THE RWANDAN DILEMMA VIS-A-VIS THE GENOCIDE
by The New Times
September 17, 2006 Sunday
A dilemma can be defined as a state of uncertainty or perplexity
among competing options. The Rwandan dilemma vis-a-vis the Genocide,
which entailed the polarisation of Rwandans, is how to move forward
as one nation after the Genocide.
Rwanda as a nation has a long history of over 1000 years. It is a
joint project of Rwandans created through their chosen institutions
(Ubwami/Monarchy, Ubwiru/Constitution, Ubusizi/oral tradition,
Ingabo/Army, Ubucengeri/patriotism, etc). These institutions ensured
unity, stability and cohesion before colonisation.
On the other hand, colonialism completely re-engineered Rwanda into
different ‘races’ (Tutsi-Hamites, Hutu-Bantu, Twa-Pygmoids). This
racism was the root-cause of Rwanda’s tragedy that culminated into
the 1994 genocide.
The genocide process took one hundred years (1894-1994) beginning
with the first colonialist, and entailed entrenchment of negationisme
within the society. This came about in the colonial reconstruction of
the Rwandan society that forced Rwandans into their own self-denial
as one people, their heritage and historical social institutions
leading to the 1994 tragedy.
The dilemma, therefore, is whether Banyarwanda jointly own the tragedy
and bear its consequences. This dilemma can be accounted for by the
peculiarity of the Rwandan Genocide, which was between close relatives,
where siblings set upon each other and neighbour killed neighbour.
Contrasting it to the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide, the
Germans decimated the Jews and the Turks the Armenians. In both
these cases there is a socio-cultural difference between the victims
and perpetrators, as opposed to Rwanda which had no socio-cultural
difference between its people.
Therefore, while the Jews and the Armenians had a place to go to
after their genocides, Rwandans had nowhere to run to but live with
each other. Thus the resonance or echoes of polarity of Banyarwanda
after the genocide.
The Rwandan Genocide was possible through manipulation of the
traditional socio-cultural institutions such as the monarchy, Ingabo,
traditional media – the drums and horns to rally the populace for
a common cause. These included the monarchical decrees (guca iteka
or gushyira ingoma ku karubanda) that can be equated to presidential
decrees during the Genocide that compelled the populace to join in the
act. The use of Radio Television Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM) during
the genocide can be equated with the use of the traditional horn for
mobilisation for war and hunting expeditions (umuhigo, kwasira etc.).
The Rwandan dilemma begins with the denial of the Genocide. According
to Dr. Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch, negationisme or denial is
the final of the eight stages in the continuum that is the genocide
process. In the eight stages, Classification of the victims, their
negative Symbolisation and Dehumanisation form the first three.
These are followed by Organisation of the potential perpetrators;
Polarisation of the society into enemies and allies; Preparation and
mobilization of the population; before the Extermination and supposed
purification of the society.
The last stage is the negation or Denial of the genocide, but which
is manifest in every stage in the continuum. Negationisme itself is
an in-built mechanism in all the stages of the process to assure
oneself that nothing wrong is being done, and propel the actors
to the next stage. Thus negationisme and genocide in this sense go
hand-in-hand-they are like Siamese twins (ni umwana n’ingobyi).
Negationisme is therefore a dilemma because not all Rwandans accept the
fact of the genocide, which has become a way of life predicated on the
"we-they" predisposition; that is, we the Hutu and they the Tutsi and
vice versa, and therefore not Rwandans but enemies and allies. The
post-genocide military campaigns will suffice to illustrate this
After committing the Genocide at the urging of the genocidaire regime,
Rwandans were persuaded to vacate the country, seeing it as having
been taken over by alien invaders, and created the biggest refugee
influx in the world. In a bid to recapture power, the genocidaire
regime in exile reorganised itself in the Congo refugee camps to
launch armed attacks into Rwanda.
This created the first concrete manifestation of negationisme that
continues to this day. To begin with, the genocidaires transformed
humanitarian assistance to the Rwandan refugees in the Congo into
military hardware and embarked on what came to be known as Operation
Operation Insecticide entailed genocidal incursions in Northwest and
Southwest of Rwanda between 1995 and 1996. Note the term "insecticide",
which symbolised their continued extermination of the Inyenzi (Tutsi
Operation Insecticide internationalised the Rwandan conflict, and would
form the basis for the forced return of the Rwandan refugees in late
1996 with the RPF/A pre-emptive attacks on the armed genocidaires in
the refugee camps, that would be followed by the overthrow of their
ally, President Mobutu, in May 1997.
