Kwibuka 24: What are our stories and who is telling them?

24 years ago, the country that is now known for clean streets and mountain gorillas descended into a dark hole of savagery. The government of the day together with its supporters both local and international pulled off the worst Genocide (not that we should even be comparing) ever witnessed. The killings were so brutal with blunt tools that delivered slow painful deaths that those with the means could pay for a quicker way out of this life.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was not the first time Tutsis were being targeted and killed in Rwanda. It had been done before a many times forcing many to flee the country only to consider returning after July 1994 when a new government took over after defeating those who were at the forefront of the Genocide. Many of the perpetrators fled to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and tried with little success to finish what they had started.

The April rains are always heavy and consistent. They compel some of us to imagine what the victims and survivors had to endure during those trying moments where the only shelter that mattered most was shelter from the killers.

The rains in some cases killed off the weak and in other cases slowed down the killers. The war against the killers may have ended but the one against those bent on twisting the history and the narrative to absolve them of their guilt continues.

And this brings us to ever present challenge that many of our societies have to deal with. The challenge of understanding our stories and telling them in a way that leaves us dignified and conscious about the world we live in and the place we occupy. For example the Genocide in Rwanda happened around the same time when South Africa was emerging from apartheid.

The global media was more interested in showing off images of Nelson Mandela waving to masses while elsewhere others were struggling with defining what was happening in Rwanda as “acts of Genocide”.

On Monday, the news that WinnieMadikizela-Mandela had passed away rocked the world and sparked a conversation of how her role and her story has been intentionally undermined both by those who were fuelling the oppression of black South Africans and those who were blinded by patriarchy to only perceive her as “Mandela’s ex-wife” and little else more. She was an anti-apartheid activist who deserves all the respect for her role in keeping the fight against the apartheid regime alive especially when her husband and others were jailed.

We have many other African heroes or stories that have downplayed and twisted and we have to do more to fix this. Our children cannot keep growing up with the notion that our people were never good at anything. Studying that things around them were ‘discovered’ by the white men who roamed the continent at the time and saw this huge physical features that Africans were blind to.

The kind of history that our children imbibe is full of one sided and romanticised tales about how the natives were beastly and needed to be ‘civilised’ by the mighty and wise white visitors who came to the continent. Our Kings are portrayed as savages, branded as homosexuals (because it was a bad thing in Europe at the time) and abusers of drugs to mask the fact they were resisting the takeover of their lands by the ones who owned canon guns.

Those who collaborated with the colonisers are branded as saints in some cases literally. The ones who stole are branded as caretakers of the loot. As you read this, there is a museum in Britain that is in talks to return looted Ethiopian art treasures, but on loan! Ridiculous! We also know how the US government’s current ‘trade war’ includes punishing African governments for refusing to take second hand clothes from America.

The struggle to correct the narrative about our people, our history and above all our dignity is one that continues and one for which we should not lose steam.

President Kagame never tires from reminding any one listening, especially Rwandans that we need to keep remembering the truth and acknowledging that it is us who are affected by these issues and therefore so we have a duty to keep building our capacity for development and living dignified lives. It is a message that must be at the core of our story and all the time..

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.