Rwanda is commemorating Kwibuka28, the 28th year, since the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) forces, defeated the genocidal government, halting the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, to usher in the beginning of Rwanda, as a modern state. During those twenty-eight years, the ill intentioned, have continued to beguile the ill informed, in misrepresenting the country. President Kagame’s address at the start of this year’s commemoration period, suggested he thinks it time to remind Rwandans, and the watching world, what is at stake.
“It’s a moment when people are speechless” President Kagame began, in reference to an account just given by genocide survivor, Jean-Napo Sibomana, who, as a child, miraculously managed to escape the murderers, who had murdered his family, and were hunting him, as they were so many others, over a million of them.
It is a moment that left people speechless, continued the President, not because of the claims that Rwandans lacked freedom of speech, a notion he dismissed as making no sense, and “rubbish”, but because of the difficulty in finding words, adequate enough, to make sense of the testimony that Sibomana, had just given.
The head of state invited his audience to picture two scenarios. Firstly, to imagine a time, when the hunting down of children to murder them, simply because of how they were born, had become the norm, and then to consider the likely response from those under arms, who were fighting to stop the perpetrators of that crime, save the intended victims, and change their world for the better.
From the history of humanity, the world over, we know that the almost inevitable response would have been to kill the mass murderers in turn.
“And we would have been right to do so, but we did not” he said. They instead chose the road less travelled, and that, to paraphrase the poet, has made all the difference.
It is however, a difference that seems lost to the country’s critics, and detractors, or one they choose to ignore.
The mass murderers were spared, later to be tried in the courts of law, or specially convened courts, like Gacaca. Today, many of them live normal lives, in all walks of life, including as politicians, business people, or peacefully living out their years in their home towns and villages.
He might have added that not only were the mass murderers spared, but they were also protected under the law, in what must surely have been a heart rending decision, to punish, including, before it was abolished, with capital punishment, any of the survivors, who sought to avenge their loved ones, by taking the law into their own hands.
In spite of this rarely trodden, difficult path chosen, people still presume to stand in judgement of Rwanda, preaching to them about justice, and the rule of law.
“And yet, people will have the guts to say about us, what they say against us, and do what they do against us, up to now. But let me tell you, we are a small country, but we are big on justice” he said, contrasting Rwanda, with the very countries taking it upon themselves to preach these values to Africa, in general, and Rwanda in particular, which, although “big and powerful”, are “very small on justice. They have no lessons to teach anyone.”
While it is certainly true, he reminded his audience, that it is Rwandans who murdered Rwandans, it is equally true that they were mere tools, executing a genocide, whose ideology was conceived elsewhere, in the minds of colonisers. Once the Rwandans, infused with this ideology, begun executing what they had been directed to do, the Western powers in general, sat back and watched, or turned a blind eye, and a deaf ear, pretending to know nothing of the horror they had birthed.
It is to cover their part in this history, and their failure to lift a finger to mitigate the consequences of the bitter seeds they sowed, he suggested, that they “will not give us peace.” It is why they create false equivalences, that “these Rwandans, these Africans, are just killing each other, they are killing themselves. So, there is no one who is right, there is no one who is wrong. We are all the same, according to them.”
“We are not the same, that is why we did not kill another million on top of those we had lost at the hands of these criminals, some of whom are protected, even now, by the very countries that give lessons about justice.”
And it is not just about justice he said. The same people also want to preach about Democracy, among other things.
But as far as he could see, he added, the world is governed along three systems: “the so called Democracy, the other, is what they call autocracy, the third in between, that is silent, powerful, is that of hypocrisy…”
It was vintage Kagame, unscripted, preferring heart felt truths, to a prepared speech.
Doubtless, as they have in the past, sooner or later, many among Western commentators, and some in the media, will be finger pointing at him, for daring to “finger wag” at the West. The accusation will be at once telling, and disingenuous, like deliberately stepping on someone’s toe, only to then upbraid them for shoving you off their foot.
