The chairperson of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), retired Bishop John Rucyahana says although Rwanda has achieved tremendous success over the last 22 years, this should not be taken for granted because good leadership is rare to get.
In an interview with Sunday Times’ James Karuhanga, Rucyahana talks about the country’s post-Genocide journey of healing and how the Ndi Umunyarwanda campaign has helped free people, especially the youth, from crimes that their parents or relatives committed.
As the nation commemorates the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi for the 22nd time, what is your take on how Rwandans are living together today?
Rwandans have done very well, contextually, given the circumstances they are recovering from: the journey they have made from the Genocide committed against the Tutsi in 1994. And given the historical-long training on hatred and division they suffered unjustly against their nature, culture and traditional way of life, which was actually affected and dismantled or, if you want, invaded by the colonial ideology of divide-and-rule which the Rwandan people, through force and enticement, embraced.
This colonialists’ ideology significantly changed the course of Rwanda, from a powerful united nation, a powerful economy and military nation of the time, to what we ended up with in 1994, which started being exercised from 1959.
If you analyze that historical deterioration of our human dignity, aspirations, drive, culture and setting to look at the journey Rwanda has made to recovery, towards self rediscovery, towards self responsibility, you’ll see that Rwanda has made a huge transformation.
There are some who still fear that despite the never again’ commitment, genocide can happen again…
Their fears are not baseless. They are based on experience, on the life they’ve lived, some of them from birth, and throughout all their life. It is almost 100 years since Rwandans started being derailed from their cohesive way of life. Consciously or otherwise, some people still think that the progress we have made to date is too good to be true because, from 1959, in Gikongoro alone, we lost 200,000 Tutsi. From 1959 to 1961, we lost more than 300,000 people and the killing continued into 1973 when (Juvenal) Habyarimana took over the government from (Gregore) Kayibanda. In 1991, there was a wave of dismissing the Tutsi from jobs while others were persecuted and killed. All that trace of persecution and killings left a huge mark on the people.
People fear that it might happen again, knowing that FDLR is in Congo, when they see people chop cows into pieces during the commemoration period, some survivors of the Genocide being persecuted with sharp hurting words by members of the community; seeing the genocide ideology still springing around. All this still rings the memories of that history that hurt the people.
You know, we are not doing magic in this nation. We are dealing with human pain, dealing with human losses and dealing with human fears. So, it is normal. It is not so scaring that people still have fear. They have good reason to fear. They have been subjected to loss. They have been abused. They have been exploited. Now, after 22 years, which is a very short period of time, they see peace ushered in. They are trying to develop confidence.
But they still look left and right, and ask, ‘isn’t this too good to be true? Can this be derailed again?’ So, for people to doubt and fear, it’s normal. It’s human.
But if you want to assess the general performance of this nation, then you look at the results, based on the unity and reconciliation policy which is based on the Constitution and other laws, and based on good leadership.
You say it’s normal to fear. What do you think is the best way to deal with this situation?
It is important to keep our hands on it. We maintain our conviction; we continue to tell Rwandans and the people of the world that our destiny is in our own hands. And we continue telling the youth in this country that the future belongs to us, and that nobody will donate development to us, nobody will donate security to us, and nobody will donate human rights to us. Everything we aspire for will be worked for. Nobody will donate dignity or development to us. We’ll have to earn it, through hard work.
Who exactly is we in this case?
Rwandans, from the youngest to the oldest. From the educated to the uneducated. From the poor to the rich. All of us. We have to have the conviction that the future of this nation is in our hands. Of course, we thank God for President Paul Kagame, his leadership and his team. They are encouraging, they are inspiring too. But we have to make our contributions too and do the little we can do because nobody will do it for us. We have friends, we are not an island, and we are part of the global village. But the global village will not think for us, and will not work for us. Yet they can be partners but must not dictate the terms.
What would you want to remind Rwandans about ethnicity during this time?
In Rwanda, ethnicities are nonexistent, in reality. It was a colonial creation to divide the people. The Hutu were there. The Tutsi were there. But they were not tribes. They were classes. Anybody who wanted to belong to class A was never a problem to anyone in class B. Today, Rwandans are free to feel what they want to feel if they want to but it is useless. We tell Rwandans to choose what blesses them, not what curses them; take up what opens up opportunities for them, not what limits their opportunities.
