Understanding and Transforming Rwandan Identity

In 2009 a story broke about pro-Genocide graffiti found in primary schools, it was a shock to the nation and an illusion was shattered. The dream of producing a post-genocidal generation looked out of reach, we realised we had a long way to go as a nation. The Genocide Against the Tutsi (GAT) remains a taboo subject in most families in Rwanda on all sides regardless of social and class background. This silence is dangerous, it leaves it open for negative forces to exploit.


For every Rwandan parent it is the end of innocence when you have to talk to your child about the words “Hutu” and “Tutsi” then the far more complex inter-relation between the two. In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Genocide against Tutsi we saw the children who were born post-genocide come of age, 60% of Rwanda was born after 1994, they have no direct memory of it and they go according to what they hear. It became important to preserve the memory of the awful crimes committed and the lives lost. There was a need to re-contextualise our past to promote reconciliation and national unity.


There was a program started by a young student in Peace and Conflict Resolution called “Ndumunyarwanda” the program aimed to bridge the gap between communities separated by genocide. The informal structure was very good in 1-1 situations or small groups to engender a comfortable environment to allow free discussion. In having free discussion it allowed to empathy and understanding in an intimate setting. What became apparent was that it was lifting the lid on so much pain that the program became overwhelmed. Jakaya Kikwete, President of TZ claimed that the Government of Rwanda should negotiate a settlement with the FDLR and other remnants of the Genocidal regime in order to have peace in DRC and the region. This outraged many in Rwanda and brought the spectre of re-legitimising Ethnic politics.

Aims and objectives of Ndumunyarwanda


  • To create a comfortable environment to allow free discussion of the past
  • To create empathy between communities that are too traumatised and numb to feel sympathy
  • To re-contextualise our history, to use history to unite and not divide
  • To counter the scourge of Genocidal ideology and Ethnic politics
  • To solidify a unified national identity based on common values
  • To keep alive memory of the genocide through recorded testimony
  • To provide counselling to survivors, witnesses and families of those affected
  • To teach Rwandans to be good citizens, their rights and responsibilities
  • To provide mechanisms for conflict-resolution, integration and reconciliation
  • To encourage National Service and volunteering
  • To realise Genocide-free generations for years to come, breaking the cycle of violence





  • The informal nature of the program was good for small-scale intimate settings, with 1-1 or small group meetings. This loose structure cannot work nationally when done on a massive scale
  • There is no control over what comes out on such a scale
  • It was tapping into trauma that the victims could not deal with, there were not adequate psychological support available
  • The Media called it a “Hutu Apology” they claimed that children were being made to apologize for their parents
  • Some people saw that the apologies were popular and some gave insincere apologies to ingratiate themselves with those in power, some survivors dismissed these general apologies as hypocritical
  • It didn’t deal with the underlying complexity of ethnic identity in Rwanda
  • It was a sudden change from the usual govt policy of not recognising tribes
  • It did not focus enough on the positives and common values
  • There was no follow-up to the Catharsis, this positive energy needed to be channelled
  • There was no overall coherent structure, too many ideas floating around which weren’t connected



New structure


The new structure takes into account these weaknesses and sets about integrating the good elements of the previous model with more emphasis on values. It should use every arm of government to promote the common identity of Rwandans, common values and national goals.


To counter the threat of Genocidal ideology in schools we will teach a Module of Citizenship as a subject in school with 3 stages

  1. Primary School – all pupils will be required to sit and pass this module before they leave to join secondary. Each year will have age-appropriate material that has been assessed by child psychologists so as not to induce trauma. The module has only a pass or fail, not marks, and can be sat multiple times.
  2. Secondary – Here we begin to discuss more detailed subject matter, more informal group discussions similar to the small-scale meeting of Ndimunyarwanda. The use of sports, drama, arts, music, role-play, team-building, problem-solving, to create a platform for national identity. Students will have to pass level 2 to go to university, get a job, an indangamuntu ID, passport, or volunteer service. Level 2 is similar to a citizenship test taken in UK, a book is written like the Highway Code for driving and people are tested on their level of knowledge of the Book. Every Rwandan should aim for a certificate of Civic Education.
  3. Level 3 is for Govt officials, specific to their forms and functions in their jobs. It also certifies a person in training others in the Ndimunyarwanda program, a certified counsellor











The elements that will be included will be 1 hr lectures in


  • A brief history of Rwanda
  • Rights and civic responsibilities of Rwandans
  • Study of institutions of Rwanda
  • Rwandan Values
  • Genocide against the Tutsi
  • Conflict-resolution and reconciliation
  • Individual identity and self-improvement
  • National goals and objectives


Understanding the process and impact of Genocide


Ndimunyarwanda must be based on the framework of Genocide-prevention that identifies the 8 steps of genocide. Like a disease has various phases it goes through, from infection, to incubation, to pathology, so does the genocide process. One must never accept the myth of “ancient enmity” one cannot deal with that, but one can reverse the 8 steps that got us to where we are.


