Warning Signs As We Commemorate the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

It is twenty years since Rwanda was visited by the devil. About one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered by extremist Hutus. As we remember our beloved ones who perished during the 100 days of horror, there is need to widen the scope of our considerations to cover all wounded souls in a bid to make the ‘Never Again’ slogan an everlasting reality. This requires all Rwandans to possess high levels of humility, empathy and selflessness. Any advancement of political and other personal interests at the expense of an authentic broad-based reconciliation process will only serve to drive the nation back into chaos.

During the genocide, I lost many relatives who had been living in Rwanda. Only a handful survived. My first interaction with the genocide survivors was horrible. I quickly learned to accept what had befallen Rwanda. Before I fled the country, my surviving cousin brother and my best friend, Gaspard Harelimana, had long been strangled to death by some Hutu neighbours who had been repatriated from Benako Refugee Camp, Tanzania. Why would this Tutsi survivor be strangled to death? Because he was the main witness against the genocide perpetrators in the area. Logically, one would be right to assume that witness-assassinations and intimidations were going on in the whole country. Many years later, as the Gacaca proceedings went on, similar cases surfaced and the government kept a blind eye. As a result, many Tutsi survivors have either retracted their witness statements, reluctantly negotiated peace with their relatives’ murderers, fled or committed suicide.

This is a clear sign that Tutsi genocide survivors, their relatives and friends are not happy with the Gacaca justice system and indeed the fictional “reconciliation miracle” which Kagame and his clique have successfully sold to the west in exchange for political and financial support. This policy seems to be heading for a mega boomerang. Any national reconciliation and healing process that is built on political gymnastics and power retention is doomed to fail. Tutsis are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that the RPF government is completely disconnected from them. It is obvious that power is much more important for Kagame and his clique than securing a sustainable future for Rwanda. This is evidenced by recent political assassinations, disappearances and detentions of government critics in and outside Rwanda. The country’s leaders have made it a habit to use arrogant and inciting utterances against those with divergent views, making the political situation in Rwanda almost as worrying as the one that preceded the 1994 genocide. Consequently, Tutsis are increasingly finding it more reasonable to seek alliance with their Hutu neighbours than blindly follow the government that has either suffocated them, exiled, imprisoned or killed their open-minded relatives and friends.

My personal genocide-related pain has not confined me to what happened to my family and other members of the Tutsi ethnic group. I have chosen to look at the Rwandan crisis holistically. In my opinion, this is the only way through which we can build a sustainably developed and harmonious society devoid of ethnic differences and never-ending violence.

Thus, one would be right to suggest that the victor’s justice which characterises Rwanda’s reconciliation process today is quite suicidal. You cannot have a reconciliation process that is one-sided and expect to get a sustainably healed and reconciled nation. What about the remaining 84% or so of the Rwandan population whose aggrieved voices have been muted? It is unfortunate that the Twa people are always excluded when discussing Rwanda’s past and future. Why? The reason is simple. Their population size is negligibly small. Population size matters. Shouldn’t this be a good lesson to us Tutsis? I mean, the Tutsi population is less than 14% (including Kagame’s victims so far). My opinion is that ignoring the population dynamics is not only myopic but also suicidal. Although I strongly believe that the mass killings that happened in Rwanda in 1994 targeted Tutsis (genocide), some Hutu sympathisers lost their lives while trying to save Tutsi lives. Failure to acknowledge their role does not help our reconciliation drive.

Sometimes, I wonder whether President Kagame has competent advisers. By aggressively putting pressure on innocent Hutus to apologise for the genocide against the Tutsi, the president and his government are hitting way below the belt. After all, who does not know that reconciliation is a two-way-process?
Hutus claim that their relatives were killed during and after the 1994 genocide. The Congo wars, in which Rwandan troops have played a major role, have come under the UN’s microscope. In one of the UN experts’ reports the RPF-led government has been implicated in mass killings of Hutu refugees in Congo. This is a serious accusation that has to be handled with a high level of political maturity. When Kagame’s exiled former allies, under assassination threats from Kigali, come out to cement the UN experts’ reports, the president needs to calm down and reflect.

Killing potential witnesses is not going to help. They are too many for him to finish. Assuming that the aforementioned Hutu and UN accusations are indeed correct, then there is a very big problem for Kagame and his clique. They no longer need Tutsi witnesses. After all, all these files have been kept somewhere in the west. The reason they have not come out aggressively against the accused is because they either still need to use him or they have not identified a reliable replacement (not necessarily reliable in the African context). Such kind of situations and requirements do change very quickly. Poor management of change often makes the transition from victor to victim a painful reality. Unfortunately, this may lead us to another genocide. Until we are able to learn from past mistakes and put in place a suitable environment for a genuine and inclusive reconciliation process, the cycle of violence will keep thriving in the Rwandan society. As Hutu victims and grievances are continuously ignored, suffocated and justice-denied, fight-back will be a realistic reaction. In absence of a responsible leadership in Kigali to direct a peaceful regime change, violence cannot be ruled out. Unfortunately, where violence is used to cause regime change, retaliation and other human rights atrocities tend to be committed. This can and must be avoided at all costs.

In order for Rwanda to experience genuine reconciliation, both Tutsis and Hutus must ignore power-hungry politicians and find a meeting point. It is high time we started calling a spade a spade rather than a big spoon. Embracing the RPF government’s politically lip-serviced reconciliation and national healing will only lead Rwandans into self-destruction. As long as Kagame and his clique are allowed to use our troubles as commercial and political tools, the distance between our already divided ethnic groups will continue to widen. Honestly, I do not see how relevant barring people from identifying themselves as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa is to national reconciliation and healing. This policy seems to be serving two main purposes: to show western donors that the RPF government has performed a reconciliation miracle; and to block any discussion about the current ethnic imbalances in the country’s political, financial and other spheres. It is ironic that the government breaks its own rule and uses the phrase “Genocide against Tutsi”. Basically, what this means is that, for Kagame and his clique, anything that ensures power retention and continued financial support from western capitals is acceptable regardless of its legality and relevance to national reconciliation. In my opinion, Rwandans should be allowed to publicly identify themselves with and feel proud of their ethnic identities within the limits of the constitution. The 1994 genocide was caused by autocratic and self-centred politicians, not ethnic identities. Focusing on ethnic identities rather than good governance is as useless as taking pain-killers to treat a life-threatening infection.

Every Rwandan has the responsibility to stop this drama. Needless to say, this requires total dedication, seriousness and unity. The good news is that we still have the chance to heed to the warning signs and seek to resolve our political differences peacefully. The bad news is that President Kagame, who holds the key to this, has categorically dismissed and ignored any requests for peace talks with Rwandan opposition groups. This depicts a grim picture of Kagame’s inability to learn from history. He should be reminded that President Habyarimana did not welcome the RPF/A rebels for Arusha Peace Talks out of love. He swallowed his pride for the sake of peace and harmony. Unfortunately, his assassination on 6th April triggered the 1994 genocide and rendered the signed Arusha Peace Accord useless. Had Habyarimana agreed to have peace talks with the RPF before its invasion in 1990, the four year war, genocide and other war-related atrocities would have been avoided. Kagame needs to learn from history and agree to have roundtable talks with the opposition before it is too late. Nobody is born a rebel. It is unbearable conditions that force people to take up arms against oppressive regimes.

Written by Eng. Ngarambe Emmanuel, Norway