Of memory, testimony and Genocide deniers

DURING THE Genocide commemoration period we hear many stories recounted by survivors of their miraculous escape from certain death.
Joseph Rwagatare
Joseph Rwagatare

DURING THE Genocide commemoration period we hear many stories recounted by survivors of their miraculous escape from certain death.

All the stories are testimony to the strong will to live – what President Paul Kagame called, “the unbreakable Rwandan spirit” in his address on April 7 this year. 

Whether they are about the horrors of being hunted down to be killed or about the difficult choice of forgiving those who killed one’s loved ones, they speak of extra-ordinary courage, heroism and sacrifice. 

They are the collective memory of, not only the survivors but the Rwandan people as a whole, which must be kept alive, if only to ensure that no other genocide ever happens in this country.

It is almost impossible not to be moved by the testimonies. It does not matter whether you are Rwandan or not, resident or visitor, whether you have been personally touched by the Genocide or not. You will be affected.  

Every time they narrate their harrowing ordeal, they clearly relive the past. The pain is still fresh. The horror is still present. The bewilderment at being abandoned by those with the power and duty to protect them is clearly visible. 

If for some reason you cannot be moved by the stories themselves, you certainly will be by the serenity and quiet dignity with which they are told. This underscores their very humanity and the immensity of the loss and suffering. 

However, there are people who are moved in a different way. Some become angry that such testimonies are made. Others say that the pain and suffering is not real, that the stories and the emotion and horror they evoke is invented and staged, that in fact what you see are crocodile tears. 

You would have to be an exceptionally gifted actor to pretend such deeply felt hurt and irreplaceable loss. Even if you had the talent, you would have to be coached and rehearse for long periods to put on an act anywhere close to the genuinely felt emotions of the survivors. 

On the other hand, you have to have a diabolical mind and intent to reduce to theatre harrowing tales of the most brutal assault on human dignity. 

Sadly, such people with that sort of mind exist and are active. They deny the existence of facts and evidence, and instead falsify history. They continue to heap insults on the memory of the dead and the fortitude of the living. 

These are not ordinary people – not ignorant peasants or confused lumpen, or simple dukawallahs. Not these. They have more common decency in them.

They are educated and more highly-placed – academics, politicians, journalists, priests, writers, lawyers, and other professionals – the lot. They are heads of government.

They belong to various think tanks. They are pundits and commentators on every imaginable issue. They are knowledgeable and informed, and you would expect them to have a different understanding of the situation. 

Yet they still knowingly deny factual evidence, which makes them dangerous. That could be dealt with if it stopped there. But it does not.

They also have the ability to influence a less knowledgeable or unsuspecting public.  All of them have access to the most influential forums to peddle their skewered view of history – the media, parliament, international conference circuit and so on.

And so as testimonies are made to remind us of the horrors of genocide, reports, commentaries, articles and lectures also appear to negate them. 

Why would anyone with the amount of information that such people have want to alter reality? 

For some, the reason is ideological – the ideology of division and hate. They have either helped in its formulation (all the old Africa hands in Europe in academia, the church, politics, military, etc) or have been brought up on it (FDLR and other genocidaires, and their other Rwandan accomplices). 

They cannot abandon it and will defend it at all costs because essentially they are afraid to admit that they are wrong. 

For others, it is a refusal to accept responsibility for their role in the Genocide against the Tutsi. They must therefore maintain the lie, shift blame on to victims and turn them into villains as President Kagame said, in the vain hope that this will wash away their responsibility.  

In other cases, the continued denial of the Genocide and responsibility for it is denial of another kind. It shows an unwillingness to acknowledge the achievements of post-Genocide Rwanda. 

By painting the architects of the new Rwanda as villains, these people hope that some, or all, of their guilt will be transferred to the former. At the very least, it would take away some of the shine from the achievements. 

Can history be successfully rewritten, even by the most powerful? Have we arrived at that Orwellian prediction when one can flush unpleasant facts down memory hole and accept those that flatter as the true history? 

Again to quote President Kagame, “les faits sont tetus” (facts are stubborn). They refuse to be pushed down memory hole or won’t stay there for long. 

You cannot write history to reflect only your biases. You cannot trivialise the suffering of people or reject their progress as long as there is someone to tell the story.    

The testimony of survivors and eyewitnesses will continue to be part of our history now and in the future.


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