Kwibuka21 – In Defence of Memory

1994 – We remember the time, the stench, the death, the bodies in the rivers bloated and sunburnt. The dogs nibbling on human flesh, the latrines full of bodies with some pulled out alive but green with gangrene. We saw what had just happened, we all knew it had happened, but still we took testimonies while they were fresh, some as recent as the day before. It seemed cruel to ask them to relive such trauma after the event, but now I see why – people would later deny that this ever happened. They would deny what was even filmed on videotape, what they said in front of 20,000 people, what everyone heard on the radio. The perpetrators and their supports came up with the evil genius of using the genocide as a route back into power, far from being a hindrance, they see it as their ticket back into power. No Rwandan opposition party outside the Kigali Consensus accepts that the genocide against Tutsi happened, none seeks to express sympathy and condolences with those who died. Instead, they attack survivors, call them liars, and often make threats to annihilate the Tutsi population altogether. The west calls for “Democracy” which to them means “Big tribe rules little tribe” but it also means Death in the minds of many Rwandans from a minority background.

The Gorilla in the Room

Have we learnt nothing? I recently had a vitriolic discussion with a BBC journalist in Rwanda, we started about the recent documentary and we ended yelling about the “Gorilla in the room.”

He said that the Doc in no way minimised the Genocide.

I said to claim “only 200,000 Tutsi died” is minimising.

How is it minimising if it is still wrong to kill 200,000?

Then you are calling the vast majority of Tutsi survivors liars, fabricating stories of their families’ deaths to gain sympathy? It is not the same to say 200,000, if you take a table and cut off the legs it is not the same table, you’ve minimised it. You are also acquitting the perpetrators of 800,000 deaths, you have no right to overturn UN court judgements.

But it is a fact! Only 200,000 died, which is still very wrong, BUT IT IS FACT!!! If not present your own facts to challenge me.

The UN, ICTR, every new outlet, why should I go through this again? Go and google it. Besides, it went against what BBC has reported for 20 years, so even you were lying?

ARE YOU MORE RWANDAN THAN ME???? Why is your pain more important than mine?? Why can you remember your dead and I cannot remember mine??? Answer me that!!!!

We are remembering them because they were killed for who they were, they were blameless.

Why are they special? Everybody died, why makes them special? What is so special about them?

After that there was a long heated slanging match with abuse flying both ways, he poked me in my face, flicked my chin to emphasis his point, I was dripping in his spray of saliva. The hatred was primal, a pent up anger that resided deep in his soul, and mine too. I was too angry to answer him logically in such an emotional debate, I was shocked by his honesty in saying what is never said, I was glad he said it because although it is wrong, many Rwandans think like he does. It is a product of decades of brainwashing since the 50’s to blame the other for everything. To act like the spurned child who is not as loved as the other. It made me ask myself. Have we learnt nothing? That mindset is not accidental but a product of decades of brainwashing. I remember my friend telling me of the shame of being told to stand up in class at age 6 “Look at Jean, he is a Tutsi, remember this look, this is what they look like. These are the evil people who oppressed us, they can never be trusted, they are liars, hypocrites, killers and conmen, nothing they do can ever be good. Now go back to your seat!!”

Why minorities matter

All death is tragic and must be avoided but some deaths are worse, we cannot deny that. Women and children are protected, minorities of all kinds, the elderly, even animals. The fact is that genocides are nearly always targeted at minorities, minorities are protected because they are fewer, therefore, the impacts on these minorities are multiplied compared to a majority group. We remember the 6m Jews though 50m died in WWII. That is not to say that their pain is more valid, but that the pain and loss is multiplied in a smaller group. A major principle of democracy is the protection of minorities as a guarantee of everyone’s right. The logic is, if even the weakest are protected then so am I? If even a dog has rights, then so do you. You can’t just walk up to a dog and beat it, it has rights, rights to freedom and pursuit of happiness. It is not to put the dog above a human but to show humans that they all have rights. In highlighting that this was a genocide committed by members who were Hutu against Tutsi, some have twisted this, to say they are all accused. Or to say that Tutsis are remembered and not Hutus, we remember all who died in the genocide and the war, but the central lesson cannot be lost. That one group was almost exterminated by another, if we make it into a randomised violence situation then we have learnt nothing. Last time it was the Tutsi, next time it could be anyone. So, in protecting even the weakest among us, we also protect the strong. To have a sense of proportion one would have to imagine 70% of their kin dying en masse.

