Changing the narrative

It is amazing to think the Genocide Against the Tutsi happened 27 years ago, it just seems like yesterday, children have been born and now have families in that time. Yet we still find ourselves answering the same questions from doubters, the stories of survivors are dismissed with disdain, and we find the same repetitive debates going on. The fact is – whoever controls the narrative has the upper hand and wins the day, one cannot expect the truth to be obvious because some people benefit from twisting the truth. We still see the same counter-narratives used to undermine our collective memory. There are 4 main arguments used and first we must be able to recognize them so we can counter when they are used.

The Domino theory – this claims that the downing of the plane of Habyarimana caused random collective violence because the people were angry that he had died and started attacking their Tutsi neighbors. The crux of this is to say “whoever downed the plane is therefore responsible for the Genocide against Tutsi.” For years we argued over this, we needed a French judge to do a forensic investigation to disprove that the RPF did it. Even that was no enough for many. The lie is that the Tutsi were responsible for their own demise, in that they killed a president and this caused spontaneous anger in the populace, that it was their fault. This ignores the fact that death squads were trained for years before, machetes were handed out long before, and lists of people to be killed were also drawn long before the plane went down in Kanombe. It ignores the fact that many in the inner circle of the Government at the time saw Habyarimana’s signing of the Arusha Accords as a major betrayal, one punishable by death. The hate radio RTLM was spewing hate in preparation for a long time, and all the 7 stages of genocide were followed like the pathology of a disease.

The Numbers Game

This tactic seeks to muddy the waters about the numbers involved, different news outlets use different totals for the victims and this often reflects how much they believe in the truth. The true number is over a million, some say 800,000, and some go as low as 500,000, the effect of this is to place doubts in the minds of the public. Then deniers claim that there weren’t 1,000,000 Tutsi in Rwanda at the time, often citing ethnic census data that has been doctored. The perverse point is that they accept Tutsi were killed, just not that many as claimed. The effect is to sow doubt, if the numbers are wrong then the narrative is also to be questioned. When one gets caught up in the numbers game you fall into the never-ending trap of scope vs scale, the utter cruelty inflicted on the Tutsi gets lost in the statistics.

Everyone was targeted, not just Tutsi

In calling it “the genocide against the Tutsi” we had to acknowledge the target group, like the Shoah or Holocaust the lesson must be the truth. We still admit that the Interahamwe also killed Hutus who disagreed with their aims and purposes, but they were not the main target. The aim is to paint the Interahamwe as equal-opportunity killers and not genocidaires. Once you accept this argument it opens up part 2 of the strategy, to claim that this was just chaos and disorder, not targeted killing of a group of people. This is, once again, to ignore the assembly, arming, training, indoctrination and activation of the Death Squads. This is where nomenclature is very important, to call it “The Rwandan Genocide” is a form of denial in itself, a genocide has to have a targeted ethnic group, otherwise it means nothing. So while stressing “Genocide against the Tutsi” can seem pedantic, it is crucial because even children of the perpetrators now claim to be victims and use the language of victims to elicit sympathy. BBC play the word game with sentences like “The Rwanda Genocide, in which some 800,000 Tutsi were killed” why not just say it then?

Double-Genocide theory

In all the rigorous studies of the Genocide Against the Tutsi (GATT) there has never been any evidence given of a Tutsi taking a machete to kill his Hutu neighbors in ethnic hatred. They were outnumbered and it would only bring more violence of themselves and their family. Yet people claim there was a double-genocide. Even in cases when Tutsi fought back like in Bisesero it is taken as a sign that both sides engaged in killing. RPF had always distinguished themselves by their superior discipline, even their enemies said that. They ignore the fact that the FAR used civilians as human shields at the time, that they forced a third of the population to flee to camps in Congo, and then claim that deaths from cholera should be included in the sum total of genocide victims. They often try the Bait and Switch to claim they are the real victims, the numbers are doctored, or it’s all a lie. This narrative took hold because it assuages the guilt of the West for the failure to act in time to stop it, if it was a mutual massacre then they are not responsible and it’s just African savages being savage.

