During the horrific genocide in Rwanda, 1994, the media played a major part in supporting or creating an atmosphere sanctioning the terrible human suffering that ensued.
In the killing campaigns, oral testimony and documentation from a wide variety of sources used. ‘Meetings’ served the purpose equally!
In past Rwandan politics, the word ‘Meeting’ had a very bad connotation.
It meant a place designated for trouble. The big irony in it is that the country which principally used French and Kinyarwanda only as the designated official languages; adopted the English word for that ugly purpose.
I have not met any Rwandan who can explain to me why that particular word was chosen. The ones I asked, however, promised me they would carry out an inquiry.
A part from hate-speech spewed out through establishment radio stations and news-papers, ‘meetings’ were also largely used to promote hate propaganda against the Tutsi.
“Meetings, were very bad scenarios where people were identified as Tutsi and orders made to hunt them down and kill them from wherever they hid.
This is a word, I remember with agony because it makes me remember my wife and children who were slain in cold-blood during the genocide,” recollects Mzee Rwasamirira Jean Damascene, a former MP and a member of PL.
He further says: “However, today, the word means what it was supposed to have meant all along.”
Such is the connotation in the word ‘meeting’ kept in the people’s mind; a hatred gathering whose wrath in helpless citizens was fear of death. Reminiscent of the infamous liberation struggle all night vigils; at which enemies of the revolution were ‘identified’, with the instant fate of being purged/eliminated from their communities.
Unfortunately, it is still haunting our people. In fact, an old woman of about 60 once suggested that government should change it or use another word. The point she wanted to put across was clear, she fears reflecting on the ugly past.
In today’s Rwanda, however, the word gives its denotative definition in English. ‘Meetings’ are places were people share ideas and make constructive debates.
Campaign time means a conducive environment is set where-by everybody will express himself or herself without fear of being harmed in any way.
People move kilometres with placards and slogans, in donned party in regalia from hats, t-shirts with all the tranquillity on earth as they throng their meetings.
All political parties and their supporters involved in the campaigns enjoy this freedom, fostering a spirit of multi-party democracy.
“I am wearing a PSD hat because no one can touch me. We have built a strong foundation where no one lives with fear anymore. You can see even RPF members are wearing theirs,” Kanamugire Alex said in reaction to a joke made by a friend of his who was enjoying the evening.
The two men had prolonged their political debates in a pub in a non-formal way when we approached them. They shared jokes and reflected on the past primitive politics of Rwanda. Whenever, their (Alex and James) arguments got heated, they would calm each other inter-changeably, by reminding us all that the days of ‘meetings’ were gone.
“Do you remember when the Burgomaster (today’s Mayor) mentioned a ‘meeting’ for the next day, very few knew whether they could see another sun arise again. The meeting meant that a very bad plan to trace and kill Tutsis or their sympathizers had matured. This state of hopelessness is now history and that is why we can make all these jokes”, James reminded those around him.
Pronounced ‘MITINGI’ in Kinyarwanda, today the word ‘meeting’ has been ‘demystified’ and is used objectively. That is beyond the shadow of a doubt and as a matter of emphasis, no one should remain sceptical whenever he or she is called to attend one.
People should be aware that some words are not necessarily bad, but bad people always make them bad for their own selfish ends.