How schools won the Genocide ideology battle

In June 2011, Christine Akimana, then a form four student at ACEDI-Mataba in Gakenke District was hospitalised for trauma after receiving a gruesome handwritten note threatening her with torture. It could have been any other kid’s story in schools where bullying is commonplace.
Student clubs to fight against genocide ideology have been established in most schools. (File)
Student clubs to fight against genocide ideology have been established in most schools. (File)

In June 2011, Christine Akimana, then a form four student at ACEDI-Mataba in Gakenke District was hospitalised for trauma after receiving a gruesome handwritten note threatening her with torture. It could have been any other kid’s story in schools where bullying is commonplace.

But this was no ordinary school bullying. It had a sinister side to it as was discovered later by authorities, that the diction of the note had genocide ideology innuendo.

First, Akimana had been shocked when she found that a section of fellow students had smeared her clothes, beddings and books with faeces.

She reported the culprits to the administration and it’s after they were punished that they got back to her with threats to her life. Police would later arrest and caution the ring leader, a 20-year old student named Delphine Nyirambabazi on charges related to Genocide ideology.

Nyirambabazi’s actions aroused nostalgia for Akimana who lost all siblings and parents in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

But Akimana’s experience wasn’t the first case of genocide ideology reported at ACEDI-Mataba, a technical school that was founded by Fabien Neretse, a Genocide fugitive; there had been earlier incidents reported in 2008.

A subsequent extraordinary parliamentary probe committee set up to investigate Genocide ideology in schools found that ACEDI-Mataba was the worst infested in the entire country with the vice. In a bid to get rid of the vice, the school’s board of Governors was even dissolved.

But today, the school’s head teacher, Théogène Twagiramungu said in a phone interview with Education Times that the school has since grown a new leaf and that there are no more cases of genocide ideology among the 625 students enrolled at the institution.

“We have done a lot to curb the vice. We have established student clubs to fight against genocide ideology. Every Saturday, each class presents a topic given by the school staff about fighting the ideology,” said Twagiramungu.

He added that, “All teachers are also required to actively participate in these debates at least twice in a term to ensure that they work closely with students. At the end of every term, best presenters are rewarded in various ways,” said the administrator who has been at the school since 2006.

As a result of these efforts, the school leader told Education Times that he’s confident that the ideology is no more although he added that efforts to combat it will continue.

Students of Kagarama Secondary School lay a wreath in memory of those that were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in 2013 (Dennis Agaba)

Work in progress

This week, Rwanda and the world at large will be commemorating 21 years since the beginning of the Genocide against the Tutsi and the theme this year revolves around combating genocide denial and ideology.

But experts say that considering its broad nature and manifestation, it’s hard to declare that genocide ideology is totally eliminated from schools let alone society which calls for continuous efforts at all levels to combat the vice.

Articles 2, 3 and 4 of the law N°18/2008 of 23/07/2008 define, describes the characteristics and penalties, respectively, for the crime of genocide ideology.

Article 2: Genocide ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterized by conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate people basing on ethnic group, origin, nationality, region, color, physical appearance, sex, language, religion or political opinion, committed in normal periods or during war.

Article 3: Characteristics of the crime of genocide ideology include among others threatening, intimidating, degrading through defamatory speeches, documents or actions which aim at propounding wickedness or inciting hatred; marginalizing, laughing at one’s misfortune, defaming, mocking, boasting, despising, degrading creating confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred.

Article 4: Penalty; any person convicted of the crime of genocide ideology as mentioned in Articles 2 and 3 of this Law shall be sentenced to an imprisonment of ten (10) years to twenty five (25) years and a fine of two hundred thousand (200.000) to one million (1.000.000) Rwandan francs.

“Therefore, given its nature, we can’t declare genocide ideology totally eliminated from schools or society for that matter, it can reduce and indeed it has reduced compared to the way it used to be but we can’t relax, its work in progress and we must keep going,” said Diogene Bideri, the Principle of the legal division at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG).

Jean-Pierre Habimana, the district education officer for Kicukiro District in Kigali City, agrees and says that the fight against genocide ideology must be a continuous one.

“In the three years that I have been supervising the district, we haven’t had any incidents of genocide ideology in all 41 secondary and 71 primary schools in my area; this can be attributed to good student management,” said Habimana.

According Habimana, the ideology among students can be traced from their families and society where they come from.

“That means that any school efforts to combat it must involve parents and members of the community with whom the students live and interact,” he said.

Students listen to a district official who was talking to them about why and how to fight the Genocide ideology. (Dennis Agaba)

Ban bad literature

When cases of genocide ideology became rampant especially in mid-2000, parliament was forced to establish a special commission to study genocide ideology and find out its causes.

