Appeared in The New Times on 26th April 2017
While many kind people have all along been by Rwandans’ side in their time of painful remembrance of the hell that engulfed them in 1994, some have sometimes fallen prey to those intent on refusing to call that horror by its precise name, for dubious reasons.
“Dubious reasons” which, when carefully pulled apart, will be found to be subtly trying to draw some into the murky waters of those who purposely bandy around meaningless names, titles and phrases in an effort to deny, negate, belittle, or otherwise distort the genocide for what it was.
“The Genocide against the Tutsi” is so called because it refers to exactly what took place.
Without engaging in the scholarly comparative discourse of how genocides take place, let’s confine ourselves to Rwanda, where there was a long-drawn out campaign mainly by Rwandans to totally eliminate their fellow Rwandans, as whoever has cared to understand it knows.
For long before what many deceptively call the trigger of 1994, there had always been what experts have called a “creeping genocide” whose stealth spark may be traced as far back as 1883.
This was when King Leopold II of Belgium, among other efforts, addressed a group of Christian Missionaries and sent them forth with a contingent of administrators with the mission of taming Africans, simple “nègres” who could be bent to the will of the colonial master, as he saw them.
To quote him in part and with some alterations for less cold-hearted readability: “Reverend Fathers and my dear compatriots.….. The principal aim of your mission….[is] not to teach niggers about God….They have their Mundi, Mungu, Diakomba….they know that killing, stealing, [etc]…..are bad. Your essential role is to facilitate the task of administrators and industrialists.”
And thus the king bid the missionaries to go and inculcate into “these black savages” these maxims from the word of God that seemed to have been written with his aim in mind: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, because it is they who will be comforted.”
The crux of it all: make the colonized “natives” submit to every whim of this kingdom; make them subservient to you and to wish nothing of the riches that abound in their continent.
And, with the future in his sights: “Your actions must essentially be brought to bear on the youth that they may never think of revolt.”
The evil-intentioned king may not have had Rwanda in mind when he thus poured his venom. But after World War I and the defeat of the Germans that had ‘acquired’ us at the infamous Berlin Conference, the misfortune fell upon our society to become his kingdom’s “protectorate”.
The “protection” totally tore up the fabric that bonded together our society. The moment the colonialist managed to debase the values that webbed together Rwandans, with the help of his gun and Bible (per king’s instructions), the success of his divide-and-rule crusade was a fait-accompli – in fact, in our case it was ‘divide-and-ruin’.
As a little example of their devious tricks, the colonial chiefs used to summon their appointed Rwandan assistant and subject him to, say, eight strokes of the cane (kiboko) for any number of reasons, like failure by he and his charges to plant coffee. From there, the assistant was ordered to go and similarly torture his charges (hundreds), the trick being that none of the charges would be convinced that the order was from the colonialist.
It was thus and in many worse ways that Rwandans lost their values. Now belonging to one clan (Abasinga, for instance), blood brotherhood (kunywana), neighbourliness (gutura ku gasozi kamwe), sharing their Imana y’u Rwanda, etc, meant nothing. To many a young Rwandan schooled in new colonial values, their society’s values were rendered obsolete.
The near-harmonious existence before colonialism, little distortions and imperfections, as in any other society, notwithstanding, became nil and the chant was up for this “évolué”, native who had evolved into a new Rwandan, to partner with an equally evolved colonialist and “purify” Rwanda. To these elite, there was no Rwanda for Rwandans; Rwanda was for a pure-Aryan-type section of Rwandans and death to the rest!
For these ‘Aryan’ “évolués”, other Rwandans were ‘foreign impurities’.
To cut a very long story short, that’s how, when the call for independence swept over Africa, in Rwanda it paradoxically meant repeated massacres of Rwandans by fellow Rwandans in 1959, ’62, ’63, ’66, ’72, ’90, ‘91 and 1993 that culminated in the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Talking about ‘purity’ and involving oneself in the barbarity of the genocide perpetration, that’s something else, of course, but that was your Rwanda then.
Anyway, to honour the survivors of the horror, we should have the courtesy to be unequivocal about its name, especially when intimately associated with Rwanda.
When we see people passing that hell off as “a genocide in which nearly one million people, the majority of them Tutsi, were slaughtered…” What does it mean; who was targeted? 400,000 Tutsis and 300,000 Hutus?
In this Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed 1.07m, and counting? (There are many victims whose remains, wherever they were buried, have not yet been discovered.)