But of course, those who make the accusation, expect Rwanda or indeed any other African country, to meekly accept whatever admonitions the West deems fit to dish out. It is a state of affairs that even most Africans have come to accept as the norm. The West, as headmaster, to Africa’s pupil. Rwanda, and its head of state, are regarded as all together too rebellious, and must be put back in their place.
Try to look beyond the self serving, paternalistic attacks however, objectively consider the basis of President Kagame’s disenchantment, and his excoriation of the Western stance on Rwanda, seems not only amply justified, but is also delivered more in sadness than in anger. It is a speech through which the feeling of an egregious injustice done to Rwanda, to the truth about Rwanda, is palpable.
And it is a regret that an opportunity for a more constructive engagement is scorned, in an apparent preference for twisted, and even fabricated assertions about the country. Instead of the hoped for partnership, with honest criticism, and mutual regard, Rwanda is subjected to patronising, offhand chastisement, without even the courtesy of ascertaining if the supposed reasons for the chastisement have any basis in fact.
When President Kagame says, “we have learned our lesson” that the sanctity of Rwandan lives is in no way less than that of any other lives anywhere, he has two audiences in mind: he is firing a shot across the bow of anyone who imagines Rwanda a soft target, and to Rwandans, especially the young among them, he is giving a reminder of their Agaciro, or self worth.
He invites his audience to consider the incongruity of countries which retain the use of capital punishment, for instance, criticising Rwanda’s justice system, in which capital punishment was abolished under the constitution. Abolished moreover, at a time when so many among the planners and perpetrators of genocide, could have been justifiably executed.
“And these people miss that point?” he asked with genuine incredulity, “They miss the point that we are actually a country of justice, a country of laws? We believe in the rule of law?”
President Kagame’s remarks, come at time when the revisionism that has long existed about Rwanda, from sections of the media, academia, and even Human rights organisations, seems to have intensified, and the apparent conviction from Western powers that they have a divine right to govern Rwanda, from their respective capitals, given greater impetus.
And there seems to be an unspoken agreement that different rules apply, when it comes to claims made about Rwanda. Only the views of those who condemn the governing RPF, are to be aired, and the concept of right of reply inapplicable in this case.
It is in many ways a damning indictment of some of the world’s major news organisations, that they are content to perpetuate perversion of facts about a genocide that claimed over a million men, women and children. If they will not be punctilious about the truth of that, what will make them adhere to their journalistic ethics? Almost anyone, can say absolutely anything about Rwanda, and it is printed, or broadcast as fact. And with each amplification of twisted fantasy for fact, the planners and perpetrators of genocide, and their fellow travellers, rub their hands in glee.
“You will find a renowned newspaper, in some powerful place, falsifying stories about us, about Rwandans, about genocide, about our history…it’s like they have agreed among themselves, all channels through which you could have communicated, or placed a reply, not to listen to you, because they want to have what they playing, the only thing playing in everybody’s ears…”
The distortion of facts creates fertile ground for rampant genocide denial. Unrepentant voices of people who were charged with genocide related crimes, directly or indirectly, are amplified.
Some, like Victoire Ingabire of FDU-Inkingi, who served their sentence, or were granted clemency before completion of their sentences, are promoted as the “main opposition,” with Western commentators and media, in essence, arrogating to themselves the right to decide how politics in Rwanda must be contested. And their decision it seems, is that it is these unrepentant extremists, who will bring Democracy to Rwanda.
“It is a joke” exclaimed the President, incredulously, “and you are doing it in the wrong place. In a place that understands many things about us, our limitations, but also our power, to defend and protect this land, and the people of this land…”
The period of commemoration, the head of state noted, is an opportune moment to bring to mind, all these issues.
“These very hard lessons should never be wasted. In the last twenty-eight years, every year that passes, makes us stronger and better people.”
He ends with his central message that perhaps encapsulates everything upon which he had touched.
“And for being who we want to be, we shall be the ones to decide. Not anybody else deciding for us, what and how to be…”