This paper seeks to analyse the global discourse on Rwanda 15 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, in light of a number of political dynamics that have a bearing on the understanding of Rwanda as a country in contemporary global politics.
Areas explored are to do with the human rights agenda, revisionism/negationism, state of the media and the way forward.
Background – The aftermath, bodies everywhere
15 years ago at exactly this time Rwanda was at the throes of human massacres that left over a million people dead, in the Genocide against the Tutsi.
One can literary visualize the human carnage on the streets, in churches, homes and those flowing away in rivers.
Unimaginable scenes of dismembered bodies, mutilated bodies, what is left of babies who die cruel deaths bashed against walls, pregnant bayoneted women and men with bullets on their backs lie motionless, and those that can still move struggle with their last breath.
“The standard technique was to start with the children, hacking off their arms and legs and then their genitalia, throwing these into the faces of their horrified watching parents. The children would be left to bleed to death in agony; the parents were generally slaughtered more quickly.” (Shake hands with the devil, Lt General Romeo Dallaire).
In the book – A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s rebirth and the man who dreamed it, Stephen Kinzer further makes the following observation, of the months of April, May and June 1994; “Press reports from the scene of the horror were available to anyone who wished to read them, like one in Le Nouvel Observateur that described the killings as “not an ethnic war between hostile tribes, but an organized and systematic extermination.”
The report goes on to conclude that by the Rwandan “government, which is armed and supported by France.”
This was it.
The scene that characterized a hundred days of non-stop killings of a targeted group of people - the Tutsi. The above narration does not only sum up the nature of the killings but also points out the fact that these killings had a well organized machinery in place, that targeted a certain group of people, not only that but also the fact that a foreign power, France, aided and abetted that system.
The world was slow to respond to stop the killings and even slower to act at their height, what followed were shameful oft-repeated vows from the world’s luminaries and leadership - ‘Never Again.’
From the United States of America (USA), the halls of the United Nations (UN) and sadly the African continent itself, many who had the power and influence to stop the killings – hung their heads in shame.
“None of us must ever forget, or be allowed to forget, that genocide did take place in Rwanda, or that it was highly organized, or that it was carried out in broad daylight.
No one who followed world affairs or watched the news on television, day after sickening day, could deny that they knew a genocide was happening, and that it was happening on an appalling scale”. UN Secretary General Kofi Anan.
This is the significance of the 15th Commemorations of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. They are not just about keeping the memory of the Genocide alive in avoidance of the reoccurrence of such mass massacres again, but they are also a gloomy reminder that the world still owes Rwanda.
This paper shall therefore through human eyes and not academic theorisation, seek to explain why even after 15 years the wounds have not completely healed.
There are a number of factors that keep the country away from total closure, chief among these is denial or attempts to denigrate or trivialize the Genocide as advanced by the negationist/revisionist movement, most of whom are based in western Europe, Canada, and the USA.
Other factors are to do with outstanding justice issues, such as the continued presence of Genocide masterminds in African countries and the broader international community.
Many of them have sought asylum in Europe, of particular concern is that they have been granted refugee status, which indirectly infers some kind of political legitimacy on them, and promoting a culture of impunity.
And then those still haunted by the ghosts of the Genocide. The orphaned living miserable lives, the women rape victims struggling with HIV/AIDS, many whose lives were shattered, by the Genocide.
The plight of these people should form the distinction in attitude change, from the neglect that characterized the pre-Genocide period towards empathy, that our common humanity is capable of making amends even after such a great disaster.
A narrative on the 1994 Genocide that does not reflect on the Rwandan peoples’ fate 15 years on, then is bereft of any political or historical significance. While this paper will not dwell on the many achievements the Government of Rwanda has scored in the reconstruction drive, it simply seeks to go back to basics that have to do with the human faces affected by the most talked about human calamity.
While it is fashionable on different fronts to talk about the Genocide the missing link has often been the faces, those figures we love to quote represent.
The main challenge here being thinking outside the box of a context that is being framed for us.