In October 1997, insurgence operations started in earnest in Rwanda
beginning with what would come to be known as The First Operation
Alleluia, which targeted Congolese Tutsi refugees in Gisenyi and
climaxed with the Mudende massacres. The Second Operation Alleluia
targeted Goma and Gisenyi, and was partly "successful" in Goma with
the capture of arms from Katindo.
This was followed by Operations Amen and Odyssey in the DRC in June
and July of 1999 and 2000, respectively, but both of which failed
due to RPF/A counter-insurgency operations in the country.
In May and December 2001, Operation Oracle du Seigneur got underway in
Rwanda, only to be crushed by the RPF/A counter-insurgency operations
under the command of General James Kabarebe that resulted in the
capture of the Armee de Liberation du Rwanda (ALIR) Commander,
Col. Evariste Bemera and his Chief of Intelligence. This capture,
which included 1,762 insurgents, effectively marked the end of
insurgency inside Rwanda.
Women, both mothers and wives of the insurgents, played a crucial role
in ending the insurgency, by persuading their sons and husbands to
end the rebellion and join hands with the new government of national
unity. This is a testimony of the women having transcended the dilemma
However, in September and October 2003, the failed Operations
Trompete and Tabara took place from South Kivu and saw the return
to Rwanda of the top FDLR commanders in their denunciation of the
insurgencies. And beginning 2004 to date, Operation la Fronde (sling)
has been going on and is doomed to fail with the return of other top
commanders, including Seraphin "Mahoro" Bizimungu and more recently
Lt Col Nsanzabera.
Note the Christian insinuation of the genocidal attacks with the names
given to the insurgency operations, i.e., Alleluia, Amen, Oracle du
Seigneur (Oracle of the Lord), Trompete (suggesting Joshua’s trumpet
as he entered Jericho in the Old Testament), and la Fronde (evoking
David’s defeat of Goliath with the deadly sling).
These insinuations suggest the Christian God’s blessings, thus giving
weight and credence to the negationisme of the continued genocide. It
suggests that the Christian God is for the genocidal tendencies and
the purification of "Christian" Rwanda from the Tutsi "infidels"
who are also "inyenzi" (cockroaches).
This religious fanaticism and tendencies also evoked the medieval
Christian crusades that supposedly had God’s blessings. It is no
wonder that in their fanaticism these insurgents have been listed as
international terrorist groups due to their mindless breach of peace
and destabilization in the region. Such naming of the insurgency
activities demonstrate how Christianity can be perverted and used
to condone genocidal acts and other crimes against humanity, which
constitutes a Christian dilemma par excellence in Rwanda.
The continued denial of the Genocide notwithstanding, who then
is responsible? Responsibility for the Genocide, according to the
German philosopher Karl Jaspers, can be distinguished between types
of guilt and degrees of responsibility. The question of guilt deals
with individual and collective responsibilities, with the individual
and his or her relationship to others and to society.
Drawing from his Nazi German experience of the Holocaust that saw
the decimation of six million Jews during the Second World War,
Jaspers distinguished between four different concepts of guilt,
namely: criminal, political, moral and metaphysical.
Criminal guilt is defined by the law and established through
courts of law. It is evidence-based on the act and conduct of the
suspect who ultimately bears individual responsibility. However,
in Rwanda criminal responsibility became an issue because of the
overwhelming numbers of the suspected perpetrators. The challenge
was how to prosecute the large numbers, leading to the enaction of
the law categorising the perpetrators and establishing the Gacaca
justice system. Resorting to the traditional justice system, Gacaca,
underscores Rwanda’s resilience.
The current challenge is universal acceptance of the Gacaca process
by all Rwandans, as evidenced by those who recently fled to Burundi
to escape it or those who seem to be forced to attend the Gacaca
sessions as in the case of Ruhengeri (Musanze).
Political guilt, according to Jaspers, encompasses the actions of the
government as well as of the governed. Citizens bear the consequences
of the actions of their governments. They are subject to the State’s
power and dependent on the order that the State creates. However,
Jaspers insisted that everybody has a responsibility for how he or
she is governed.
To that extent political guilt is shared among the governments and the
governed. It is determined by the winning candidate in an election
whose power and will to judge is only restrained by his sense of
justice, political foresight, and respect for natural and international
law. In this sense, political guilt becomes collective responsibility.
In the Rwandan context, this means that the First and Second
Republics, which paved the way for the Genocide, could not have
done it by themselves without the overwhelming electoral support of
the governed, who continually returned the leaders to power with an
absolute majority of, at times, 99.9%.
