69 years ago this week the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 20 years ago this year Rwanda collapsed into genocide. One might not outright compare the two tragedies, but the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, who operates in Rwanda, organized a weeklong peace event to show the personal connection between both countries, and strengthen the relationship. The event was held at Amahoro Stadium, an apt choice as Amahoro means “Peace” in Kinyarwanda.
The exhibition about the atomic bombings was complete with informative posters, a life-size model of the bomb “Little Boy” that was dropped over Hiroshima, a map of Kigali to show what would have been destroyed by it, and a station to fold paper cranes, with posters explaining the story of Sadako.
The other component of the weeklong event was to connect Japanese people to Rwandans. On August 7th, a Hibakusha from Hiroshima, named Sadao Yamamoto, and a Rwandan survivor, Karasira Venust spoke together. The trip to Rwanda is hard to make for the elderly Hibakusha whose average age is 79, but they were able to connect on Skype. Yamamoto told his testimony to the audience in Kigali, and in Japan and than Mr. Karasira gave his. In 1945, Yamamoto was 14 years old and a sophomore at the 2nd Hiroshima Prefectural Junior High School. At the time, students freshman and higher, at the demand of the military, were working in factories or other military services. There were catch up classes held even during summer vacation, so Yamamoto san was going to school and working in building demolition at the same time. They were working to make the roads bigger in case of air raids and fire bombings so the roads would be wide enough to be a firebreak. Yamamoto was supposed to be in school on August 6th, but the day before there was a decree that even extra classes would cease, and the students would be assisting the war efforts full time. Yamamoto’s teacher received instructions to send his students to the Eastern parade ground, to weed the potato fields. First-year students were in a location 500m from the would-be hypocenter, and 2nd year students were sent to 2.5km from the hypocenter. This was the difference between life and death. The sophomore gathered in the east parade ground, four teachers led the other students to the other location. They were never heard from again.
The Enola Gay, was preceded by three aircraft from the south. Now it is known this was the surveillance detail, but then they thought it was nothing serious because the number of planes was small, and the air raid warning alarm had already been canceled an hour earlier. Yamamoto witnessed the Enola Gay reverse suddenly. At that instant he was blown away by the intense hot air along with the sound of an explosion. When he got up he noticed a giant pink fire burning bright in the direction of Hiroshima station. He thought the bomb must have been dropped on Hiroshima Station, but without much contemplation, he and some of his friends escaped to Onaga Shrine in the mountains. His face was badly burned by the bomb’s searing light. When he arrived at the shrine, he was treated with the tempura oil, which at the time was thought to be good for burns. He took refuge in the valley of the shrine until the fires in the city subsided. He made it back to his home the next day, and while it was badly damaged, his family had survived.
After Yamamoto spoke, it was Mr. Karasira’s turn. After offering his apologies to Mr. Yamamoto for his sorrowful experience. He then reminded the audience that in fact the two conflicts were very different. America dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, but in Rwanda, Rwandans killed each other. “In 1994, I was in my 40s, so my memory is not that of a ten year old,” he said. He explained to Mr. Yamamoto a bit about the history that led to the genocide, and how Rwandans all had ID cards that stated their ethnicity, and the Hutu powered President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. His assassination caused the massacres to start. When the genocide began, Karasira had taken refuge at Kicukiro Technical School, where the UN were protecting them. However on April 11, the UN abandoned them to fend for themselves. The refugees were so desperate for them to stay, they laid down in the road to tried and block their departure, but UN “Peace Keepers” shot in the air to get them out of the way. They were told that the local police would protect them, but those very same police came to arrest them and rounded them up at the nearby Sonatubes factory. From Sonatubes, they were relocated again to Nyanza in Kicukiro, where many were killed along the way. Then again they were sat down, the guards had a short meeting, and the group was then asked, “If anyone among you is a Hutu, please come out with your Identity cards.” Very few had their ID cards with them. After that exercise, they said, “start the work.” “We were killed using all kinds of killing machines up until late in the night.” “We were around 4,000 people, less than 100 survived." Karasira lost his arm in the massacre, “If and only if RPF patriot soldiers in the next early morning hadn’t come to rescue us, than me and the others wouldn't have survived. I’m telling you that we survived few of us survived, but we thank god, and those brave RPF soldiers that we did. We are trying to work hard, as you mentioned on your side that those who survived the tragic atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are working hard. Japanese worked hard, and Rwandese are also working hard. We are taking the same hard working way, so that we can rebuild our country as you did. We thank you very much for your example."