Home Voices When Propaganda Turns Bullets Into Peas

When Propaganda Turns Bullets Into Peas

by Anita Kayirangwa
1:10 pm

June 19, 1994 – Nyakabanda commune: Prime Minister Jean Kambanda distributing guns to civilians

Brainwashing is defined as making someone believe something by repeatedly telling them that it is true and preventing any other information from reaching them. 

Brainwashing is also considered severe programs of political indoctrination. It is meant to make the victim’s beliefs and attitudes irrelevant and impart new ones that are in the interest of someone else. 

As the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Inkotanyi was advancing towards Kigali, Juvenal Habyarimana’s regime started beating around the bush. They failed to face the reality and the fact that they were losing to RPF. 

Having literally lost, they were remaining with one tool, a propaganda of hate which goes with brainwashing. This was not something new in the Rwandan political arena since it was used before and it worked, unfortunately, to the people’s disadvantage.

The hate propaganda and brainwashing engendered animosity among a people which was once one people. This animosity resulted in flows of refugees since 1959 and periods of bloodshed targeting Tutsi. 

However, the same hate propaganda and brainwashing did not spare the people they were pretending to protect and favor. 

The first and second republic missed the opportunity to build from the foundation that was laid by the country’s forefathers which was around Unity (Nta mugabo umwe). 

They rather embraced wholeheartedly the “divide and rule policy” which was not beneficial to either party. While the first republic was open regarding where it stands when it comes to the newly formed “ethnic groups”, the second republic opted for a disguised approach. 

The legacy of hate grew year after year. Gitera’s 1959 Hutu Ten Commandments were refreshed in the 1990’s as a reminder to hate. As Rwandans put it “Umuntu asiga ikimwirukaho ntasiga ikimwirukamo”. In the 1990’s President Habyarimana had to drop the mask and show his true colors. 

During one of the MRND congresses which took place in 1991, he said, “The unity of ethnic groups is not possible without the unity of the majority. Just as we note that no Tutsi recognizes regional belonging, it is imperative the Hutu majority forge unity, so that they are able to wade off any attempt to return them into slavery.” 

The propaganda of hate and well-structured brainwashing made it easy for the genocidal regime to convince civilians that they were capable of playing the role of soldiers. Brainwashed, they were exposed to a fight which is not meant for civilians.

Let me share some examples of how brainwashing is a killer. 

Today, I reflected on Jean Kambanda’s speech as he was handing over firearms to civilians during one of his infamous mobilizations and hate campaigns in the name of “auto-defense civile”. 

Here is what he said: “You should know how to protect yourselves, that is why we requested that civilians should be trained militarily. You should be fearless. Do not hide when you hear the sound of a bullet. A gun shouldn’t be something for soldiers only. Do not panic when you see it and think that it can press its own trigger. Everyone can have a gun, a gun is not something for soldiers only…” (Translated from Kinyarwanda). 

I also have my own gun, he said showing a pistol

Unfortunately, these civilians believed the then Prime Minister. They did not hide at the sound of firearms, they were instead used as shields by soldiers. This is what brainwashing can do. 

This reminded me of another time when one of the RTLM journalists, a very popular tool and mouthpiece for the genocidal regime, called civilians to go for a head on encounter with bullets. They said “Inyenzi zirasa amashaza”,which is to say, “These Cockroaches use peas as bullets.” Little did the civilians know, even if their bullets were peas, shot from a gun, it would still hurt badly. But, no, they were bullets.  

I also remember a time when RTLM announced that the “Interahamwe” were angry because they thought the “Forces Armees Rwandaises” were not doing a good job. That time Interahamwe were planning to get Mount Rebero (Kubohoza Rebero) as was proudly announced over the radio. Indeed the following day, very early in the morning, a bunch of militias/civilians mixed with soldiers started the journey to recover Rebero which was under RPF. They spent some hours there and lost the battle (remember this was announced well in advance over the radio). 

As I talk to people from different parts of the country I am convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the genocidal regime did not care about anyone, neither Hutu nor Tutsi.  The one who was taught to hate was equally not cared for.  

In Ngororero, for Ex-FAR soldiers to assess how strong the RPA was, they used to send in civilians and militias to do the job they themselves failed to do. These civilians carried with them firearms and, of course, empty jerry cans. Apparently, they hit these against each other to make noise and try to “scare off” the RPF soldiers. You see, even civilians shoot bullets, not cotton balls or peas. 

In the former commune Buyoga (Byumba), I learnt of another story. This was a “war zone” for a long time. When the FAR finally lost, they left their guns, grenades, and other weapons scattered in the area. The civilians who had just recently been shown where the trigger is and, of course, given some basic military training, took over from the soldiers and became “soldiers” themselves. This is how far brainwashing can take a human being. 

I am still talking about the effect of propaganda and brainwashing and how it can take you to your own grave. War is not a walk on a bed of roses. People die on both ends, including civilians. However, no one should die as an effect of propaganda and brainwashing. Civilians should never be sent to fight with soldiers, and clearly, bullets are not peas.