Rwanda: Scholars Re-Examine Role of State, Church in Genocide

Visitors read messages on the Genocide at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre (file photo).

Scholars from Rwanda and abroad yesterday reiterated that the state, church, and media alike played a big role in the propagation of the genocide ideology and disintegration of the fabric of the Rwandan society.

This, they said, led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Andrew Wallis, a British researcher and investigative journalist, highlighted some of the details of his research on the Genocide in Rwanda and what triggered his interest in the subject.

"I wanted to know who the perpetrators were and how they were able to do it. The Genocide was made possible by the creation of a single-party State, involvement of church leaders and the creation of 'Akazu'," Wallis said.

The Akazu was an informal organisation of influential Hutu extremists whose members contributed significantly to the Genocide. Nothing could take place without their knowledge or agreement.

According to the researcher, this meant that there was no socio-economic, military, educational, health development as all the resources that flowed into these projects flowed back out straight to the 'Akazu' private bank accounts.

Col. Aloys Nsekarije, who once ran the education ministry and Joseph Nzirorera, who was in charge of public infrastructural projects, became the country's first billionaires by the late 1980's, Wallis said.

Wallis has written books that explore this history, including the Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of the Role of France in the Rwandan Genocide and his upcoming book Stepp'd in Blood: Akazu and the architects of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi, scheduled to come out on April 26.

Wallis gave a sneak peek into events that led to the 1994 Genocide and how politics played a big role, starting with the regime of Grégoire Kayibanda who was the first President.

"The regime of Grégoire Kayibanda was known for his ethnic and regional divisionism," he stated.

The genocide between 1959 and 1963 as well as between 1972 and 1973 was clearly targeted against the minority group, he added.

MDR PARMEHUTU was the sole party in the country and Kayibanda was the absolute head.

In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana staged a coup d'état, also known as the 'Coup d'état of 5 July, against incumbent president Kayibanda. At the time he was promising a revolution but it rather turned out that the revolution was to create another single party state - MRND.

"You were born MRND, you lived MRND, and you died MRND. Ethnic discrimination remained," Wallis said.

While the State played a significant role in the prepared and well executed mass slaughter of Tutsi, Bishop John Rucyahana, the Chairman of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), explained that the Church was a big collaborator to execute that plan.

Andrew Wallis, a researcher and investigative journalist, speaks on a panel discussion during the international conference on Genocide yesterday. Nadege Imbabazi.

"The problem with the Church did not start shortly before or during the Genocide. It started from the beginning when they diverted from their mission and got involved in the leadership of Rwanda as a sovereign State," he stated.

Rucyahana highlighted one scenario that happened back in 1930's when King Yuhi V Musinga was accused in a Belgium court of "incest and being an immoral leader" who cannot lead people.

"He was, therefore, deposed and exiled on false accusation, which the Church was part of," he said, highlighting divisive theories that were taught in church schools, seminaries, and teacher training colleges.

"The Church is as embarrassed by its past as any other institution in Rwanda. They have to sit down and review or redesign their mission," the cleric added.

Frank Chalk, from Concordia University, asserted that research will continue to play a key role in bringing greater understanding to more historical events that shed light on the actual truth of what occurred in Rwanda, but he said researchers need to be more equipped to get the right information.

For instance, he noted that prisoners sometimes get together and make up stories and when they are being interviewed by researchers during the process they tell fictional tales.

"We are not [sometimes] really equipped to understand that they are fictions, lies," he said.

It was also observed that the media was much involved in the propagation of hate messages, especially the likes of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) and Kangura newspaper.

According to David Gakunzi, a renowned journalist, the media should now take the lead to fight genocide ideology and denial.

"The fight against denial is an eternal and permanent struggle because it is about preventing recidivism. The negationists are primarily calling for recidivism," he said.

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