Rwanda: Govt ‘Manipulates’ Genocide Memory — Rwandinfo_ENG
Rwanda Information Portal

Rwanda: Govt ‘Manipulates’ Genocide Memory

by Prof. Chi Mgbako.

The Rwandan government has made remarkable strides in infrastructure, the economy, healthcare and gender equity in political representation, but their continued attack on independent thought and criticism is disheartening – and dangerous.

As the August presidential election looms, it is important not only to hail Rwanda’s success but also to ask hard questions about government abuse of authority.

The Rwandan government uses charges of “genocidal ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” to attack independent critics and often seems more concerned with political survival than with lasting reconciliation, manipulating the memory of the genocide for political gain. If the Rwandan government is truly committed to promoting unity and fostering long-term reconciliation it should encourage enlightened public discourse about the social construction of ethnicity in Rwanda and stop oppressing political opponents, independent civil society and journalists.

My work years ago as a young lawyer-in-training focusing on post-genocide Rwanda sparked my career in international human rights law. For several years I visited Rwanda on human rights research and fact-finding trips and authored reports based on my fieldwork. This tiny, beautiful, ghost-filled country, where 800,000 people were slaughtered while the international community watched, has stayed with me.

On my first trip to Rwanda seven years ago, I visited a genocide memorial site housed in a church an hour outside of Rwanda’s capital. At Ntarama church, roving gangs of genocidaires killed 5,000 men, women and children seeking sanctuary inside. There are places made of stone that carry human memory, that remember where we have been and what we have suffered. I walked into Ntarama church and was confronted with the strong, sad, unrelenting human memory of anguish.

The church remained exactly as it had been following the 1994 attacks. There were holes in the ceiling from grenade fragments, blood splattered on the walls, bones and skulls scattered on the floor among the rubble, sandals, clothes and children’s books.

I remember the light from the setting sun entering the church through the grenade holes in the ceiling and settling on the bones that glowed golden and lonely. One of the survivors of the attack said he only lived because the bodies of the dead and dying poured on top of him, like rain. In the trips to Rwanda that followed, I would meet many more survivors who shared similar stories of the struggle to live during those horrifying 100 days.

It is with these images and stories lingering in my mind that I remain mystified at the ease with which the Rwandan government manipulates the memory of the genocide by using the charge of genocidal ideology to stifle opposition and buttress its own power.

As the election draws near, the government has been implicated in recent attacks on journalists and political opponents and their advocates. These attacks include the imprisonment and later release of Peter Erlinder, a U.S. lawyer and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda defense counsel, and the banning of two independent newspapers: Umuvugizi and Umuseso.

Although the government has denied recent allegations of abuse – including participation in the murder of Umuvugizi editor Jean Leonard Rugambage, and the attempted murder in South Africa of the exiled former army chief of staff Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa – the authoritarian tendencies of Rwanda’s ruling party is not a new phenomenon.

[All Africa]

“If the Rwandan government is truly committed to promoting unity and fostering long-term reconciliation it should encourage enlightened public discourse about the social construction of ethnicity in Rwanda and stop oppressing political opponents, independent civil society and journalists.”
Prof. Chi Mgbako.

In 2004, following the 2003 elections in which the government was implicated in the forced disappearances of opposition figures, a parliamentary commission issued a scathing report accusing civil society, independent journalists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, churches, schools and international aid organizations of harboring “genocidal ideology.”

I researched and co-authored a report condemning these actions and interviewed a junior Rwandan government official who conceded that “genocidal ideology” had become code for overt criticism of government policy. The parliamentary commission report was shocking in its lack of strong evidence to support such serious charges in a country struggling to realize lasting reconciliation.

Following the release of the 2004 parliamentary report, Rwandan human rights defenders accused of genocidal ideology fled the country fearing for their lives. Many lived in exile in Kampala, Uganda, under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, until being granted political asylum in Europe and North America. I interviewed several of them – brave individuals who had strong records of advocating for the rights of genocide survivors.

International human rights defenders are also not immune to the government’s acrimony. One prime example was the government’s treatment of the late, great Alison Des Forges of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, who before her untimely death last year was widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on the Rwandan genocide. Her criticisms of the government’s increasingly authoritarian streak resulted in the government officially banning her from the country in 2008, despite her unquestionable courage in attempting to draw international attention to the impending genocide in 1994. As the government persists in leveling charges of genocidal ideology with abandon, independent critics continue to flee the country.

Rwanda’s “genocidal ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” laws fail to strike an equitable balance between safeguarding freedom of speech while protecting citizens against incitement to violence and discrimination. Instead, these laws silence journalists, politicians and citizens who peacefully advocate political views that differ from those of the ruling party. The government uses these ill-defined crimes and manipulates the memory of the genocide to solidify its power and oppress alternative political viewpoints under the pretense of advancing national unity.

