Denial of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi is on the rise. You may have come across the tweets of Debora Kayembe, a Scottish human rights lawyer and the rector of Edinburgh University. Edinburgh University is currently ranked as the 4th leading university in the UK, and 14th in the world. However, the academic monument’s responses to Kayembe’s hate speech have been lukewarm, if not initially dismissive. The matter at play on Monday, the 25th of April, as Kayembe faces the Edinburgh University court, is whether and how Debora Kayembe, who was elected rather than appointed, should be sanctioned by the university.
In her tweets, Kayembe accused President Paul Kagame, and therefore, the party to which Rwandans owe their liberation, of orchestrating the Tutsi Genocide. Kayembe, a human rights lawyer and “human rights’ activist”, is essentially accusing the community targeted by a 100-day extermination attempt with thousands of daily victims, of raising guns and machetes against themselves, and of implementing their own dehumanization. One may wonder how it is possible to defend human rights, while opposing the right of victimized humans to the acknowledgement of their plight, and the healing that will hopefully ensue.
The perversion of this rhetoric is evident, however the victim=perpetrator narrative is not an unprecedented tactic in genocide denial, which is catalytic to the spread of genocide ideology. You see, you cannot strategize for a “Never Again” if it “never happened” in the first place. Denial is an insurance policy against the occurrence of accountability and healing, in favour of the recurrence of evil.
In the ‘Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust’, Professor Jeffrey Herf argues that prior to and during the Genocide, the Nazi German government propagated the false conspiracy of an International Jewish agenda to attack Germany in a bid for world domination, by examining propaganda material disseminated by the National Socialist Regime.
The first stage of denial post-genocide will usually be the destruction of evidence of mass killings. Rwandans, many of which are yet to know where the bodies of their loved ones, killed during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, are buried, are familiar with the rippling cruelty of this stage; it has allowed institutions like Human Rights Watch, and individuals not brazen enough to proclaim their denial openly, to shrink the death toll to half of the reported 1 million victims, and to essentially call survivors and the government that defends them bold-faced liars.
The disparity between the figures reported by the Rwandan government, and those of “neutral, international bodies”, misleadingly suggests that a debate on the facts presented by Rwanda should occur. It should not. I would not debate the existence of America. I do not need to have visited America, to believe in American people’s certitude that it does in fact exist. History does not need to have been experienced or witnessed by foreigners, to have existed as described by those to which this history belongs, any more than America needed the greedy gaze of Christopher Columbus to materialize itself.
The manufactured uncertainty about what actually happened in 1994 in Rwanda – which is in fact brazen dishonesty – disenfranchises Rwandans, survivors included, from their right to determine their experiences. The underlying message is violent, and hateful. I think that many Rwandans, and all the populations that have known genocide, can perceive it: “they should be killed twice“. The memory of every one of the million killed, their voices which resonate in our hearts, should be targeted viciously by Kayembe and her friends, if genocide ideology is to be kept alive.
Perhaps this is why Debora Kayembe, a Congolese-born Scottish national, felt compelled to (pointlessly attempt to) inverse Rwandan history, which will never feature her in any respectable capacity. She felt the urge to demand, with the crudeness of evil, that we would forget, during a period where we are fiercely dedicated to our remembrance. How ridiculously ill-inspired.
Still, the impunity Kayembe flaunts (particularly now that she has deleted the questionable apology she posted, and closed her account to the public) is frightening. Edinburgh University has rejected any responsibility in the public declarations of their rector thus far. What they first appeared to be arguing is that though they would keep platforming her, and though the shred of credibility she held could be to some degree attributed to her position at the prestigious institution, Edinburgh Uni would refuse to be blamed for their inaction, and quite frankly, apathy to her hate speech. But they appear to have had a mild change of heart.
The Edinburgh University’s court will now decide on the “formal procedures available” to appropriately react to the genocide denial, history revisionism and hate speech repeatedly used by Kayembe.
But whatever the semantics, it seems that there is only one acceptable choice here. Kayembe must resign. The legal means used to ensure that result is attained is the business of the university; I will mind my own, which is regarding Edinburgh University as one of two things, based on said result. They will be either a racist institution in support of denying Genocide of non-white victims, and therefore be overtly complacent (if not aquiescent) to the dehumanization of my fellow Rwandans, or simply an academic entity that unluckily, perhaps unknowingly, found itself entangled with a troubled and troubling person. When it comes to genocide denial, there is no straddling the fence; one is either an enabler or a condemner. Passivity is indifference, or worse: cowardice.
Indifference could make sense in the grand scheme of things. It might serve to remember that Edinburgh University, founded in the 16th century, has existed and operated under legal slavery, and colonization, for longer than it has under the emancipation of African countries. Considering that little is as resistant to death as old bigoted habits, perhaps Edinburgh Uni will simply choose to position itself where the colonisers and slavers that walked their corridors as early as a century back, would have chosen to: a genocide in Rwanda should not garner the same consideration for victims and survivors as the holocaust would, and has.
If cowardice could prevent Edinburgh Uni from acting against the platforming of Debora Kayembe and by extension the dissemination of genocide denial, the preferred language of genocidaires, there would be cause for alarm. This would suggest that the university believes that its best interests align with Tutsi Genocide denial, and therefore genocide ideology. Who would they be scared of offending? We have little reason to think it would be Debora herself. Scottish as she may be, her skin colour remains the same as the one of the victims of the one modern genocide it still seems commonplace to deny in 2022. She is discardable, particularly because her work as a lawyer and activist feature no notable shining moments. So, who would Edinburgh University humour here, by claiming no choice but to protect Kayembe’s title? How high up should we think that the support of her ideals goes?
There is rot beneath the surface. Information on Debora Kayembe has emerged, since her first tweet, linking her to ethnicists criminals. However, compromising this link alone should be in defending her competence to inspire or instruct young minds on human rights, it need not necessarily be considered in the court’s decision. In fact, it should be very telling that the words she chose to pen herself, are so damning, even isolated from the rest of her likely corruption, that few but the mad, or hateful, or both, would dare oppose her removal from Edinburgh University.
What is remnant here, is for Edinburgh to decide whether to ignore rot that one could still smell with pinched nostrils, or to make the neither brave nor admirable, but simply reasonable, choice to cut her off before the putrefaction spreads. Whatever emerges from beneath Kayembe’s social media surface, I believe that taking a whiff will be no pleasant experience; neither for Rwandans, nor for the university that must choose whether to continue honouring a genocide denier.