Kwibuka25: Why the youth must learn about Genocide

Youth lighten candles during the commemoration night at Kigali Genocide Memorial ./Sam Ngendahimana

Jean Damascène Bizimana, Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) recently noted, with certainty, that most young Rwandans know nothing, or very little, about the history of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

And he was, worryingly, right.

True, some youths may have knowledge on a thing or two about the Genocide than others. But ask questions about key events, people, or places, and you will meet blank stares.

Another fact is; just because Genocide monuments and memorial sites seem to be everywhere in the country does not mean that people, especially the youth, are widely educated about it.

Activities to mark this year’s landmark commemoration, Bizimana said, will have a special focus on the youth, who make 60 per cent of the country’s population.

The objective is to make the youth – the country’s future – a vital cog in ensuring that the country never suffers similar mayhem.

In saying, ‘NEVER AGAIN’ to genocide, the nation banks on its young generation. The youth are the future. Their genocide education in schools – and at home – will go a long way in pressing forward the awareness that denial of a group’s right to life or the intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part is the vilest encroachment upon human rights.

If the country is to never ever suffer Genocide, one of the best weapons is a young generation that cares to know the country’s history and particularly what caused the 1994 Genocide, how it was planned and executed.

To effectively counter the ever present forces of Genocide denial and revisionism the youth must be well versed with past events. To ably fight Genocide denial and the genocide ideology or silence genocide deniers bent on peddling falsehoods to shield their culpability in the Genocide, the youth need to be well armed with the truth.

They must be able to distinguish between a genuine critic and a Genocide denier especially seeing that after the Genocide, the masterminds of the massacres switched tactics to killing the truth of their evil deeds.

Just like a good medical professional determines a diagnosis by interviewing a patient about their history of symptoms, the youth have to learn – or be taught – about Genocide; especially its ideology, the way doctors study human anatomy and much more.

The youth need to learn the manifestations of genocide ideology including denial of the crime just like they would be studying clinical symptoms of a disease in medicine school.

This should be done because the persistence of Genocide ideology is a terrible disease, or existential threat, they must confront, head-on.

To win the war the youth have to, in a big way, equip themselves with good knowledge of the country’s past. They need to do it just like a doctor studies how a human body contracts a disease, understands a bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease, transmission and correct cure.

Tom Ndahiro, a genocide researcher, is of the view that doctors understand what death is more than anyone and, by understanding its causes, they learn and master what saves and preserves life better.

In this regard, he thinks, Rwandan youth have to be taught about genocide, especially its ideology; the same way doctors study human anatomy, physiology, histology and pathology.

In view of that, our youth have to be taught manifestations of the genocide ideology the same way medical students study clinical symptoms of a disease in medicine.   

Ndahiro’s line of thought is that it took years to make the Rwandan body fall sick and lose its parts, but 25 years after its recovery, microbes such as genocide ideology are still in the body as well as in its immediate environment (amongst non-Rwandans).

For our youth, full knowledge of the genocide ideology’s pathogenesis – the manner of development of a disease – will be as important as proper diagnosis before prescribing the right treatment.

As groups of primary and high school students visit memorial sites and learn, making sure that these kids comprehend the broader context in which the Genocide took place is very important.

After they get a clear understanding of what happened in Rwanda in 1994, it will be easier for them decide what is the best course of action to build on the Government’s nation building efforts and to ensure that Genocide does not happen again.

And, equally important is their determination to actually learn about the country history and genocide. It has to be part of their mission, if they care about their homeland’s future.

To the Rwandan youth, like American physician, philosopher, poet-seer, and author Debasish Mridha, put it, the future belongs to those who learn from the past and live brilliantly in the present moment.