Guest Blog: Owning our Past, Present and Future: In response to Stephanie Nyombaire’s, “It’s not about you”

My note- As I’m wont to do every so often, I am publishing on this blog a piece of commentary that I find thought-inducing. I enjoyed it and I hope you do so as well. The author asked that I protect their identity. As usual, I must reiterate that these are not necessarily my views. Rather, I think that the author’s viewpoint should be considered as we move forward. Enjoy!

 

 

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I have been a fan of Ms. Stephanie Nyombaire’s work as an activist since I watched her presentation at TEDx Swarthmore in 2012. The effort of young Rwandans like her in reshaping the conversation on Rwanda is truly commendable. In this article, I write a response to her recent piece titled “it is not about you” published in Rwanda Post Online on April 6, 2014. (see below) The goal of my response is simply to reveal logical fallacies and contradictions in the hope, that we can have a more meaningful conversation on the Genocide against the Tutsi and the state of Rwanda twenty years after Genocide.

First of all, the article starts in the very manner that has defined the international community’s rhetoric on Rwanda over the last two decades, “10,000 men, women and children killed every day across an entire nation …images of human beings hacking other human beings to death”. Any person who has read deeply on Rwanda remembers the days when almost every article on Rwanda contained the phrase “tiny war torn Central African nation”. The article goes on to argue that “the lives we lost are not to be sensationalized”, yet by evoking such descriptive imagery, the author is doing just that. This instrument of rhetoric is argumentum ad passion (appeal to emotion), a logical fallacy that aims to manipulate emotions, rather than elicit valid reasoning.

Ms. Nyombaire blames the “international community” for being key actors before and during the Genocide. In doing so, she creates a “straw-man” on whom she blames allegations previously made against France, Belgium, America and the United Nations. There is no legal entity in the world known as “the international community”. Not even the frequency with which the phrase has been used makes it one. Pragmatically “the international community” could refer to all countries when they decide to act together or all sovereign countries that participate in global decision-making. Regardless of which definition one chooses, Rwanda is and has always been part of this international community, evidenced by its sovereignty, its participation in the UN Security Council, and more recently its recent role in global peace-keeping missions.

By blaming this red herring, the author employs the fallacy of generalization. The continued use of such a blanket term is misleading. More critically, the argument is fallacious because it utilizes “Reductio ad Hitlerum” (The Hitler Card). By accusing the international community this implies that anyone who is not Rwandan is guilty of Genocide by association. If the goal is to appeal to emotion, being angry with the international community is the equivalent of being angry with nobody or everybody at the same time. The international community has no President or spokesperson to respond to any allegations made against it. Therefore, accusing it of Genocide is the equivalent of accusing every country of the most heinous crime, with no expectation of a defense or rebuttal.

While the article blames the rest of the world for causing and facilitating the genocide, Rwandans are proudly and rightly credited for the impressive post-Genocide recovery. However, the manner in which the article evokes Rwanda’s economic, political and social independence during the recovery is in stark contrast to the strength with which it apportions blame for Genocide. The two trains of thought literally head towards each other on a collision course.

It is us, Rwandans, that spent 100 days killing our neighbors, relatives and friends. The mythical international community may have contributory culpability, but it took millions of bloody Rwandan hands to massacre fellow Rwandans. We could have said no to the poisonous propaganda they fed us on. We had the right to refuse the disingenuous inducements they gave us to hate each other, but we chose to follow. We accepted to partner and to lead, not because we were too ignorant or too innocent but because they successfully married their selfish interests with our own. If we are going to take any credit for our recovery, we should equally take responsibility for our destruction.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that members of the international community like America, Britain, the European Union, and China have contributed directly and significantly to Rwanda’s post-genocide recovery. They have traded with us, advised us, educated us and provided us with the ability to finance our recovery for the last two decades. It is still our recovery, but it would not have happened as fast or as successfully without their input. Just as we share the responsibility for Genocide, we should equally share the credit for our progress.

