The “Tutsi genocide denial” debate that started with my Facebook post and later found its way into some online newspapers tells an important story about the hurdles that lie ahead of our struggle for a fully reconciled Rwandan society. Although I disagree with Dr Kambanda’s views on the genocide debate, I admire his courage to voice his opinions on the thorny issues facing the Rwandan society. It was quite surprising that some individuals chose to use offensive words against him instead of fronting their own objective views. After all, the suffocation of divergent views is one of the key faults that the Rwandan opposition and other critics often associate with the Kagame government. We need to learn the culture of debating and tolerating differing views. Remember, it is highly likely that a significantly big portion of the Rwandan society share Dr Kambanda’s views but lack enough courage to voice and defend them. These people’s silence does not mean that there is no problem. In fact, when silenced voices explode, the impact is often disastrous.

Those who have followed the debate from the start can tell that I fundamentally disagree with Dr Kambanda’s suggestion that the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi does not deserve the name “genocide”. As elucidated below, I remain unconvinced by his argument that the 1994 Tutsi massacres lacked intent and planning:

It is my understanding that even if some members of the Interahamwe were Tutsi, the element of intent would still be valid. This is because there is no credible evidence that the so-called Tutsi Interahamwe were not killing under duress. Considering the fact that some Hutu were killed because they refused to kill their Tutsi neighbours, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that some Tutsi individuals might have been forced to kill their fellow Tutsi to avoid being killed? If zero participation of an individual from the targeted group were one of the requirements for any massacres to be called genocide, the word ‘genocide’ would probably never be used as the key perpetrators would always find someone to force or bribe into the mess. In fact, denying the Tutsi genocide because some members of the Interahamwe were Tutsi automatically justifies the denial of the Hutu genocide which the RPA or RDF are alleged to have committed because some of their members were Hutu.

It is also my understanding that various influential Hutu leaders, not necessarily members of the Interahamwe group, used their authority and influence to plan, incite and implement the Tutsi genocide. These included high-level politicians and military officers. Furthermore, I believe that there was time for planning for the extermination of the Tutsi population. President Habyarimana’s plane was brought down on the evening of 6th April 1994, sparking off the Tutsi genocide hours later. Planning time does not have to be years, months, weeks or days. Even hours are enough to plan and instigate mass killings. Remember, anti-Tutsi propaganda through extremist speeches and media outlets had been encouraged and/or condoned by the top leadership prior to the death of President Habyarimana. Besides, the genocide did not last for hours or one day. It lasted for about a hundred days. Therefore, it would be naïve to suggest that the Tutsi massacres went on for that long without any planning and incitement from the top. If the people on top were not involved in the planning and implementation of the Tutsi massacres, they would have used their power and influence to stop it.

The role of President Habyarimana’s assassination in the 1994 genocide remains disputed. I agree with those who suggest that president Habyarimana’s plane crash sparked off the genocide. Whoever brought down the plane that carried the president who had agreed to negotiate and share power with the RPF and other opposition parties must not escape responsibility for the 1994 genocide. There is a very high probability that the Arusha Peace Accord would have been implemented and the 1994 genocide avoided or at least contained had president Habyarimana’s plane landed safely.

It is not surprising that a lot of attention has been given to the genocide against the Tutsi. This is because the 1994 atrocities were committed openly in front of international cameras. Additionally, one cannot ignore the role of the RPF government in publicising the genocide against the Tutsi through various channels including “Kwibuka”, “Gacaca” and international arrest warrants. This move by the Kigali government was necessary not only to heal the wounds of the genocide survivors but also to ensure that such or similar human rights violations are not repeated. However, the devil that visited Rwanda in 1994 seems to have stayed. There are claims by some members of the Rwandan community that during and after the 1994 genocide the then RPA troops killed Hutu civilians. Similar accusations have been made in connection with the Rwanda-supported anti-Mobutu Zaire (now DRC) war. The United Nations team of experts and some former members of the RPA, RDF and/or RPF have given credibility to these allegations. This means that arguing for a double genocide would possibly be more convincing than denying the 1994 Tutsi genocide.

Unlike the Hutu-genocide, the Tutsi-genocide has been acknowledged and its perpetrators prosecuted. If the genocide or deliberate massacres against the Hutu indeed took place, any reconciliation drive will be futile without listening to the aggrieved Hutu voices. In fact, unless the aforementioned Hutu grievances are integrated into Rwanda’s reconciliation process, we are simply handing over a time-bomb to our children. If the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had welcomed and tried both ethnic groups’ cases, it would have provided a more balanced foundation for the much-needed genuine and long-lasting reconciliation. Now that the ICTR chance has gone and the current government in Kigali does not seem to be prepared to acknowledge the Hutu-massacre allegations or allow any independent hearing of such cases, another round of one-sided justice is likely to take place in the near future.

However, I do not think that Rwanda’s ethnic problems will entirely be solved by courts of law and legal definitions of any atrocities that have befallen our country. We can argue for ages, agree or disagree on whether the massacres that took place in 1994 or later qualify to be called genocide. The fact is that this will never heal the wounds of those who lost their loved ones without a well-functioning out-of-court peace and reconciliation process. Disappointingly, the current government in Kigali has failed to provide a favourable environment for this. Rwandan opposition and civil society voices that would have offered constructive advice have been brutally silenced.

Unfortunately, Kagame appears to be warming up for the illegal third presidential term. He might try to “legalise” it through a constitutional amendment. The problem with this is that the president appears to be too obstinate to heed to the rapidly rising public anger and frustration emanating from his government’s disregard of Hutu feelings, limited freedom of speech and association and extrajudicial disappearances, tortures, incarcerations and assassinations. He has arrogantly managed to turn nearly every neighbouring country against Rwanda. As if this is not bad enough, he has gone as far as South Africa to provoke and make more enemies for Rwanda. If President Kagame continues to operate along this path and refuses to engage Rwandan opposition groups in peace talks, it is highly likely that the looming hostile atmosphere will sadly develop into a civil war. It is therefore important that Hutu and Tutsi opposition and other opinion leaders focus their efforts on providing Rwandans with unpretentious hope as well as neutralising any extremist forces that may attempt to use the current Tutsi-led government’s failures as a scapegoat to promote hate, revenge and other related sentiments.

The recent misunderstandings that have marred Rwandan opposition groups depict a critical need for open and honest inter-party as well as inter-ethnic debates to forge a common understanding on the key issues that they intend or wish to rectify in Rwanda once they are in power. Otherwise, staging a struggle of any kind against the autocratic regime in Kigali without a prior agreement on the right objectives and approach might end up failing and keeping the status quo or producing a worse dictator. Replacing dictatorship with dictatorship is arguably the worst outcome of any struggle. In my opinion, rushing for regime change while shying away from debates on such sensitive issues as the genocide and other inter-ethnic crimes that have severely torn apart the Rwandan social fabric is a recipe for failure. For any regime change to be successful and sustainable, Hutu and Tutsi members of Rwandan opposition and civil society must work together as a solid entity with common goals and vision. One ethnic group may successfully cause regime change, but it would not be sustainable considering Rwanda’s ethnic history. Time is now to break the cycle of ethnic violence through inter-ethnic solidarity and solution-oriented debates. To achieve this, it is critically important that opposition groups develop a culture of having open and honest inter-ethnic debates on the type of Rwanda they want to create and how. Otherwise, regime change will remain a blurred political talk.

By Eng Emmanuel Ngarambe