1957-1994: Rwanda’s 37 years of darkness

For 37 years, Rwanda belonged to a small group of selfish and extremist ideologues who only cared for their own narrow interests.

It has been 28 years since Rwanda emerged from the darkness of the Genocide against the Tutsis. Prior to the full-blown genocide in 1994, the country had spent more than 37 years in opaque darkness in which only a few Rwandans could really say that they had a country of their own. The tragic history of our country is a long process that started a few years before independence, with decades of dehumanization and anti-Tutsi pogroms following.

The Bahutu manifesto laid the foundation for the genocidal project. Two years later in 1959, Joseph Habyarimana Gitera issued the Hutu Ten Commandments. Only two months afterwards, the first massacre of the Tutsis took place on All Saints’ Day: Men, women and children were massacred under the pretext of a revolution. Thus, the exile of the Tutsis began. From then onwards, a Tutsi child ceased to be regarded as humans like any other. S/he was called the child of a snake or a cockroach. To dehumanise him/her, s/ he was described as a dangerous reptile, an insect even. Insults in metaphors were heaped on Tutsi children, such as “Akanyu ntigahera”, a very pejorative Rwandan expression which means that Tutsis are inherently bad and thus will always be bad. This was already the construction of the genocidal ideology. Tutsi children were subjected to physical and psychological trauma in order to push them to drop out of school. In the classrooms, a distorted history of Rwanda was inserted into the curriculum. It depicted Tutsis as invaders who had oppressed Hutus for centuries. This falsehood was used by the teachers to justify the humiliation of Tutsi children and ultimately enthrone the genocide ideology in schools. The teachers separated their pupils into Hutus and Tutsis in class. Then, the Hutu children were incited by the teachers to boo their Tutsi comrades. Sometimes, children did not know what ethnic group they belonged to, so they had to bring their parents to school the next day to clarify their situation. This way racism was taught to children in schools.

In 1959, thousands of Tutsis were deported to Bugesera, in a park full of wild animals and Tsetse flies, and many did not survive. For this reason, anyone from Nyamata, a town in Bugesera, was presumed to be a Tutsi. It was said that marrying a girl from Nyama- ta was bad luck. Many of us still remember a checkpoint set up on that dusty road between Nyamata and Kigali, to search and control anyone who left Nyamata. Even today, the place has kept its name: “À l’arrêter”, a name that shall remain for educational purposes. To devalue Tutsi girls, they were nicknamed “Munagajosi” (meaning that they are unable to run a household because they are lazy). These are some of the very few examples of how the minds of ordinary Rwandans were prepared for decades to carry out the extermination of Tutsis.

As a result of this age-long dehumanization and successive massacres, Rwanda has consistently produced refugees since 1959. The properties of these refugees and those of internally displaced Tutsis were distributed to the population, thereby rewarding those who had participated in the killings and the persecution. From 1990 to 1994, the Hutu Ten Commandments of Gitera were revised, better structured and published by an extremist newspaper, Kangura. This bible of hatred combined with an extremist radio, RTLM, taught anti-Tutsi hatred and incited people to participate in the genocide.

We have a saying in Rwanda: “When you tell your child to hit the one he doesn’t like, he hits the one who shares food with him”. It is as simple as that. The genocidaires massacred fellow Rwandans. The genocide started in 1959 and reached its climax in 1994. Genocidaires sought to exterminate Tutsis. They also killed Hutus who opposed this diabolical plan like the courageous Agathe Uwiringiyimana, Sister Félicité and others. Yet the killers and their victims were all Rwandans. They shared the same language, culture and traditions.

For this to never happen again, parents have a huge responsibility. A parent can teach his or her children a bad ideology as well as a good one. He or she can teach hatred of the “other” or teach love. But sadly, those who tore Rwanda apart and never regretted it can only teach their children to hate this new Rwanda. Therefore, the children also have a responsibility to decipher the truth from the falsehood.

As an illustration, after a lecture I gave in Berlin on the horrors that took place in my country, a man stood up and tearfully asked me for forgiveness. I asked him why, and he said: “My grandfather was a Nazi. But we only found out about it from his carefully kept papers. We only knew about it after his death. But for us, he was a wonderful and very kind father and grandfather.” When I told him that his grandfather had not killed Tutsis, he replied: “I understood that the ideology used by the Nazis was the same as the one used for the extermination of the Tutsis.” Fortunately for his generation, he does not defend the crimes of his grandfather. Instead, he denounced the Nazi ideology.

For this reason, I believe that Germany should serve as an example for Rwandans who feel this irrepressible urge to defend their parents’ crimes. It is normal and encouraged to love your parents. What is incomprehensible is to defend the crime they committed. Some of these young people have formed associations to defend evil instead of fighting it. By doing so, they have made this evil their own. They forget that one day if it is not their children, it will be their grandchildren who will hold them to account.

There is hope, however. Indeed, the largest number of participants in the genocide against the Tutsis were the youth. What gives hope is that another group of young people stopped it. These young people sacrificed their youth, their futures and their lives, and flew to the rescue of their compatriots. Many of them had spent their lives in exile and had never seen Rwanda. But they were generous and fought valiantly while easing the desolation and leading the reconstruction of a shattered nation.

The RPF was made up of young people. Let them serve as an example to the youth. They had confidence in themselves and were convinced of what they wanted for their country. Most importantly, they were united and had a visionary and purpose-driven leadership. These are probably some of the reasons why they were able to win the war against a genocidal government that had the support of foreign powers, even the UN. Their success is also due to the education of their parents who taught them to love their country above all else.

Yes, for 37 years, Rwanda belonged to a small group of selfish and extremist ideologues who only cared for their own narrow interests. Today, I would say, without any fear of being mistaken, that Rwanda belongs to all Rwandans again.

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