Sunday April 14 2013

Some personal reflections on the Rwandan genocide

By Harold E. Acemah

This week marks the 19th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. In April 1994, a human tragedy of monumental proportions which severely pricked my conscience and I believe the conscience of all people of goodwill took place in the Great Lakes region.

How and indeed why did such a tragedy occur on the eve of the 21st century and in full view of the usually nosy international community? There is plenty of blame to go around for this despicable event; to mention, but a few; the UN, the OAU, Belgium, France, the US, which like the Levite in Jesus Christ’s parable about the good Samaritan, found reason to avoid doing the needful and many others!

Nineteen years down the road what lessons, if any, has Africa and the world learned from that very shameful episode in modern history? I have many friends in Rwanda, Tutsis as well as Hutus, and it is for their sake that I wish to dedicate these reflections on the tragedy of 1994.

As a Christian, it has grieved me for many years that human beings created by God in His own image could sink so low as to commit such abominable and heinous crimes, first and foremost against God, and secondly against humanity in the 20th century.

In April 1994, when the Rwanda genocide unfolded, I was living in Toronto, Canada and for two or more months I always felt guilty and ashamed whenever I would travel downtown by the Metro or subway or what the British call the underground; partly because the predominantly white commuters in the mass transit system would often stare at us blacks, as if to say, you must be related to those barbaric and uncivilized Africans who are slaughtering defenseless women, children and men in their thousands back home.

The CBC news at 10pm with the suave Peter Mansbridge brought every night the gruesome footages from Rwanda right into our living room. The sight of marauding killers with machetes and axes hunting human beings like wild animals was simply too much for me and my family to take. I would always shield my children from watching the bad news from Africa; what with hundreds of bodies floating via the River Kagera into Lake Victoria!

Thousands of miles away from this African theatre of the absurd we suffered and agonised mentally, psychologically and spiritually, with much bitterness. I wonder how painful it must have felt in East Africa.
What a big shame that it boiled down to this mess. May the LORD forgive us for doing so little to prevent such a monstrous tragedy and for doing equally little to heal the wounds from all sides; the victims and the perpetrators of the genocide!

My words are but a token and a modest contribution to the healing process which will take a long, long time, to borrow the lyrics of a tune my beloved son, Emanuel, loved to sing as a toddler. There is indeed enough blame to go around, but in the final analysis the biggest blame must go to the Rwandans; those who were in Rwanda in 1994 and many who were in the diaspora!

The people who planned and professionally executed the wicked plot to deliberately shoot down, on April 6, 1994, the plane in which former presidents Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Ndadaye of Burundi perished must take full blame for triggering the inferno. They must have known the possible ominous repercussions of that action. In this regard, I do not believe the story that Hutu extremists shot the plane. The ugly truth will eventually emerge. I believe that one day all of us will account before God for everything we have done here on earth; the good, the bad and the ugly.

I hope the perpetrators of that horrendous sin against God will repent and seek forgiveness while time lasts because on the day of reckoning nobody will blame the UN, OAU, Belgium, France and the US for a personal decision to take a gun, a machete, a knife or an axe to kill his neighbour or workmate or a total stranger whose only crime was the fact that he or she belonged to another tribe or a rival political party!

The Rwanda genocide is a blemish on humankind and the massacre of thousands of innocent and defenseless Africans must be the concern of all of us. The important question which Jesus posed in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29) is applicable and pertinent today. Who is my, and your neighbour?

The answer should be anybody who is in need whether he is a Hutu, Tutsi or any other ethnic group. One key and critical phase of the healing process is to establish the bitter truth and, in this respect, I appreciate the work done by Rwanda’s Gachaca courts, but more remains to be done.

As the Holy Scriptures teach; when we know the truth, the truth will set us free! There are at least two important lessons we can learn from the genocide; the first is to obey the Lord’s golden rule namely, do unto others as you would like others to do unto you. The second lesson is that each one of us must strive to be a good Samaritan at all times. May the LORD have mercy!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.