  1. Classification – Tutsis, Hutu, and Twa were strictly classified on ID’s this was not done in Burundi, or any other country where these identities existed. The classification on the ID meant Tutsi were excluded from most govt jobs and the army. Removing the tribes from ID’s did a lot to reduce this problem, but there still remains an unspoken acknowledgment of them in social circles. Classification is not a problem in itself, most nations have tribes or social classes, the problem is step 2.
  2. Symbolisation – It is fine to have groups, the problem is when these groups are made to symbolise something negative. Symbolisation is another word for Generalisation, the inability to separate an individual from his/her grouping. The propaganda that was spread in the years leading up to genocide is deeply ingrained in some of the older generations. The words “Hutu” and “Tutsi” have been locked in their 1994 context, these words still have the power to shock, mobilise, terrorise. They have never been reclaimed, these groups exist in 5 countries so Rwanda cannot redefine it on its own. The Colonialists were quick to symbolise the two, Tutsi – Tall, elegant, cultured, but arrogant, untrustworthy, liars. These characterisations became ingrained and were quoted in 1994. We never changed the symbolization of these words, so 20 years later children are hearing “Interahamwe” and “Inyenzi” without understanding their contexts.
  3. Dehumanisation – this works both at the time and long-term it dehumanises the family from which the killer comes. In order to kill another human being easily the propagandists make them into animals. Cockroaches, rats, snakes, worms, monkey; you have to make the victim inhuman so you can kill them. People were told that Tutsis have tails but they cut them off at childbirth, some believe this to this day. For the Killer and his family there is also a dehumanisation that takes place, in Rwanda there is a concept of the “Collective You.” We rarely recognise individuals, we assume it is in the family blood. “That family is interahamwe” when an uncle was convicted but the rest are clean. That family is left dehumanised and ostracised for either not intervening or protecting their loved one. This is the hardest part to deal with as people are left too numb to recognise humanity and pain in others to have empathy.
  4. Organisation – this is when groups are formed to kill, this is often done in secret but the Interhamwe were openly trained. They have since been defeated but the remnants remain in DRC, the Organisations change their name but the aim remains the same. One has to create a cell structure to counter such organisations locally. Also having group discussions among local people spreads the message to the roots where it can be most effective
  5. Polarisation – this is the worst effect of the genocide, to leave a society polarised with no trust for the other side. The over-simplification of Killer and victim is what is left. The Hutu and Tutsi were juxtaposed as opposing groups, evidence in history shows they were intermarried, and had interwoven lifestyles. Having one group concentrate on farming and the other in cattle-keeping allowed for specialisation, barter trade, mixed-farming, rotation of land use and regeneration. It was only when land became scarce that the two lifestyles started to clash. Another fact is that this polarisation doesn’t take into account the ethnic, regional and linguistic variety within Rwanda, which was reduced to 3 groups.
  6. Preparation – This is when squads are created to carry out the killing, resources are distributed, and people rounded up using state machinery. What distinguishes a Genocide from Massacres is the 8 steps and state support, no Genocide has ever be committed without state involvement. It took over $1bn to pay for the genocide, it was massive logistical operation, costing over $10m a day.
  7. Extermination
  8. Denial – it was a struggle to get Genocide against the Tutsi acknowledged internationally. The West was in denial of its responsibility and complicity, France in particular has been vocal in promoting the Double-Genocide theory or simply denying it all together. The collective memories fade as time goes on, but never in the minds of the survivors, we have to keep the memories alive and use them for national unity. By incorporating national reconciliation, national values and genocide commemoration into a national program, we can build a nation more united and a generation that will act to prevent future genocides anywhere in the world.