It is important for Rwanda to approach the world with clear and objective reasoning every time we are confronted with challenges. Whenever we are in the foreign media for the wrong reasons, we see an onslaught of emotional and sometimes ill-mannered responses from Rwandans of all walks of life. Our anger does not serve us well; it only exposes us to more criticism and puts us on the defensive. Let us seize the opportunity to learn from our critics. We must remember that, just like allRwandans, Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, the “the international community”, is also here to stay and that our ideals on reconciliation should include them too.

……………………….

It’s Not About You

By Stephanie Nyombayire on April 6, 2014 in Media, Opinion, Politics

Myth number 1: The International Community did not care enough to stop the Genocide

10,000 men, women and children killed every day across an entire nation. Images of human beings hacking other human beings to death. The story goes that the international community looked the other way and chose inaction for various reasons ranging from the US failure in Somalia to a belief that this was business as usual for Africa.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The international community did act. They acted when they planted the seed of division so they could rule better. They acted when they stayed silent as the seed grew into a system of discrimination against a section of the population. They acted when they chose to ignore clear warnings that a genocide was underway. They acted when they voted alongside the genocidal Rwandan government seating on the UN Security Council and chose to remove UN peacekeepers, evacuated non-Rwandans leaving innocent men, women and children to their death.

They acted when they ignored the French close relationship to the genocidal government and gave them the mandate to intervene. A mandate which allowed safe escape to genocidaires to Eastern DRC leading to a crisis running 20 years now. It is interesting to say the least that they continue to get away with causing a crisis, being called upon to solve the very crisis they caused and failed to solve for the past 13 years. But I digress.

Today, they continue to act by giving safe haven to hundreds of genocidaires and going as far as legitimizing them as “opposition” members.

Myth number 2: Never Again

A few years ago, I joined a cause. I used phrases like never again comparing Rwanda to Darfur and called upon the world to take action. College students across the so-called free world wore Never Again green bracelets and t-shirts, wrote to their congressmen and senators calling on never again to be a reality.

But we had it wrong.

Starting from this reasoning: there are the good guys (international community) and the bad guys (those people who keep killing each other for no reason), the savior and those that need to be saved from themselves. The Darfur movement was an extension of the belief that the international community can only be the good cop or innocent bystanders to the madness that seems to define this other world that still does not know what is right or wrong. We saw nothing wrong with the fact that the only role Darfurians played in this movement was to tell vivid stories of killings, rape and emphasize their need to be rescued.

Not much has changed. Darfur. Syria. Central African Republic. The narrative remains the same. They are killing each other and we must save them then define them according to our own image.

This I believe is at the center of the reason why never again remains utopia. Until every day citizens are brave enough to go beyond this dichotomy, until they are willing to strip away the belief that one world must teach and the other must learn, until they are willing to see the international community is in fact not the benevolent father figure but an actor with interest often far from noble, never again will remain a nice catch phrase.

Truth: This is not about you.

The Genocide Against the Tutsi is a lesson in the cruelty of humanity but also in the power of determination and will.

To all the analysts, journalists, scholars, the Genocide Against the Tutsi does not exist as a tool for the international community to teach us a lesson about our own history and ourselves.

This is not about you.

The lives we lost are not stories to be sensationalized to reinforce your idea of us vs. them. The country we are building is not a case study that can be used for you to teach us lessons about what is right or wrong for Rwanda.

So no, we are not on a quest to be “donor darlings” and this is not about living up to an acceptable international standard of “fill in the blank.”

Believe it or not, our ultimate goal is not to become you. When we work for democracy, when we fight against corruption, when we build our institutions it is still not about you.

When 16,000 men and women faced and defeated an army more than twice its size, supported by 100,000 militias and the French army, we did not do it for you. The Rwandan men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice to end the Genocide did not do it for you. When we chose forgiveness over revenge, we did not do it for your praise. When Rwandans joined hands to transform a destroyed nation into one defined by equality, dignity and determination, we did not do it for you.

We did it for us.

Twenty years later, we remember our loved ones, so that never again will we be divided, never again will we believe that we are worth less than any other part of the world and never again will ever be defined by anything but dignity and strength.

We do it for us.

 

 

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