Something has come full circle, it seems, to see on the front page of The New Times not a celebrity or visiting politician standing with his or her head bowed at the Gisozi Memorial Site, but rather Rwanda’s own president bowing himself in remembrance not in Rwanda, but Israel, at the shrine to the memories of another genocide altogether.
Fraternities of history must stick together, and that is what Paul Kagame and Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres have only just begun to do.
That is why Kagame was in Israel. That, hopefully, was what was going through his head as he bowed in silence in the Hall of Remembrance, a room dedicated to the 6 million Jews, and 5 million other personas-non-grata that were murdered by the Nazi regime from 1939 to 1945.
How much remembering is being done? In the Hall of Remembrance, the names of each victim of the Holocaust are recited. But what does Israel—or for that matter, Rwanda—do about other remembering, say, the victims of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and to make sure it never happens again?
For too long, there has been too little done on the part of Israel—by far the most financially and political able of any genocide "survivor" country—to form bridges and working partnerships with whom could only be called her younger cousins in history.
Rwanda’s invitation to the 60th anniversary celebrations of Israel look to be a permanent change on this matter. Kagame’s invitation is logical, if not necessary, if not belated.
Where are the student exchanges or visa waivers? Where are the lecturers and information centres, the embassies of foreign cultures but Siamese struggles and Siamese aspirations?
That was Kagame’s message at the "Facing Tomorrow" conference in Jerusalem this past week; the world—and individual national success—is interconnected, not just common but in fact contiguous, bounded to each other.
In the annals of regional blocs (the EAC) or common-value associations (the Non-Aligned States), one would be hard-pressed to find a more deserving and useful partnership than that between those who have experienced and triumphed over genocide.
Yet this association does not exist. On the surface you would never think that Namibia, Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Israel have much in common, let alone one of the most deeply-embedded bonds in human nature; the memory of persistent persecution and elusive existence.
In fact, there is not so much as an Israeli consulate, let alone embassy in Rwanda. Rabbis and Jewish scholars have come through the hillside from time to time, and Rwanda has sent students and emissaries before to the Yad Vashem memorial site in Israel, but as to why it does not have permanent representation in Kigali, yet Switzerland does, is hard to fathom.
It’s not only history that bounds these two peoples together and makes formal and continuously active diplomacy a good idea.
Both countries, especially Rwanda, could benefit greatly from close cooperation and brainstorming on common issues ranging from border and customs patrols to soil-potency and irrigation.
Not to mention one other thing both countries have in common. The need, pursuit and future dependence on information technology and a service-based economy. Israel has a coastline, and it is mostly flat desert rather than mountainous rainforest, but if one asked Shimon Peres to name his most valuable resource, much like Rwanda he would say immediately, "our people."
Who is ‘our’?
Rwanda’s team to Jerusalem was reportedly amazed by the country and the people—easy to understand; and said that when it came to purpose-driven countries—a reference to President Kagame’s determination for Rwanda—Israel was at the top of the list.
With all the good news and salutations, it is frustrating to wait for any country who has experienced genocide, to come around to action.
All across the world, in the wake and response to atrocity, non-governmental organisations have sprout up like weeds in a vegetable garden, campaigning furiously and sometimes inaccurately on issues in, for example, Darfur, or Zimbabwe.
They do so much like weeds because, and at the expense of, weakness, be it amongst proper national governments or proper vegetable plants. Because the governments of the world have done shockingly little with each other to prevent genocide from sprouting again.
Don’t keep waiting. A federation of Genocide survivors would list Israel, Rwanda, and all those listed above as members, and may very well effectively include Western Europe, within which the Holocaust, and another forgotten genocide, the Spanish Inquisition, took place.
It is Israel that is the natural leader and elder of this group, but it is Rwanda that could gain the most from it. Common military and defence exercises; common history-education theory; and common agricultural, mechanical and computer engineering partnerships are simply waiting to happen.
And not only that, but a serious multi-lateral association will add immense legitimacy to floundering foreign policies rooted in the name of genocide-prevention—something Israel has been constantly accused of. Let us put our money where our mouths are, and build real bonds from real experiences. Preventing genocide, and thriving in its shadows is a serious purpose to be driven by. President Kagame would welcome these partnerships in a heartbeat. We’re all just waiting for Shimon.