4 April 2014

Rwanda: The Exile - 'It's Dangerous When People Are Made to Feel Guilty Because of Their Identity'

B., a Hutu, has been in exile from Rwanda for 20 years. The last time he saw his country was three months before the genocide started. At the time his family was in Rwanda.

"I was working in the Rwandan foreign service in April 1994. When I heard that President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane had been shot down, I sat on my bed, sweat was dripping from my head and my face. 'What do I do? How do I evacuate the family?'

"I was afraid I would be killed by the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) if I went back to Rwanda. I used my contact at the French embassy in Kigali, which agreed to shelter my wife and children in their compound. They were evacuated two days later. From Kigali, they went to Burundi and on to Congo, where I picked them up.

"When the RPF attacked, the major problem in Rwanda was regionalism, not ethnicity. That's why many Hutus aligned with the RPF. The three major opposition political parties, MDR, PSD and LP, which were led by prominent Hutus, were aligned with the RPF against a Hutu-led government.

"Real power was held by people from the north and there was resentment against the Hutus in the north. But the RPF attack re-kindled the ethnic element. Because the rebel army was Tutsi-led, some politicians, in order to drum up Hutu support, called it an attempt by Tutsi exiles to take power from the Hutu. The current power structure seems to give credibility to this theory.

"There were many factors that made the situation explosive: propaganda that the Tutsi wanted to take power again; alleged impunity of the RPF over atrocities against Hutu in areas it took, leading some people to say that only Tutsi enjoyed human rights; distrust between Hutus and Tutsis since 1959 (when an attack on a Hutu leader led to ethnic clashes and reprisal killings); forced displacement of more than 1 million people in areas taken over by the RPF; poverty and the lack of land where some people wanted to grab other people's property. Some Hutu were killed for this last reason under the false pretext that they were allied to the 'enemy'.

"There are six brothers in my family. Three were killed in 1994. One was killed by the Interahamwe, because they said he was a Tutsi. They found him and just slaughtered him. Two were killed by the RPF. One you could say died in an act of war. He was a soldier.

"And here's where it gets difficult. Would you say this boy, who was fighting against an invading army, would you say that he was a genocidaire, that he committed a crime? He was a military man, the country was attacked. Where do you place him?

"The other brother was picked by the RPF, taken from home and never came back. His wife, who went to ask about him, was put in jail. She had a three-month child. She was released after seven years. No charge.

"You can't even ask for the bodies. You can't even talk about it. The worst month for a Hutu is April. It's the time to go away. When it comes to April, would you tell my mother, 'Mourn the one killed by the Interahamwe and not the ones killed by the RPF. Forget them.'

"True reconciliation can only come when everyone's pain is acknowledged and justice does not discriminate against anyone. Saying this is not minimizing genocide or denying genocide. Genocide happened and the perpetrators must be brought to book, but equally those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, whatever their political or ethnic affiliation, must be brought to justice.

"Someone asked me: 'How is it when I meet a Rwandan and ask him if he's a Hutu or a Tutsi, he says both? Why?' I told him he's probably a Hutu because if you say Tutsi, they say, 'Oh, sorry this happened.' But when you say Hutu, they say 'mass killer'.

"In Rwanda today, they say there's no ethnic groups and then they speak of genocide against the Tutsi. It's a contradiction. The automatic question is who killed them and the answer is Hutu. Hutus are made to feel like criminals.

"It is very dangerous when people are made to feel guilty because of their identity. If you do that, it makes them identify with themselves even more and begin working out how to get out of it by any means including removing the powers that be to regain their dignity.

"Looking at the history of Rwanda and the cycles of violence, what you're seeing now is exactly the situation in 1959 with the Tutsi monopoly of political, economic and military power. My worry is that the same causes may lead to the same effects. My greatest fear is that this exclusion, these grievances will once again crystallise around something like identity, like religion. When you consider it, the system is cultivating, nurturing radicalism.

"It is also sad to see the politicisation of a national tragedy, to see an appropriation of a national tragedy by a particular group. I feel it's absolutely horrendous. All of society has to own it and own the solution to it."

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