As millions of Rwandans congregated all over the world to mark the start of the 22nd Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi last Thursday, that same afternoon, I joined over six hundred Rwandans and friends of Rwanda at St Marylebone Parish church in central London for a mass.
The act of remembrance is a very emotional matter for everyone but, also a delicate one for me. On one hand, as I negotiate my way through the emotionally tense week listening to survivors recounting the inhumane nature of attacks they suffered; the inability to save their loved ones; the gruesome footage of the perpetrators at work; and, the fact that all of this took place in a space of one hundred days (enough time for the international community to intervene and stop the murderers), suddenly a river of volatile emotions drown me in sorrow and a lot of anger.
On the other hand, as I fight so hard to contain my emotions, in the back of my head, I can’t help but imagine the extraordinary grief my fellow countrymen and women go through during this challenging period.
For me, it takes an equal amount of extraordinary effort for any society to emerge out of what we have gone through to look ahead to reconciliation, unity, and forgiveness – all with the intention of giving ourselves the best possible chance to rebuild a nation that we can all be proud of now and, for generations to come.
But, what if, as we journey through these extraordinary choices, we get tested by forces who are hell bent on dragging us back to the dark days either by negating the facts of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, or quite simply by promoting the ideology of genocide. If that happens, can we afford to continue business as usual?
Sadly, this is no longer a ‘what if’ scenario. In fact, negation, denial and whatnot are all taking place in international media outlets, academia, and on social media platforms.
For example, on 21st July 2015, ITV, a British television network aired a ‘news bulletin’ that featured one of the convicted masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Jean Kambanda.
During the programme, Kambanda, despite being a convicted murderer, was offered a platform to cast doubt on the extraordinary achievements Rwandans have registered thus far.
Kambanda stated that the current state of Rwanda is: “like a volcano that will one day explode again.”
And was Kambanda challenged by his host, an investigative reporter, John Ray? Not one bit.
Instead, Mr Ray added insult to injury when he later wrote that: “so when Kambanda tells us that in Rwanda dangerous divisions between Hutu and Tutsi remain and that the country is “like a volcano that will one day explode again’’ here at least he is not simply trying to re-write history, but to point out the real perils that persist.”
Perhaps Mr Ray can be forgiven for his ignorance which may have been driven by his desire to balance a report. But, if that was the case, why did he fail to counter Kambanda’s prediction by citing one of the very many inspiring stories that characterise the new Rwanda?
For instance, as an investigative reporter, you would think that Mr Ray would be aware of Nelly Mukazayire’s extraordinary story, wouldn’t you? Ms. Mukazayire is a product of the new Rwanda – where a Rwandan child does not in any way carry the burden of his or her parents.
For the record, Ms. Mukazayire’s mother is currently serving a life sentence for her role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and yet her daughter is simultaneously serving as the deputy director of cabinet in the Office of the President. Is this an example of a society where real perils persist? You be the judge.
So, for Mr Ray et al. to neglect all the above and proceed to issue irresponsible statements citing convicted murderers as their benchmark for a true account of today’s Rwanda only serves to strengthen the narrative that a growing number of predominantly Western media outlets are either seriously flawed and/or quite simply determined to continue underplaying the true historical events of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Of course, some people will argue that all this is in the name of balanced reporting, and freedom of speech, but whatever happened to the responsibility to state facts?
In addition, some academic institutions have also contributed to this very nature of negating the facts of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Last week, Linda Melvern wrote a piece in this paper in which she cited a provocative essay that was published by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as part of the 20th commemoration project on January 9, 2014.
Prof. Melvern highlighted the irresponsible part played by USHMM where one of the institute Fellows is thought to have stated that: “whether the genocide was planned, and was thus foreseeable, has been hotly debated by scholars, politicians and lawyers.”
Now, I understand the need by academia to examine events thoroughly but, what I do not understand is the tendency by certain scholars to ignore established facts.
If the fellow at USHMM had consulted established facts, he or she would have found that the trial of one of the key masterminds of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Theoneste Bagosora, completely erased the narrative of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi being a spontaneous act.
The trial proved beyond reasonable doubt that Genocide against the Tutsi was planned and executed with the help of the state, so much so that Bagosora (who was chief of staff in the ministry of defence) played a key role in planning, mobilizing and implementing the atrocities.
Bagosora was found guilty and subsequently convicted. How’s that for an independent source?
By and large, knowing what we know today, we (and I don’t mean just Rwandans) must stand up to expose and fight any form of ideas, observations, etc. that seek to negate the true accounts of what happened.
As we do so, we must teach, write, and document our stories so that when ITV, BBC, or any short-sighted scholar comments on our history irresponsibly, we don’t let them get away with it. Whatever we do, we must not allow the agents of evil to advance cunning agendas.