Rwanda: Whom to remember when?

Certain voices clinging on the reading of Rwandan recent history through the lenses of the RPF regime of Paul Kagame continue to advocate that the shooting down of the presidential plane on April 6th, 1994 which carried Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, respectively presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, did not have any relation with the tragedy which unfolded immediately. What those who promote that view seem to be doing is implicitly try covering up the real role of those responsible for the shooting will one day have to face. Further to this pending issue, the commemoration of the memory of the Rwandan genocide appears to prolong discussions around difficult questions. That is what emerges from the following article which was initially published by Jambonews.

As Rwandans all over the world get ready for the notorious month of April, indescribable thoughts and emotions run the minds as  the horrific genocidal events that took place in 1994 are remembered. There is not one Rwandan who  has not been touched by the massacres that befell the country in the first days of this fourth month. Yet, instead of sharing the pain and coming together to commemorate those whom were lost in the tragedy, Rwandans cannot seem to find common ground on the territory of appropriate commemoration for their victims. Labels and definitions stand in the way of a joint commemoration date, be it the 6th or the 7thof April, and the war of memories impedes the recognition of both Hutu and Tutsi victims, while completely forgetting about the Twa or non-Rwandans. As the world embarks on the ever-so sensitive April mournings for the 19th time, one has got to ask: Why is it that Rwandans cannot agree on whom to commemorate and when to do so when it comes to the 1994 Genocide?

Before elaborating on such a difficult matter, it is important to note that the dynamics of the Rwandan society, just like in any other society, are those of high complexity. There are healthy and unhealthy tensions between different groups of people, ranging from ethnic, regional and political groups to poor and rich groups of people, going as far as before the period of colonization and back. So, although the majority of the media tries to reduce the Rwandan problem to that of ethnicity alone, the issue is in fact much broader and it involves more political than ethnical aspects.

Labels and definitions

Each year on the 7th of April, the current Government of Rwanda (GoR) advocates the commemoration of the ‘’Genocide against the Tutsi’’, that according to them refers to the   ethnic killings that underlie the  genocidal character of Hutu “extremists” s killing their Tutsi neighbours for simply being born Tutsis. The brutal facts and testimonies of these occurrences are there not to be questioned, rather to be recognized and regretted by all Rwandans.

However, by deviating from the United Nations’ use of the term ‘’Rwanda Genocide’’ and choosing for the  label that says it ‘’Genocide against the Tutsi’’, the GoR has, intentionally or not, excluded Hutu and other non-Tutsi victims from the official annual commemoration that now only talks about the Tutsi casualties. This would not be a problem if there had been no Hutu victims, but the exclusion of hundreds of thousands of deaths is something that cannot go by unnoticed as their loved ones too desire the space to properly mourn those whom they have lost.

Furthermore, the issue becomes more intricate when officials of the GoR are of the opinion that non-Tutsi victims were not caused by the genocide, but that they were ‘’unfortunately trappedbetween the cross fighting of the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF) and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)’’, as once expressed by the Rwandan Ambassador to The Netherlands Immaculée Uwanyiligira at a commemoration conference.

The question that arises then, is how to differentiate between the various types of victimhood and how to grade them according to which scale of gravity?

War of memories

It is therefore no surprise that Rwanda’s modern day politics of victimization have caused what one might refer to as the ‘’war of memories’’ as most Hutus claim to be victims of the genocide as well and someTutsis argue that Hutus and other non-Tutsi victims were not targeted as an ethnic group and therefore do not deserve to be included in the official commemoration services. For instance, at the memorial service of the 7th of April 2006 that was hosted by the Tutsi victims’ association Ibuka in Brussels,former member of the RPF  and President of the opposition party PDP Imanzi, Déogratias Mushayidi,  a Tutsi who lost his family in 1994 and who is now serving a life sentence in Kigali prison, was assaulted by an employee of the Embassy of Rwanda in Brusssels because he had been present at the memorial that took place the day before, on the 6th of April, and included Hutu victims. After attending the service for 30 minutes, the employee questioned his presence and asked: ‘’How dare you come here to commemorate the genocide against the Tutsi when you were in Woluwé-Saint-Pierre alongside Hutus yesterday?’’.

