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After Genocide: A Rwandan Love Story

2014 February 10

By Jean Baptiste Ndabananiye and Jessica Murrey

In every great love story there’s adversity, seemingly impossible obstacles to overcome.  Often, the greater the obstacles, the greater the love story. Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde – they battled intense hatred between their clans, but their stories ended in tragedy.

Our “Romeo” is from Rwanda, and he makes the obstacles cooked up by Shakespeare or Hollywood look like an ant hill.

During the 1994 genocide, Giraneza was brutally attacked.  He spent six years in a coma at Kigali Kanombe Hospital and now must rely on a cane to walk. After being nearly paralyzed, Giraneza awoke to find out that groups of Hutus killed most of his family.

“I vowed to kill each and every Hutu who would enter my house. I bought a machete and had it excellently sharpened because I hated all Hutus,” he said.

The aftermath of the genocide caused unbearable grief and pain to Giraneza:

“I used to suffer too extremely to stand it,” he said. “I attempted to commit suicide twice, but failed; I thought I deserved to die because life was nothing for me then. I harbored too much heavy sorrow, suffering, insecurity, hatred and drives of revenge.”

Giraneza never intended to forgive the Hutus—let alone marry one, but fate had other plans.

Giraneza and his son at home

Giraneza and his son at home

To help the reconciliation process, our Search for Common Ground team in Rwanda used radio broadcastings to promote solidarity and forgiveness. The radio program Turumwe (translating to We Are One) strives to reconnect the shattered ties between the Hutus and Tutsis. Besides Turumwe, Search adopted other approaches to reestablish peace within the community, such as participatory theater initiatives and direct engagement activities.

These initiatives inspired Giraneza to embark on the pathway to forgiveness.

He realized that possessing so much animosity and revenge was an unbearable burden on his shoulders. No longer did he want to allow his hateful feelings to prevent him from enjoying life. That’s when he allowed his heart to open and the unthinkable happened—he fell in love with his enemy, a Hutu.

“My wife is a Hutu daughter of a genocide perpetrator, who killed my people and plundered our possessions during the genocide,” he explained. “We love each other extremely.”

Remarkably, Giraneza shifted his vows of hate to vows of love. Giraneza and his wife have built a bridge between two opposing populations, two opposing families, merging them into one.


Jean Baptiste Ndabananiye is a journalist who works with Search for Common Ground in Rwanda.

Jessica Murrey is the communications manager at Search for Common Ground headquarters office in DC. 

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