A friend of ARDA recently visited the beautiful city of Kigali in Rwanda. Rwanda is slowly changing the image it evokes in the global mindscape. From the ethnic cleansing and genocides of 1994 to the movie, Hotel Rwanda, to the 21st century, where Rwanda which has the highest rates of female participation in politics (one of two countries in the world where there is a female majority in parliament) in the world and improvement in most development indices like health, literacy and socioeconomic activity.
This beautiful nation bears the scars of its recent past. It remembers them. Every April 7th, the world remembers those who were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide. This is the anniversary of the start of the killings. In the 100 days that followed, 500000-1 million people lost their lives.
Our friend visited the memorial. It’s a garden, a burial ground, a museum and cafe in one. Most of the space is dedicated to burial grounds. It takes about an hour and a half to walk through the paved-stone path lined on both sides with stone graves to the dead. The graves are unmarked so only the presence of flowers on the stone slabs and the presence of signs asking you to respect the sanctity of the resting place of the dead and not to step on the graves remind you what this quiet and peaceful place is marking.
At the entrance to the graves, there are huge black slabs of granite on which the names of the deceased are etched. The numbers are mind-boggling: it took our friend 90 minutes to walk through the memorial, and the dead resting there represent only 250000 of the estimated 1 million murdered. More and more mass graves are being uncovered as time passes and the remains brought to the memorial.
Memorials are necessary to remind us of what has gone on before. The hope is that when people look at them they will be reminded of the depths to which we as humans have stooped and said, as one of the pictures says, never again.
It’s not perfect. While there is a lot of information about the Hutu ethnic groups genocide of the Tutsis, there is little about the reprisal killings in the aftermath of the genocide, when the Tutsi-backed Rwandan Patriotic Front ended the killings with a military victory. With many members of the RPF in government, it is unlikely that for now, those who were killed in vengeance will have their voice.
In Nigeria we do not usually talk about the past or have memorials for our own conflicts or pogroms and it seems like given enough time we will forget the mistakes of the past and make them again. Without mature conversations, we will be doomed to repeat our worst failures as a nation.
One more interesting thing about the genocide was the power of the media in stoking the fires. Hassan Ngeze, who is serving a 35-year jail term in Mali for inciting the genocide, was known for the anti-Tutsi content he published in his newspaper, Kangura. He was behind the Hutu 10 Commandments which were virulently anti-Tutsi and was a key person in the founding of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), a radio equivalent of his newspaper. At the height of the genocide, he went from anti-Tutsi propaganda to straight up broadcasting the names of Tutsis and moderate Hutus to be killed by the military and militias.
In this we see the negative power of the media to hyper-negative behavioral change. The other side of the coin to what we do. It’s a sobering reminder that what we do can hurt as well as help our fellow man.