The RPF and Moral Legitimacy

As the RPF appeals to the offspring of genocide perpetrators to dissociate themselves from the crimes of their parents, those who seek to demystify the RPF make the opposite appeal, calling on them to justify the actions of their parents and to even defend their “honour.”

The RPF’s greatest achievement is that it stopped the genocide against the Tutsi amidst international indifference to the killing of over a million men, women, and children. This was the moral basis of its claim for power in 1994. However, the RPF itself has never made that claim. It says that its legitimacy is derived from putting in place a competent and accountable state that is committed to the greater good. Its opponents do not address themselves to this source of legitimacy. Instead, they are convinced that to defeat the RPF, it is essential to demystify its greatest achievement in the eyes of the majority of Rwandans. Here’s why. 

Having stopped the genocide against the Tutsi in the context of international indifference, the RPF could assert its moral right to preventing the occurrence of another genocide. The general indifference made it difficult to convince the RPF and Rwandans that they could rely on anyone but themselves to ensure that there could be no recurrence. 

As a result, the RPF has made sectarianism as a basis for political organisation a no-go area in Rwanda. Sectarianism was the ground on which the road to genocide was laid. If the consultations that informed the framing of the post-genocide constitution are anything to go by, the vast majority of Rwandans agree with the RPF that this would be a dangerous path to take. This can also be seen in the pressure against government to “do something” whenever would-be politicians or political activists take to sectarianism-laced political discourse as some do on YouTube. 

Here is a predicament, however. Given that stopping the genocide is the RPF’s moral centre of gravity, those who seek to remove it from power know that this is what they must destroy precisely because they cannot make an equally potent counter claim in their pursuit of political power. 

If you can’t outcompete the RPF on the moral plane, you are left with only one option: destroying the ground on which it stands. The double genocide conspiracy aims to do just that. It is a classic case of trying to trade places. 

The claim that there were two genocides aims to create a moral equivalence between the RPF and perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi. It is supposed to culminate in the claim that given both sides killed, neither can claim any moral pedestal. Further, it seeks to free the genocidaires and their supporters, among them relatives, from the burden of shame they carry ever since the mass atrocity they seek to disown or dissociate themselves from. 

As the RPF appeals to the offspring of genocide perpetrators to dissociate themselves from the crimes of their parents, those who seek to demystify the RPF make the opposite appeal, calling on them to justify the actions of their parents and to even defend their “honour.” Ambiguity around the facts of the genocide against the Tutsi and its outright denial are in effect used as tools to hold the relatives and children of genocide perpetrators hostage. 

In such a context, those who are eager to establish the facts constitute the biggest threat to this movement. This was evident when a young man, Innocent Habumugisha, recently testified that he had been lied to by his parents and others about what really transpired in 1994. In his own estimation, taking the time to inform himself freed him from captivity. He is not alone. 

Before that, Senator Marie Rose Mureshyankwano had repeatedly given her personal testimony that brought clarity to the issue of the genocide. So did Nelly Mukazayire who testified at the United Nations, distancing herself from the actions of her mother who is serving life in prison for genocide crimes. 

As expected, those who would rather distort the story treated them as traitors to the “ethnic cause”. The result were attacks of all kinds on social media. Apparently, they had been bought off by the RPF.

And then there is Victoire Ingabire. While the RPF insists that her prosecution and conviction to a jail term were linked to the nature of her crimes and the ideological divide they reflect, which presents Rwandans with an existential threat that makes confrontation unavoidable, Ingabire insists that her Hutuness, and by extension that of millions of other Rwandans, is the real issue.

Ambiguity around the facts of the genocide serves one more purpose. It is used in a bid to prove that the RPF is no better than the government it overthrew, a regime that had ethnicity as the moral basis for its claim to power.

In other words, the ultimate goal of demystifying the RPF’s main achievement is to reintroduce ethnicity as a legitimate platform for pursuing political power in Rwanda. This is the terrain that the ethnicity entrepreneurs who would demystify the RPF are most comfortable with. They see it as a sure route through which to acquire power. 

Going by their reasoning, once the moral foundation of politics in Rwanda is reduced to ethnicity, the RPF’s claims to legitimacy can only be assessed on ethnic grounds; thereby making it legitimate, only to Tutsis. They see it as a smart way to reintroduce ethnic politics through the backdoor, which is necessary given the front door has been shut by law and kept locked by the aspirations of all right-thinking Rwandans who have taken lessons from our tragic history.

As we head towards the 2024 elections, the conscience of the nation continues to revolve around the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Those who saved people have a special standing because of their display of moral courage. They include the RPA soldiers and ordinary citizens who despite the danger they faced, actively put their own lives on the line so that others may live. 

They represent the value system Rwandans cherish as they deepen their cohesion around shared values. The best way to counter these divisive narratives that seek to undermine the gains of the last 27 years, is to reaffirm the facts around the genocide and the values shared by those who defeated the genocidal forces. 

Keeping Rwandans united around these shared values requires of every Rwandan of goodwill to amplify the courageous voices that reject ambiguity. This endeavour ought to transcend the potential political benefits the RPF would reap since, as argued before, genocide ideology is society’s underbelly regardless of which party is in power. When they seek to demystify the RPF, its detractors mean not only to erase these fountains of courage either literally through violence, or figuratively by drowning them out, but also, and most importantly, to erase the memory of the people we lost while also setting the ground for a recurrence. 

Since those committed to confrontational western political models are here to stay, and if constructive criticism is what they aim for, then Rwanda needs an opposition that innovates around a complementary moral gravity of its own without feeling the need to destroy the one upon which the RPF stands.

Otherwise, no responsible and conscientious Rwandan, let alone the RPF (or even its political partners who together with it constitute Rwanda’s post-genocide political landscape), would countenance allowing such a discourse to pollute the air in our society.

This article was first published in The New Times.

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