8 steps to resolutions


  1. Classification – we will never remove the words Hutu, Tutsi, Twa from our memory but he have to redefine them. The problem was they were reduced to a dichotomy, one or the other. Multiculturalism might be the answer, fragmenting these identities into smaller groups reflecting local diversity. Promoting the clan system which cuts across both Hutu and Tutsi can be unifying.
  2. Symbolisation – we need Rwandans to symbolise new values not prejudice. Let Rwandans symbolise achievement not Genocide. The program should facilitate personal ambition and identity based on values and goals. Each participant will commit to a personal goal, will take a “victory name” and assume a new identity based on values
  3. Dehumanisation – it is important to restore dignity in those who were victims, quite often they just wish to be heard. The propaganda told them they were killing animals, but when killers look back they often say “we became animals.” Both are left dehumanised, this can be passed on to their children in the form of trauma. Restoring the humanity in all is crucial to prevent the cycle. This needs sensitivity-training in making them accept all people and life as precious.
  4. Organisation – having a network of cells that coordinate the Ndimunyarwanda Campaign, to take it down to the grassroots and undo the propaganda that was ingrained in people.
  5. Polarisation – this is the biggest problem we face, first we have to reflect the diversity to remove the bipolar nature of the situation. Then sensitivity training to bridge the gap, and finally provide a forum for mixing using Umuganda, sports, theatre, dance, drama events at road-shows similar to a national electoral campaign but with 4 events on provincial level and several more at local Murenge level. The aim is to battle ignorance with information, our situation stems from a poor understanding of biology, genetics, history, culture, philosophy, and political discourse.
  6. Preparation – we must have a plan for the worst case scenario if the threat of Genocide was to happen again, not just military but a social plan of action district by district. The Ndimunyarwanda network will act as a bulwark against genocide ideology and promote unity and reconciliation locally.
  7. The 7th step of extermination must be avoided at all costs
  8. Denial must be broken once and for all. The ICTR produced an archive that is a second by second account of almost every killing which happened. Archives should be copied to the local areas they document. These testimonies are legal documents would be a record of what happened locally and locals must hear them read out. The Ndimunyarwanda campaign as an ongoing concern would help keep the memory alive and use it for good. The Diaspora as a stronghold of denial must also be addressed, the problem of different narratives internally and externally. The two should match and Ndimunyarwanda should connect with the 20 million people who speak Kinyarwanda regionally to reaffirm their identities



Developing new identities


What is identity?

Identity is the unique characteristic of a person, group, nation or race that sets them apart or makes them similar to others.


However one must understand the difference between Identity and Identification, one is a label and the other is the act of identifying. One’s identity is made up of 3 parts, the struggle of being a human is negotiating between these 3 parts of your identity.

  1. The Id or It – this is the deepest part of your identity, the part you rarely let other people see or hear. It is the animal in you that you subordinate to fit in with society. The part of your brain that wants to drink beer at 7.am or eat a whole chocolate cake with extra cream when you’re on a diet. The It is what drives you, your rawest part of your nature. This part of the identity was targeted by propagandists, the raw anger in you. This is what we fear the most that that residual hate and anger is still there deep down. Even the most civilised of people still has this It, they just learn to control it better and that is why you cannot remove evil from the hearts of men. This look of Primal anger that you see on people’s faces is the It.
  2. Ego – this is the compromise between your It and society. You have the part of you that you present to the world, the person your family and friends know. You can’t let them see your crazy It, so you have a nice socialised version of yourself to live in society. The ego balances your deep wants and needs with those of society. When the Ego gets to big it starts to have an overinflated sense of its worth, when it is low it produces self-hatred, so it is a balance.
  3. Super-Ego – this is what society thinks of you, or what others expect of you. Identity is complex; to your parent you are a child, to your children you are a parent. In an average day one can adjust to multiple identities, father, son, brother, customer, seller, sports fan, nationalist, liberal, passenger, driver, all in one hour. The Ego is what you think of yourself, the superego is what others think if you.



Whether dealing with individuals, groups or nations one must remember the 3 parts of identity. Your raw nature – the IT, which you have to control to fit in, the Ego – what you think of yourself, and the Superego – what others think of you. Each of these has an impact on how you are as a person; your raw nature, your projected self, and what other people think of you. In redefining identity one must deal with those 3 aspects, the unresolved anger in the It, the way people behave to fit in, and what you think others think about you. This can be seen among Children of rape, when some in society refer to them as Interahamwe though they have no fault at all. In so doing we must change Rwandans perceptions of themselves, and other people’s perception of them so they can change how they perceive other people think of them. A mirror of a mirror of a mirror is how identity is structured.


Why do people hold on to old identities?


When people hold on to old identities, it is not because they love those identities but because they perform a function, any new identities have to perform those same functions or be rendered useless. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – identities are affected by their surroundings and a list of needs in strict order. Identity serves a purpose, to provide needs towards a goal of self-actualisation, so identity offers resolution to the question “what is the purpose of life?”



Identity is affected by the needs of the individual and society.



