A song of the cursing

My neighbour is very interesting. He is hardly literate, but he boasts to be the most informed of my village. He reads Kinyarwanda papers surely better than I do; he listens to the multitude of radios stations on air, he is aware of all gossips, he compares the information, he digests it, balances the opinions, finally, he gets out a brew of his own and he challenges me with his blended concoction  of …the latest news.
Wellars Gasamagera
Wellars Gasamagera


My neighbour is very interesting. He is hardly literate, but he boasts to be the most informed of my village. He reads Kinyarwanda papers surely better than I do; he listens to the multitude of radios stations on air, he is aware of all gossips, he compares the information, he digests it, balances the opinions, finally, he gets out a brew of his own and he challenges me with his blended concoction  of …the latest news.

The other day he stopped me at my gate not for his usual “do you know the latest?”, but this time “for a piece of advice”.  He looked very concerned and I thought something grave had happened. Finally with a sigh of discomposure, he told me: “Don’t you think this is a cursing from the boy? I mean this Kizito boy who has been singing for survivors, and now has started singing for the genocidaires”. Before I placed a word he quickly went on to conclude”:…this is really a disaster! My sources of information have it that he is presaging trouble; he is surely cursed and spells the cursing through his songs”. He spat on the ground and went by, leaving me in perplexity. I was standing there motionless, thinking about the cursing…a real cursing, indeed it is.

1. The story, told and untold

Kizito Mihigo was raised in a Christian family, educated in a seminary, was taught music in his early childhood. Many say that he composed his first song at the age of nine. He is a fervent catholic adept, who questionably left the seminary after five years of frequentation, despite being promisingly called for priesthood. A musical prodigy, at 19 years of age, he had composed a 200 songs’ repertory sang in catholic churches throughout the country and beyond. His father’s death during genocide impacted his unconscious for a style of music that was highly emotional to arouse the survivors’ minds, to the outrage of the genocide ideology torchbearers who still nourished the lethal intentions to wipe out the remaining Tutsi survivors, if given a chance.

Then came the drift. The prolix university graduate composer from France was teaching music in Belgium. As Andre Breton put it, tell me whom you haunt and I’ll tell you who you are. His acquaintances in Belgium were among the most notorious fugitives once executioners of the genocidal agenda in Rwanda, genocide deniers and other trivialisers. He was always present in their family seasonal festivities, if not in their orgies. He was an entertainer, a preacher, even at times, it was said, a Tutsi subjected to mockery in the homes of the genocide ideology mongers he believed to impress. On all occasions, however, he inevitably made sure to secure his pay, very smart as he was. 

Preaching reconciliation brought him to be considered as the savior, to be identified with the long awaited messiah to some in these circles. Imagine a survivor who was calling to honour the memory of genocide victims as well as their perpetrators’. He was soon seen to utter an enigmatic discourse, profaning the genocide victims’ memory through his own vision of reconciliation and undisguised advocacy for the double genocide hypothesis. He turned out to be the icon proclaiming boastfully that: Uburyo Abahutu banyemera bingana uko Abatutsi banyanga…literally meaning “the reverence of the Hutus for me equals the resentment of the Tutsi towards me!”

2. The Icarus syndrome 

In Ancient Greek mythology, Icarus disobeyed his father Daedalus and was fatally punished. Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son to fly. Before taking off, he warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. So Icarus fell into the sea in the area which today bears his name, the Icarian Sea. The Icarus Syndrome describes people who get carried away by their own success. They begin to believe that, like Icarus, they can ignore what normal mortals cannot. Having risen to these heights, sufferers seek greater thrills, the greatest of which is the unconscious hatching of their own annihilation.

Government leaders, heads of industry and movie stars are typical victims of this syndrome, which usually ends in impeachment, disgrace or prison. Treatment is difficult: part of having the syndrome believes that they are cleverer than everyone else.

3. Maturing the ego

I have been arguing in this newspaper some time back, that our judgments are shaped by the unconscious weighing of emotional tags associated with our memories, rather than by the conscious weighing of rational pros and cons.

The growing feeling of appreciation of the genocidal clique around Kizito Mihigo has outweighed his genocide survivor memory. Day after day, he could find himself deeply entangled in the dilemma opposing the survivor’s instinctive distance and the sweet thrills of the pinnacle where he was sitting, with the imaginary importance and authority he had garnered around him in genocidal circles. 

Given the powerful influence of positive and negative emotions on his unconscious, one would be tempted to believe he should have made decisions based on objective and logical analysis. Yet the latter option was to do without the human unpredictable nature. Greed, selfishness, ambition, all had slyly snatched into his mind, and now he was a fruit ripe for collection.

