The threat of Genocide has hovered over Africans because the colonial state hasn’t been able to afford security to all.
Although the Rwandan state existed prior to colonialism, the policy of divide and rule that informed governance in much of the colonized territories destroyed the shared identity of Rwandans. It is this shared identity that would have prevented the Genocide Against the Tutsi.
The Government of Rwanda recently created a new ministry to retrace this path and foster a national identity to nurture unity.
The Pan African review caught up with the inaugural Minister, Dr Jean-Damascene Bizimana, to discuss this lofty mandate in the context of a society still healing from the scars of Genocide.
PAR: What do you think remains the main threat to the unity of Rwandans?
Genocide ideology remains prevalent among some groups of Rwandans, including those who live in the country and abroad. In Rwanda, there are those who have not dissociated themselves from the tragic history of hatred, discrimination, persecution, and divisionism that characterized the First and Second Republics of the 1960s to the 1990s. The policies of PARMEHUTU and the MRND were based on the ideology of the so-called ethnic majority rule and superiority that sought to favour some Rwandans. To date, it remains difficult for some of those who were favoured by this anti-human ideology to understand how this approach resulted in the extermination of over a million Tutsi lives.
The fact that they harbour this ideology prevents them from accepting the historical truth around the genocide. Instead, they keep trying to distort it, thereby undermining the unity of Rwandans. This frame of mind makes these people feed lies to their children who, in turn, also grow up oblivious of the truth. Out of sheer ignorance, these children sometimes become part of activities that promote the distortion of the history of the country, minimization and denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi, as well as take part in tarnishing the good reputation of the leadership of the country. Furthermore, these young people initiate or participate in actions in support of their parents, whom they see as victims of injustice, and thus continue to live in deception and lies.
This transmission and propagation of genocide ideology down the generations poses a serious threat to Rwanda’s unity. However, there is reason to be optimistic, because Rwanda’s good governance will eventually force their lies and hatred to fade away as time passes. Our youth, for the most part, are aware of the truth.
PAR: Genocide survivors have had to endure the unimaginable, but they have been brave. What should we do as a society to show more solidarity with them?
First and foremost, we must continue to provide them with the social benefits to which they are already entitled, such as government-sponsored support for vulnerable survivors, including paying for the education of the children of survivors in order to empower them with skills, providing medical assistance to those in need of treatment for genocide-related health issues, providing them with social services such as housing and house repairs, and assisting them to cope with other conditions that might traumatize them.
Now, the Ministry [of National Unity and Civic Engagement] has begun talks with representatives of the survivors’ organizations to review the guidelines for providing social programmes to assess if there are any concerns that need to be addressed. The talks also include the processes that need to be improved in order to make the services more efficient, effective, and timely.
However, the government alone will not be able to adequately assist the survivors in their recovery. There is also the responsibility of neighbours and close friends who should come together and form a community of support around them, particularly during the months of April to July, when they are most vulnerable as a result of recalling the awful history of the genocide they experienced. It’s also critical to avoid hurtful statements, and if this occurs, the perpetrators must be brought to justice and held accountable.
Finally, we urge people not to cover up perpetrators of hate speech directed towards survivors, but rather to assist the justice system by presenting evidence so that these behaviours that harm genocide survivors can be eradicated.
PAR: The creation of the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement [MINUBUMWE] was accompanied by the removal of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide [CNLG]. Does it mean that the work will have less emphasis on the fight against genocide and genocide ideology?
It certainly isn’t the case. To begin with, reform is a normal practice in the public sector, and even in the private sector, when they recognize that something needs to be changed to improve the performance of their company, they reorganize. The responsibilities of MINUBUMWE include preserving Rwanda’s history in general, as well as the history of the genocide against the Tutsi in particular. This alone demonstrates the country’s commitment to preserving its history, including that of the genocide, as was done by CNLG.
The Ministry is also responsible for preserving the evidence and records of the Gacaca Courts which we know to contain a significant part of the history of the Genocide against the Tutsi. In addition, when you look at the Ministry’s job structure, it has the Department of Memory and Genocide Prevention, which is responsible for the management of genocide memorials and Gacaca archives, as well as all the activities related to the fight against the genocide and its ideology, and the coordination of the activities of the Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
In terms of research, the Ministry will continue to conduct studies on Rwanda’s history and on the Genocide against the Tutsi, and promote all efforts to preserve it both in Rwanda and abroad. So nothing will be lost in the work of the reorganized institutions within the Ministry. Instead, efforts will be made to promote and strengthen their accomplishments in collaboration with all public and non-governmental institutions.
PAR: What lessons do we as a society get from Nyange heroes that necessitated their elevation to Hero status? In the area of education, what can be done so that Rwandan children grow up with a better understanding of genocide ideology so that the legacy of Nyange heroes is upheld?
The selfless actions of the Nyange children exemplify many of our forefathers’ cultural values, including unity, love, righteousness, humanity, integrity, bravery, the audacity to refuse to participate in evil, empathy, and more.
Rwanda and Rwandans have faced great challenges throughout their history, but it is through these values that they have been able to overcome them. The children of Nyange also teach us the value of patriotism by refusing to join those who claim to be members of the same ethnic group; instead, they decided to uphold and associate themselves with their Rwandan identity until many of them perished. It should also serve as a lesson to those who carried out the senseless carnage at Nyange, as well as those who incited them, who should be held accountable for that crime of murdering children and pledge never to shed blood again.
So, everyone should know the history of the children of Nyange, so that their sacrifice and heroism might serve as a beacon for what it means to be an authentic Rwandan.
The history of Nyange also symbolizes the sacrifices made to preserve the Rwandan unity and the fight against genocide ideology, because near Nyange school, where these children studied, is Nyange Catholic Church, where, in April 1994, more than 2,000 Tutsi were killed in carnage supervised by the parish’s Priest, Athanase Seromba, who they ran to in the hope that he would save their lives. He chose to kill them despite claiming to have dedicated himself to serving God and humanity; however, shortly after the Genocide, the young Nyange students chose to be killed rather than betray or hand over their classmates for execution.
The contrast between these two events teaches us that respect for the lives of others should always be a hallmark of everyone.
PAR: How do you plan to engage the youth so that they can live lives aligned with your mission?
The Ministry, through its regular programmes, such as the Civic Education Programme (Itorero) at the village level and in schools, and the National Service Programme (Urugerero), will continue to educate and mobilize the youth to uphold important cultural values and to empower them with knowledge and a conscience that will prevent them from being misled in any way.
The Ministry will also continue to collaborate with other youth-focused institutions, such as the Ministry of Youth and Culture, the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, and Districts and Local Authorities in general, on all activities aimed at engaging youth and assisting them in participating positively in national programmes.
We will also continue to train teachers about the country’s history in order to equip them with the necessary knowledge to effectively assist students in learning the country’s true history, to effectively help students learn the true history of the country so that they can be empowered to counter the ideology of Genocide and other destructive agendas with sufficient knowledge.
PAR: Critics, some of them known to be genocide deniers, have claimed that Rwanda cannot teach the history of the genocide against the Tutsi or even hold genocide commemorations without undermining the unity of Rwandans. How would you respond to such claims?
Quite the opposite, in fact. It would be a danger to our unity if we fail to commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi. As our forebears put it, “the family that does not remember perishes.” The commemoration of the Genocide is thus based on the Rwandan culture of restoring the dignity and humanity of the Tutsi who were killed. It also aims to shape Rwandans who learn from this tragic history in order to build a Rwanda free of hatred, discrimination, and divisions.
As a result, all Rwandans may view themselves as sharing common ancestry.
Commemorating the Genocide against the Tutsi is also a responsibility of every Rwandan as enshrined in the 2003 Constitution, which was amended in 2015. Similarly, the principle of fighting genocide and its ideology is included in Article 10 of the Constitution’s fundamental principles. This principle’s desired end would not be realized as long as the causes of the Genocide are not recognized in order to restore the honour and humanity of those who were murdered just for being who they were.
We commemorate the Tutsi Genocide in order to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future. We must learn from our past. The genocide was carried out by leaders who murdered ordinary citizens whom they had the responsibility to lead and protect, incited other Rwandans to kill, and collaborated with complicit foreigners to carry out the genocide. This history reminds us as a nation that we stripped ourselves of our dignity as a result of the atrocities perpetrated against our fellow countrymen, and it also reminds us that no outsider can restore that dignity to us; we must find a way ourselves to restore our humanity and rebuild our nation so that future generations can live in a safe and peaceful country.
PAR: We have Rwandans who only know post-genocide Rwanda through foreign newspapers and what their parents who fled after the genocide against the Tutsi tell them, which often misrepresents Rwanda’s reality. What can be done to change this?
Since 1994, the Rwandan Government of Unity has implemented a variety of initiatives aimed at rebuilding Rwanda for all, including the removal of reasons people become refugees, the repeal of identity cards that mentioned ethnicity, and more. Every Rwandan now understands that they have full rights in their country.
Even those who do not want to return to Rwanda for various reasons, most notably because of the role some played in the country’s devastation, are well aware that the Rwandan government is not discriminating or excluding them.
When the President of the Republic travels abroad and meets Rwandans in diaspora, no one is discriminated against or marginalized, and their concerns are instantly resolved after listening to and interacting with him. Also, many people have overcome their scepticism as a result of the Rwanda Day programme. This exemplifies good governance that differs from what Rwanda was before the Genocide.
With the exception of His Excellency Paul Kagame, in Rwanda’s history, the government has never approached refugees to persuade them to return to their homeland. Instead, they refused them the right to return, claiming that there was no room for them since the country was too tiny and too crowded and that if they returned, they would be forced back into exile or killed, or if they were lucky, imprisoned until they were released back into exile.
In 1966, the Rwandan government implemented a legislation prohibiting Tutsi refugees from returning to their homeland or accessing their property. These are just a few examples to demonstrate how the new face of Rwandan leadership under Kagame differs from the pre-genocide governments. Rwanda has also committed to continue its international cooperation and reach out to Rwandans in different parts of the world. Through various programmes, many people have been helped to overcome their unfounded fears, so there is no reason to change course or seek other formulas.
PAR: In the area of justice, what do you think remains to be done so that we ensure that genocide fugitives are brought to justice?
It is a matter of continuing international cooperation because the majority of the Genocide perpetrators who are yet to be brought to face justice for their crimes have sought refuge in foreign countries.
Through its diplomatic and judicial organs, Rwanda invites foreign countries hosting these individuals to either try them in their own countries or extradite them to Rwanda, in accordance with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 9 December 1948 – (Aut dedere aut judicare).
Rwanda, for its part, conducts investigations and collects necessary information, and if incriminating proof is discovered indicating the suspects’ committed genocide, their files are submitted to the concerned countries, who are required to bring them to justice. We are pleased that this process is continuing even though it is still a long road ahead, and given the delay that it has taken, justice needs to be expedited.
Currently, countries such as France have demonstrated political will by completing the trials of four people in the short period since 2014, namely Captain Pascal Simbikangwa who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Tito Barahira and Octavien Ngenzi who succeeded each other as leaders of the former Kabarondo commune and fled to France after committing Genocide – both of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment, Claude Muhayimana (a prominent Interahamwe militia) who was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Laurent Bucyibaruta, a former Gikongoro prefect, accused of planning and committing genocide in Murambi, Kaduha, Cyanika, Kibeho, and other locations in the former Gikongoro prefecture, will go on trial in France in the coming weeks, beginning next May. Others have tried or extradited genocide suspects to Rwanda, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark. This demonstrates that Rwanda’s international cooperation is yielding results. It is critical to continue along that path.
PAR: MINUBUMWE has a mission “to promote a culture of patriotism and pan-Africanism”. What strength can Rwanda draw from “pan-Africanism”? And what lessons can pan-Africanism learn from the genocide against the Tutsi?
Rwandans have a proverb that says, “Ntawigira” (No one is totally self-sufficient), and another says, “Nta mugabo umwe” (One man alone means nothing). Rwanda will join forces with other African countries through Pan-Africanism to work together to change Africa’s history. In that spirit, Rwanda will join forces with other Africans who want to rewrite the history of old colonialism and resist neocolonialism in all of its forms.
Africa needs to invest in its youth to empower them with self-confidence, and countries need leaders who instil confidence and self-esteem in their citizens in order to be filled with the energy of self-reliance. This would be impossible to achieve without pan-African collaboration in honest self-evaluation, revolutionary decision-making, and decisive action.
The lesson that Pan-Africanism may draw from the Genocide against the Tutsi is the importance of maintaining good governance because the Tutsi Genocide was the outcome of bad policies. Another lesson is the importance of collective resolve to work together to prevent genocide and mass atrocities, because one of the reasons the Genocide against the Tutsi was possible was the international community’s (including Africa’s) lack of courage to intervene and save lives.
Another lesson to be learned is the importance of working together to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice and punish them. African countries have the highest number of genocide suspects who have sought refuge and live freely in them with impunity. At the same time, armed groups made up of genocide fugitives and motivated by genocide ideology operate in these same countries with the goal of completing their genocidal project in Rwanda while causing havoc among innocent people.
The genocide of over a million Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 should serve as a wake-up call for Africa as a whole to fight against any ideology of hatred, divisionism, and terrorism.
PAR: Any special message to share with Rwandans as we commemorate the 28th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi?
My message for the 28th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi is that Remembrance is a time to reflect on the history of the genocide against the Tutsi, a reality that defies human comprehension.
Genocide was not an accident; it was the outcome of a political ideology that caused some Rwandans to renounce their humanity and murder their compatriots.
It is important that we all work together to remember these tragic events because the killers wanted their victims to be erased completely. So remembering is restoring the humanity that was taken away from them when they were slaughtered and never buried like every other human being.
So, as Rwandans, let us remember the innocent victims of the genocide and commit to protecting and sustaining what we have been able to rebuild. We must instill in our youth the values of unity, love, and rejection of genocide ideology.
Let the memory of genocide inspire us to be genuine human beings. Let us remember and renew.