The fury over the RDF sculpture

ELITES ARE expected to contribute ideas towards the progress of a nation. Such is the norm in most advanced societies. In the developing countries, however, the majority are a frustrated lot, unable to play any meaningful role in the direction that their countries are taking. 
Lonzen Rugira
Lonzen Rugira

ELITES ARE expected to contribute ideas towards the progress of a nation. Such is the norm in most advanced societies. In the developing countries, however, the majority are a frustrated lot, unable to play any meaningful role in the direction that their countries are taking. 

For long, this state of affairs was blamed on governments. On the contrary, it appears that our elites are keen on caricaturing themselves.

Consider the case of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) monument. Given a chance to provide insights on its meaning, many took the opportunity to unleash venomous vitriol. 

Whacking the RPF at any given chance will not lead to meaningful dialogue in this country. 

The first strike at the piñata came from the usual suspects: the political opposition. A member of one of the opposition political parties quickly concluded that the monument was part of an RPF conspiracy to distort national history “as if the country came into existence in 1994.” 

Further, the politician dismisses the monument as meaningless because the RPF has failed to deliver “democracy” and “freedom.”

Important as the twin values of democracy and freedom are, the record that ought to be brought to scrutiny is that of the RDF, not the RPF. The problem is that once something has any link to the RPF, critical faculties of its opponents begin to wither, rendering them unable to pass the reasonable-person test. 

For one, preoccupation with the trivial won’t allow for a basic distinction exists between a national institution and a political party. If only the malady was an isolated affair.  

One is reminded of yet another political protest. Earlier this year the feather weight political pugilist Frank Habineza became a self-appointed ambassador for French culture, protesting that the Central Bank had omitted use of the French language on the 500 francs note of the national currency. 

A reasonable person would know that complaining about the language on the currency note is not going to lead to more of it ending up in the pockets of ordinary Rwandans. Such is a strategy for gaining political power that leaves a lot to be desired. 

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. To criticise the regime in power is the job of the political opposition. However, criticism is not an end in itself. For it to be effective to undermine the regime and win supporters, it must have substance. 

This means pointing out policy differences and proposing an alternative vision for the direction of the country, with the intention to convince people that their lives would be better off with the replacement of the incumbent regime. 

Meanwhile, the vice-president of the FDU Inkingi labours, “There are things that were done before 1994.” However, he does not point to any of these things. 

Coming to his rescue is the columnist in the newspaper Rwanda Today. Perceiving ethnic bias in the RDF monument, the writer uses Dominique Mbonyumutwa’s tomb as an example of exclusion thus:  “Permanently consigning ethnic division to the past, it is paramount that the diversity of Rwanda’s history is acknowledged and celebrated across the divide.” 

To which a friend who had pointed me to the article observed, “It’s a bit like asking the Germans to immortalize Adolf Hitler because today’s Germany has large numbers of neo-Nazis who think he’s great.” 

It is worth reminding that the tombs of Agathe Uwilingiyimana and Fred Rwigema, as are those of others from “across the divide,” lie at the National Heroes Cemetery in Remera. 

What distinguishes these from Mbonyumutwa is that his was an ethnic revolution while the rest made sacrifices, including death, in pursuit of a national revolution.

Similar logic applies to the question whether the RPF found a tabula rasa in Rwanda in 1994. For the same reasons Germans are unlikely to celebrate acts that were considered heroic during Nazi rule, the government refuses to rejoice in achievements of a violent and exclusionary revolution. 

In essence, rather than the RPF trying to conceal achievements of the pre-genocide period, it is its critics who are developing collective amnesia about the period before 1994.

A fair debate 

A fair debate should have focused on whether the RDF had justifiable reasons for deserving such an honour. Ironically, the pertinent question for such a debate also came from our Rwanda Today columnist, and it is whether the RDF has the requisite moral authority to erect such a monument. Possibly unwittingly, the same writer offers two rather convincing answers. 

For one, he writes, “it is a symbolic representation of the courage of the RPA in ending the Genocide against the Tutsi.” The army, he continues, “is so far credited with desisting from large-scale retribution or carrying out a counter-genocide.” Strong reasons in favour. Aren’t they?

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