Memories around the Rwandan genocide

Ambrose Nzeyimana

By Ambrose Nzeyimana

It was mass murder leaving barely a trace. Judi Rever 

Memories resist the weight of time only when they are protected. Twenty-nine or twenty-five years constitute a significant fraction of somebody’s life. It might not be so in the history of a nation where a sincere and positive fundamental change is lacking. Since October 1st, 1990 when the Rwandan civil war started, and April 6th, 1994 when the former president Juvenal Habyarimana was assassinated by president Paul Kagame, Rwanda has experienced societal tragedies of profound and transformative nature. They have radically been impacting and mortgaging its foreseeable future forever. The resulting picture for the average Rwandan living close to the poverty line hasn’t been squarely pleasant, whatever the angle one looks at it from.

Within the considered period of time, memories about what objectively happened and that have stuck are those that became officially safeguarded. Similarly, they have been kept alive through the will of the political power in place. On the other hand, memories that have been insecurely guarded in the minds of the majority of Rwandan people have been fading away with the passing of years. It could be said that such an outcome is partially to be blamed on the holders of those memories and the ignorance surrounding the importance of their preservation. Another reality is that those with such memories have been targets of the authoritarian regime of Kigali, harassed or killed, particularly when they voiced them out publicly. 

In Rwanda, selective memories and sometimes fabricated ones have been, year after year, politically enforced officially in the minds of a particular segment of the population. The concerned category consists of young Rwandans, born in the early 90s and immediately after, who are without any recollections of a different past to refer to. In one respect, this could’ve been beneficial if historical references they have been forcibly exposed to bore the seeds of a harmonious future for everyone. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The official narrative of what happened feeds instead into the ingredients of future tragedies, negating Hutus’ experiences of victimhood and politicizing Tutsis’ sufferings.

It is understood that the process of having and preserving memories fills a psychological void, that needs filling to enable people to function relatively normally, however subjective that normality could look like. When there is an imposition of particular memories, such enforcement operating to chase existing and embedded ones, this results somehow in conflicting situations in the people’s psyches. And that disturbs to some extent their normal operating. The dichotomy between pre-existing memories and those enforced upon people creates discomforts and dysfunctions in their mental wellbeing. Uncertainties become the ground for their permanent fears. Sometimes the victims are not objectively conscious about that state of constant fear, because it has become the loop through which they relate to their surroundings. Fear and uncertainty emerge then as defining aspects of the normality of life for Rwandans.

Despite the complexity and the frightening character of what happened during and since those years, partial truth has over the time revealed itself worse than a complete lie. That Hutu extremists operating with infiltrated RPF agents systematically massacred approximately five hundred thousands of Tutsis, for only being who they were, nobody reasonable can deny that reality. That RPF’s operatives methodically and discreetly killed a bigger number of Hutus because of who they were, this does not diminish the genocidaire intentions of its operations. Twenty-five years after 1994, Tutsi and Hutu survivors continue living their victimhood differently, the former being widely acknowledged, while the latter remains totally and institutionally denied. 

However, the denial that affects the genocide committed against Hutus does not remove the fact that it happened. Judi Rever, in her book ‘In praise of blood: the crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,’ (2018, p.4) explains one of the many methods RPF used to cleanse Hutu populations from entire regions of the country. 

“In areas seized by the RPF or already under its control, its soldiers and intelligence agents (led by Kayumba Nyamwasa, former Military Chief of Staff of president Kagame and living protected by the South African government at the time of the writing of this note) worked with similar zeal (as the Hutu militia Interahamwe, responsible of most of the killing of Tutsis in areas then controlled by former prime minister Jean Kambanda’s government from April 9th, 1994 to the fall of Kigali on July 3rd, 1994), but they were more discreet: they cordoned off areas and killed Hutus secretly, with great precision. They operated mobile death squads, massacring Hutus in their villages. They brought large groups of Hutus to areas where NGOs and the UN agencies were not permitted to go. Under the cover of night, they transported displaced Hutus by truck, killed them, and burned their bodies with gasoline and gas oil. These atrocities took place mainly near Gabiro, a military training barracks in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. Portions of the park became outdoor crematoriums, and human ashes were spread in its lakes. It was mass murder leaving barely a trace.”

The Rwandan president Paul Kagame was a rebel leader twenty-nine years ago. His methods of getting into power in July 1994 privileged and caused the Rwandan genocide. A few years later in 1996/97, he added the Congolese and Hutu refugees’ genocides (the 2010 UN Mapping Report attests of a genocidaire nature the massacres committed between 1993 and 2003 against these populations by Kagame and Museveni forces) to his sinister record. US, UK, Canada, Israel, western conglomerates and similar entities enthused by global dominance need African leaders like Kagame to achieve their national or institutional greedy interests. These interests don’t care how many lives are sacrificed to achieve them, as long as the death toll does not include Europeans. The picture appears to be a different version of the slavery of past centuries where millions of black lives were drained of their humanity for the good of European powers of that time. Countries and multinationals interested in the minerals of the Democratic Republic of Congo might continue to support Paul Kagame until his usefulness ends. In the meantime, Tutsi, Hutu, Twa and Congolese survivors of the genocides he and Museveni orchestrated against their people, must at all costs preserve the memories of what happened to them and their loved ones. They should continue to remember in order to move on harmoniously, live lives worth living, and possibly seek a better future for their respective countries.