  1. Physiological – these are involuntary and indispensable, basic needs – Breathing, food, water, shelter, reproduction. The problem is when resources are held communally then one is beholden to others. Self-reliance is crucial is developing your own identity.
  2. Safety – identity provides safety, of the body, resources, moral codes, and communal property. If people hold on to old identities it is because they feel safe in them. Later we will talk about Mind-Models, younger people have open-mind models and can be taught better because adults often develop a closed-mind model. Self-reliance for resources is the key in developing individuality and personal ethics. New identities have to offer the same level of safety that old ones did to be successful.
  3. Love and belonging – identities must give love and belonging, you wonder why people hold on to tags and identities that are ostracised or discriminated against? It is because they feel love in that group and feel like they belong there no matter how bad it is. A place where you are not judged. Where you feel you fit, where you don’t have to explain yourself. Intermarriage is seen as a good sign because somebody feels secure enough to seek love and belonging in another group. So any New identity has to provide that love and welcoming. That is why the apologies divided people because some people felt they were being judged. It must be all-inclusive to break down the barriers.
  4. Esteem – once one has the basics, plus safety, then has love and belonging, so now one wants self-esteem and the esteem of others. What we have in Rwanda is a people with very low self-esteem who cover it with arrogance. Hutu propagandists worked to destroy the self-esteem of their own people, playing on their insecurities and making them feel inferior. To degrade them to the point that they could kill, to make them animals. A person with Esteem has confidence, self-esteem, respect for himself, and respect for others regardless of race. A person with esteem cannot think he’s ugly or handsome because of his nose size, or complain that his neighbour is eating too much. He/she is content within themselves, they build others not tear them down. It is not enough to remove the Genocidal ideology, one must learn to esteem themselves in order to value others.
  5. Self-actualization – this is the highest level and objective of identity, to actualise your dreams. To merge your mental image of ideal life with reality. Pre-colonial times Africans had self-actualised, they lived in tune with their environment, they had honey in the tree, wild game in the bush, you could shop in the forest like a supermarket. Then the arrival of the white man and new diseases, and a whole other way of life that made us hate our own. So now we are striving for the Western ideal, modern nations have self-actualised; where they are is where you want to be. The objective of identity is the same as in life; achievement. Ndumunyarwanda must understand that while the program has wider and lofty goals, most people are motivated by what they can get out of it. So it has to promote achievement and self-improvement for all because that is the whole point of life.












Personality types and identity


Another aspect affecting identity is Personality types, these are almost inborn and little can be done to change them, instead you can find a framework for various personality types to exist together and also get the best out of them. The success or failure of such a program requires understanding of personality types and the formation of identity. According to Cote and Levin 2002, people can be divided into 5 types.




Type Psychological symptoms Personality trait Social effect
Refuser Develops a mental block to any new ideas, he might to loyal to your cause but not open to new ideas. His/her persona is to engage in childlike behaviour, throws insults, limited view shows extensive dependency upon others and no meaningful engagement with the community of adults
Drifter Has better intelligence and charisma than the refuser but no fixed point. His/her identity changes according to the surroundings Is apathetic towards reason and facts, leans towards emotions Is not committed the community around him as a drifter, so holds no firm view.
Searcher Has a sense of dissatisfaction due to high expectations which could not be met. So they go on a quest for the truth. A large number of those who took part in Ndumunyarwanda were searchers, people often with pain looking for resolution. Their personas refuse to understand the complexities within society. They are idealist, always searching looking to answers. Interacts with role-models but cannot maintain a solid identity because his/her values change.
Guardian They possess strong personal and social values but are also fearful of change. These can be an impediment to positive resolution. A guardian should be judged on the type of values they have, even negative values have guardians Has a strong sense of personal identity. His social persona is in line with his personal character “what you see is what you get” Others look to him/her to lead. Defines other people’s identity for good or bad. Has a rigid moral code because s/he must fulfil social role before personal opinions “the Greater good”
Resolver Consciously seeks self-growth, it not just looking for answers but questions to resolve. This person plays the role of mediator, counsellor and puts people before rigid positions. A guardian must maintain a position even if it is outdated and not working. A resolver puts people first, a compromise is better than rigidity. Accepts his/her limitations and works within them. Puts people first before dogmatic positions. Maintains neutrality while being active in the community and uses his/her links for a better society. Facilitates social cohesion, helps others achieve, while achieving themselves. They facilitate social transition by adapting value systems to fit the time and needs of society.



The aim of NMC should therefore be to convert each of the lower 3 stages to 2 steps ahead. In countering Genocide-denial we often go straight to the refusers, those most extreme voices that cannot respond to reason and are blinded by hate. We also have drifters who just go along with what they heard. Or we have Searchers who stumbled on the wrong side, who meant well but we fed the wrong info. Then we have to make Searchers into Resolvers, and drifters into Guardians and Refusers in Searchers.


The volunteers in NMC will have to be Resolvers, not Guardians, or Searchers, or Drifters. During the Genocide against Tutsi, many Hutus who were killed by fellow Hutu were resolvers, we call them “Moderates” but they were simple resolvers in society. These were the people who lived and let live, the glue that held society together, we lost all our mediators in 1994, they had to die before even the mass killing could begin because they could have stopped it. Where are our resolvers today? Where are the voices of reason? This is not job but a personality trait, 1 in 5 Rwandans are Resolvers, regardless of their background, so they are best antidote to genocide. A simple 10 question test can determine what kind of personality you are.