In this sense, therefore, the majority of the population shares in the
political guilt, hence the collective responsibility. The dilemma is
failing to accept this political reality, of which many Rwandans —
including Hutu, Tutsi and Twa — previously lived in acquiescence.
This is despite the fact that the Genocide was committed in the name
of the Hutu.
Note that the Genocide was a political project based on demographic
majority disguised as "democratic", "republican" and "revolutionary"
(demokarasi ya Rubanda nyamwinshi yakandamijwe ikigobotora ingoyi ya
cyami na gihake).
On the other hand, Jaspers established the concept of individual
moral guilt, which he posited as an absolute condition that everyone
is morally responsible for his or her actions, regardless of the
circumstances. He explicitly argues that following orders does not
exculpate (absolve) any individual, including the military. Moral
guilt is established through one’s conscience and through discourse
with friends and neighbours.
The dilemma is that, despite the ascribed political guilt, which
is collective, it does not absolve one from his or her own moral
responsibility, which has to begin with individual introspection
and self-examination. This lack of individual introspection and
self-examination vis-a-vis taking the moral responsibility accounts
for the current criticism of the general leadership in Rwanda. An
example of this criticism can be seen in those leaders adversely
mentioned in Gacaca who have failed to take moral responsibility.
Finally, the solidarity between fellow humans created the possibility
of what Jaspers calls metaphysical guilt. The belief in one human race,
transcending nations, races and conditions make everyone share in the
responsibility for injustice in this world, in particular for crimes
that happen in our presence or with our knowledge. If we fail to do
everything in our power to stop this crime from happening, we share
in the guilt.
In the choice between doing everything to save others and being
destroyed in the process or giving up in the face of insurmountable
obstacles, the morally innocuous (not intended to harm) choice for
one’s own life still produces a sense of failure and guilt.
The Rwandan Genocide was witnessed by the whole world, which failed
to act. This inaction entailed not just the superpowers, but each and
every individual belonging to the human race who did not do anything
in their power to stop the Genocide.
The immediate dilemma is the continued presence of the genocidaires
on the rampage in the region with the knowledge of the world, despite
the limited efforts to disarm and apprehend them.
Ultimately, the enormity of the Rwandan Genocide is beyond any human
reckoning or understanding. Thus Jaspers, discussing the German
dilemma, also observes: "[T]here remains the shame of that which is
always present, impossible to discover, merely to be explored."
Sloganeering or even mounting placards merely denouncing the ideology
that informed the Genocide (Ingengabitekerezo) does not help in
understanding the complexity of the Rwandan Genocide. It is merely
being caught up in the rut of political posturing without addressing
the Rwandan dilemma.
However, there are many suspects who have taken it upon themselves to
own up the Genocide. One of the most illustrative examples is that
of a suspect who was found guilty by the Gacaca on a lesser charge
of pillaging but declared himself guilty of the greater charge of
genocide, saying he could not live with the guilt, a clear example
of assuming moral responsibility.
The first challenge to the leadership is the full understanding
of the complexity of the truth about the Genocide. There are some
truths, foremost of which is the truth about the unity of the Rwandan
nation. It is this truth that has all along eluded Rwandans, including
many Rwanda scholars, since the coming of the colonialists and has
been about the Rwandan identity and how Rwandans historically related
to each other.
It includes the truth about their social relations and the alleged Hutu
"historical wounds" that continue to impact on the current social
discourse. It is also the truth about the social categorization of
Rwandans into different "races".
There is also the truth about colonial reconstruction of the Rwandan
society that forced Rwandans into their own self-denial as one people,
their heritage and historical social institutions. These distortions
of the truth form the bedrock of the Rwandan dilemma.
Understanding these complexities of the truth is the beginning of
the Rwandan reconciliation.
The second aspect of the truth is the reality of the Genocide, which
is about the actors – that is, the victims, the perpetrators and
bystanders, and their respective roles. It is about who died and
his or her profile, so that in the process we restore honour and
dignity to the victims who have otherwise been represented as mere
statistics. The question will be who died, who killed them and who
witnessed it? When did they die? Where, how and why were they killed?
And, finally, where was he or she ‘buried’?
Many victims of the Genocide keep on being discovered in the most
unlikely and indecent places, including abandoned pit latrines
or cemented foundations of buildings. Many witnesses, including
guilty pleaders, are not willing to disclose the whole truth about
the Genocide. They only reveal the information that favours them and
hide that which is needed to aid in the unravelling of the truth in
the justice process.
