Ideas are powerful. This power can be used for virtue or vice. And much of the hope that we carry as human beings is grounded in the belief that on the balance ideas will be used to do more good than harm.
However, with vice seeming to dominate public and private space, it is fair to say that there is a general feeling of disappearing hope that we are increasingly faced with.
Anyone listening to President Kagame’s Kwibuka23 speech must have come to this conclusion watching as a President, visibly disturbed by human cruelty, narrated how the world has chosen to play around with a tragedy.
The President was talking about the different forms that genocide denial expresses itself. It is either in the choice of dubious terminology and definitions or in the manipulation of facts with intent to distort the historical record in the pursuit of nefarious aims.
It is done systematically, and therefore, deliberate.
Consider the definition. In the aftermath of genocide, the terminology for what had transpired was the “Rwandan genocide.” Up until a decade later this terminology ruled the roost because there was an unstated understanding that not much knowledge had been accumulated across the world to bring clarity to the appropriate terminology.
It was a terminology that did not fit what had transpired in Rwanda. That is because the term “Rwandan genocide” defeats the very idea of genocide. At the heart of the definition of genocide is the idea that a group must be targeted with the intent to uproot it.
Because the term “Rwanda genocide” does not point to a targeted group, this necessarily obviates the intent to destroy. You cannot destroy what does not exist.
However, more information and mediums of its expression became abundant. However, the terminology of “Rwanda genocide” persisted. Even as it became clear that a genocide had been perpetrated against the Tutsi, this terminology retained currency. Moreover, the ferocity with which it was defended pointed to a motive beyond a case of omission.
A compromise was reached, it seemed. It seemed to recognise that a genocide had taken place in Rwanda and that it had targeted the Tutsi. It is how we got the “genocide against the Tutsi” terminology.
However, efforts to operationalise the terminology is invariably followed with a nuance, “… and moderate Hutu.” But this addition does very little to conceal the motive inherent in the definition it sought to replace. For one thing, the ‘and’ in the definition creates a morally reprehensible equivalency.
The Tutsi were targeted for their ethnicity. Hutus were targeted for their political beliefs. As I have noted elsewhere, the difference is a chance to live. Indeed, while both situations are unfortunate because people are killed, the moral difference in how they are targeted is not unimportant.
This point was driven home by Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe who observed that, “’Moderate Hutu’ even implies that the ‘average’ Hutu is by essence [an] extremist.”
In other words, by calling the Hutu who died “moderate” one implies that the entire Hutu population that didn’t die consists of killers.
This is simply wrong. As the Ambassador noted, these are “western-fabricated notions” that seek to bring “inclusiveness” where doing so brings more harm than good. Moreover, the moderates were not moderate in ethnicity. Ethnicity cannot be moderated. It means they were moderate in their beliefs.
If the Hutus were moderates in beliefs and paid the ultimate price, then the Tutsis were also targeted for their extremism in thought. This implies that there was no genocide and that both had a chance to exit death by altering their beliefs but that they opted against that choice.
After terminology and definition are the facts. The focus has been around the number of those who were killed in the genocide. This raises its own questions. The census undertaken by the Ministry of Local Government shows that 1,072,012 Tutsi were massacred. However, you will be hard pressed to find references to these figures.
The oft referenced figure of 800,000 has not been substantiated by any census. Yet it rules the roost. But its reference has legitimated something of a slippery slope that begins with estimates of 500,0000 or between 200,000 and 300,000 all the way to claims of double genocide or that the majority of the dead were Hutu, itself implying that the genocide was against the Hutu.
Logic is thrown out of the window. For one thing, it would take serious imagination to argue that a Hutu government committed genocide against its own. For another, efforts to reduce the number of dead has no bearing to what genocide is: the intent to destroy a group has no bearing on the size of the dead.
But those who perpetuate such logic are not stupid. The aim is to create doubt. In doing so they are able to cause confusion about who the perpetrators are and who the victims are – to turn the logic upside down.
They want to shift the blame, guilt, and accountability to the survivors away from the perpetrators and their benefactors.
In doing so they prolong the pain and suffering of the survivors. This is why all people of good conscience must retain the clarity around the thread that ties terminology, facts, and accountability (criminal, moral, and material) for genocide.
It is how the recurrence of genocide can be prevented.
It is also how we respect the victims and protect the survivors.