The problem we face in Rwanda was a nation that was historically divided by kings, then colonials, and then post-independence governments. People were categorised by tribe on ID’s, groups were discriminated against, and people killed for who they were. The national identity was subjugated for political interests, group identity was defined by government and then personal identity was not allowed so that the individual mattered less. The Chinese, Indians, and later the West went through the philosophical development of thought, Africans have yet to go through that. Africans are still fatalistic, they don’t believe they can control their own lives. The names we have in Rwanda are evidence of this, each begging God to change their circumstances in some way. We have to speed up that philosophical evolution towards “I think therefore I am.” To think you are the master of your own destiny. We need to develop individual identity in a nation where individuality does not exist.









Transforming National Identity



As we said before “Identity is the unique set of characteristics that define a person, group or nation.” A nation is easy to define, borders, demographics, language, culture and economy. It is the easiest of identities to manipulate and people often follow what the Government says. Rwanda is doing well at this on a national level, but we still lag in countering Group identities like; Hutu-Tutsi, Musope-Diaspora,  Anglophone- Francophone, Mukiga-Munyanduga) and developing personal identities.


Our quest to solidify national identity can be enhanced by doing the following


  • Making NMC the umbrella organisation for national unity and reconciliation
  • Incorporating CNLG, Ingando, National Service, Itorero, civil society and other similar organisations under this umbrella
  • Writing a full book of Kinyarwanda values, common culture, that will be the basis for a module taught in school in 3 levels
  • Introducing a citizenship test for new ID applicants and those wanting passports
  • Introducing the concept of diversity, but not the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy. Regional and local identities need to fit into a wider national identity. The 18 clans of Rwanda had members of all 3 classes of Rwanda
  • Expanding National service to all people in some form, having a national volunteer corps, volunteers normally secondary graduates can go to rural areas to spread education to the masses like they did in Cuba and they ended illiteracy in 5 years
  • Using the influence of religious organisations to promoting this unity message
  • Mass-participatory events that bring people together. Sports days, village fetes and games should be a must, sports and culture can bring healing
  • Introducing a Thanksgiving national holiday
  • Connecting with the Diaspora and the wider Rwandan identity both in the region and internationally
  • Having a cohesive national brand for Rwanda, to project a unifying image we can believe in
  • Create clear pathways for the “Rwandan Dream.” This is done by having a meritocracy or clear pathways for success. Having a standardised administration exam for public officials.
  • “Rwanda Rushyashya” the tragedy of 1994 was so strong that we should have even renamed and started it over again. Like Sankara renamed his country Burkina Faso – the land of upright men. That was a major mental step forward for the Burkina. Rwanda changed the flag, constitution, laws, policy but the name remained the same. Rwanda has been in existence at least since 924 AD when it is first mentioned by Arab traders, we can’t change the name. We can add something to Redefine our nation. “New Rwanda” Rwanda rwa’gasabo, Rwanda Rushyashya. The final break with the past. New Nation, New Identity



Transforming Group Identities


As we defined identity as “unique characteristics that define an object, person or group” it becomes very hard to define this in group dynamics. There are always exceptions to the rule, like there are tall Hutu and short Tutsi, it becomes very hard to define a group without generalising. None the less we stated that people hold on to identities because they supply their needs; physical needs, safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation. In the old days when people followed their parent’s profession this was fine, but it becomes a problem when people are put in these boxes.


Nobody in Rwanda asked to be classified, the Belgians forced it upon us in the 1934 Census. They took what were social classes made up of many regional ethnic variations into 3 groups, which became tribes. Just as government classified, it can also reclassify, giving people the generalised national identity has been good but people need localised identities. The 18 clans cut across social groups, they represent the original bloodstock of Rwanda before it was divided along social and cultural lines. People must reconnect with their clans and autochthon identities. The local Hutu chiefs were dismissed in 1934, this made the people disconnect with their localities, their lineages, their autochthones. They became a new creation – the Hutu, gone was their local prestige, their lineages, their common history and their esteem.


The word Hutu in a political context was a votebank created by Parmehutu in the 50’s. Several smaller ethnic groups were banded into one new tribe that was to create a human wave that would sweep them into power. Till this day we live with the threat of Hutu extremism coming back to haunt this country, or the threat of it evolving into a legitimised ideology. This is the quickest shortcut to power to blame a tribe and get your tribe to kill the other tribe to get in power. What we call the Hutu-Tutsi question is really 4 separate aspects that merge to create this problem.



