Since April 7, Rwandans and friends of Rwanda all over the world and in the country have embarked on activities to mark the 22nd commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi. This year’s commemoration activities were organised under the theme ‘Fighting Genocide Ideology.’ Throughout the commemoration activities, it has been stressed that the ideology should be uprooted and the youth protected to ensure a better future generation.
It is in this context that The New Times’ Julius Bizimungu spoke to Dr Joseph Nkurunziza, the co-founder of Never Again Rwanda, a human rights and peace-building organisation that focuses on the youth, about what can be done to ensure a future free of such toxic ideology. Excerpts;-
Rwandans continue to commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but let’s first of all talk about the existence of Never Again Rwanda; when, why and how was it established?
Never Again Rwanda is a peace-building and human rights organisation that we founded to address the bad legacy that had been left after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, with the main focus being empowering Rwandans to become responsible citizens, but with more emphasis on the youth.
We simply put much effort in the young people because we believe that they are the leaders of today and tomorrow. If these young people are not empowered with the right opportunities, they might not become the responsible citizens that we would want to see in the future.
When you look back, young people were incited to participate in the Genocide, but at the same time they are the ones who stopped the Genocide (the Rwanda Patriotic Front in this case).
This clearly shows that when young people are empowered, they can make great contribution and change the country for the better.
What have been your achievements for the years you have worked with the young people?
First, we have spent 14 years working with the youth, and I clearly remember the way we started out when we were still at the university.
I can say there has been a remarkable impact, but again we should understand that things related to behavioural change take time. For the last few years we were involved in awareness campaigns and for the other five years we incorporated into knowledge.
However, the expected impact is the mindset change. We need to see responsible citizens who cannot be manipulated to do what their peers did in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
But, more importantly, to have youth who are responsible, who are accountable, who are active citizens, and those who can hold their leaders accountable so that they can be able to champion transparency and accountability.
For the years we have been working, at least the young people we worked with, both those who were born after the 1994 Genocide and those who were young when the Genocide was taking place, all have developed critical minds and they have developed themselves.
Some of our beneficiaries are in decision-making institutions, administrative councils, and other big positions.
We are, therefore, hoping that these people who have passed through our programmes will be responsible. We realise this through the programmes we offer; we have seen young people developing new ideas, new way of thinking over things and more over the way they portray the zeal of understanding on different aspects.
What’s your personal perspective, and how does your organisation understand genocide ideology?
The word ‘ideology’ means a collection of ideas. But first, an ideology starts with an attitude, if the attitude is positive there would be a collection of good ideas. Unfortunately, towards independence, the colonial administration started sowing seeds of hatred and a section of Rwandans was indoctrinated on hate and genocide ideology.
Secondly, they were indoctrinated with an ideology of mixed ethnic hatred, and so what the post-government did was to start indoctrinating citizens with genocide ideology. This is the time when the Tutsi started being called all kinds of names, and this was the starting point.
Over the years, they continued intoxicating peoples’ minds with hatred of a section of Rwandans. You can imagine over 30 years, the population being indoctrinated on genocide ideology.
Remember, this was done through writing, media, and mass communication, to name but a few. The end of it was the 1994 Genocide aganst the Tutsi in which more than a million people died within a just 100 days.
This means all people were involved; the parents, teachers, and leaders. The post-genocide government (the government of national unity) put up new systems, laws and policies.
But because genocide ideology was instilled into the population for very long, there are still some parents who still have that understanding, and teachers who still mention it to students.
We believe the human being doesn’t change overnight, it’s a process and we know we’ll make it with time.
A 2007 study by parliamentarians in the 83 secondary schools established that at least 53 per cent of them had genocide ideology. But a recent reconciliation barometer shows that genocide ideology has reduced by 84 per cent.
What’s the genocide ideology effect to the youth born during and after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi?
Well, there are people who were born after the Genocide and would love to know what happened in the country, but because we have categories of parents, who either participated in the Genocide and do not want to talk about those horrific activities they carried out, and others whose families were wiped out and do not want those hurting moments to hit their minds, this keeps the young people in confusion.
Young people learn as they grow, when they reach a certain stage they have a lot of questions, and so through this questioning they might either end up becoming good citizens or bad citizens depending on how their parents shaped them. This is a psychological effect.
Genocide ideology has also had a great impact on those whose parents were killed. In the same aforementioned way or even in terms of being left alone as orphans; they assumed responsibilities at a tender age, others were traumatised, and others were left with wounds.
What is the best way to fight the genocide ideology in the country?
I think three things need to be done; mentorship, documenting and reading can help us make communities get to know what happened in our country and completely uproot the genocide ideology.
Again, there’s still a long way to go to uproot the remaining 16 per cent of the genocide ideology in the population. One of the ways to achieve this is to keep commemorating the Genocide so that we can keep the memory alive and people get to know the reality about what exactly happened in Rwanda.
People, however, need to write about the history of their country, the past and what happened so that those people who negate it will one day face justice. We have seen that denial has even penetrated the academic world where we find professors and diplomats publishing books denying the genocide.
Lastly, people need to hold frequent discussions, debates around these issues, simply because the more we debate and discuss these issues, the more we get to understand them deeper.
I would also say that we are now closely working with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders on how to integrate peace education in the curriculum and it should be studied by each and every student so that we can be able to deal with the issues originated from genocide ideology.
Let’s talk about the growth of technology (social media) in this context, should it be seen as a key tool in the fight against the genocide ideology?
Social media is a good tool depending on how you use it. As the country moves towards the modern world, we also need to keep up with the pace at which the technology grows.
However, young people need to be educated on how to use the social media tools responsibly. We need also to learn how to document and package the information in a youth-friendly way.
Young people need mentors so they can develop critical minds so that when someone looks at what a person has written, they don’t simply take it as truth but analyse and choose what’s best for them.
We also need to be guided on what to post and what not to post; when to respond and when not to respond; who to report and where to report. This can help us reap benefits from the growth of technology.
How about the role of civil society in fighting genocide ideology?
The role of civil society is awareness, education and providing capacity building. Above this, fighting genocide ideology needs collaborative efforts of each and everyone.