Rwanda one day, however now he lives far away and can just list the wishes for his homeland. “I wish freedom, justice, and real democracy for my home country. I wish the people there were able to express their opinions freely. I wish we all felt safe and in peace in our nation.”
“I wish Rwanda some day becomes the paradise it used to be, and I’ll be able to go home,” said a woman pictured above. She says it was tough to leave Rwanda and now it is also difficult to live in a new country. “Once, during a job interview, they asked me to turn on the computer to make sure I knew how to do it!”
The genocide led by the Hutu population against the Tutsi people resonates strongly in the Rwandan society. The man in this picture claimed the government discriminated against Hutus after the war. “My life here in Europe is a new start. It is often challenging, but I like that the government here supports everyone, including foreigners. Here I have hope for life and the future,” he said.
“I don’t only feel foreign in Germany, I am foreign, but I feel at home here,” said the man, who lives and studies in Hannover. Despite many frustrations in his new environment and racist experiences, he doesn’t want to return to Rwanda: “I am a person who wants to express his point of view. If I criticized the government, it would be bad for me. I have settled down in Germany, and I feel free.”
First published April 6, 2017
Author: Jan Tomes
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