For Rwandans, 23 years ago seems like just yesterday despite efforts to heal the wounds because genocidaires are always lurking. Countering them is a lifelong struggle.
In a statement presenting this year’s commemoration theme, Dr Jean-Damascène Bizimana, the executive secretary of the National Commission for the fight against Genocide (CNLG), said “we will spend the rest of our lives” fighting genocide ideology with all the tools available to humankind.
Bizimana then explained that good governance, continued and sustainable growth and remembering the departed loved ones are weapons of choice for Rwandans. Good governance is particularly regarded as the main pillar in Rwanda’s fight against genocide ideology.
Genocide ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterised by conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate people basing on their ethnic group, origin, nationality, region, colour, physical appearance, sex, language, religion or political opinion committed in normal periods or during war.
Genocide denial is the attempt to deny or minimise statements of the scale and severity of an incidence of genocide.
The nation today marks the 23rd anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which began on April 7, 1994. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Local Government and [Social Affairs] in 2000 concluded that about 1,074,017 people were killed in the Genocide that lasted 100 days.
This year’s commemoration activities are being organised under the theme, “Remember the Genocide against the Tutsi - Fight Genocide Ideology - Build on Our Progress.”
During these 100 days of commemoration, Rwandans and friends of Rwanda are expected to discuss how best to sustain gains in socio-economic progress that the country has made.
Meanwhile, in order to fight genocide ideology, Parliament has been on a continuous awareness campaign of what it is, how it manifests itself and how to combat it at every stage, says MP Theoneste Karenzi, president of the Anti-Genocide Parliamentary Forum (AGPF).
The general belief is that Rwandans as well as friends of Rwanda should be aware that the crusade is a protracted one, and that there is need to remain ever alert.
During their awareness campaigns, Karenzi added, they also pay attention on “how to detect” revisionism and denial.
“We have concentrated on the youth with the view to protect them from falling prey to those who harbor the genocide ideology, to make them good citizens and involve them in the fight against genocide ideology and denial,” he said.
Relentless vigilance, Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro agrees, is a vital weapon or deterrent.
“Whoever cares about genocide must remain vigilant,” Ndahiro says. “There are people out there who are busy trying to erase the memory of the Genocide against the Tutsi.”
“There are genocidaires and their ideologues; Rwandans and their allies. None of the Genocide deniers’ publications must pass unchallenged.”
Propagation of the crime of genocide ideology is more manifested in Europe and elsewhere abroad where fugitive Genocide perpetrators live and openly deny the Genocide.
“I am worried but not desperate. I always hope good people will realise the need to be super vigilant,” Ndahiro says.
Karenzi said the world has to continuously be made aware of the dangers and consequences of genocide. The country has been proactive through carrying out research, running articles in different media outlets, using social media, using parliamentary diplomacy and organising symposia to tell the world about the problem.
The lawmaker is mindful of a new trend of challenges that they must contend with. These include use of social media, publication of books and articles, as well as organising conferences through some universities and academicians.
Nevertheless, he says, not all hope is lost since “genocide ideology is on the decline among Rwandans and there is a growing number of people who understand its dangers and are ready to fight it.”
During last year’s commemoration, CNLG researchers launched a book about the state of genocide ideology in Rwanda from 1995 up to 2015. The researchers, among others, said hatred and hate speech among Rwandans were decreasing but warned that genocide ideology was still a threat.
According to Dr Joseph Nkurunziza, president and co-founder of Never Again Rwanda (NAR), a human rights and peace-building organisation, sustaining the battle against genocide ideology and denial will entail much more.
The NAR’s aim as a peace building and social justice organisation, he says, is to build capacities in critical thinking skills and dialogue to promote “a non-violent and skilled generation of peace ambassadors.”
“Based on the role of the youth in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, we believe that through capacity building of young population in promotion of positive values, including critical thinking, empathy and social responsibility, the youth will be empowered to differentiate between rumours, stereotypes, prejudices and political manipulations,” he said.
Nkurunziza said the Rwandan youth, being able to reason and take actions based on evidence or facts, will play a key role to prevent ideology and denial.
Besides building capacities, Nkurunziza says, another strategy to sustain the fight against genocide ideology is creating safe spaces for the youth and community members to openly discuss their wounds and other sensitive issues to promote peaceful dialogues to increase openness, empathy and trust, which would ultimately contribute to a socially cohesive society.
“Rwandans have achieved a major milestone in being tolerant of one another, but we need to engage in dialogue, which will embrace diversity and create understanding among Rwandans since they comprise people from different diversities, resulting from our history.”
The nation’s diversity, Nkurunziza notes, creates opportunities for collective action to fight genocide ideology as a result of common understanding.
Regarding the emerging issues, Nkurunziza says, their experience – from implementation of their programmes and research – highlighted that there is trans-generational trauma from deeply wounded parents to children.
He explained: “Youth born after Genocide demonstrate low knowledge of Rwandan history and there is ongoing transfer of ethnic-based stereotypes from old generation to young people due to their sensitive past or ideological beliefs.
“All these emerging factors could contribute to not only genocide ideology and denial, but also future violence if they are not addressed now.”
According to Nkurunziza, tackling these issues requires a network of stakeholders including government, civil society, researchers and the media.
“The most important factor that creates opportunity for fighting genocide ideology is the political will that facilitates the environment for peace building initiatives to address the challenges cited above,” Nkurunziza said.