  1. Phenotypes – there are genetic variations among us, even within families where one is tall and another short. We couldn’t explain this genetic variation so we labelled them tribes. So genetic features that bunched together like height, nose, skin-tone, muscle definition, teeth, hands, all become signals of who you are. This should not matter except for number 2
  2. Land Management or Planting vs Herding – being of a particular look denoted your socio-economic activity, therefore your attitude towards land management. Historians have proved that many Hutu had cattle and many Tutsi farmed, but we are stuck with this dichotomy. The truth is these groups were not competing but complimentary, each meant to compensate for what the other lacked. Till this day in Mutara, my family gives the farming neighbours a cow in exchange for a year’s supply of food. They give them milk, meat when they slaughter, hides, ghee, butter, manure for fertiliser, they swap fields to rotate them so cows can graze. The propaganda of 94 left these groups juxtaposed, the nation polarised but instead of correcting the lies, we said the groups don’t exist. They only started to clash when land became scarce
  3. Primal Communism vs Asiatic mode of production – Rwanda was a modern state when the White man came because it had mastered Centralised Production, but within parts of Rwanda the Centralised power of the king had not reached. These areas practised Primal communism; where land resources was held communally according to lineages, you are part of a collective not an individual. Then there was the AMP state; elders, sub-chiefs, clan chiefs, paramount chiefs and Kings, five levels of government we still use today. In primal communism you rely on your neighbour to protect your land from invaders, in the AMP you rely on the state to protect your assets
  4. Majority vs Minority mindset – the question is always asked “how did a small tribe manage to rule and control a much bigger tribe?” that presupposes they were different tribes. The fact is Rwanda was a patchwork of smaller tribes, clans, lineages and bands that were under the realm of the King, not a total hegemony over a race. The Hutu were never a single tribe that was subjugated but many smaller groups that cooperated with an administration structure that lived off the surplus in return for protection. The myth of subjugation must be dispelled, the concept of “Ancient Enmity” also didn’t exist. The Myth of the Conquering Hamitic Race was meant to mirror what the colonialists were doing so as to justify their actions. Fragmenting Rwanda into smaller groups is the only way to destroy this Majority-Minority dichotomy.





Factors defining Group Identity



Group identity is defined by 3 factors in how it is formed.


  1. Cognitive definition – what is a Hutu or a Tutsi? We have certain definitions, we can change these definitions as we have in Rwanda, but the reason they are still there is number 2
  2. Active relationships – you cannot change a person without affecting their relationships to others. The saying “Show me your friends, I show you your character” is apt. Group dynamics affect a person’s development deeply, we changed the names of groups but not the active relationships.
  3. Emotional investment – people have invested decades in these old identities, that it is better to teach the young. Identities provide; basics, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. These identities have also caused genocide but people still cling on to the tags because they are emotionally invested in being Hutu or Tutsi. Emotional investment is like real investment, you weigh up the pros and cons, the rate of return compare to investment, the profits and losses. New identities are new investment opportunities but we invest emotions as well as our blood, the reward is happiness and stability.













How to change tribal identity and strengthen Rwanda


The question of how to deal with the threat of Ethnic Nationalism or Hutu Power in its various forms since the 50’s has dogged Rwanda. It was a dangerous misinterpretation of Socialism and Eugenics that spawned Parmehutu, its goal was always to create an ethnically homogenous state by expelling or killing the Tutsi minority. It agglomerated an entire economic class into a single tribe which had unintelligible dialects. What we know was a genocide in 1959 is called “The Hutu Social Revolution” the Belgians had justify their democracy with an artificial majority.


This problem can be countered in a number of ways


  • Securing basic needs for Rwandans, food, water, shelter, clean air, and add to that education, health, and other services as we have done.
  • Providing safety and justice to the local level, replacing informal structures. The informal structures within these groups remain active, elders are still elder. Expanding formal mediation and conflict-resolution structures reduces the need for these secret tribal structures.
  • Providing new smaller groups for these people to belong to and invest in emotionally. The groups were created by a colonial govt and we can create new groups which are based on the old original groups in Rwandan. Rwandan is too general, people need to belong in a locality. A Texan can say he’s Texan and still be part of America without contradiction
  • Appoint cultural leaders of regions without political power but with cultural influence, this should fragment the Hutu identity back to its original components while restoring cultural pride in local more manageable group. Esteem is what people want, the respect of others to reflect their self-respect. Removing tribes is not enough, making a national identity is not enough, we need to build esteem in people.
  • Provide new pathways to self-actualisation, the middle-class should be united but the Rwanda middle-class is sometimes divided along ethnic lines when their interests are the same. The Rwandan middle-class has to become aware of itself as a separate entity in our economic policy, media, in all policy. My grandfather’s generation just dreamed of getting old and tending to their cows till death took them away, that is the self-actualisation dream they were brought up with. Others dreamed of perfectly lined acres of crops far as the eye can see, this is the Rwandan self-actualisation dream they were brought up with. The new dream has to be qualified and quantified relative to our economy
  • Sensitivity training – we first told people to stop killing because we’re all the same, but the fact is that nobody should kill the other because he’s different. The program should have counsellors who will do communal sensitivity training in communities. In any Western workplace people undergo training in diversity, tolerance, multiculturalism, gay rights, women’s rights and this has changed perceptions in people. Or at least it taught them to be polite, the older generation which is still incubating these thoughts is infecting the younger. This would be aimed at older generations, as younger generations are broadly more tolerant
  • Immigration – we need to make Rwanda a good place to migrate to, with a pathway to citizenship for immigrants so we can fill the gaps in our sectors. If America needs 30,000 new software programmers then they go to India and airlift them in. We still have Rwandans who doubt other Rwandans nationality because of an accent, what of immigrants? Making ourselves tolerant can make this country one of the best bases for skilled workers who can plug the gap. Once we accept an Indian or Malaysian who comes and has been here 10 years and speaks the language and has children here as a Rwandan like an American accepts anyone. That day we will be passed the Hutu-Tutsi divide, there will be a sign saying “All Geniuses Are Welcome in Rwanda.”
  • Diversity is strength – as a modern nation we must acknowledge the differences in people; their strengths and weaknesses and compensate for each other. Successive governments have tried to create a monoculture for various reasons, some to divide others to unite. The problem is that it did not reflect reality and did not unite us fully. Unity is strength vs Diversity is Strength, we can have unity and diversity together but based on values. Understanding local regional variations will help formulate govt policy better, and provide unity based on values