Also, after having held a commemoration that included both Hutu and Tutsi survivors on the 19th of April 2011 in London, members of the PAX organization that aims to bring together all ethnic groups were verbally attacked and threatened by other Rwandans who support the current Rwandan regime because ‘’it was really incorrect and inappropriate to talk of Hutu survivors’’.

When looking into definitions, article II of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as ‘’any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

In the case of Rwanda, Hutu victims feel that they fulfill the criteria as described in the abovementioned definition, notably with regards to the atrocities committed by the RPF upon their entry in Rwanda in 1990 and 1994,  in the refugee camps in the Congo and in the widespread mass killings in eastern DRC as detailed in the 2010 United Nations’ Mapping Report . Thus, in their eyes, the argument of exclusion given by the GoR is one of discrimination and leveling that leaves no room for a peaceful collective remembrance.

Also, for many Hutu victims, the use of the term “Hutu extremists” tends to be a reason for the stigmatization of the whole Hutu ethnicity. They argue that while victims were killed because of their ethnic origin, wrongdoers did not kill because of their ethnic origin.

National Commemoration: the 6th or 7th of April?

So instead, those excluded by the current GoR seek justice in organising their own marches of peace and commemoration services and have chosen to do so on different dates in April, one being notably the 6th  and not the 7thof April, because to them, April 6 is the day that marked the beginning of the mass slaughters as then Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burundian President Ntaryamira were killed in the shooting down of  their plane. In the past years many  participants and sympathizers of April 6 , mostly Rwandans, have stood on the streets of both Paris and Brussels seeking and shouting for ‘’justice’’ and ‘’truth’’ to prevail so ‘’all victims can be remembered’’ and included in the genocide memorial.

In the specific case of Belgium, this has led to the 2007 ban on commemorations on the 6th of April in front of the Belgian genocide monument by the Mayor of Woluwé-Saint-Pierre, the municipal where the memorial site is situated, after an intervention by the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs  and the Rwandan Community of Belgium (CRB), claiming that ‘’the authorization of such commemoration has been prone to cause incidents that have had consequences on the relations between Belgium and Rwanda, particularly those between the municipal of Woluwé-Saint-Pierre and the district of Kamonyi, sector of Musambira ’’.  Despite the ban, several Rwandans still gathered around the monument in 2008 and 2009, both incidents leading up to several arrests by the Belgian police. Although the commemoration protests and ceremonies have re-located away from the monument since 2010, they still take place each year.

Joseph Matata, a Rwandan Human Rights activist living in Belgium, in 2012 explained to Jambonews the reasons behind choosing the 6th of April as commemoration date. When asked why the 6th of April and not the 7th or any other ‘neutral’ date, he said: ‘’The 7th of April is not a date chosen by the Tutsi, it is a date that has been imposed by the President. He [Kagame]could not choose April 6th, because on April 6th he is accused of the crime committed against the head of states Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira. April 6th scares Kagame. There is no neutral date, one has got to choose the right date. The date on which the chaos was created must be chosen, that is to say on April 6th.’’ In the same way,  Mushayidi  in his testimony on the importance of the date,  expressed that the plane attack on the 6th of April ‘’had triggered the events that shook everything in his own life and that of millions of others insideRwanda and in the region or around the world’’.

Together as one?

And so, as the dark clouds gradually surround the Rwandan atmosphere in the wake of the annual genocide memorial services, Rwandans all over the world echo the same cries of grief and unhealed wounds, but, regrettably, this is done in different camps where the largest separation     is found in the 6th versus the 7th of April, and in memory of Tutsi victims versus all victims. Now, 19 years after the massacres, nothing points to this year’s commemorations being different. This recalls Matata’s poignant question in an interview on the war of memories: ‘’ With all the elements that we now have, can we [Rwandans] not agree on one date to commemorate all our dead together?’’. As they say in Kinyarwanda, ‘’he who lives long enough shall tell’’.



  1. Together ads one only.We will choose the date later.
    Let us remember our beloved family members,friends as Rwandans and not ethnics.
    All of them were created by God.

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