MP François Byabarumwanzi, Chairman of the Parliamentary standing committee on unity, human rights and fight against genocide told Education Times last week that it was found that 13 per cent of all secondary schools exhibited elements of genocide ideology.

Byabarumwanzi said the commission found that the vice stemmed from families, neighbours, schools leaders, teachers and school manual books that contained genocide ideology literature.

“The books narrated the history of the 1st and 2nd republic where they reported the speeches of Kayibanda Gregoire and Juvenal Habyarimana which spread genocide ideology. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education has since banned those kind of books in schools,” said the legislator.

The parliamentary commission also listed forms of trauma suffered by students such as Akimana.

“In those days, victims of genocide ideology suffered terrible deeds at the hands of their tormentors; their beds would be smeared with faeces, receiving threats on handwritten notes or calling them names reminiscent to the ones used during the genocide,” he said.

But the legislator says a blend of different efforts has paid off and now the problem is not as glaring as it was in yesteryears.

From punishments to regular debates about the genocide ideology to engaging parents and refocusing the teaching of Rwanda’s history, experts say that the problem has been significantly reduced but that these efforts must continue.

“That’s because 21 years is not such a long period, we shall continue working with our partners in our efforts to rid genocide ideology from especially the young generation who are the future of this country,” said CNLG’s Bideri.

Frank Shyaka, head teacher of Essa Nyarugunga, said that as years pass by, priorities of young people change as the country continues to be economically transformed.

“Time heals and gradually, things such as genocide ideology will not have space in the minds of young people whose priority is to be successful, fight poverty through innovation, ICT and other opportunities,” he said.

Shyaka added that it’s important for teachers and schools in general to be places where kids can get to understand the history of their country and shape them into better citizens.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility, teachers, parents, leaders to engage in open conversations, answer their curious questions honestly and encourage them to participate in commemoration activities,” he said.

Students share their experience

Betty Umutoni
Fred Karomba

Betty Umutoni

Our school does not tolerant any form of genocide ideology and this has created an environment of peace and harmony. We have been taught the consequences of genocide and any destructive talk so no one can ever think of misleading others.

Fred Karomba

Genocide ideology is not something you will find at my school. Our teachers and administrators encouraged us to start anti-Genocide clubs such as ‘Never Again’. In those clubs we are taught why genocide ideology is bad and how to fight it. This enlightment has been key in reforming many people.

Laudoce Igihozo
Dan Jenga

Laudoce Igihozo

A number of clubs aimed at promoting peace and unity among students have been formed at school. We are often told that any bad ideas of genocide may take us back to the dark days which no one wants to happen again.

Dan Jenga

My school has managed to get rid of genocide ideology by investing a lot in talks. They always invite different people to explain to us what Genocide is and why we must not tolerate such an ideology. That is how those bad ideas have been buried.

Valentine Uwimana
Pater Simon

Valentine Uwimana

From the many Genocide survivors’ testimonies and lectures we have both in class and during extracurricular activities, every student has become an agent of peace and love. Through these interactions, we have learnt to appreciate and respect each other regardless of one’s religion, gender and ethnicity.

Pater Simon

Although we have not had any cases of genocide ideology at school, we are continuously told about the negative consequences of the thought and practice. We have anti-Genocide clubs at school that educate us about that bad ideology and why it must not be tolerated by any one.

Genocide week: Activities that learners can take part in

The school holidays are here, and this coincides with the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

With approximately a whole week left, the holiday makers could join in paying tribute to about one million innocent lives lost in just a period of 100 days.

- Paying homage can come in form of participating in various activities as is suggested below.

- Visit genocide commemoration sites. Chances are high that most of you were not born by the time the senseless massacre was happening, so to at least get a close experience and understanding, visit these places which are home to remains, literature, and photography of the human disaster.

- For those who stay in the capital, Kigali Genocide Memorial centre, is the closest and most ideal, about 250,000 genocide victims were laid to rest here. There are other upcountry ones like Murambi, Kamonyi, Nyamata, Gisenyi, Bisesero, among others.

- In a bid to foster unity and reconciliation, students can perhaps get together and start debate revolving around the country’s tragic history before and during the 1994 Genocide, this will surely ensure building of a nation based on trust and honesty.

- Reach out to  genocide orphans, widows and survivors. Since you are young, you may not have resources but even the balance from your pocket money could be enough to buy food or clothing for a financially challenged victim of the genocide. 

- You could also spend the time crafting anti-genocide messages, and these can come inform of drawings, songs, poems, among others.

- Reading books that chronicle the holocaust would also be a good idea, and some of these books include; Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza, and a People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide.

- Also, you could watch a movie in that line, and some of these include, Sometimes in April, Gacaca Film Series, Shake Hands with the Devil among others.

Compiled by Ivan Ngoboka