MP Jean-Marie Vianney Gatabazi, a member of the standing committee on Political Affairs and Gender in the Lower Chamber, is one of those outspoken lawmakers who has ‘waged a war’, particularly on social media, against genocide deniers and genocide ideology. Last week, he shared with Sunday Times’ James Karuhanga his point of view on how far the nation has come after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and, how to best carry on with the fight against the genocide ideology.
As we remember for the 22nd time, how do you feel about your nation’s progress?
I am happy to see the progress Rwandans have made since 1994 when over one million people were killed by their relatives; friends; and people who shared life with them. Today, we see Rwandans sitting together, working together, making progress together, and fighting to get where they want to be as Rwandans.
I feel happy to see a leadership led by President Paul Kagame, because as someone who was in this country before 1994, I never thought that today ‘Rwandaness’ can happen again. President Paul Kagame and the RPF, as the movement that stopped the Genocide and liberated the country, stopped the cycle of conflict.
When you say you are happy to see Rwandans working together, do you mean to paint a perfect picture? Is everything perfect?
For the time being I can say the percentage of people who believe in staying together, working together, is very convincing because people who killed the Tutsi had a mission to totally eliminate Tutsi in Rwanda and elsewhere. But good enough, God and the RPF did a very good, big job, to stop the Genocide and reconcile people. We have survivors and perpetrators and those who did nothing to stop Genocide now living together and this is something that is very important.
Important, yes, but the genocide ideology persists and, the people who committed genocide still want to continue…
I agree with you, because for the people who survived the Genocide against the Tutsi, it was not the will of the killers. It is because the RPF stopped the genocide. It is because the leadership of President Kagame meant everything… The ideology is still there because those who were killing the Tutsi are still alive in the DRC, in other neighboring countries and others far from here. They are still spreading the ideology of divisionism. They are trying to hide their role, trying to hide what they did and trying to deny that the Genocide did happen. We can’t say that the ideology that was mulled over for the past 40 years can disappear in these few 20 years.
How best do you think the genocide ideology can be fought?
The best way of fighting it is to remember; to maintain all the evidence including memorial sites, and this regular period of remembering, and also by educating the youth. The biggest number of the youth was not there in 1994 and they have to know about the genocide; how it was prepared, how the ideology was taught in schools, in churches and other kinds of public talks. And today, if the youth are shown how the genocide was planned and executed, in the future, we can have a youth free of genocide ideology. But it is a long journey and struggle because there are parents who still have the ideology and can still pass it on to their children, some politicians too especially outside the country are still preaching that ideology. This development of telecommunications: internet, and social media, has enabled the genocidaires to spread the genocide ideology and the youth is likely to meet that ideology through social media and the internet…
Are you suggesting that the other best way to fight genocide ideology is to keep doing what is being done?
It is to keep doing what we are doing. But it is also to reinforce our roles so that anyone who brings genocide ideology again has to be punished.
And how do you reinforce that role?
We have the law which is already published as passed in 2013. It is clear. But Rwandans should know what is the content of genocide ideology so that they avoid it. But also, we call upon everyone to make this law known. We also call upon all other countries to enact laws against Genocide because it is a crime against humanity and I think other countries should enact similar laws.
We are trying, as parliament and as politicians to urge other government and countries to enact the same law so that Genocide fugitives still roaming around the world face punishment where they are or brought back here in Rwanda, but also, for all those who harbor the genocide ideology to be stopped and taken to court.
Parliament has often grappled with the issue of genocide ideology in schools. What are you doing currently?
Today, during this commemoration period, we are remembering in general but after that we shall visit all schools across the country. It is part of the plan of Kwibuka22 in parliament. We shall have our time here in parliament but we shall also visit secondary schools and universities with presentations that will show students how the ideology of genocide is still a burden. We are also going to call on all youths to use their capabilities and facilities to fight against genocide ideology.
From what we gather about genocide ideology in schools, it all begins at home. Not in the schools. Aren’t you, perhaps, moving in the wrong direction?
The youth we have today is of different categories. There are those coming from families that participated in the Genocide. Some have parents in jail. There are young people who have relatives who killed people and fled the country. Sometimes, these families can talk to their children like, you know, ‘your parent is in prison because of the Tutsi, and because of the leadership today.’ They can teach them genocide ideology but the youth today also have an opportunity to challenge their parents and not be bound by the problems of their families or the problems of their parents. They have to liberate themselves from that genocide ideology.
How easy, do you think, is that crusade?
It will take long. You know, this issue is very demanding. It requires everybody to have a critical mind and critical thinking to analyze what parents are giving as history. But there is hope. Normally, the genocide can happen when the government is supporting it. If you have leadership that is against that, and is actually fighting it through all kinds of channels, children can have information from parents but when they also listen to the radio and get other testimonies, it is very helpful. It is not like getting information from the parent and then when in school you listen to a teacher who is an Interahamwe and when you listen to radio, you listen to RTLM. If we are all mobilized; the newspapers, radios, the TVs and the teachers in schools, and we maintain the same message, the children will grow with the same good mindset and ideology.
You are one of the very active politicians when it comes to social media. You are taking the genocide ideology fight to the social media platform. Is it working?
I am fully convinced that there were fights with speeches, fights with weapons, but today, the fight is also going to social media. I always mobilise my colleagues as well. But it is very demanding in such a way that you have to be passionate. You have to own your history. And you have to search for information such that you are always updated and informed so that you do not confuse people; you have necessary material to respond. It is good but if we can have many more people, the better. People have good ideas but they do not share them.
Talking about the war on socio-media, I am sure the tweet by the former French prime minister is still fresh on your mind. What did you make of it?
I know, and just like I responded to the tweets, I was not expecting something different from what Alain Juppe said because I know he was fully responsible to what the French did; the French government’s role in the genocide and support to the government and army of Habyarimana was very clear. And the message from Alain Juppe at a time when we are commemorating, in April, is intentionally made to upset us.
You think this was a calculated scheme?
It was not made by mistake. For me, the guy was intentionally calculating. To give such a message, very well knowing that in a few days we were going to talk about them. It was an aggression of sorts.
Please take us back to 1994, how old were you then?
I was born in 1968. In 1990, I was finishing my secondary school.
Do you have vivid memories of happenings then?
I don’t remember particular individuals back then but as somebody from Byumba, I remember the French army troops and what they were doing.
What do you recall, most profoundly?
The French Army, even before 1994, was in Byumba helping the army of Habyarimana to shell the RPA.
How so sure are you about that?
I saw them, I met them, and I stayed with them. I was an agricultural officer in the areas and I remember everything about their positions and the roadblocks they controlled. I have testified against them to the Mucyo commission.
Where do you see our nation in the next 20 years?
I used to mention the given gift from God, President Paul Kagame. For sure, the years that followed after 1994 were very hard. People who lost their own, people who had physical and mental wounds were willing to take revenge but President Kagame decided that we can’t accept continuation of conflict and said ‘I want every Rwandan enjoying his rights and opportunities and united.’
The will was even translated in laws and inclusive politics that called on everyone to work and to enjoy the country’s economic development and transformation. I am very convinced that in 20 years, Rwanda will be a very developed country in Africa. The conviction is from the youth of today.
The youth are committed, have opportunity to education and have interacted with the youth from all corners of the world. They have interacted with others from all corners and are bringing advanced strategies back home for development.
Another thing that convinces me is that President Kagame is working to build strong institutions that can maintain security, which can bring unity and that can fight genocide ideology anywhere.Follow https://twitter.com/KarhangaJames