One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic

This is a quote by Josef Stalin, one of the worst psychopaths in history, but it is nonetheless true. People need to know the humanity of a person to identify with their pain or it’s just a number. That is why Anne Frank stands out among the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, she is a 3 dimensional human being, she had a personality we could identify with, and she was like many girls her age. So when she died it affects us more, and we feel as if we know her. We need to paint a human picture of the 1 million victims, don’t get caught in the numbers game, we need to focus on the scope and not just the scale of the violence. Our greatest weapon against genocide denial is the testimonies of victims and survivors. It is painful for them to relive and retell their tragic stories but very necessary. The wall of memory will protect us because Survivors have real legitimacy that cannot be easily questioned, where they lead, Rwandans follow. Memory fades with time, we need to digitally record these memories before age and time make them fade. People don’t really understand what happened in 1994, it was horrific beyond words, every survivor’s story reads like an Oscar-winning script. The little serendipities that led to their survival, the accidents of fate, and the guilt of surviving while your family died, all this must be recorded but in a safe way with professional psychologists present.

My mother, the killer

One of the hardest books to read is Ma Mere ma Tue or “My Mother Killed me” about a survivor whose mother was Hutu and father Tutsi, but she became indoctrinated in extremist Hutu ideology. She had her husband and 7 children killed, one child, the author, survived to tell the tale. Even a snake or crocodile looks after its young, it goes against every human instinct to kill your own children, so you can only imagine how virulent this hatred was. His mother was unrepentant till the day she died in prison more than a decade after, she told him that her only regret was not killing him when she had the chance. The stories are so tragic, imagine hiding in the roof and your four year old brother can’t control his bladder, so he peed and droplets fell on the killers below and they realized it wasn’t rain but urine. He was caught and killed badly. Imagine hiding in a hole only to discover there is a giant python in there, but the monster python is not as scary as the killers chasing you so you stay quiet. Imagine being saved as a 12 year old girl only to be raped as a sex slave for 3 months. Imagine bearing a child of rape and even though their face reminds you of the rapist, but your heart still loves them because they are also your flesh and blood. These are the kind of stories that almost every survivor went through and even worse. We should be helping to get these stories edited, published and translated for the world to know. The stories are tragic but they end with redemption, with catharsis and renewal. We need a full-time publishing company dedicated to this project, to get as many books out there, one or two is not enough, we need to out-publish the deniers and flood the market.

The Hollywood treatment

Images are the language of the brain people never forget what they see and it becomes imprinted. I remember the first time I watched Hotel Rwanda, I was disappointed but I shrugged, at least someone had tried to make a movie about our Genocide but we have seen the consequences of the movie. It is one of the first things you see when you Google Rwanda, all the lies are now calcified in the minds of Western viewers. For many in the West it is the Gospel truth, it has bought Paul Rusesabagina the benefit of the doubt despite the mountain of evidence against him. The movies which followed were not much better, all are shot from the ‘white gaze’ with no relation to the facts on the ground. In Shooting Dogs you are made to feel sorry for the dogs being shot more than the Tutsi victims, this is because movies have taught Western viewers to only feel sympathy for white people, Africans are less than human. We have no excuse, we should have made world class movies from our own perspective now, not for a Western audience but for us and with world class production values. We need to commission a documentary costing $1-2m that can do a 12-part series on the Genocide Against the Tutsi, and it has to be good enough for History Channel or Discovery, that level. A forensic deep dive into the Genocide against the Tutsi, at least 12 hours of production with all the relevant protagonists interviewed, unseen footage, testimony of ordinary people and it has to be the definitive documentary on the GATT. After WWII Churchill didn’t wait the historians and went on to write a deeply detailed History of WWII in several volumes and it was definitive in setting the agenda going forward. Rwanda needs to use the tools of the West to change Western perspectives on the GATT, we can take control of the narrative but we first need it codified. We should also make the records of Gacaca testimony available online. We need to have a digital archive of testimony, we need books published online, and we can even have radio station dedicated to fighting genocide ideology full time.

That dirty look

There are times when you go upcountry to isolated places where no one really visits, the people are glad to see you with their teeth gleaming like fluorescent bulbs smiling, but you see that one guy giving you the dirty look. That look that still screams hate, that look that says “I’d slit your throat if we were alone” that look of unending hatred that says “that was just the first round” and you shudder. You can sometimes get it from a child and you know they were taught to hate. Even though 99% were welcoming and glad to see you, you only remember the dirty look and you wonder if others just learned to hide it and maybe he’s the honest one. We must remember Hatred was taught in schools for almost 40 years, along with Mathematics, Biology, physics and French, you had Hatred 101 in every school. So we must teach love, we must teach Civics and how to be a citizen, we must also teach a unifying history that builds our nation and not one that divides us. We have to be able to fight off Radicalism before it takes hold, the pathology of Extremist ideological thought is like that of disease, it is spread person to person, and it relies on certain factors to help it spread.  We have come so far from the days of mass murder, our rate of development is testament to that, but we must stay vigilant and speak out when we see denial in all its forms.   

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