Genocide orphans and survivors asked a hard question, a rhetorical one, “How did we arrive here?” The answer to the question culminated into what turned into a tough speech.
President Paul Kagame responded to the question saying that it is not a question that can be answered in one minute, “it’s a question we can answer in what we do everyday for our country.”
These kinds of question evoke Kagame’s emotions. Indeed the question set precedence for the day’s direction of the speech, a very uncomfortable speech minutes later.
The President began his speech with lines in Kinyarwanda for about ten minutes and then later everything got twisted.
“Like now,” he said switching to English, all foreigners dropping their earphones to pay attention to a seemingly irritated President.
The subject of genocide denial, negation and the idea of a double genocide that has been going on in the academia, conferences, and many other platforms for over two decades now, is something President Kagame has not enjoyed at all, same as genocide survivors and orphans.
“Debates around the world about words. It’s no longer about the people’s lives lost. It’s now going into words, semantics.” Kagame continued. “They say genocide. It’s of Tutsi, the genocide of 1994. They are looking for what they can name what happened. It’s no longer the lives of people. It’s now the words, the names. How do we call it? Is it the genocide of Tutsis, the 1994 genocide?”
As usual, he throws in comic even when it is a tough talk. “You know…human beings, I think we are good people, with ability but we are bad people at the same. When comes a small thing, we display our weakness,” Kagame said, as he tried to express the irritation Rwandans have had to endure while the world tried to find a different definition of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
“Then came those with an improvement. They say: No, you see, we can’t call it the genocide of Tutsis, it is the 1994 genocide or Rwandan genocide. So, we are struggling to be vague as if being vague is very important also.”
Many scholars, the likes of Filip Reyntjens; a Belgian academician who has feasted on the genocide denial project, have tried hard to revise the history.
Kagame went on. He said they tried to call it the genocide against Tutsi plus the moderate Hutus. “I had problem getting with this debate because it is absolute nonsense, absolute nonsense.”
“Those deciding what it should be called are the very people who got involved in it; as if you’re playing around with words, with names is of no substance to anyone.”
“We lost people. We lost over one million people and it wasn’t a natural disaster. It happened on the hands of some people and politics the cause whether local or international. So how can people keep playing around with what names, what…and then bring experts. Experts to do what? To bring back our one million people that we lost? This is absolutely nonsense.”
“Nonsense…they have a problem”
The sound bites from Kagame’s speech carried highs and downs. As he delivered his speech, then threw in tougher words, and then cooled them down with encouraging words, empathy as he acknowledged those siding with Rwanda and the survivors.
“As Rwandans, we should not get lost in this nonsense or diverted by this nonsense. We have our lives to live. We can’t live by this nonsense that is there everyday Genocide, genocide has a definition and I am not the one who put that definition there. When you talk about Holocaust. It has its definition. I am not the one who put the definition there. If you have the problem matching that definition with what happened here is because you have the problem, you need to address that problem.
People were targeted here in Rwanda for decades, Kagame explained, as hundreds at the Kigali genocide memorial listened attentively. The memorial is home to over 250,000 bodies of the victims. “It did not happen in 1994, it happened for decades…common, you can’t have such a short memory.”
“Those who try to be smart with definitions, why should we be afraid of seeing things as they are? That Tutsis were targeted for decades here in Rwanda is a mystery? Is something that is not known? You have to have a problem in order not to see that But, Rwandans we have to live our lives and forget about this nonsense.”
Guarantor of peace and assurance for the future
Kagame mentioned something that caught many people’s attention. Kagame declared something that contradicts the aftermath of most tragedies and what scholars have presented every after a conflict that has been recorded in human history.
“Yes a section of the people of this great nation, call it small if you want, were targeted, they were targeted for who they are. That is what it is. You can’t call it something else. The second is to say: That happened, we failed to prevent it. It happened. We can’t reverse it as of that time. We couldn’t. But today we can do something about it….
After that line, is when Kagame declared what has made him distinct and for many, something that has united the country together: Peace and assurance, reconciliation and reconstruction.
The past is the past, he said. “There is nothing we can do about it…what we can do today is [ensure] that it won’t happen again that people are going to be targeted.”
“Those people who were targeted will never be targeted again…and those who were not targeted in the past, wont be targeted in the future as well.”
This was the punch line of his speech. Guaranteeing there will be no retribution is not a word he has said. He has ensured it from the beginning, but it was the first time Kagame insists on it and defines it so clearly at a gathering during the commemoration period. “It is not talking about those who were targeted in the past, and not being targeted again in the future, it is about not targeting anybody in the future…we can’t have this again, absolutely not.
