Genocide and the power in forgiveness

The greatest pain for the finest musicians, as maverick rapper Kanye West observed, is the fact that they will never sit to watch and enjoy themselves perform live, like the rest of us do; I think we can say the same of great leaders, like our own here, Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

I have never read a quote so many times as I did the one attributed to President Kagame, in a tweet this week by Brandon Stanton, the creator of ‘Humans of New York.’


The iconic tweet on the importance of forgiveness in uniting a nation got me thinking in this direction, for this commentary.


He was discussing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, to a largely foreign audience that is always marveled at how Rwanda appears to have picked herself up from the rock-bottom to where it is today, despite the size of the catastrophe that befell the nation.


“…a huge puzzle after the genocide was, how do you pursue justice when the crime is so great? You can’t lose one million people in one hundred days without an equal number of perpetrators. But we also can’t imprison an entire nation. So, forgiveness was the our only path forward.

Survivors were asked to forgive and forget. The death penalty was abolished. We focused our justice on the organizers of the Genocide. Hundreds of thousands of perpetrators were rehabilitated and released back into the communities. These decisions were agonizing…”

Then the president shares how one day, a survivor, one of the thousands asked to forgive and forget, confronted him with heartfelt questions.

Genocide Survivor:  Why are you asking us to forgive? Haven’t we suffered enough? We were not the cause of the problem why must we find the solution?

President Kagame: {after a long thoughtful pause}: “I am very sorry. I am asking too much of you. But I don’t know what to ask of the perpetrators. Only forgiveness can heal this nation. The burden rests with the survivors because they are the only ones with something to give.”

Napoleon Bonaparte was right when he remarked, over a century ago that, ‘to be a leader is to be a dealer in hope.’

I would like to assert in this commentary that, in my view, we should remember President Paul Kagame as the greatest merchant of hope that made his people believe that they could rebuild a united and peaceful nation that would be a home for all Rwandans…and foreigners.

Leadership, I have learned from the millions of texts in history books, that I have read, is both a poison and an antidote. While bad leadership is poisonous; good leadership can be an antidote.

There is a long trail of evidence in history; all the tragedies written are a result of bad leadership; from slavery, to the holocaust, world wars, to mention but those, leadership was the causative factor. The Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was a climax of decades of poisonous leadership.

And it took the antidote of good leadership (RPA) to end the calamity which, within just 100 days, had claimed a million lives, of people whose only crime was to be Tutsi.

The Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke was right in his remarks that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It is true that ‘goodness’ is an antidote of ‘badness’ or evil and this, President Paul Kagame has proven in his nation rebuilding experiment in Rwanda after the 1994 tragedy.

Unfortunately, while we get to enjoy the fruits of his leadership, like the great musician who can’t watch themselves perform live, he (Kagame) can only give, has given and continues to give us leadership that only he, will never live to enjoy. I hope there’s truly, satisfaction in giving.

Let me widen the scope. On Friday night, I just wanted to go to cinema and watch Predator, lose my thoughts in the movie director’s fantasies after a draining week. But on reaching the cinema hall, I was told only ‘The Hate You Give’ was showing. I had no option but to buy tickets.

It was far from a fun movie. It was a deep visual commentary on United States of America’s biggest social problem; racism. For nearly two hours, I disappeared in deep thought, wondering, which American will ever provide the kind of leadership required to unite a nation beyond race.

A white traffic-cop shoots a black male teenager, in an alleged act of self-defense. What follows is chaos in the city as media picked up the story, inspiring countrywide protests against police arbitrary murders of black Americans. The jury votes not to try the killer cop.

The dead teenager is buried. The black community hurts on. It is life in America. In a country where whites appear scared and suspicious of blacks…and blacks appear to resent everything white; it doesn’t matter whether one is armed or not, here, the colour of your skin is the weapon.

What then, will it take to truly ‘unite’ the United States of America? Leadership. In Rwanda, the survivors forgave, giving unity a chance. For USA, I don’t know…maybe love can fix it?

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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