The inclusion of a Rwandan woman known to openly deny the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in a special House Committee in Belgium to examine the country’s colonial past has angered many in Rwanda and abroad, who accuse Belgian lawmakers of overlooking her tainted past.
Laure Nkundakozera Uwase, one of the founders of Jambo ASBL, a Belgium-based organisation composed of children of former key figures in the past governments, was chosen among the ten scientific experts who will assist Belgian parliamentarians during the debates that will focus on Belgium’s past colonial activities.
According to Wouter De Vriendt, the chairperson of the Committee, who announced the members of the team on Thursday, the members were chosen based on their background as historians and experts of reconciliation.
The debates will draw in participants from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi, mainly members of diaspora of the mentioned countries based in Belgium.
However, the inclusion of Uwase has left members of the Rwandan diaspora and commentators fuming, given her background as a genocide denier under the organisation Jambo ASBL, whose members the National Commissioner for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) describes as ‘children of genocidaires’ determined to deny and trivialise the genocide.
The former State Minister of Foreign Affairs in Charge of East African Community Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe is among those who have taken to social media to express their disapproval of Uwase being selected to appear on the committee.
“LaureUwase is not a historian nor is she an expert on colonization on the Great Lakes region. She is among the founders of the negationist association @jamboasbl,”
“Her father was convicted of Genocide in Rwanda and her mother runs a denialist radio station,” Amb. Nduhungirehe tweeted.
Uwase was previously the editor of Jambonews, an internet-based outlet ran by Jambo Asbl.
Deogratias Mazina, the Director of International Genocide Research Association (RESIRG Asbl), which is headquartered in Belgium, said that members of the Rwandan diaspora in Belgium were appalled by the selection of Uwase, a former Secretary General of Jambo Asbl, which he describes as a coalition of genocide deniers.
In an interview with Kigali Today, Mazina said that Uwase is a daughter of genocide perpetrators who has carried on the torch from her ancestors to openly deny and trivialize the genocide and should not be given a platform to propagate her views which are most likely to be biased by her ideology.
Uwase, who is currently a lawyer in Brussels, is a daughter of Anastase Nkundakozera, who was convicted by the Gacaca Courts for genocide crimes and her mother, Agnès Mukarugomwa, was a prominent MRND activist and is currently the director of Ikondera Libre, an internet-based media outlet which is known to openly negate the genocide.
Mazina says the inclusion of Uwase is the work of Gustave Mbonyumutwa, the son of Shingiro Mbonyumutwa who was convicted by the Gacaca courts for his role in the Genocide against the Tutsi, who has celebrated the inclusion of Uwase in the team of experts.
Shingiro is the son of Dominique Mbonyumutwa, one of the founders of MDR Parmehutu, who was also President of Rwanda in 1961.
Genocide Scholar Tom Ndahiro says the decision by Belgian lawmakers to include Uwase is a perplexing one and defeats the purpose for which the commission was created.
“Her appointment goes against the purpose and spirit for which the commission was established. Unless they brought her on board to hear her expertise as one of the by-products of Belgian colonial rule, since the genocide is a product of Belgian colonialism, one cannot understand which other expertise she will bring to the commission,”
“Laure Uwase was born and raised in a family which propagated the same ideology, particularly her mother. When she went to Arusha [ICTR], her testimony showed that she is not just a genocide denier but an ideologue and her daughter is an example that an ideology is picked from home,” Ndahiro explained.
The Genocide scholar further said that Uwase’s affiliation to Jambo Asbl, whose mission is not only to deny the genocide against the Tutsi but also propagate the genocide ideology, should make the Belgians question her choice.
“If there is any expertise she has ever showed is her enthusiasm in defending the exterminationist ideology. I have never seen any report which is worth calling her an expert. She left Rwanda at 4, her only contacts are Rwandans and Belgians in Europe who harbour the same ideology,”
There is no other expertise she has apart from defending the genocide ideology. Belgian lawmakers need to think twice about their choice,” Ndahiro adds.
The first report of these experts is expected in October this year and it is expected to take stock of the state of play of historical research on Belgium’s colonial past, according to reports in Belgium.
The commissioners will then proceed to a series of hearings and other work before writing their final report containing their conclusions and recommendations. According to reports, the programmed deadline is one year but can be extended if necessary.
Other members of the Commission include Dr Zana Mathieu Etambala from the African Museum and KULeuven, historian specializing in colonial history, Dr Gillian Mathys (UGent), historian and researcher, Pr Elikia M’Bokolo (EHESS, University Kinshasa), a specialist in contemporary history and the history of the African diaspora, Anne Wetsi Mpoma, art historian and member of the Bamko association, Bishop Jean-Louis Nahimana, former president of the Truth and Burundian Reconciliation (CVR).
Others include Dr Pierre-Luc Plasman (UCL), historian and researcher at the Institut Sciences-Politiques Louvain-Europe, Pr Valérie Rosoux (Institut Egmont and UCL), the doctor in philosophy and international relations and specialists in processes of reconciliation, Martien Schotsmans, a jurist with extensive international experience in reconciliation commissions and Prof. Sarah Van Beurden (Ohio State University), a historian specializing in Africa and colonial culture.
In an extensive paper on genocide denial issued on May 25 this year by Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana, Jambo Asbl is described as an organisation of children of former high-ranking members of previous governments that propagated ethnic divisions and the genocide ideology.
Many Rwandans, including genocide survivors, have taken to social media to express their opposition to Uwase’s nomination.