By Tom Ndahiro
The moment the mass murder of 1994 ended, the killers, switched tactics to killing the truth of what they had done and plotting their return to power. It is important to keep this in mind when assessing critiques of democracy and governance in Rwanda today.
Genuine critics are important to the proper running of the country but there are others who utilise critique as a strategy to bring the genocidal program of Hutu Power back to legitimacy. They assume the dress of democrats, hiding their blades and their murderous intentions. Theirs is a strategy that was fashioned soon after the genocide.
In an editorial of the infamous Kangura newspaper (Issue No 68 of April 1995), Hassan Ngeze the publisher and editor, who was to be convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), made the following argument about the Tutsis: “When they call us criminals, do they believe that we have forgotten that they exterminated the Hutus in the prefectures of Byumba, Ruhengeri and Kibungo? If we exterminated them—who is occupying the country and our houses? Why don’t they show Hutu dead bodies? All dead bodies look alike. Must we return to the country through negotiations or through war? The community must be sensitized on the merits of a political dialogue that must be privileged instead of war.”
There is no more concise expression of the strategy that the killers would undertake in the coming years. First, deny genocide had occurred, or argue that it was Hutus who were killed by Tutsis, or that there were two genocides, the first of the Tutsi and then the next one by the Rwanda Patriotic Front against the Hutu.
On January 9, 2010 Victoire was hosted on a BBC programme Imvo n’Imvano, and was reminded by the producer she was a member of an organization the RDR created by “extremist Hutu” in the camp of Mugunga in the former Zaire. She denied it and instead said she was from Rally for Democracy in Rwanda. Total hoax! On August 19, 2000 Victoire was elected President of the Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy.
What is this RDR Victoire prefers to shun? The Republican Rally for Democracy in Rwanda (RDR), initially known as Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda was born on April 3, 1995.
Genocide denial and genocide ideology is its founding doctrine. In the minutes of a meeting which decided to form the RDR there was a resolution on what they called the “genocide issue.” Read: RDR Birth
Unambiguously, the founders of the RDR said that “there is no evidence of the preparation of the genocide on the part of the Rwandan people and their leaders.” Rather, they emphasize—“it is true that massacres occurred and that the RPF must mainly be held responsible for the tragedy that befell Rwanda.”
On May 22, 1998 Jean Kambanda, the Prime Minister of the 1994 genocidaire government, told ICTR investigators about the RDR and its creation. Kambanda related how at the end of March, 1995 he had met with Major General Augustin Bizimungu and Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, the leaders of the genocidal Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR). They discussed how Colonel Bagosora, while in the refugee camps in Congo, had announced “the formation of a new political party…to represent exclusively refugees.”
Some of those who participated in the retreat to finalize the creation of the RDR included Major-General Augustin BIZIMUNGU (Chairman), Brigadier-General Gratien KABILIGI, Claver KANYARUSHOKI, François NZABAHIMANA, Charles NDEREYEHE, Aloys NGENDAHIMANA, Aloys RUKEBESHA, Colonel Joseph MURASAMONGO, Jean Marie Vianney BAGEZAHO, Lieutenant Colonel Juvénal BAHUFITE, and Major Aloys NTABAKUZE who was their rapporteur.
Bizimungu told the other participants that the FAR “was prepared to face the RPF, but it was necessary to create a political organization capable of mobilizing the means and ensuring unity among the population for concerted action.” Furthermore, their “interlocutors in Europe” had proposed a “credible political organization to represent the refugees.”
Ngeze wrote of the RDR leadership: “Here are the Hutu who will ensure our return to Rwanda.” In a Kangura interview (No 69, May 1995), RDR Vice-president Aloys Ngendahimana argued that his movement was the only one capable of representing, defending and uniting all Rwandan refugees. It was a matter of promoting the unity of Rwandans in exile. He presented the organisation as the right party to enter into negotiations with the RPF.
This is the crux of the matter. The aim is to win back political legitimacy for the genocidaires, to make their opposition to the Rwandan government seem like normal political competition, when it is in fact a continuation of genocidal politics by other means.
In Goma, August 4-6, 1995 there was a meeting of the FAR High Command to evaluate their progress after the birth of the RDR. In his opening speech, Bizimungu asserted: “We must mobilize the community of Rwandan refugees through the RDR to collect the proofs of the responsibility of the RPF in the Rwandan massacre, in order to conduct a campaign of detoxification of international opinion in favour of our cause….”
He went on to say that the “RDR must bind the strength and the cohesion of the refugees; achieve the unity, agreement and solidarity of Rwandans.” And that since “the Tutsis took thirty years to prepare their return and the taking of power in Kigali. The Rwandans, with all their live forces in exile, must have the courage and take the time needed to return to Rwanda, weapons in hand in need be. We will not lack outside support either. If we, the FAR and the people, constitute a united front…”
This strategy has continued to unfold. A few years after the genocide, as the genocidaires were being sought by international and Rwandan prosecutors, and the ICTR, the RDR told the media (Press Release No.13/2001, August 1, 2001) that there were no fugitives from justice among the refugees, condemning such claims as “false and dangerous.”
