Kigali– As a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi who still struggles with some of the memories, I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help all those fighting the Coronavirus pandemic around the world today, but especially fellow Rwandans at this time of the 26th Genocide commemoration.
During the Genocide, the enemy was well known but difficult to understand for a normal human being. The enemy was hatred, instrumentalised by the political elite. That hatred was the virus of the time. Its carriers plunged Rwanda into despair by killing innocent civilians, including children, the elderly, women and other vulnerable people.
Carriers of the virus of hatred included politicians, security forces, journalists, doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens. The leaders of the genocidal government willingly spread it to a designated portion of its citizens in order to exterminate another part of the population they had succeeded in labelling as the ‘enemy’. Those leaders claimed that in order to love the country, one had to hate.
The leaders of the second republic and the ‘Abatabazi’ government wanted every Hutu to hunt down and kill every single Tutsi in the country without any distinction of gender, age or socioeconomic status, and to loot or destroy all their belongings.
That was the only requirement to have a peaceful country. To wipe out a designated group in its entirety. But even that was not enough.
Those leaders wanted every Hutu opposing their genocidal policies and rejecting the virus of hatred to be killed as well. This virus of hatred took our loved ones’ lives since the 1950s up until the apocalypse that we entered in April 1994.
The virus of hatred found its origins in the racist theories developed by the colonial administration and widely spread during the first and second republics with the blessing of some clergy members of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, who were participating in making major political decisions until the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
When the genocidal government ordered everyone to stay home in 1994 it was a strategic measure to destroy lives, not to save them. The Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militias, together with hate-infested ordinary Hutu citizens, attacked Tutsis in their homes to kill them.
For every Tutsi in the country, the order to stay at home was a death warrant, because all family members could then easily be found and killed.
Many Tutsis were murdered in their houses. Others were killed in the streets or the forests, as well as other places that could offer safety from their fellow compatriots infected with hate. Disobeying the order to stay home was an act of holding on to life.
Those Tutsis who stayed home tried to hide in the ceilings, kitchens, waste collection sites, and other spots for hiding. All of this was to escape their local authorities, security forces, and their neighbours who were diseased with hate of an unprecedented intensity.
The killers had plans and strategies to hunt down any Tutsi not found at home. They stormed entire neighbourhoods, forests, banana plantations, and bushes using hunting dogs to uncover hiding Tutsis. And ID cards were perfect tools for identification of the victims. Anyone aged 16 or above had an obligation to carry an ID card.
I had witnessed the virus of hatred in action since October 1990. 12 years old then, I was mature enough to know what was going on. Harassment and humiliation against my family happened at my home in Nyamirambo (currently Rwezamenyo sector in Kigali city).
What should have been our security forces, were in reality trouble-makers in chief. They would storm our house randomly and often, usually under the pretence that we illegally owned weapons and hid rebels.
They would insult and physically assault our parents just to humiliate and deny us our humanity at home where we were ordered to stay.
Fast-forward to 1994, staying at home was not only synonymous to harassment and humiliation, but also extermination. The days my family and I stayed at home on orders from the local and national authorities then were the worst of my life. We starved before the carriers of the virus of hatred took the lives of my loved ones, including my parents and siblings.
I did not believe that our home could be a place of safety to escape evildoers until the reign of terror and hate was defeated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi. The latter revived the dignity of every Rwandan and put us all on track in pursuit of peace and happiness.
Coronavirus is also a terrible enemy. It kills without distinction of skin colour, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. The World Health Organisation and all governments worldwide inform us about the coronavirus and prevention strategies. The Rwandan government also set up strategies including one to stay home as a primary measure to prevent the virus from spreading.
It is a time to fight against all viruses by reflecting on their origins and how they spread. I personally took the opportunity of staying home as a time to reflect on my country and my compatriots. I have been wondering how the virus of hatred spread amongst the children of Rwanda to the point of exterminating a large part of its population.
Individually, let us reflect on strategies to fight against the virus of hate. Let us all strive to respect any human being and value dignity among us. Let us do to others as we would want them to do to us.
Let us teach our children to think critically. Let us teach them personal responsibility, virtue and to be initiators of good deeds for themselves, their families, their country, and the world without waiting for imaginary saviours. Let us teach them empathy, and to be patriotic, and wish good for all the people.
The Mwami (king) Yuhi V Musinga left us these wise words: “Instead of betraying your country, Rwanda, or delivering it to the heartless people, please choose to be a martyr and die for your country, as you would normally die anyway without you having a choice. You will perish, but Rwanda will forever be and that eternity is your own resurrection as a Rwandan.” (My own translation).
I wish victory for the World over the coronavirus, particularly to Rwandans and survivors as we have defeated the virus of hatred since 1994 when the World left us to our own fate. Staying at home should not be seen as usurping our freedom of movement or a plot to impoverish us, rather it should be a moment of reflection. Everyone should think about how to help others whether in terms of psychological support or delivering provisions to the needy.
Let us call people who are lonely and comfort them. As the saying goes, “Ijambo ryiza ni mugenzi w’Imana” (A nice word is God’s closest friend). Let us be closer to our children, and prepare them for the future by instilling in them positive values and nurturing their virtues.
Let us also promote lessons learned which can help defeat the virus of hatred that killed our dear loved ones.
The writer is the Digital Content Development Team Leader at the Kigali Genocide Memorial .
The views expressed in this article are of the author.