Kwibuka25: Why forgiveness is Rwandan

This week on Wednesday, I asked Dr Jean-Damascène Gasanabo, Director General of the National Research and Documentation Center on Genocide, to tell me, as an anthropologist, whether there was something particularly strange in the mindsets of the people who killed Tutsis in 1994.

It was out of sheer curiosity. How was it possible for a normal mind to be driven to commit such extreme acts, killing others based on the filthy philosophy that they didn’t have to live because of who they were? Like, how do you switch a human mind into such a killer mode?

Psychologists must help us here, to shade a light on these mind boggling questions. Beyond the fact that politicians invested time and money, to propagate a hateful agenda in a section of Rwandans against another; we need to critically examine a mind that is infected with genocide ideology.

My question was shortly after Dr. Gasanabo had delivered a presentation on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to a Pan-African audience consisting of students, academics and staff of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), which I happened to attend.

Here was an audience of African mathematical scientists and researchers listening to how the human mind was driven to a point of committing one of humankind’s deadliest tragedies, mass murder that claimed over a million lives in just 100 days; simply put, 10, 000 people killed each week!

One of the courses taught at AIMS is a Master’s Program in Machine Intelligence; here, students are taught how to create and give ‘artificial intelligence’ to smart machines such as robots. It’s a programing course really, creating languages for machines to assist us humans to solve our problems.

The course is taught with support from Google and Facebook, the World’s thought leaders in artificial intelligence. For instance, that Google mail-botfeature that composes precise responses to your email messages, who gave it that intelligence? Some human somewhere.

So, how can science like that be used, to help anthropologists like Gasanabo, to further explore the mindset of people who were technically turned into killer machines, at the rate of 1500 per day?

“It is a complex question. But what we surely know, is that, none of those who killed in 1994 was born a killer. They became killers. Any of us humans, is capable of doing good and bad things.

One can kill. One can save. Those machines are made by human beings. It is our responsibility to use scientific innovations such as intelligent machines to serve and not to kill the community,” he said.

‘To serve and not to kill the community.’ In Rwanda, we have two extreme examples of how humans can be productive and counter-productive.

Juvenal Habyarimana’s government led a people to execute a genocide by advancing the hateful politics introduced by the Belgian colonialists with 1994 being the climax.

President Paul Kagame’s post-1994 leadership has been a resolution, in the last 25 years. Rehabilitating former killers into humans, once again, remorseful of their deadly acts; hundreds of thousands of them have confessed their crimes, served punishments and now live normally, yes, normally with survivors.

But that is perhaps another extreme case that equally calls for a scientific study of its own; extreme forgiveness. How is it possible that a human that has been dealt with the worst act of cruelty, capable of forgiving the perpetrator of that same act?

How the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi have been capable of forgiveness in light of what they were subjected to, by their former persecutors, equally requires another study.

I think that is what President Kagame means when he says, ‘it is the survivors that have something to give…forgiveness.’ Would you then agree with me, if I asserted that, forgiveness is Rwandan?

Because, the Rwandan Tutsi survivors of the genocide have been able to offer forgiveness where no one would have expected them to, in view of what they went through and the lifelong emotional and physical scars they live with every day, in communities alongside those responsible for their pain.

On Thursday afternoon, I met a living example of such extreme forgiveness; one of the hundreds of thousands out there. I was part of a group that visited Nyamata Memorial site in Bugesera district, a resting place for nearly 50, 000 victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

While there, I listened to the testimony of a man called Emmanuel Ndayisaba. Both his names carry strong Christian meaning; Emmanuel means ‘God is with us’ while Ndayisaba means ‘I pray to God.’

Yet by his own account, for which he served ten years in jail after a Gacaca court trial process, Ndayisaba killed dozens of Tutsis, 25 years ago, and looted property of his victims. Many of those he killed were his neighbors, and former classmates.

As he explained how they went about with the killing, two ladies, Alice Mukarurinda and Chantal Uwanyirigira were seated, quietly following.

Ndayisaba thought he had killed both ladies. But they were among thousands rescued, pulled from piles of dead bodiesby the liberation forces of RPA.

Chantal and Alice along other survivors now live in the same community, harmoniously with Emmanuel and many other former killers;collectively with others around the country, they form Rwanda’s Post-Genocide Unity and Reconciliation Story.


The views expressed in this article are of the author.