Living with the question “Are you Hutu or Tutsi?”

A MILLION column inches have been written about the 20th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in these pages and the world media. There is nothing new or special in the articles, what is special is the motivation to keep the memory of Genocide alive, lest we forget. 
Paul Ntambara
Paul Ntambara

A MILLION column inches have been written about the 20th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in these pages and the world media. There is nothing new or special in the articles, what is special is the motivation to keep the memory of Genocide alive, lest we forget. 

This year’s commemoration activities found me far away from home; in the Far East. It has been a whole new experience as I have come face-to-face with a few sad misconceptions about the 1994 Genocide the Tutsi and Rwandans in general. 

Nothing prepares you for a situation where the Genocide is denied or ‘revised’ especially in a public forum. This is a situation I found myself in during a working tour of China Central Television (CCTV). 

Just a week to the official 20th commemoration of the Genocide, I found myself in the company of eight other scribes from Africa as we toured CCTV premises. After the tour, we settled for a brief exchange of ideas on the work of the TV station and its presence in Africa. 

And then it was my turn to make an intervention. This I duly did and before signing off, I made a humble request to CCTV officials to consider covering Genocide commemoration activities in Rwanda. Lo and behold, the unexpected happened; a colleague from a West African country tore in as I muttered XieXie (Thank you) to our hosts. 

The tone with which he interjected was not only shocking but utterly discourteous, leaving visitors and hosts embarrassed, the ensuing silence was loud; you could have heard a pin drop! 

“Go there and show that there was double genocide,” he thundered.

This was a first for me. I didn’t know how to respond.

“You should not joke about serious issues,” I hit back in a feat of anger and then went dumb with astonishment.

Our hosts looked perplexed; they didn’t know what to do, to console or to condemn. 

Well, CCTV honoured their pledge to cover commemoration activities, and on April 7, its reporters relayed the event live from Kigali. 

What followed was start a journey to understand why some people have continued to revise or deny the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. I had a follow up discussion with the rest of the scribes; it was their little knowledge about the Genocide that I found most shocking.

Well, who can blame them; I came to the realisation that the onus lies on Rwandans to tell their story to whoever cares to listen. People out here will listen in anything; sadly sometimes it could be a Genocide denier or revisionist doing the talking. 

Subsequently, in collaboration with the Rwandan Embassy in China and the China-Africa Press Centre, a discussion on the Genocide in Rwanda was held for the benefit of the African scribes. It was a ‘no holds barred’ debate where Dr Emile Rwagasana, the Embassy First Secretary, stressed that there was no ‘taboo’ during the discussion.  

It was an informative discussion going by the questions that were asked and the wit with which they were answered. Talking about the Genocide with historical clarity is the only sure way of countering deniers and revisionists; it is also the only true way of honouring its victims and survivors. I hope the message was passed on and received. 

“Are you Tutsi or Hutu” is another recurring question that I have come to contend with. At an International Pentecostal Church, I was confronted by an Indian man, visibly in his 60’s. After introducing myself as a man from Rwanda, the first question was; “Are you Tutsi or Hutu?” 

This was a strange question to someone who had just come from Rwanda. I told him that I’m Rwandan.

“Come-on, drop that,” he retorted. 

“There are many Hutus here, I know one who runs a restaurant, maybe you are not one of them....,” he continued. 

This is one of the many encounters and the many stereotypes.

‘I’m Rwandan’ has been and will always be my answer.

 

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