4. Hatching up the treason, the self-fulfilling prophecy

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Macbeth is given a prophecy that he will eventually become king, but afterwards, the offspring of his best friend will rule instead of his own. Spurred by the prophecy, he kills the king and his friend, something he, arguably, never would have done before. In the end, the evil actions he committed get him killed in a revolution. 

The singer enters a plot to remove the Government. He is proposed a simple Ministerial position; out of his own testimony, he himself proposes to eliminate the Head of State. Was his (hidden) agenda the topmost position? According to his own declaration, when Sankara tells him that “At this point, war is inevitable because he (Head of State) cannot agree to negotiations”, he proposes a better solution: Isn’t there a way to force him? Or why don’t we kill him (Kagame) only?”. Analysts have established that his motive was not money, but a political position once RPF was ousted from power. Much has still to be learnt in this regard.

A similar example of the self-fulfilling prophecy is the one adventurer Rusesabagina of the renowned film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. Promoted by the success of a fiction movie, he would rise from an ordinary man he is claiming to be with false modesty, to a greedy politician who now seeks to remove an elected Government and become president.

5. The warning signs 

As the artiste was upholding his rise to the sky, as a highly emotional individual who also knows to exploit the emotivism of grieved souls, he soon moved from the spiritual to the more profane musical compositions. The field was fertile, as the recovery and resilience of the survivors’ community was high on the agenda, especially within the youthful receiving audience. 

He would alternately move from messages of love, tolerance, pardon (e.g. Umujinyamwiza praising determination for survival and resilience) to gradually shift to self-aggrandizing and soon provocative themes like: Iteme in which song he is the self-proclaimed instrument of peace called to bring love where hatred elected domicile; Igisobanuro cy’Urupfu (no death is good, be it victims of genocide or war, vengeance, road accidents or illness; I am a genocide orphan, but I cannot forget other victims of persecutions other than genocide); Ibyishimo bibi, whereby he calls for patriotism only when there is unity; castigating complacency in the wrong and hailing people to accept suffering but not betray (who?). Akira uru Rwanda Mana ihoraho is another song full of confusion where the singer prays to God to bless orphans and widows, genocide victims and perpetrators and transform them into saints.

For the linguists as well as the common Rwandan, the Kinyarwanda language has got a particularity of different and sometimes ambiguous and equivocal meanings in statements one must always put in a context. 

When I was attending one of the many court hearings of the now renowned genocide ideologist Mugesera Leon in Canada in 2002, I was shocked to hear one of his bankrupt Kinyarwanda interpreters telling the court that by sending Tutsi back to Abyssinia through Nyabarongo River, Mugesera was meaning to give them a safe passage and avoid them the risk of being killed if they travelled by road, Nyabarongo river being supposedly navigable (which in reality is not true!). In another development, ICTR recorded interpretations of Sindikubwabo, the Genocide period transition President’s utterance telling Butare residents the deadly slogan: KORA…The explanation was that he was urging them to work for food production.

Similarly, this well-known and long tested pattern of powerful political messages to the Rwandan audience was being replicated. Those with sensitive minds who had been moved by earlier messages transmitted by Kizito did not realise immediately the scope of the new sly spells. Others with numbed spirits looked deeper and detected some hidden meaning that could soon be assimilated to… genocide denial, save trivialisation.

6. The controversial character 

The reconciliation crusade brought the controversial singer to be awarded a prize by Imbuto Foundation CYRWA programme. He also founded a non-profit “Kizito Mihigo for Peace”, or KMP, foundation which was for long sponsored by official public institutions and many philanthropists. His long recognised musical public performance earned him recognition and audience, especially within the church frequenting communities, the youth and the Genocide survivors. 

It is now history that, just as highlighted above, from a mere music composer, his fame grew wider up to when he believed he had not enough of what he deserved. The unquenchable thirst for even more publicity incited him to be carried away by his success; he convinced himself to be designated as the reconciliation flag bearer, he betrayed even those who had been the origin of his success, he finally now falls down on his back. After all, he is but a singer, a crooked character led by his greed and overambitious aspirations. As you make your bed, so shall you lay on it...

7. Here is the song of the cursing

Simon and Garfunkel, a famous English folk music duo, were once singing a good song that I always recall with nostalgia: One of their hits of the time was called “A song for the asking” and it could go as this: Here is my song for the asking, ask me and I will play, all the love that I hold inside!

Left to my thoughts by my inquisitive neighbour, the lyrics of the song kept inexorably coming back to my mind. Was I captivated by the artiste’s ordeal theme revolving around once soothing and now dangerously melodramatic music? I ended up distorting the words of my favourite song and humming it unconsciously…Here is my song of the cursing, no need to ask me I will play all the hate that I hold inside!

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