Victimhood also applies to the perpetrators, because in their very
act of genocide they too were dehumanised and continue to live with
individual guilt and shame for their roles in it. Many are, therefore,
traumatised. The leadership challenge is to fully appreciate the
diversity of victimhood and its implications in post-genocide Rwanda.
With the Genocide encompassing different actors — namely the
perpetrators, the victims and bystanders — it is in the admission
of the truth and assuming moral responsibility of what happened and
the role played by each and everyone that the reality of the Genocide
may begin to unravel.
The expected thoroughness of the Gacaca process, including the
national judicial system and the Arusha-based ICTR, is to facilitate
the establishment of the truth and therefore the criminal guilt of
the suspects. However the major challenge is with the Gacaca process,
which is yet to be fully owned by Rwandans and usually tends to be
undermined by some in the international community.
Some of the detractors of Gacaca are using the same political antics
of mobilizing sections of the population (i.e., Butare) claiming that
the Gacaca is the beginning of a "Hutu" genocide in vengeance of the
1994 Tutsi genocide.
The other leadership challenge is about the leaders’ political
responsibility emanating from the Genocide. This essentially brings
the question of credibility of the leaders already adversely mentioned
in the Gacaca process, and why they should continue in office. The
leadership should take political responsibility by individually
introspecting and examining themselves. This is a moral challenge
many leaders are reluctant to face — it may seem that leadership in
Rwanda is all about gainful employment.
Many of these leaders take cover under collective political guilt,
which allows them to shun individual responsibility for their
alleged roles in the Genocide. It is because of the shame and
assumed collective guilt (i.e., I was not the only one, all of us
are implicated) that Genocide has almost become a taboo subject to
discuss. The fact that such leaders do not talk about the Genocide
makes them vulnerable to blackmail by their peers and rivals who
assume the moral high-ground in the "we-they" (Hutu-Tutsi) polarity.
The cover of collective political responsibility ceases to be once
one becomes a leader, as he or she must be vetted and therefore take
individual responsibility for any alleged wrongs to society. It
is for these reasons that the public continuously questions the
credibility of their leaders, for which the only way out is taking
moral responsibility. For such leaders, moral renewal can be achieved
by introspection and self-examination to confront whatever doubts
and pangs of conscience they may have experienced and reassure the
questioning public. The challenge is that most of these leaders
vehemently deny any guilt, collective or otherwise.
For those on the moral high-ground, they should live with the fact
that they too are politically guilty. If we accept that the Genocide
was a process that took a century to consummate, then most of the
Rwandans living today would not be exempt from political guilt. It
is this that underscores the collective ownership of the tragedy and
lays the foundation for national reconciliation.
Another major objective of Gacaca, apart from seeking, acknowledging
and recognizing the truth, is to develop and promote reconciliation
within the divided nation of Rwanda.
Reconciliation can only become a reality once the above-mentioned
denials, dilemmas and challenges are overcome. Reconciliation
therefore will meaningfully be accomplished by going back to ubumwe
bw’ Abanyarwanda. As the African proverb goes, when you want to
solve disputes, you do not take a knife to cut, but a needle to
sew. A Kinyarwanda approximation of the proverb would be: uca urw’
Basing it on the truth, and whatever the grievance, Gacaca provides
the forum to continually dialogue on the challenges facing Rwandans
and provides a framework for concessions for the sake of a united
nation. Rwandans, in other words, should emphasize their commonalities
rather than their imagined differences and focus all their efforts
on national development, which in itself is a conflict resolution
strategy par excellence.
Despite the Genocide and the polarity it engendered, there are many
instances where Rwandans have individually transcended the myth of
differences between Banyarwanda.
A good example is that of the illustrious Nyange school girls who
refused to be separated into Hutu allies and Tutsi enemies as ordered
by insurgents (Abacengezi) in 1997, and opted to die in solidarity
Another example is that of Zula Karuhimbi who received The Campaign
Against Genocide Medal (CGM) for having saved over 100 Rwandans during
the 1994 Genocide.
There is also the example of Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) as a national
institution where former adversaries are working together, as opposed
to the sectarian Forces Armee Rwandais (FAR).
All in all, Rwanda has been "de-racializing" the society and being
all-integrative, so that citizenship is not based on descent but
residence as long as you subscribe to the "Rwandan dream"!
The article is based on a paper presented at the RDF Senior Officers
Seminar held on 24th and 25th August, 2006.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress