TheRwandan : I know you no longer live in Rwanda. How long have you been away and what is your current relationship with your homeland?
Lionel Nishimwe : I left Rwanda in 1994 as soon as the events that led to the 1994 ‘alleged genocide’ intensified. It has been 21 years since I left. As for the relationship with my homeland,the answer to that is very complex. Most of my family members are either in exile or dead.We do not know the whereabouts of others but as it stands they are presumed dead. The problem I faced at an early age was to isolate myself with Rwanda and her problems. You can imagine growing up listening to people identifying Hutu(your clan) as “Genocidaire”. With movies like Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes In April,it was difficult for me to identify with my country. Until recently, I had to distance myself from Rwanda and her culture the best way I knew how. You can tell from my Kinyarwanda-it is not fluent.I try by all means to avoid speaking Kinyarwanda. How preposterous? This is despite the fact that I can speak French, English, Swahili and over 5 other African dialects fluently.
TheRwandan : Do you see yourself as the mouthpiece of IDP? If so, why?
Lionel Nishimwe : That is too much of a cross for me to bear.However,I would answer this question in twofolds; Yes.I was privileged and blessed to go into Law School.Currently,we are only 3 Lawyers in Zambia (atleast as far as the Community knows). The two other Rwandan Lawyers are not interested in speaking out for our people,atleast not publicly. The law imposed a duty on me to speak for the IDP and refugees generally.Before I joined the struggle,the community was very ignorant where the law was concerned.They could air views but in a more social manner without any legal regime to buttress their claims. With me on the scene,we are no longer just speaking from without.Any issue we raised is supported by the law. Speaking for the IDP and Refugees requires that one be informed thoroughly on the legal regime governing these people of “special concern”.It is a meticulous job which requires time,dedication and the passion for Human Rights.As you can see from my Published Articles,that is what I stand for. No.I do not want to impose myself on the people.I know that the Rwandan Refugee Community has its informal leadership present.However,there has been concerns as to whether they stand with the people or their personal interests. Anyway,I think that I need not to be in leadership to advocate for the IDP and refugees.I have been approached by some youths and refugees.They complained to me about their undefined current status and as a Lawyer and Activist,I could not help but write.The point is my legitimacy is from the people even if some people in the leadership might fear that I am usurping their powers.
TheRwandan : What has been your experience as a Rwandan living in Zambia?
Lionel Nishimwe : Zambia is the most peaceful country I know of.Zambians are hospitable people-they have been good to us all along.As they say-“ONE ZAMBIA,ONE NATION”. I have learnt political tolerance in Zambia. Zambia has 72 tribes and yet,they co-exist.That is very inspiring.I wish my people could learn from Zambians. The other thing is “Political Maturity”.Democracy is real in Zambia.Elections are held as provided by the Constitution.Head of States do not outlive their mandates.And most importantly-in Zambia noone is above the law(not even the President of the Republic).A simple High Court Judge can challenge the decision of the President.Try to do that in Rwanda and see where your head will end up. The highlight of my stay in Zambia was being conferred my Bachelor’s Degree of Laws by Dr Kenneth Kaunda(The First President of Zambia). I had met him on a couple of occasion but that moment was very special. It is a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
TheRwandan : Could you explain the stigma your tribe experiences as a Hutu post-Genocide?
Lionel Nishimwe : It is not easy for we “Hutu”.We are born “Genocidaires” as the RPF puts it.Hutu children in Rwanda are forced to apologise to their Tutsi counterparts for the alleged crimes committed by their fathers.Hutu women serve time for their dead husbands.As for Hutu refugees,countries apply exclusion clauses in the belief that as alleged killers we are a threat to their national security.It is really us against the whole world.
TheRwandan : While the stigma may be uncomfortable, shouldn’t any group of people responsible for a genocide endure the same scrutiny and criticism?
Lionel Nishimwe : I do not deny that Hutu were involved in the 1994 Massacres.However,the international community chose to keep a blind eye on the atrocities committed by the Paul Kagame led RPF.They killed Hutu refugees in Kibeho(Kibeho Massacres).More Hutu refugees were killed in DR Congo(Congo War 1996-97). The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has so far indicted the Hutu clan only and it is criticised for practicing “victor’s justice”. The Gacaca Courts on the other have also never indicted any members from the current ruling party(the RPF).They seem to be above the law. The recent arrest of General Karenzi(a Rwandan Chief of intelligence) in the UK clearly indicated that the current regime committed crimes against humanity and yet-they are still protected.
