An oft-quoted statement of renowned African American civil rights agitator Malcolm X is “racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year”. Malcolm X was trying to grapple with racism in a society with a legacy of slavery and race-based exclusion. Similarly, Rwandans have been dealing with genocide denial over the past twenty five years. The biggest challenge has been that the authors of denial, like racism and the Cadillac, find new ways to undermine justice and reconciliation in Rwanda.
Since genocide was committed here in 1994, the “models” of genocide denial have included the claim that Tutsis should have stayed in Ethiopia, that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) should never have started a liberation war on a “peaceful” country, that the tribes were at war and so one trying to eliminate another is normal, or that the president’s plane was shot down by the Tutsis so they deserved to be eliminated by an “angry” avenging population. In all these cases, the people who invent these justifications are directly or indirectly linked to the atrocities, or have formal or informal relations with the perpetrators. The aim of perpetrators and their allies is to avoid moral or legal accountability.
Those who share ties with them seek to help them in this effort. As a result, they develop multiple fronts to accuse those who were on the opposite side of the genocide, particularly those who sought to put an end to it, with the goal of trading places with them. The good guys are made to look bad and the bad guys to look good. If they succeed, impunity reigns. It means they have a chance to advance their ideology that ultimately seeks to eliminate the remaining survivors, who – as first hand witnesses – pose the greatest threat to the denial narrative.
These are the battlefields. Genocide deniers believe in their “cause” the same way any movement might believe in its ideology. They are committed. They work day and night. Their lives depend on it. However, they particularly come out of the woodworks around the time of genocide commemoration. It is during this time that they mobilise as much support as they can to drown out the narratives of genocide survivors, whom they mock, and attack those who tried to save them. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide, and the ferocity of denial is expected to be even more cringe-worthy.
It is only February and Shannon Ebrahim, a South African journalist, has already published a masterpiece of genocide denial in an article titled, “Rwanda’s masterful deception during the 1994 genocide.” https://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/rwandas-masterful-deception-19315622 Trading places is performed to perfection: the legacy of genocide mastermind Theoneste Bagosora is credited to President Paul Kagame who is accused of allowing the genocide “to continue longer than it needed to.” Kagame’s calculations – not Bagosora’s – included having as many people die as possible in order for him “to rule the country for decades into the future.”
You would be hard-pressed to find any reasonable person who disagrees that the aim of genocide masterminds was to kill in order to rule for as long as possible. The evidence for this is overwhelming and led to Bagosora’s conviction and sentencing to life imprisonment by the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) http://unictr.irmct.org/en/cases/ictr-98-41
Anyone who would trade Bagosora’s place with another human being would surely have to adduce at the very least a fraction of evidence. Ebrahim isn’t at all interested in this, she simply wants Kagame in Bagosora’s shoes at any cost. She asserts without an iota of evidence that twenty years ago Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the UN peacekeeping commander, told her that Kagame really wanted the genocide “to continue longer than it needed to.”
The author attempts to exploit a historical note that both President Kagame and Gen. Dallaire have spoken about openly. Following the shooting down of the plane that was carrying President Habyarimana on the night of 6 April 1994, the two men (Kagame and Dallaire) had a heated confrontation. The two men disagreed on whether it was pertinent to respect the cessation of hostilities amidst the carnage that began immediately after the crash, or to breach it by embarking on a rescue mission to save as many people as possible. In what Dallaire saw as a dare, Kagame challenged him that if he did not stop the killings – especially because the UN had the sophisticated weaponry for it – he (Kagame) would be forced to do it himself.
Dallaire also writes that he tried to engage Bagosora to stop the killings. But on meeting with Bagosora he realized that all he had done was to “shake hands with the devil,” the title of his memoir that details the preparation for genocide well before it happened in 1994, and the futile warnings he had sent to the UN Headquarters in New York through the now infamous “genocide cables.” https://unredacted.com/2014/01/09/genocidefaxdeconstructed/
Genocide denial also involves throwing mud around to see what sticks. In her article, Ebrahim also ventures into the double genocide theory claiming that the liberators (Kagame and the RPA) began “cleansing their society of members of the Hutu majority” and that Hutu refugees were “liquidated in camps in Eastern DRC.”
This is a journalist on a mission and will allow nothing to stop her. She is silent about the continued effort of genocidaires to reorganise in refugee camps in order to recapture the country and “finish the job.” Nor does she speak of the daring rescue missions by the liberators to rescue people who were being held ransom and used as human shields.
As the people in real captivity are ignored, the author’s gaze is on the imaginary “troubling levels of domestic repression that Rwandans live under.” The country’s anti-sectarian laws that help to maintain reconciliation and contribute to national cohesion are dismissed as “a strategy to spread fear in the society.”
Remarkably, the author makes the link between an electorate that is subdued on ethnic terms and the need for “an electoral system” that advances “the notion of majority rule” or the “Rubanda Nyamwinshi” rhetoric. This is the most enduring legacy of genocide perpetrators – their claim to fame – to which Ebrahim enthusiastically enjoins as something she has been waiting a whole twenty years “to have the courage” to do.
Just like bringing out a new Cadillac model.
Albert Rudatsimburwa is a Rwanda Based Political Analyst