These actions trivialize the genocide and do not honor the Rwandan dead.

Chi Mgbako is clinical associate professor of law and director of the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School in New York City.

– If you want to receive per email, articles published on Rwandinfo in English, click here.
– If you want to receive Rwandinfo articles in English through your RSS Reader, click here.


1 akech { 07.22.10 at 8:04 pm }

I do not believe that Paul Kagame has the supreme power to walk all over Sub Sahaan African coutries, assassinatiting any oppnent that has fled Rwanda including ICTR defense attorneys, unless he is backed by powerful friends in the European Union and USA. It looks like the Rwandan 1994 genocide was merely a pre-cursor to the resources genocide that has claimed the lives of 6 million Congolese since 1998, roughly two years after the Rwandan genocide. Where does Paul Kagame obtain the resources to finance the war he has been waging without going bankrupt? Kagame has thumbed his nose at everyone including France and Spain. Each time he does that, he gets rewarded by UN appointments, Like being the co-chair of Millenium Development Goals Advocacy Group:

This is the reason why Kagame is thmbing his e at the world:

2 Jane { 07.23.10 at 7:45 am }

With high regards for the learned professor, I wish to say that it is kind of him to show his concern about what is happening in Rwanda. However, his allegations against President Kagame’s government are actually an insult to the memory of the Rwandan genocide he is supposedly defending. The professor surely knows that President Kagame and many others in his government were the ones who stopped the genocide while the so called international society simply watched and did nothing. The same government has put in place over the years strategies and programs aimed at preventing any future genocide. What President Kagame does however is done not to appease anyone, he does whatever he does from his personal conviction and discernment of what is good for Rwandans. Besides, the professor should be aware of the fact that both President Kagame and his other colleagues in the RPF are also victims of the genocide since most of them lost hundreds of close relatives in the genocide, including parents, brothers and sisters; uncles, aunts and cousins. Being one of the survivors of genocide, my opinion about your article is that President Kagame, his colleagues and all the Rwandans do not need any lessons from anybody about how to prevent another genocide or how to behave towards the memory of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.

3 Jean { 07.24.10 at 3:48 am }

This is a wonderful observation from prof. Mgaboko, we are observing what is happening in our country with a great anxiety! Our hope are shattered when we realize that the struggle for political survival has blocked any idea that prompt reconciliation. Th genocide ideology law is simply irrational and it is substantially driven by personal interest, political greet, and other many forms of intimidating any genuine dialogue between my people. We have tried to let people know that there no Hutu who hates Tutsi nor vice versa but mentioning our beautiful tribe is falling in the blackets of that cynical law. This is a law that doesn’t need facts but it concludes all its cases on the ground of presuppositions, benefits of doubts and other fallacies that are involved in such manipulation of facts. It’s desheartening when political gains maximized in the interest of smal elite group while majority of rwandans are so desparate about their future the future of our children . When we sign never again there is something deep in our hearts that repeats there is a bizarre once again underway

4 akech { 07.24.10 at 8:01 am }

The very groups , UN, USA and European governments, that you correctly point out stood by while 800,000 poor Africans from Rwanda were being slaughtered/hacked to death are Paul Kagame’s chief defenders! They determined to formulate a narrative that Kagame was the savior of Rwanda after the demise 800,000 beings within 100 days! They are now combing the world in order to silence anybody with the knowledge that Paul Kagame was groomed in Uganda and thoroughly prepared for the events that led to the demise of 800,000 his fellow countrymen in Rwanda. He proceeded to take his marching orders to the Congo Basin where he has caused the deaths of 6 million poor Congolese. The trophy he has been promised by his defenders is the fulfillment of his desire for the revival of the monarchy in Rwanda with him as the king!

The claim that Kagame stopped the Rwandan genocide is a baseless and shameless narrative merely designed to put the final nails to the remains of 6,800,000 million Africans who were gunned down, hacked to death or buried alive so that the rich natural resources in the Congo Basin can be looted. Mobutu who (for thirty years) had guaranteed the access to the Congolese mineral resources was becoming a liability and some one had to replace him. Kagame, Laurent Nkunda, Kabarebe and his cousin Joseph Kabila have replaced Mobutu to guarantee access to these minerals! The serial assassinations being carried out by Kagame and his foreign agents are designed to eliminate eye witnesses so that this narrative sticks! Unless Kagame and his supporters have something to hide, there is no justification for the two genocides and serial assassinations to hide the facts!

Leave a Comment