Transforming Personal Identities


Personal identities


Personal identities are easier to facilitate once Group dynamics have been lessened, in Rwanda there is less empowerment of the individual, people had to surrender their power to the wider group and this had disastrous consequences. The individual is the basis of society, America became powerful because they could resolved the question of the individual and their place in society. It was not perfect to begin with, but in the end we saw an environment in which the individual can flourish. The motto of “You can be what you want to be” is liberating and this is because they offer the highest goal known to man – self-actualisation. When the mental dream you had is actualised you achieve contentment, the mistake to want material things hence the “4 wheels, 3 bedrooms, 2 kids, 1 wife, 0 credit” is actually what most strive for. Self-actualisation is Happiness, emotional contentment because you have the essentials, safety, love and belonging, and the esteem of others.


Personal Identity and Brain Development



Human identity is made up of 3 parts, these correlate to the 3 parts of the brain, which have different functions.


Id – corresponds to the Medulla Oblongata – the most basic part of your brain. This part of your brain is where wants and desires come from. It controls involuntary functions such as breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, adrenaline and other hormones. This part of the brain cannot be reasoned with because it is reflexive. People without a high sense of identity and character are stuck in the It, they respond to their bodily wants and desires without any thought of the consequences, much like a child. As a child you learn to suppress your desires, you learn that your actions have effects on other people. You can eat that cake that mum baked but she’ll be angry and you’ll miss dinner or worse. A drunk person exposes his id or it when they say everything they think and lose their inhibitions.


The Genocidal propagandists in 94 were trying to expose this id, their rawest and most hateful complexes were exposed; they told people they were ugly, stupid, poor, they’ll never be good enough, the Tutsi was too tricky and clever to be trusted, they had to die for Hutus to have a chance. Hutu women were told to prepare themselves because now that the Tutsi were killed they were now the most beautiful women in Rwanda. They were trying to push every button of insecurity to reduce people to animals and to appeal to their animal nature in order to uncivilise them. What we call the “Residual Hate” is this It, the reptilian part of the brain. That person looks in hate because he is not fulfilling his needs; he lacks basic necessities, he feels insecure, he feels unloved and doesn’t belong, he feels low self-esteem and feels he has no chance of actualising his dreams. That is what that stare means.


Ego – Cerebellum – this is the cognitive part of your brain. It corresponds to your ego which is your inner self. This is what you think of yourself, your consciousness, the image you project to the world. The ego is a product of socialisation, you learn to suppress the animal in you for the wider good of society. So you learn not to fart in public, or how to answer politely, because you need other people and the rule “do onto others as you’d like them to do unto you” applies. In Rwanda the sense of self is subordinated to the wider group; one doesn’t have their own moral code or ethics but what is told to them. We have to change what people think of themselves but this is balanced by their desires (it) as well as society/reality and the Super-ego.


The Super-Ego – is what you think others think of you, this is very important in personal development. What you think of yourself is not enough, it has to be reflected in reality and others have to affirm what you feel. In Rwanda, where the individual has not yet fully developed, the Superego becomes the wider group you belong to. So you have to balance your desires, with those of society, as well as your wider group and these often clash.


A well-balanced identity is one where a person’s desires are in control, the ego is in line with the superego. Meaning what people think of your is what you are, what you see is what you get. When it is out of balance one becomes a hypocrite and a liar, because your true self is not what society thinks of you. Rwandans are struggling with this concept of “what other people think of them” people will think I’m like this or people will think I’m like that. Quite often these are just assumptions, few people know what others truly think of them because people wouldn’t be honest. The reason we are very conscious of others judging us is because we judge others all the time, so we know we are being judged.