Genocide fatigue


There is a sad and tragic consequence to 21 years of the same message, there is now genocide fatigue in the western media. They are sick and tired of the same story, they want a remix, a new angle, to divide and conquer. So we hear the same stories, journalists now want the “man bites dog” story. That is what the BBC Doc was about, to reframe the story of the Genocide with blurred lines of “No Good Guys” The more we heap guilt on the West for letting the genocide happen, the more they buy into this No Good Guys theory. They claim the RPF controls the narrative, but this cannot be, everybody knows what happened on every hill, it is not a fabricated lie. We need to preserve this memory and integrate it in our daily life, not to have it crammed into us once a year. In Cambodia, they found that anniversaries have all kinds of negative effects and sometimes hinder the healing process. I’m ashamed to say the best parties in Kigali are the weekend before Cyunamo, we get the best liquors, finest wines, and loudest music to make us forget what is about to happen. The coaches to Kampala are full, you’ll see people partying away in Kampala avoiding the dirges of home. This is how we remember or forget our dead? There is nothing positive to take from a genocide, the best we can take out of it is a lesson, if that lesson is distorted then the people died in vain. Maybe the lives of the dead might save future generations from genocides. If the lesson is “everybody killed everybody so it was a draw” is only setting up future conflict.

When we commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi, it is not to accuse, it is not to ignore others, it is to preserve the moral lesson. Then we use that moral lesson as the basis for all our rights, to never let it happen again. We can either start at the top, list all groups one by one, or we can protect the minority to guarantee the majority, after all, we are all minorities in some way. It is to say that not even the stray dog can be harmed, not even the bird in the tree, in making life sacred we are preserving all life. If this minority feels threatened it can militarise to protect itself and survive, this has negative consequences, so one must remove the threat. In Rwanda, our dominant ideology for 35 years was Hutu Nationalism, it was aimed at creating an ethnically homogenous state by any means. They killed or exiled all of the skilled and educated people who had the privilege of education because they were Tutsi, this educated elite fled to other countries and thrived. Whoever was morally responsible for the Genocide was responsible for the consequences. They are not visible as to be blamed, then what of the Aftermath? To my understanding; that blame lies with the perpetrators. We wouldn’t have had 3m in the camps in Congo, the Bacyengezi war of infiltration with dirty war and terrorism of the masses as ALIR attacked in droves and were repulsed.

We have a mountain of pain in Rwanda, pain is felt, it cannot be explained away, and it cannot be justified away. Pain is pain, my pain is your pain, and your pain is linked to mine. We understand the sequence of events, we know all suffered, but some suffered out of proportion. In the Bible, Jesus talks of the Old woman who gave one penny but that was all she had, so she gave more than a millionaire. So many lineages died out, entire lineages with hundreds of people wiped out. What were their stories, hundreds of years history in Rwanda gone. So a Tutsi victim was not more Rwandan than Hutu victims, just that one was unfairly targeted for their race because they looked like people the government disagreed with. Neighbour killed neighbour, husband killed wife, mother killed son, friend killed friend, lover killed lover. The bare fabric of Rwanda was destroyed and they handed RPF a pyrrhic victory with a destroyed nation in ashes. It would have been a defeat if they hadn’t risen to the challenge, there are no victors in a civil war, only losers, but it is what you make of it that determines if it was a victory or false hope. So we remember all who died, but especially those who were targeted for their ethnicity, if they had been protected then no others would have suffered the subsequent pain. So the moral of the story is “protect the weak and you protect the strong.”

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