Ndi Umunyarwanda and the Rwandan nation and identity

Twenty years after genocide, Rwanda is confronting its past while building the future. President Paul Kagame in inspiring Rwandans to rise above the tragedy of the Genocide against the Tutsi said: “The body of Rwanda was tortured, was assaulted, the body succumbed but the spirit never did.”
Ernest Rwamucyo
Ernest Rwamucyo

Twenty years after genocide, Rwanda is confronting its past while building the future.

President Paul Kagame in inspiring Rwandans to rise above the tragedy of the Genocide against the Tutsi said: “The body of Rwanda was tortured, was assaulted, the body succumbed but the spirit never did.”

The concept of Ndi Umunyarwanda or literally translated “I am Rwandan” is the greatest embodiment of the true and enduring Rwandan spirit the President was invoking. Ndi Umunyarwanda is about re-construction of the very foundation of the Rwandan identity or “ubunyarwanda”.

The Genocide against the Tutsi was the culmination of a long history that focused on discrimination, fomenting differences and ethnic hatred.  The colonial era was characterised by social engineering and institutionalisation of discrimination and ethnic divisions under the colonial policy of divide and conquer. The himatic myth that gave birth to the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy was propagated during that era.

While the colonial era fueled and institutionalised ethnicity, post independence myopic politics and bad governance entrenched and exploited hatred and discrimination.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is a tragic outcome of this unfortunate history.

Ndi Umunyarwanda and re-kindling the true Rwandan spirit, identity and citizenship is a strong foundation for uprooting our tragic past and rebuilding a new future for next generation of Rwandans.

A deeper understanding of, and embracing the concept of Ndi Umunyarwanda will be key in rebuilding “ubunyarwanda” or “Rwandanness” for lack of a better word; the lasting identify that will ensure Rwanda never goes back to the path of genocide and self-destruction.

Ndi Umunyarwanda calls for individual and collective self examination and deep reflection on Rwanda’s painful past and determination to build a better future. Rwandans are called on to confront the country’s tragic history with dignity, honesty, openness, and total confidence.

Every single Rwandan has been a victim of the country’s bad history in one way or another. There is an obligation to truthfully and honestly confront this tragic reality together as a nation.  

Ndi Umunyarwanda is about determination to develop a deep sense of nationalism, patriotism and love of country.

This requires each and every Rwandan to go through a process of deep and profoundly honest soul searching and self examination with a view to confronting history, asking tough questions and finding solid answers on what went wrong in our history that led to the tragic Genocide. How did we end up on the path of self-destruction? What was the impact of the Genocide on our society? How far have we come in the post-genocide nation-building? What can be our genuine contribution in rebuilding the country and Rwandan relationship that will ensure that we never go back to genocide and self destruction?

Ndi Umunyarwanda is at the core of Rwandan nation-building. Rwandans are challenged to focus on the future and build a new, modern and stronger nation. A Rwandan nation that is all embracing and tolerant. Through Ndi Umunyarwanda, Rwandans choose to build on the strong bond and assets of a shared language, culture, values, norms, practices and centuries of harmonious co-existence to build rebuild their identity and nation.

By embracing the spirit and practice of “Ubunyarwanda” Rwandans will build social cohesion, social stability, and re-build the social fabric of their society that will hold the country and the people together. The social fabric of the Rwandan society was maimed before and during the Genocide and social cohesion had been destroyed during the colonial and post-independence period. Trust and confidence among Rwandans will be rebuilt and consolidated through the process of dialogue on Ndi Umunyarwanda.

By embracing the concept of Ndi Umunyarwanda, Rwandans are making a choice to root out the legacy of Genocide and a tragic history, and build a strong, unified, tolerant nation grounded on a democratic, responsive, efficient and an accountable state with every citizen as an important stakeholder. It is the true foundation for unity and reconciliation.

President Kagame famously said: “We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to ensure that what happened never happens again”. The concept of Ndi Umunyarwanda is about taking ownership and full responsibility for shaping the future as Rwandans want it. Through it, Rwandans are refusing to be prisoners of a tragic and condemned history, but to be builders of a shared future.

The process will help consolidate the economic, social and governance gains Rwanda has made over the last two decades and maintain the momentum of achieving Rwanda’s Vision 2020 and the transformation that Rwanda is undergoing. It makes Rwandans more focused on changing the country for the better. Socio-economic transformation, prosperity, wealth creation and equal opportunity is the strongest assurance that a true and shared Rwandan identity can be forged and maintained as everyone would have an equal stake in preserving a harmonious future.

Ndi Umunyarwanda is the knot that binds together the Rwandan values of integrity, patriotism, self-worth (agaciro), solidarity, tolerance and self-reliance. These values that have long defined Rwandans were destroyed over decades of discrimination and ethnic politics. Rwandans have a responsibility and an opportunity to nurture, propagate and rebuild these values to strengthen and rebuild their society and nation.

Ultimately, Ndi Umunyarwanda will help uproot genocide ideology, the culture of impunity and neutralise Genocide denial. It will be a deterrent to political discourse that stalks hatred, ethnicity, discrimination of any form and draw a clear redline for politicians who espouse such practices, denying them a platform from which to poison the Rwanda society.

Ndi Umunyarwanda and the on-going project of de-ethnicisation can be achieved. The differences between the Hutu and Tutsi, real or perceived, are not fundamental enough to have caused the Genocide that annihilated about 14 per cent of Rwanda’s population in 1994.

In this globalising world, a Rwanda that has embraced regional integration by becoming a member of the East African Community and joining the Commonwealth, the continuation of the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy is such a suffocating phenomenon that a young, enlightened and globally connected generation of Rwandans must be determined to break away from. Everyone should be determined and actively playing a role in creating a fresh and broader Rwandan society of shared opportunity, destiny and peaceful co-existence.  Ndi Umunyarwanda provides this opportunity.

For this project of de-ethnicising Rwanda and deconstructing the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy to succeed, each Rwandan has a responsibility to contribute to building a solid durable nation, a true Rwandan identity and cementing social cohesion. Rwandans will have to take time to deeply, genuinely and honestly reflect on their country’s history and future and have the conviction that change begins with one individual.

Small things matter. Tough questions must be asked and answers found. For instance, what do Rwandan parents tell their children at the dinner table or behind closed doors on the question of ethnicity and the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy? Do they explain to their children the trauma and painful history the country has gone through and their own story in a way that enlightens their children and inspires them to grow up to build a more tolerant and harmonious future or parents poison children and prepare them for intolerance, ethnic hatred and potential future extremists? How do we deal with the question of the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy when we are in our comfort zones? These are fundamental questions which we must confront if we are to break free from the bondage of ethnicity and poisoned minds.

This process of de-ethnicisation is a very crucial phase in post-genocide re-building of Rwanda. The pillars and building blocks for this process have been constructed over the last 20 years and need to be consolidated. Through the process and practice of Ndi Umunyarwanda, the Rwandan identity and citizenship will be built and a sustainable nation re-born.

Ernest Rwamucyo is High Commissioner of Rwanda to India. He is also accredited to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

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