The refugees, according to the RDR, were simply people who ran away from a country “ruled by the machine gun and the jail keys.” They are “political opponents” who need a political dialogue, but “cannot return to their homeland while the evil political system, which forced them to exile, is still in place.”
It is against this background that some of the recent critiques on elections in Rwanda occur.
On March 21, 2010 one Kris Berwouts wrote a 16-page report on Rwanda entitled “Cracks in the Mirror as Rwanda prepares for elections.” The author is a Director of EurAc, an umbrella organization of European NGOs.
Unfortunately, a number of its members have been furthering the cause of the genocidaires and their organizations since 1994. EurAc’s website, for instance, displays links to known genocide deniers. One of the more interesting ones is to an article entitled: “Kagame must reconcile with Rwandans” by Nkwazi Mhango, purportedly a Tanzanian based in Canada.
This article was published by The African Executive in Nairobi, on the same day as Berwouts’s piece appeared. In it, Nkwazi accuses President Paul Kagame of “banking on genocide” as a pretext to thwart people with different ideas; and of “using genocide to threaten anybody, including the international community whom he blames for not preventing it.”
Berwouts admits he doesn’t know much about Rwanda, noting that he often passes through the country, but only “in transit to Goma, Bukavu or Bujumbura.” Yet he claims to know enough to observe that “I noticed that the people felt fear, but that had long been the case. I saw a closing up of the political space but this had often been experienced before.”
He lamented “The demonization of Victoire Ingabire…the candidate of the opposition party, FDU-Inkingi,” and that in Rwanda all those who oppose the government are labelled genocide deniers.
Such is also the view of Victoire Ingabire, who was quoted by Tim Whewell of BBC Newsnight on March 31, 2010 saying that “The genocide has become a kind of blackmail to be used against everyone. After 16 years it is high time for democracy.” Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch echoes this view, and blames the British government for providing aid that is “serving to prop up a government that is routinely violating the rights of its citizens.”
Tertsakian protests that “the genocide and the events that surrounded it can be used as an excuse to suppress criticism and dissent.”
The assault on the present government in Rwanda continues with Berwouts, who writes that “Since 1994, the country has been managed in a psychological climate of winners of the war versus its losers, the victims of the crimes against their executioners, in which, for example, a whole system has been put in place through the Gacaca courts to deal with crimes of genocide against Tutsis while at the same time there is a complete taboo regarding crimes committed by the FPR since the start of the war. …Gacaca has become a strategy for consolidating the winners/victims versus losers/criminals scenario.”
Berwouts would have you believe that today’s Rwandan government seeks only to oppress the Hutu. Human Rights Watch analysts would have you believe that it is nothing but a dictatorship which that cynically and cruelly uses genocide to further its interests.
Imagine if this kind of thing were written about the government that took over Germany in 1945 after Hitler’s rule.
If it were, it would have to be done in secret, since Europe has not hesitated to proscribe those would deny the Holocaust.
For instance, Swiss law punishes “Whoever… Publicly through utterances, writings, gestures, assaults or in any other form injures the honour of a person or group of persons for reason of their race or their belonging to an ethnic or religious group or for one of these reasons defames the memory of deceased persons, or, for the same reason, grossly minimises or seeks to dispute genocide or other crimes against humanity…”
In Austria, it is an offence “If in print, over the radio or through another medium or otherwise in a public manner accessible to many people” a person “denies, grossly trivialises, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.”
Many countries in Europe have similarly tough laws on genocide denial, but often these laws apply only to denial of the Holocaust, and not to denial of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Yet it is important to recall that 1994 happened because of the denial of the hate ideology and “massacres” of Tutsis in the late 1950s and early 1960s (which Bertrand Russell described at the time as the “most horrible and systematic massacre” since the Holocaust).
Just as Hitler’s real crimes did not begin in 1939, but years earlier since his ideology called for the destruction of certain segments of the population. When this was ignored and denied—with him managing to paint himself as just a politician – then the holocaust clock started ticking.
Genuine criticism is proper and useful to Rwanda. But Berwouts and Tertsakian should be careful not to further the aims of a genocidaire campaign in the name of democracy and fairness.
Professor Henry Theriault, a descendant of Armenian genocide survivors, astutely observed that “Deniers operate as agents of the original perpetrators (of the genocide), pursuing and hounding victims through time. Through these agents, the perpetrators reach once again into the lives of the victims long after their escape from the perpetrators’ physical grasp.”
These are the high stakes at play in this back and forth in which genocidaires attempt to make common cause with media outlets and even human rights defenders.