“If we do not talk about it, if we do not remember, then the world will never know. And that has made me speak about it;” —Henry Meyer, Holocaust Survivor.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t deny anyone the right to call themselves a genocide survivor.
Just like I readily believe anyone who says they were Tutsi or half-Tutsi and that they were being targeted during the Genocide against the Tutsi; for a simple reason: I do not mind. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have the means to prove or disprove it.
Identity cards no longer indicate one’s ethnic or regional origin. With all the back and forth, we have all been into exile and back; some for thirty years, others for less, but we all have stories of exile to tell.
Philosophically speaking, we are all survivors. Tutsi is not a tribe, unlike what killers and colonialists claimed, Tutsi is, in my opinion, a state of mind, an identity.
Anyone who identify with Tutsi is one! In fact, in this month of April we should all be Tutsi! We should all commemorate those who were identified as Tutsi and killed for who they were, and those who were arbitrarily identified as Tutsi and killed even though they weren’t.
During one of the frequent roundups in Goma, DR Congo, where Tutsi were jailed, tortured and killed, a tall Rwandan man was grabbed among many Tutsi and brought to prison, on the way he kept shouting: ‘eh! Bantwaye mu cyama kitari icyanjye!’ (I’ve been mistaken for a Tutsi).
As I have written before, survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi aren’t exclusively Tutsi. Many non-Tutsi were killed because they were seen as an obstacle to the genocide project. The Belgian peacekeepers, the moderate politicians and many Hutu who hid Tutsi during the genocide, at the peril of their lives.
They are recognised as national heroes in Rwanda and their families are recognised today as survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi and receive support from the survivors’ fund.
However, declaring that one is a survivor, only to follow-up with denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi is a cynical lie.
Richard G. Hovannisian defines the denial as the final stage of a genocidal process and the erasing of the memories of the victim group: ‘Following the physical destruction of a people and their material culture, memory is all that is left and is targeted as the last victim.’
Many Rwandans have written books, and toured the world telling stories of their survival and won prizes, all based on a lie.
Chief among them is Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of a Hollywood film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. The man who received fame and fortune for claiming to have hid Tutsi at a hotel at which he appointed himself manager during the genocide: ‘Hotel des Milles Collines’.
Now, real survivors at that hotel tell us that he never did and that in fact he charged them money and threatened to deliver those who couldn’t pay to killers.
On Sunday night, as we commemorated twenty-five years since the Genocide against the Tutsi, the channel Al Jazeera featured one René Mugenzi, who introduced himself as a genocide survivor and a human rights activist.
Mr. Mugenzi is neither a survivor, nor a human rights activist.
René Mugenzi’s father Joseph Mugenzi was close to the government that perpetrated the Genocide. He was himself convicted in absentia by a Gacaca court for crimes of genocide.
Now living in The Netherlands, Mugenzi Sr. was president of FDU-Inkingi, a Europe-based political group that openly denies the Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi.
The Dutch government is in the process of revoking his Dutch citizenship.
René Mugenzi too is an unapologetic Genocide denier. He frequently features in the media claiming that there was a double genocide.
Gregory H. Stanton, formerly of the US State Department and the founder of Genocide Watch, lists denial as the final stage of genocide development: ‘Denial is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres.
The perpetrators of genocide deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims.’
In his speech as we commemorated twenty-five years since the Genocide against the Tutsi took place, President Kagame remarked: ‘Nothing is required from those who wronged us, except an open mind. Every day we learn to forgive. But we do not want to forget. After all, before asking others to repent, we first have to forgive ourselves.’
We are ready to forgive Mugenzi Sr. for what he did and because he is Rwandan. We are willing to live with his son Mugenzi Jr. too, but we expect him to right the wrong that his father did us. But, apparently he has chosen to walk in his father’s footsteps and to continue the Genocide against the Tutsi through denial.
Well, to that too President Kagame has a message: ‘Rwanda is a very good friend to its friends. We seek peace, we turn the page. But no adversary should underestimate what a formidable force Rwandans have become, as a result of our circumstances.
“Twenty-five years later, here we are. All of us. Wounded and heartbroken, yes. But unvanquished. Nothing has the power to turn Rwandans against each other, ever again. This history will not repeat. That is our firm commitment!”
The views expressed in this article are of the author.