Last Thursday, I joined various experts, embassy staff, journalists and politicians in the Serena hotel to participate in CNLG’s International Conference on Genocide, under the theme ’18 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, testimonies and reflections’. The two day conference, which aimed to discuss the dehumanisation process, victims in the aftermath, assessing the legacy of judicial processes and preserving memory in the face of negationism, was extremely interesting.
Three speakers at the conference made my heartbeat quicken in excitement. Dr. Angela Ebert of Murdoch University, Australia, who spoke about ensuring our understanding of genocide victims, Kenyan professor Wandia Njoya, who talked about the notorious Lantos Award to Paul Rusesabagina and Canadian genocide expert Gerald Caplan, who talked about an extremely controversial topic ‘why does the RPF polarise the world’.
Listening to these experts discuss my own history, I felt slightly ashamed. I felt ashamed because, here were foreigners, teaching me about my own country and people. What these academicians talked about wasn’t rocket science; their arguments should have been my own. But they weren’t and I know why. I was ignorant because I did not seek the information they had nor was I interested in doing so. Looking around, I couldn’t see people my age participating in the conference. I think that there is something wrong with this lack of interest.
It’s been eighteen years since 1994, and I feel that the memory of what happened in those 100 days is being lost as a new generation of Rwandans take their place at the table. A few days back, I overheard a bunch of teenagers gripe about the lack of ‘fun’ during the commemoration week. This would’ve been impossible a decade back. The progress and normalcy that the country has enjoyed is making some of us complacent. We are forgetting that in living memory, our streets were flowing with the blood of innocents killed simply because of a lottery of birth. Yes, our country is looking at the future, and actively pursuing it, but not at the expense of our past.
Professor Wandia Njoya talked about this false sense of normalcy as she put the Lantos Foundation, and other organisations that refuse to acknowledge the special challenges Rwanda (and Africa) face, to task. “When they [those organisations] talk about going back to ‘normal’, what ‘normal’ are they talking about”? I would like to expound on this. We, Rwandans, must never forget that we are not living in ‘normal’ times or in a ‘normal’ country. As long as there are still proponents of an ideology of genocide hoping to turn back the clock, as genocide financiers like Felicien Kabuga still lurk in the shadows, as long as survivors still get targeted by the very people who destroyed their lives, as long as some self-styled opposition leaders attempt to negate 1994 and FDLR still thinks that it will conquer Rwanda, all guns blazing, then we can never talk about a case of ‘normal’.
I suggest that parents, and the older generation teach young Rwandans just where our country came from. A vast number of Rwandans were born after 1994, meaning that the commemoration period is simply an ‘event’ for them where people wear purple ribbons, the President marches with young people and then makes a speech at Stade Amahoro and nightspots close. For this period to come alive for them, they must be educated. As parents and guardians, you cannot take it for granted that they will learn about the Genocide from school or on the radio. You have the responsibility to educate the next generation; if you don’t, one day the only people who commemorate the Genocide will be survivors and government officials. And that would be tragic indeed.