Retracing an ugly history and emerging hopeful

As trip organizers, we thought it would be nice to begin each country segment with a relaxed city tour that would acclimate us to our new locale while giving us a run-down of the top cultural and historical sights.

What I did not realize was that in South Africa and Rwanda, this meant beginning our visits walking through some of the darkest and most shameful periods of our human history. In Johannesburg, we spent our first morning visiting the Apartheid Museum, a beautiful but painful memorial of “separate development” in South Africa. We relived the degradations that were justified based solely on skin color and re-witnessed Nelson Mandela’s long, persevering political journey. In Kigali, we hurried over to the Genocide Memorial after deplaning from a day of travel that began at 4am to make it before closing. There we walked through display after display of pictures, video clips, and written memories of the violent and brutal murders that took place the summer of 1994 when one seventh of the country’s population was suddenly eliminated, often by one’s next door neighbors.

Both experiences were more powerful and struck more deeply than I could have anticipated. The simple act of walking through each exhibit and watching event by event unfold before me, enabled me to relive the Apartheid and Genocide in a personal way, not knowing when things would get better.

My understanding of each international trauma became fuller, bigger, and clearer and that rising awareness of the injustices and inhumanities that took place, the families that were ripped apart and the pain and havoc that was wreaked was painful to grasp. It is sobering to face the depths of the evils that we humans are capable of. It is also scary to watch the susceptibility of our legal, political, and social institutions succumb to awful, twisted half-truths to the point of willingly tearing away people’s homes, children, parents, friends, rights, lives and even their dignity and hope.

Both museums ended by pointing to the future and asking us to courageously consider the virtue of hope. Hope looks different after witnessing all the ugly atrocities that have happened in our past. But it remains there for us to grasp who believe in one another and ourselves and aspire to never allow such things to happen again.

Following these memorial visits, we went on to meet with inspiring government and business leaders with exciting ideas for growth in the region through telecommunications, agriculture, education, and investment just to name a few. In the last decade there have been so many important reasons for optimism for accelerated and inclusive growth on the continent, particularly in my own mind. We are all a part of what has happened to date in Africa, and we all have the opportunity to be a part of what happens next.

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