Individual identity still is based on the basic needs of a person



  1. Necessities – collective use of resources left people at the mercy of their elders, having to do what they said even if it was wrong because you’d be ostracised. An individual needs their own means in order to remain independent. Encouraging bank accounts, entrepreneurism, sports and hobbies, professionalization and local identities helps people break away from the rigid group identity.
  2. Safety – people today don’t feel the same safety they did with the old identities, hence we are embarrassed to speak of them openly. People need new identities, or more precisely they need their old identities back. Hutu is too general and has its own baggage, the same with Tutsi and Twa, people need number 3.
  3. Love and belonging – we need to be different to others but similar enough to fit in with a group. If a person feels judged as a member of a certain group, they are less likely to engage even if the cause is good. Germans avoid discussions about WWII even some 70 years later, we can never expect Rwandans to be comfortable talking about GAT. We should stress the inclusive non-judgemental aspect on NMC, forgiveness comes as a prerequisite not after the process. We cannot divide into victims and killers relatives, there are no victims, we cannot see people as such.
  4. Esteem – we need to build self-esteem in people, a class dedicated to building the esteem of students. Most parents have never told their children that they are the best and they can do anything, most parents don’t believe that themselves. NMC should provide a support network for students to succeed, to build character, and instil values that the child can take back to parents.
  5. Self-actualisation – there must be Goals, tests, objectives, rewards, titles, ranks, and certificates as part of NMC because they provide milestones for people to achieve. Setting out an ideal helps people have an image in their mind which they want to actualise.









Identity and development of character


There is an old saying “Thoughts determine actions, actions become habits, habits become your character.” In so thinking we are trying to change people’s thoughts, in order to change their actions, and habituate these actions into character that defines identity. The objective of NMC on a human level is to develop good character by habituation.


6 aspects of Good Character


  • Trustworthiness – you are honest, reliable and loyal. This reduces your conflicts with other members of society. This means you have to courage to do the right thing regardless of pressure from society
  • Respect – you are considerate of others and respect their differences. You respect the health and property of others even if you disagree with them. You respect authority, obey laws, volunteer and give to charity
  • Responsibility – you exhibit self-control, you think your actions through before you act. You are accountable for your actions and never blame others. You are committed to complete your task even if things don’t go as planned.
  • Fairness – you play by the rules, take your turn and share. You are willing to listen to others and understand their point of view
  • Caring – tending the weak in society is a sign of good character, so NMC must be a volunteer corps. How a society treats its minorities and disadvantaged people is indicative of the nature of that society.
  • Citizenship – A person with good character is an ideal citizen, they pay taxes, vote, take part in debate, do military and national service. They are patriotic and emotionally invested in their country, willing to defend it with their blood if need be.


These should be the principles instilled in people who take part in NMC.






A program for multiple levels in schools and events for society, which will focus on building Rwandans through the following process to develop character, particularly in the 16-18 year group.


  1. Team-building – this means recognising your strengths and weaknesses and working with others to compensate. NMC cells that focus on prayers and guidance within the peer group and activities to strengthen this.
  2. Instilling positive values – good values reinforce each other and become stronger over time. Love, acceptance, tolerance, freedom of person, patriotism, charity, giving, honesty, accountability, all these are positive values that go together and underpin society.
  3. Developing a purpose for your life – setting goals, developing ambitions, equipping children with tools for success. A child should be able to list their ambition when young and have a pathway for that. Service of nation should be one of the purposes, as well as personal ambition.
  4. Forming new relationship networks across social and class backgrounds. A network of cells, with mentors, sponsors, and a support system to facilitate future success.
  5. Reducing high-risk behaviour – alcohol abuse, drugs, underage sex, unprotected sex, gender violence, vagrancy, peer pressure, all these have a negative effect on the character of the youth.
  6. Promoting equality and contentment – with a huge income disparity it is easy to have separate mindsets and levels of ambition. The notion of contentment is set by the government, teaching people to value the basics makes them happier people generally. It should also advocate for the less fortunate in society.
  7. Volunteer service – every member to give 50hrs service a year minimum to good causes such as the elderly, genocide survivors, disabled, teaching literacy, promoting health and hygiene etc












Ndimunyarwanda can be a cohesive campaign across all arms of government, it can redefine our national identity, promote universal values, bring about reconciliation and unite the nation based on values. It can address the long-standing issue of ethnic nationalism and inoculate future generations from hate. It can provide a context for new identities that will help Rwandans Self-Actualisation, to help them connect with their past and resolve their pain, and point them towards future ambitions. Rwanda is a place where you do what is expected of you, if we all play our part then we have more than what is needed to succeed. We have to form a bulwark against divisionism, we need a vanguard of Resolvers who can fight ideology at the grassroots. We can reconcile the conflict of identity between national, tribal and individual identity. We can provide a framework for success, to empower Rwandans as individuals within a strong society. Then one day we can all say “Ndumunyarwanda”


Rama Isibo






This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Understanding and Transforming Rwandan Identity

  1. kalio10 says:

    Very interesting and empowering read. Hope it appears in one of the Rwandan dailies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s