Rwanda is not polarizing; it tolerates fringe discourse

Hassan Ngeze and Ferdinand Nahimana before the ICTR in Arusha during their case dubbed the Media Trial.

Most societies have parameters of acceptable discourse. Almost all societies have fringe elements that operate from the gutter. However, these are often ignored, subjected to ridicule and social shaming or stigma.

They are unlikely to appear in mainstream forums; often they have their fellow weirdos they speak to in some dark alley. But it is clear that their views are unacceptable and are socially unbecoming. These are individuals that society has rejected.


Rwanda has not done a good job marking such parameters of acceptable discourse. But even when it has, they have been ignored or dismissed as an infringement on freedom of speech.


Consequently, would be gutter operators continue to roam in and out of mainstream forum, helping to create the perception that it is Rwanda – rather than them – that is polarizing.


 I still get amused that reasonable people are willing to engage in discussion with the likes of Filip Reyntjens, Judi Rever, Peter Verlinden. The same people would find it unacceptable to engage Ferdinand Nahimana, Leon Mugesera, and Hassan Ngeze. But what is the difference between Reyntjens, Rever, and Verlinden on the one hand and Nahimana, Mugesera, and Ngeze on the other? Other than race, efforts to separate these two categories are futile. (The utility of racial privilege is discussed at the end of this article).

 For those who don’t know, during the genocide, RTLM was a weapon of mass killings. Journalists Kantano Habimana and Valerie Bemeriki were inciting and supervising killings on airwaves. But Nahimana and Ngeze had prepared killers long before.

 Nahimana was an intellectual, a mastermind of the genocidal media. He is accompanied in this cause by Leon Mugesera. They are the generals in the genocide ideology formation.

But in terms of genocide propaganda, Ngeze Hassan was more devastating. Ngeze's Kangura was key before the genocide. He is the first in the millions of foot soldiers in the genocide implementation.

Those who were present during court proceedings in Arusha testify that Ngeze was restless, panicky and animated by gestures in the public gallery. These are reactions that Nahimana could never do.

This difference between Ngeze and Nahimana (in posture and presentation) is the same difference between Ngeze and Reyntjens; it is also the similarity (in sophistication) between Nahimana and Reyntjens.

In practice, it’s the power of the ideology to partner an intellectual and a street guy and to get them to work together in a shared cause. In other words, you can have the same ideology and package it differently; ultimately the difference between Ngeze (Rever) and Nahimana (Reyntjens) is of form rather than substance.

The professional fields of Reyntjens, Nahimana, and Mugesera – they are all professors – provides them the tools to package the same ideology differently than Ngeze, Kantano, Bemeriki, and Verlinden – all journalists.

As noted above, Ngeze and Nahimana worked together on the same genocide project; however, the way they presented themselves in the court room in Arusha – the demeanor – was obvious to those who were present that one was an intellectual, measured, and sophisticated.

Significantly, the way Nahimana was measured in court cannot be separated from the way he was measured in his actions prior to - and during – the genocide. Without this sophistication to be measured and reflect on the consequences, Ngeze became “more devastating” in preparing millions to kill others.

Nahimana’s sophistication exposed him to a better grasp of the consequences of his actions, hence the predisposition to be measured. 

For this reason, no case has been pursued against Filip Reynjtens despite his role in imbibing the 1978 constitution with the spirit of genocide upon which Nahimana, Ngeze, Kantano, and Bemeriki could draw inspiration. Reyntjens is also famed for the thesis that Tutsi victims benefit from “genocide credit,” an assertion that can only make sense in the context of gutter analysis. Or Rever’s assertion that RPF infiltrated Interahamwe and encourage them to massacre Tutsis.

Ngeze, Nahimana, and Mugesera on the one hand and Rever, Verlinden, and Reyntjens on the other are two sides of the same coin. 

They are working together, saying the same thing but using different formats of presentation, and when it comes to consequences, it becomes easier for Reynjtens and Nahimana – the measured – than it is for Ngeze and Rever.

It is the same difference between a commander and the foot soldiers; the crudeness of execution exposes the foot soldier to greater punishment. Ngeze and Nahimana can do the same thing but face different consequences than Rever and Reyntjens. Here’s why.

Racial privilege

The reason people persist in debating Reyntjens, Rever, and Verlinden when they are unwilling to debate Nahimana and Ngeze is not because the latter is in prison. Otherwise, Nahimana has written a book that no one is willing to engage it. The reason of engaging the former is racial privilege.

Privilege that doesn’t attach whiteness to tribal, atavistic and primordial sentiments is the only difference between Filip Reyntjens, Peter Verlinden, and Judi Rever on the one hand and Leon Mugesera, Ferdinand Nahimana and Hassan Ngeze, on the other.

Much as Reyntjens and his colleagues perceive themselves – due to the conditioning of whiteness – as being beyond atavistic sentiments, the Rwandans who are willing to engage them are similarly conditioned to extend the benefit of whiteness that places the former above such sentiments. It becomes a mutually reinforcing conditioning.

Otherwise, Reyntjens and colleagues on the one hand and Nahimana et all on the other share the same ideology of ethnic extremism – if only we were willing to attach such tribalism to the former.

In this case, all are Hutu Power adherents. Nahimana and Reyntjens and Ngeze and Verlinden as political intellectuals and journalists, respectively, are unable to conceive affairs in Rwanda outside the analytical framework of ethnicity.

They are in no worse moral and mental bind than is faced by Victoire Ingabire. The same way Ingabire has proven incapable of mobilizing politically beyond ethnic terms, Renytjens, Rever, and Verlinden are unable to mobilize their intellect beyond similar terms.

Reyntjens, Verlinden, and Rever’s obsession with the tribe is no different from that of Ingabire. They are tribalists, truth be told. While we can easily conceive Ingabire as such, whiteness renders us incapable of conceiving the former as such. After all, we were told tribalism only applies to backward natives.

Until we understand this, Rwanda will remain “polarizing.”


*This is an excerpt from an article by the author. A detailed version can be found at

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper

For news tips and story ideas please WhatsApp +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News