12 March 2019

Rwanda: How a School Won the War Against Genocide Ideology

When the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi ended, its perpetrators never ceased to cause havoc but would from time to time make incursions in the country from the jungles of neighbouring DR Congo and elsewhere in the country.

The attacks, which mostly affected the north-western parts of the country and halted by Rwanda Patriotic Army in the early 2000s, left people in the area with more genocide ideology compared to other parts of the country.

Schools were not spared with that ideology. Students were rife with Genocide ideology that was fuelled by genocide perpetrators and the teachings by the previous genocidal government.

ACED students hold discussions in Unity and Reconciliation club. The Club is credited to have contributed to the fight against Genocide ideology. Courtesy.

Lycée Catholique Saint Alain Mataba better known as ACEDI- Mataba located in Gakenke District, was one of the most infested schools. Students who survived the Genocide suffered terribly at the hands of their tormentors who were fellow students.

At one point, they would find their beds smeared with faeces, received threats on handwritten notes or were called derogatory names used during the Genocide and death threats and other hate literature were scribbled on bathroom and toilet walls.

The school gained national attention, especially from government officials and security organs. Some teachers and students were arrested and charged.

In 2011, the school's board of governors was even dissolved in a bid to get rid of the vice.

As Rwandans and the world prepare to mark the 25th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, The New Times visited the school to assess how the journey has been in eradicating the vice.

The school is located in the hilly part of Mataba Sector in Gakenke District in Northern Province.

The hills around it were battlefields for years as Rwanda Patriotic Army and the ex-Far and Interahamwe militia who were either in the country or insurgents from DR Congo jungles from where they could launch attacks.

Jean Bosco Hakizimana has been a teacher at the school for over 20 years and for some time served in its disciplinary department.

He vividly remembers the image of the school back then as far as the Genocide ideology is concerned.

"The area was much affected by the fighting and some of FDLR members were from here. Local residents had relatives among them and would tend to support them," says Hakizimana.

He said it took time to change the mindset of residents and convince them that what was happening was fighting that were provoked by genocide perpetrators who again wanted to cause havoc.

Unity and Reconciliation Club

Hakizimana says that the school embarked on teaching students, not only in classrooms but also through the Unity and Reconciliation Club the school created in the 2000s.

"Through the club we would interact with students and we would also invite government officials to address them, now we have a strong club and students live in harmony," he added.

"We had to intensify our efforts in mobilising them that the Genocide ideology was a deadly virus which should be eradicated," he narrates.

The club includes all the over 600 students in the school and they meet every Saturday and teachers often join them in debates on various topics. The school also recognizes the best groups that performed well.

"I can say that the struggle to fight the ideology has been won although we can't relax because fighting such ideologies requires more efforts and continuity," Hakizimana said.

He also challenged leaders and school administrators to keep putting in more efforts and ensure that students join those clubs not because they are asked to but they really understand the role of such clubs.

Students speak out

Sharifu Juma 22 is one of students. He said that the club helps them in the fight against genocide ideology.

"Every Saturday we convene and discuss various topics, we have several groups where we discuss how to eradicate the ideology. For instance, we can discuss how we can use materials that were used to kill people in building the nation," he said.

"We learn history of the place during FDLR attacks and how the genocide ideology was propagated more in our school than in other schools. We are therefore aware that we need to put in more efforts to uproot such ideology".

Efforts bearing fruits

According to Irénée Ndayambaje, the Director General of Rwanda Education Board (REB), fighting the genocide ideology in schools has been a long journey but a successful one so far.

"We have invested more efforts in educating young Rwandans how to fight the ideology and looking at general perspective, I can say that there is a huge positive impact from those efforts," he said in the interview on Tuesday.

"Our children have understood, have overcome the genocide ideology and work together for a common good. But teaching is a continuous process, particularly in this journey," he added.

Ndayambaje said that the Ministry of Education has worked with AEGIS Trust and the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide, (CNLG) to draft a teacher guide that helps leaners get courses that are free of the Genocide ideology.

"Previously teachers could fail to get good examples while dispensing some courses and the teacher guide is a great achievement because it is a serious tool to fight against the ideology," he said.

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