The Impact of Genocide: Are 18 years Long Enough?

You can’t surely respond to Rama’s article with “remember what happened 18 years ago?”!Really? That’s exactly the point he was making and you just gave his theory credibility

This was a comment that one of my readers posted after reading my blog post, which was in reaction to the now infamous letter to the late Fred Rwigema. I disagreed with a lot of what the guest blogger wrote, especially when it came to his various points of our socio-political system.

One of the many points that Rama Isibo stated was that “human rights could be forsaken for clean government, press freedom could be forsaken for because of the threat of Genocide…every nation has a FEAR and in Rwanda it is the Genocide happening again, it is what keeps the peace. It is the automatic excuse for any arrest of a journalist, or justification for lack of democracy but it is also allowing corrupt people to get away”.

I think that both the article and the comment offer me an opportunity to wonder whether genocide is still a topic worth discussing 18 years after 1994. These are the facts.

  •  Close to 800,000 died if you use Western figures (the Government states that the figures go beyond one million).
  • In the aftermath about two million fled to the DRC.
  • According to Reyntjens & Vandeginste in their 2005 book ‘Rwanda: An Atypical Transition’, by the year 2000, approximately 120,000 alleged genocidaires were crammed into Rwanda’s prisons and communal jails.
  •  It resulted in psychological trauma and social problems-Dr. Hagengimana

Those are indisputable facts. There WAS a huge impact on all sectors of Rwandan life. However, the question isnt whether there was an impact but whether we can still pull the ‘genocide card’.

I’m 32. I was 13 during those events and I honestly can’t say I was directly affected by them. No one I know was killed (although I later learnt that some distant relatives were killed). I never saw any dead bodies and I can’t say that I was scarred in any way. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. That is until late 2002.

I was walking home from watching a movie at the National University of Rwanda grand auditorium, when I saw a group of men, maybe six or seven, walking towards me. If you can remember, those were the day’s electricity blackouts were daily occurrences. Anyway, the men looked like they were holding machetes (they probably weren’t, or if they were so what?) and, truth be told, I felt a fear that I’d never felt before and never felt since. I realised that I was alone, vulnerable, defenceless and therefore an obvious target.  Evidently nothing happened. But it made me realise that if I (sheltered and privileged) could suffer some sort of existential fear, then EVERYONE did at some level.

So, should each charge of human rights abuses and press restrictions be rebutted with “remember what happened 18 years ago”? No. However, we cannot pretend that those events don’t hold water any more. Because they most certainly do.  Perhaps as the years go by the existential fear will fade, as our children are raised in stability, but I cannot see that fear totally subside. This fear is, and will continue to be, the making of us. It strengthens us. Gives us a sense of moral clarity and helps us realize that the worst is past.

So, is 18 years long enough? No. will 50 years be long enough? No. Just like the Jews will never forget their mistreatment at the hands of the goyim, neither shall the scars of 1994 be totally erased from the fabric of the Rwandan tapestry.

To have any kind of conversation about Rwanda’s past, present and future without discussing the Genocide is foolhardy. It is akin to attempting to discuss Japan without discussing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, discussing France without talking about the 1789 Revolution and South Africa without discussing Apartheid. A fool’s errand.

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