TheRwandan : In your last piece, you called the Rwandan genocide “alleged.” You do not believe it happened?
Lionel Nishimwe : There was no genocide in the legal sense.
Here is why; “The last official government census of 1991 (to which no oppostion party nor the RPF objected at the time) had approximately 595,000 Tutsis in Rwanda with about 40,000 in Kigali. Most of the dead on display at Gisozi are Hutus not Tutsis. General Dallaire made a report on April 15th 1994 that on April 14th the RPF pullled 14,000 Tutsi over to their lines. Bernard Kouchner put out a letter on May 22 after his visit to Kigali stating that 22,000 Tutsis were alive and protected in Kigali. So of 40,000 listed in the census, 6,000 are unaccounted for. The Tutsi intellectual Antoine Nyetara who was in Kigali throughout the events of April through July testified in our trial that the FAR did not kill Tutsis and that the killings began after the RPF took the city and ordered all the people to gather in the various stadiums. Once there he said they began selecting Hutus who were businessmen, educated, teachers, doctors, students and executing them on the spot. He stated that if any Tutsi tried to protest then they were shot as well. He added that he was surprised to see that when the RPF forces entered the city they were not mainly Tutis but were composed of many Eritrean, Somali, Sudanese mercenaries as well as Tanzanians. There was no genocide in the legal sense of a plan by the government or army to kill civilians of an ethnic group-that is not what happened. There is evidence of plans by the RPF to exterminate Hutus (viz the Gersony Report etc…).We should stop using the word « genocide » to describe events in Rwanda. It was a four year war-and in the 1994 events from April through July, a war by the RPF against the government in which many innocent civilians on both sides were killed-that is not genocide-that is war-and those responsible for it are in the RPF and the Western governments and the UN that helped them.”
TheRwandan : Would you say the majority of your tribesmen take your position?
Lionel Nishimwe : I cannot speak for everyone but I believe they generally do.Why wouldn’t they?All I do is to advocate for their rights.
The Rwandan : What would you like to see happen in Rwanda? Why?
Lionel Nishimwe : Rwandans have been refugees since 1959.We have always had a “leadership crisis”.Our leaders are not selfless.I would love to see change in Rwanda based on MUTUAL RESPECT,MUTUAL TRUST,POLITICAL TOLERANCE,EQUAL POLITICAL REPRESENTATION and TRUE RECONCILIATION based on THE FACTS AS THEY WERE,not AS WE WANT THE WORLD TO BELIEVE. I believe that my Great-Grand Father Judge Pierre Ngayaboshya(one of Rwanda’s Founding Fathers) did not die so that I can live in exile forever. My children deserve to be raised in their country.
TheRwandan : What is the future of Rwanda?
Lionel Nishimwe : We(the youths) are the future of Rwanda.Let me borrow these great words; ” The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. “-Albert Einstein. Rwanda has lived to see a series of tragic events,some allegedly planned and others beyond circumstances. In its strictest definition,democracy has been inalienated in the land of a thousand mountains for over four decades. This is why it is not surprising to see how complacent ordinary Rwandans have become where the political future of their country is concerned.Their minds have been inculcated with a submissive mentality. In modern Rwanda,the State machinery is marred with political patronage,nepotism and some sources have indicated that Rwanda is on a verge of ‘kleptocracy’. As the youths(future leaders),we must study our history and see how best we can work together. I denounce ethnic politics.We must see our difference as richess/a strength as opposed to a source of conflict.Tutsi,Hutu or Twa we are all Rwandans and we deserve to live in Rwanda where we will be availed with equal opportunities. Rwanda is bigger than one tribe.
Lionel Nishimwe is a Lawyer,Researcher and Politician currently holding a Bachelor’s Degree of Laws(LLB). I am fluent in three international languages, namely English, French, and Swahili. Born in Gisenyi/Nyundo/Rwanda in 1992 to Hutu parents. I became a victim of the 1994 Rwandan Massacres, and I have lived most of my life in exile. In 2011, I enrolled for a Bachelor’s Degree of Laws (LLB) at Cavendish University Zambia, where I successfully completed the Degree Program in December 2014. I was attracted to law school by my passion to find the truth from a sober perspective. I am an ardent reader of legal novels and also love watching legal documentaries, series, and movies.