Our responsibility at the Unity and Reconciliation Commission, our responsibility as Rwandans, communally, is to encourage each other to be free from bondage. We cannot afford to continue to be bound by useless concepts. There are things which we can’t afford to hold on to anymore. These things are not rewarding, they are restrictive, they deprive us of the joy and freedom to relate with other people, do business with others, be productive, and to be proud of who we are.
How fruitful has Ndi Umunyarwanda been so far?
It’s been very fruitful.
How very fruitful?
We are monitoring the programme and will continue to monitor it. Ndi Umunyarwanda frees people from what we’ve been talking about. Traditionally, we had what we call tribes, the creation of colonialists to divide us and they succeeded in that regard. They manipulated us and achieved their goal.
Is it not an ever-present threat then, that they will always want to divide, manipulate us?
Of course yes. They want it desperately, even now. Especially now when we are trying to unite and when our unity is bearing fruit, they are craving to do it. Our unity exposes their ill-intentions for us. Certainly, they crave for it and they will never stop looking for the opportunity to do it, but we have to prevent it. We have to resist it.
How strong are we to resist them? We failed in the past…
Do you mean to say that since we failed in the past we should always fail? God forbid! Why should you fail to resist evil in your society, and your country and people? Nothing is missing. You need to know that you have a responsibility to defend yourself and to be who you are meant to be. Nobody should continue to crush your dignity and your ability. It is doable.
If we have walked this journey, from the Genocide, from a destroyed economy, from a destroyed social fabric and people, to an exemplary nation, what else do you need to know (as proof) that we can?
Let’s go back to Ndi Umunyarwanda and how fruitful it has been…
Yes, it has been very fruitful. Our youth are feeling healed from the bondage of what they were traditionally caught up in. The children of people who had been branded Hutu and whose parents committed genocide were carrying on the guilt and blaming themselves for the genocide committed by their parents but, today, they know that it’s the fault of their parents and not their own. These children are now feeling free to relate with others and they are feeling free to talk about it. That is the healing Ndi Umunyarwanda is bringing to our youth. The whole idea behind Ndi umunyarwanda is to encourage us to be even more united.
How are you reaching out to the Rwandan Diaspora as far as the Ndi Umunyarwanda initiative is concerned?
We’ve visited some countries and have invited Rwandans out there to come and visit Rwanda and go back and tell others about their experience. The Government has also organized ‘Rwanda Day’ events in several countries and the President has also addressed these gatherings (of Rwandan Diaspora members).
We have elected (Ndi Umunyarwanda-promoting) committees in some countries. We haven’t done much yet but we have recently established a department at our commission in charge of the Diaspora and we are collaborating with the Diaspora desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to try to reach more members of Diaspora regularly. The Diaspora should not be looked at negatively. Not all the people in the Diaspora are Genocide perpetrators.
But there are many people who live in countries like France and Belgium not as economic emigrants but because they are Genocide fugitives…
We need to be able to reach out to the criminals too. We need to tell them that they are criminals but they can repent their crimes and be forgiven but still take responsibility for their crimes. We also need to be able to tell political immigrants in France or wherever else they may be around the world that they need to balance, reconsider their views on their nation, and eventually be proud of who they are.
22 years from now where do you see Rwanda in terms of unity and reconciliation?
I think we are on the right track, thanks to God. You see, if you want to gauge the life of a plant, you gauge it from the fruits it is bearing. The government of national unity, the constitutional enforcement of togetherness, our laws, our efforts to give human dignity meaning led us to create policies that promote reconciliation, and no revenge.
And, I must repeat this, thank God for our exceptional leadership. Bearing in mind the economic recovery, the relationships we have achieved, the recovery of the education system, and the transformations taking place in many areas, and the fact that other nations are coming to see and learn from us. And I want you to go tell that to your people…
Which people, fellow journalists?
Yes, the media. If they care, let them take some time to understand our journey thus far, let them communicate the journey we’ve travelled in the right way, as it is, through the right context. And the commitment and role of the people of Rwanda in this journey, the nature of our motivation as a people, the difficulties faced...
This is your message to the journalists in the country?
Exactly. No foreigner should be interpreting this for you. You belong to it. You’ve been there, you’ve walked the journey. We don’t need foreigners telling us who we are and what we have done to get to where we are today.
Where we are is very encouraging. The journey, the history we are rewriting today is an encouraging story. You need to put it in a book; you need to write columns of this history, you need to be able to write articles about this journey. The world has to read it and it has to be written in the context of the Rwandans, by Rwandans.
We don’t want anybody to come from anywhere out there, from universities or other domains, and instantly call themselves specialists on Rwanda.