Kagame argued Rwandans to ignore distractors and instead focus on the efforts of forging a new Rwanda. “Forget about those funny stories about Rwanda, about what we are trying to do today and all kinds of descriptions and definitions about us. Forget about that. That is just nonsense.”
Rwanda needs friends
Today the president had a different tagline about a subject he has reiterated for years; dignity and freedom to be. President Kagame insisted that Rwandans are going to a life the best way “we think we should live our lives.”
This, he said, doesn’t matter what somebody else thinks, “but we are open for working together, for cooperation, for collaboration, to work with people.
After all, Rwanda needs friends, he said, friends to work with. However, “we will have to live our lives and they are our lives and are not going to be managed by somebody else, absolutely.”
Kagame recognized friends of Rwanda who have “been with us in all this we have gone through.” It has been a very difficult history, he said.
And that, the country looks forward to having more friends and cooperation. “For those who want to be with us and work together, they are very welcome, we welcome them.”
Those who don’t want to cooperate with Rwanda, the president said did not damn them. He said, “they are also welcome but they should understand they have a formidable opponent in us.”
“They will never shake us out of our beliefs, the beliefs about our politics, about our lives, that belong to us and have a meaning to us and we can do nothing about it. If they want anything, they will find us ready for that. I’m really very happy and I’m sure Rwandans are happy that we have moved on.”
Peace with the Catholic Church
Times have been hard with the Catholic Church, but with the recent invitation to the Vatican, with the Pope acknowledging the church’s role in the genocide, here is what the president has said for the first time after the historic closed-door meeting.
“It’s not a secret we have had back and forth, there were people saying these are individuals who did this, this is not this…I think we have sorted the matter. I am happy and I am grateful and I am thankful to those senior people who had hand in each and helped us to put us on a good course. It is a good thing.”
Will France read between the lines?
One got to be bewitched not to comprehend what Kagame inferred to in his speech when he instantly swung into tough, bitter and too direct a talk when he said “there are others who are struggling with trying to understand their responsibility and they are still on the course of trying to create problems for us around that.”
It is a no brainer, Kagame referred to France. “They have been doing that for the past, we are coming to twenty three years now. But they will not stop us making progress. They won’t. It doesn’t matter how powerful they are. We have victims here and they turn around and blame the victims for the problems they caused.”
France is implicated in the genocide against the Tutsis. France’s role is unquestionable. Ballistic investigations were conducted with evidence scattered allover the place, France’s was hands were found everywhere; same as for the Catholic Church. But the Pope threw in the towel and accepted their role and apologized, and the chapter has been closed.
“They haven’t apologized, they haven’t even recognized…we are not asking for money. We don’t ask for money. There is no money to compensate the lives of our million people that were taken during this genocide. It’s not possible. It’s the truth that we are after; the truth that allows people to live their full lives going forward.”
As the President continued to hummer his point into the audience, the discomfort in the audience was too vivid. “Les corps diplomatique” or call them members of the Diplomatic Corps made gestures of uneasiness.
Kagame went on. “For the time being, we shall live with that but there is always going to be a cut off point.” Now, this sunk deep. A French diplomat in the audience froze as eyes from different angles project to him. The same was for the expatriates all present at the event.
“[This] is where a line gets to be drawn…you can’t just manipulate people’s lives as you wish. You can’t. And I think may be this is also something we got from this tragedy. This tragedy that took the lives of our people may be came with a silver lining. And that is we are better people, we have more solid beliefs and the past is the past. There is nothing you can do about the past.”
The President had said enough already. But there is one thing he couldn’t spare; the UN. The UN failed Rwanda by its failure to intervene, despite having all the resources and the full knowledge of the incidences.
“Yes, the UN has its problems, sometimes it is hard to know what the UN is. The UN is not a country, its a group of nations coming together…but who use the UN the way they want. When things go wrong, it is the UN responsible, when things are good, it is those countries that use it to claim credit. When we say the Un, we need to know what we are talking about. It is a mixed up thing that is used for the interest of some depending on how powerful they are. We saw that in Rwanda.”
After the speech, the whole nation turned dark, with a gloomy sky It rained. Heavily. And that is exactly how it looked on April 7, 1994. Rwandans remember. A national vigil was held at the Amahoro National Stadium, with candles lit, well seen from far above the sky.