An outsider’s view of 1994

I’m a bona fide Rwandan through and through but some aspects of my nationality confuse me. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t blessed enough during my childhood to be raised in this beautiful country of ours; but, if I’m honest, I thank the good Lord that I wasn’t living in Kimihurura 17 years ago. I’d have been a goner. Which brings me to the gist of this column; as we begin the week of national mourning tomorrow,  various things puzzle me. What possessed people in 1994?

I’m a bona fide Rwandan through and through but some aspects of my nationality confuse me. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t blessed enough during my childhood to be raised in this beautiful country of ours; but, if I’m honest, I thank the good Lord that I wasn’t living in Kimihurura 17 years ago. I’d have been a goner.

Which brings me to the gist of this column; as we begin the week of national mourning tomorrow,  various things puzzle me. What possessed people in 1994?

I’ve heard many reasons attempting to justify the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. They say; “the government blackmailed the Rwandan people and forced them to kill their neighbours and kin and the hate-filled media enflamed the passions and fears of people so much that they lashed out without thinking. 

Sociologists and historians say that there was “long-term brainwashing of the populace” and the religious members within our society explain the 100 days of madness as “the unleashing of all the devils and demons in hell”.

I hear all these reasons and justifications but, honestly, I’m still bamboozled.  How can one rationalize some of the things that happened for almost four months, How is it possible that a mother murder her child? That a woman is raped using a sharp stick until she dies of her wounds? That best friends turn on each other?

That priests turn on their parishioners? That people become so callous that the pain and suffering of others doesn’t turn their stomachs? I mean, I can’t watch the news while having supper because the sight of war in Libya makes me lose my appetite.

It would have been a lot easier, intellectually at least, if everyone had responded to the events in the same way. But for each villain and mass murderer, we had a hero and heroine. For every act of cruelty, there was an act of selflessness. Often in the same gene pool.

So, why would one sibling, raised the same way and responding to the same external stimuli act in a heroic way while the other acted like the village angel of death? I can’t wrap my head around this.

 Maybe, as I learn more and more what it means to be Rwandan, I will understand. Because if I can’t find a reason I will have to fall back on my own theory; a theory that I came up with as a 14 year old as I celebrated my first New Year’s celebration in this country.

As I learnt about the events my simple thought was “Rwandans sure are dumb, don’t they know the difference between wrong and right”?

The theme of this year’s commemoration period is ‘upholding the truth and preserving the dignity of Rwandans’. I’m a web-trawler and, as I move from website to website learning all manners of things, I’ve noticed a trend.

There is a huge spike in web entries that, on one hand express remorse about the Genocide and then, with barely a hiccup, negate all the progress that has been made since then. It’s as if an entire spectrum of people expected Rwanda to descend into orgies of ‘tribal bloodletting’ and they’ve been disappointed to find the very opposite.

Rwanda is moving forward and Rwandans have a higher standard of living than they’ve ever had. Sure there are many challenges that we face. But we face these challenges head on.

 I’ve been a native of Kigali since December 1994 but I still see events through the prism of an outside and as an ‘outsider’ I say, “the events of 1994 simply boggle my mind but so do the events after 1994”.

sunnyntayombya@newtimes.co.rw

 

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