Just one visit to the memorial will be the best history class you’ve had in a long time. During the Rwandan Genocide, “Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines was used to incite hatred, to give instructions and justify the killings” – writes the memorial. In this post, I dissect the roles played by media and church in the propagation of the genocide, and a peaceful way forward.
Role of the Media
Media propaganda played a big role in shaping the events that led to the genocide. While at the memorial we see archives of sample newspaper cuttings over a span of a decade. They are all spreading malicious lies, hatred and implicating one tribe against the other. This is what served as a backbone of fuelling genocide.
We also see the 10 Commandments of Hutus drafted by a certain bishop. Everybody was expected to act on the 10 commandments just like they did to the ones in the bible. So ridiculous. Bonheur narrates of how the propaganda conditioned people’s minds. “If you take life from someone even before you kill him [it means] the killer is not a human being but a killing machine. A young man could attack a whole group [of people] without resistance because they had already killed in their minds. They were successful in killing and wiping out families – why women and children were largely attacked.”
The international media also played a big role in the wrong definition of the genocide. They largely reported that genocide was an outbreak of African war against different African tribes. Very few accurately reported the real cause of the genocide. However, many were accurate in reporting on the kind of preparation and training for the genocide. The international community was warned about the impending massacre but they never ran to Rwanda’s rescue or responded positively. Bonheur says, “1,700 militias had already been trained and 300 more were supposed to be trained each week, with a capacity of killing around 1000 people in 20 minutes, revealed Jean Pierre (coded name for his security) one of the trainers from the ruling party.”
By the time we are done with this part of the history lessons, one thing is clear. The genocide’s wrath left many scathed. Those who set out to kill others were highly effective as successful. Many families had Tutsi and Hutu members in one household. The segregation between a people ran down into families, ending up separating siblings – making them arch enemies. Bonheur remembers his father’s survival tale. Militias had confused him for another man and missed to kill him. – “even though he was killed later.”
We also visit a space designed like a darkroom. There are hundreds of pictures of those killed, hanging on walls and on strings across walls. They were retrieved and protected here as memorabilia. There are also some personal effects like ID cards, shoes, bracelets and dresses put here.
Role of the church
More than 80% of Rwandans were Christians. 35% of all the people who were killed during the genocide died in or around church.I am very disappointed by the Catholic Church when I learn that they did not fight to save lives during Rwandan Genocide. Instead some priests ordered killings, and at times the church was in collaboration with a biased government. “The churches were no longer sacred,” says, Nelson – our other host. A lot of people ran to church for refuge – the safest place anyone can think of when in danger. Because they had a majority, the church’s role to “fight the genocide would have been more effective than any other institution,” notes Bonheur.
This part of the memorial has blue cathedral windows. It feels likes I am in church.
The Road Travelled Vs a Peaceful Future
80 % of Rwandan children experienced death in their families. 75% witnessed it and 90% believed that they would die. They are today the majority of Rwandan grownups. The memorial writes, “The international Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, was established by the UN Security Council in its resolution 955 of November 8, 1994 to prosecute high-level organisers of the genocide. After nineteen years the Tribunal had completed 75 cases with 12 acquittals and 16 cases pending appeal.”
Not all Hutus were killing others. Some worked tirelessly to save lives. After the war, many refuges fled to Congo and other parts of the world. Survivors were left devastated and traumatised. They had to start a new life. They had to find their people’s remains or identify where they were killed so as to start the mourning process. Today the government gives 5% of its budget to survivors’ care – this includes psychological healing.
Despite all these efforts, Bonheur says that the genocide is still being denied. “We (Rwandans) are still fighting against the denial,” he says. However, “We are trying to build a peace that can never be broken,” he asserts, adding that it’s all in line with rebuilding the country’s socio-economical cloth. The memorial also runs several peace programs that have since started similar projects in Kenya and South Sudan.
I am very proud of Rwanda’s heritage and their motivation to remember the genocide. I wish international media as well as Africa media would sensitive people on the genocide more to avoid its recurrence or a replica. Visiting the memorial reminds me of Kenya’s post election violence. I don’t think Kenyans would even dare fight if they really understood the loss, and depths at which the genocide has taken Rwanda, to date.
As we leave the memorial, Bonheur bids us farewell and everyone immediately walks into the car. I remain behind to chat with Bonheur, thanking him for his time and taking us though their history. I ask him about his experience during the genocide. He lost his mother and five siblings in the terror. His voice trembles, making me start to balance tears. “I can’t talk about it now. I am so glad to have survived,” adding, “I owe my life to the woman who saved me.” I want to hug him so tight and reassure him that I feel him. But I am afraid because we just met today and I don’t know him like that. I don’t know what to say, other than, “I am sorry about your family, glad you are here today, and thank you.” There is power in this man, standing here in total belief in redemption. I am inspired.
As we drive out of the genocide memorial towards town for dinner – my heart is heavy. I watch my surrounding. I see happy people, children playing, beautiful streetlights and just normalcy. It’s unbelievable to imagine the massacre that was on these cool streets some decades ago. I wouldn’t have been here then. But I am here now, wondering whether the Rwandan obsession with cleanliness is to sanitize themselves from the deep scar.
Whatever the case. It shall be well.
BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. Thanks Bonheur, Bruce and Nelson for the trip. Guys check out the memorial’s website