Rwanda’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsi registered horrific massacres and several vices against humanity. Twenty-two years down the line, some classrooms are still a characteristic of traumatised orphans, struggling with the gruesome scenes- haunted by the screams of raped and murdered women, troubled by the shriveled faces of men in agony of death. How do you teach them to be alive again, to forgive, to co-exist with each other, and most importantly to fight the genocide ideology?
You will agree with me that genocide is a very sensitive issue that can never be explained simply. It is a result of a complex set of economic, religious, political, and other factors. Nevertheless, genocide ideology cannot be fought by mere generalisations and haphazard reference to core issues but rather by a deeper examination of the underlying factors. It is indeed the understanding of these factors that will generate awareness about the precursors of violence and possibly a sense of commitment by the learner to fight the ideology. Educators should therefore desist from delivering simple or moralistic messages about very complex historical factors and the distressing issues they raise about human behaviour. A more practical approach should be used instead.
Education is the most effective method in the prevention of future genocide perpetration. This is not only because it molds young minds but also because it holds a great number of citizens, right from kindergarten to universities. Indeed, 50% of Rwanda’s populace is 20 years and below, an implication that they are still in school.
How then can we fight the genocide ideology in schools.
History/civic education, is key to the analysis of the consequences of genocidal processes in the long run, of the environment in which they arise, and of the political motivations of the various parties involved; but should not be the sole means of fighting the genocide ideology. This is because civic education or history as it is known by many, is not compulsory at all levels in primary and secondary schools. Even at university level, only University of Rwanda offers a course on it at masters level. Besides, an understanding of genocide works best in combination with a strong set of ethical values (and to a great extent, religious convictions) to fight the genocide ideology.
For this reason, a greater understanding of the psychological, cultural, political, and societal roots of human brutality, mass viciousness, and genocide should be developed. Educationists must continue to explain the factors which enable individuals collectively and individually to perpetrate evil/genocide and the impact of apathetic bystanders as fuel for human violence. Even as we do this, we must underscore the fact that cruelty is beyond the scope of human capability, and that we have an obligation to develop a model that highlights the warning signs and predisposing factors for human violence as well as genocide. With such information, we can develop policies, strategies, and programs designed to counteract these atrocities.
All educators in their various capacities should, with a devoted passion, teach students ethical values and respect for humanity if any future atrocities are to be avoided. General paper, history and divinity may have a direct link to genocide but so is literature, geography and any other subject. In this regard, educators should inculcate a culture of peace, emphasizing positive non-violent national values and promoting the universal values of integrity, patience, respect for others, team spirit and fairness. Even with this, there should still be a systematic teachers’ training on how to fight the genocide ideology.
It must also be emphasised that the prevention of genocide starts with the knowledge of the different mechanisms and processes in play within genocidal events. In explaining this, we must equally emphasise that genocide is evitable and happens by choice. This teaching might help students understand better the responsibilities of citizens, civil society and state representatives in preventing it.
It is also noteworthy that educating the masses does not only end in the classroom. Mass sensitization and effective informative youth programs are quite handy in fighting the genocide ideology. Public campaigns, radio talk shows, televised interviews among other things are very helpful tools for informing the masses.
Similarly, general literacy is an important tool to help fight the genocide ideology. Impoverished uneducated citizens of any given country can easily yield to the persuasions of evil politicians and malicious leaders to perpetrate genocide. An educated citizen is likely to have a rational informed decision in such matters. We should therefore work hard to acquire an informed citizen status.
It’s on this note that education policy-makers should underscore the fact that genocide is an economic as well as a moral catastrophe. Understanding why and how it occurs is the best way to prepare a modern nation to prevent it and its destructive impact on a nation’s psyche and human capital. It should be imperative therefore to ensure that the curriculum contains such important precepts. More singularly, education can be a tool for perpetuating hatred and divisionism or an instrument for promoting reconciliation among Rwandans.
The writer is a lecturer at The Adventist University of Central Africa