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February 21, 2019

Twenty Years Since The Genocide - Will We Not learn?

TRAGIC: A child stands near an open mass grave in Rwanda following the genocide in 1994.
TRAGIC: A child stands near an open mass grave in Rwanda following the genocide in 1994.

Today I wish to honour in my own way requests made to me in the past week. I was asked to be in Kigali to be part of several activities to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide. But due to duty demands and diary conflicts, I simply won’t be able to make it.

However, I can most certainly honour that moment in history and people of Rwanda by simply calling attention to that outrageous event that took place 20 years ago in my own way as a media personality. Rather than take a trip across the border so I can report on “others”, I truly believe I need do my part to warn against ever using ethnicity in our politicis to ignite sheer madness.

After all, the genocide in Rwanda is said to have been fueled by media and more so by radio broadcasters.

Why now? Should I really wait for the eve of elections in 2017 to start preaching against the madness? Really? In June 1993, so the story goes, a radio station called Libre Des Mille Collines began broadcasting in Rwanda.

The station used street language and it was rowdy. It is said that sometimes the radio jocks were drank. The station was designed to appeal to the delinquents in society, the unemployed. I hope one day someone will understand why I don’t buy the blanket term “unemployed youth”. It’s unemployed idle young men, we must worry about - the kind that are idle enough to spread and celebrate hate.

That’s the problem. That’s the hand-grenade we must watch out for.

In a largely illiterate population, the radio station made social “misfits” feel at home. Some people - including the Belgian ambassador and staff of several aid agencies - recognised the danger and asked for international help in shutting down the broadcasts, but it was impossible to persuade western diplomats to take it seriously.

They dismissed the station as a joke. David Rawson, the US ambassador, said that its euphemisms were open to interpretation. The US, he said, believed in freedom of speech.

Many Rwandans, however, knew the threat. ‘I listened to RTLMC’, said a survivor, ‘because if you were mentioned over the airways, you were sure to be carted off a short time later by the interahamwe. You knew you had to change your address at once.”

What I find also truly important to remember about the story of the Rwanda genocide is who was behind the messages and the rogue radio station.

RTLM was set up and financed by hard-line Hutu extremists, mostly from northern Rwanda: wealthy businessmen, government ministers and various relatives of the President. Its backers also included the directors of two African banks and the vice-president of the interahamwe (militia).

We say it over and over again and you don’t listen. The mode operandi of hate, violence and the killing that is inflicted on the ordinary citizenry is often funded and fueled by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You and I are simply collateral damage.

I shudder to think what would have happened in Rwanda had social media being part of fueling the hate. Radio led to the lose of 1 million lives, what if......

Since Kenyan on social media at large only seem to understand hashtags and timelines. Here’s a timeline of how close to 1,000,000 people lost their lives in the span on 100 days in Rwanda.

I’ve borrowed from every publication so that I can make sure the facts are clear without being verbose.

 6 April 1994: President Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira are killed when the Rwandan leader’s plane is shot down as it is about to land at Kigali Airport. Hutu extremists opposed to the Arusha Peace Accords are believed to be behind the attack.

 7 April: The Rwandan armed forces and Interahamwe militia begin the systematic killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. UN forces, unwilling to breach their mandate, fail to intervene. 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers are killed.

 8 April: The Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launches a major offensive to end the killings and rescue 600 of its troops based in Kigali under the Arusha Accords.

 9-10 April: French, Belgian and American civilians are rescued by their governments. (Yes my friends, foreign missions to rescue their own. It’s their job)

 11 April: The International Red Cross (IRC) estimates that tens of thousands have been slaughtered. UN soldiers protecting 2,000 Tutsis at a school are ordered to withdraw to Kigali airport. Most are killed after their departure. ( the world in a strange way can “wash it’s hands” off our madness and let us butcher each other)

 14 April: Belgium withdraws its troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda. (Its not personal, if you choose to kill one another, the world will watch and report. See the reports on Syria)

 15 April: Slaughter of thousands of Tutsis gathered at Nyarubuye Church seeking protection. (Chruches are never a safe haven. Even we know that. Remember Kiambaa)

 21 April: The UN cuts the level of its forces in Rwanda by 90 per cent to just 270 troops. The IRC estimates the dead could now number over 100,000.

 30 April: The UN agrees a resolution condemning the killing but omits the word ‘genocide’. Tens of thousands of refugees flee into neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire. ( Simply not calling a spade a spade doesn’t mean it doesn’t remain a spade. It was genocide)

 Mid-May: The IRC estimates that 500,000 Rwandans have been killed.

 17 May: The UN Security Council issues a fresh resolution saying that ‘acts of genocide may have been committed’. It also agrees to send 5,500 troops with new powers to defend civilians, however deployment is delayed by disagreements between the US and UN over the financing of the operation.

 22 May: RPF forces gain control of Kigali airport and Kanombe barracks, and extend their control over the northern and eastern parts of Rwanda.

 22 June: With arguments over the deployment still continuing, the UN authorises an emergency force of 2,500 French troops under Operation Turquoise to create a ‘safe’ area in the government-controlled part of Rwanda. The killing of Tutsis continues in the ‘safe’ area despite the presence of the French. (safe for who. Please understand when the chips fall - nowhere and no-one is “safe”)

4 July: The RPF takes control of Kigali and the southern town of Butare. Its leadership claims it will form a government on the basis of the Arusha Accords.

 13-14 July: Refugees fleeing the RPF advance in north-western Rwanda flood into Zaire. Approximately 10,000-12,000 refugees per hour cross the border into the town of Goma. The massive influx creates a severe humanitarian crisis, as there is an acute lack of shelter, food and water.

 18 July: The RPF announces that the war is over, declares a cease-fire and names Pastor Bizimungu as president with Faustin Twagiramungu as prime minister.

 The year is 2014. As Rwanda marks 20 years since the genocide, some clueless persons (or maybe not) seem to relish the idea of the same playing itself out in Kenya. Twenty plus years since clanism tore Somalia part, Kenyan youth seem to think they are immune to hate and what happens when that is fueled by ignorance and prejudice. I wasn’t acutely aware of the genocide in Rwanda when I got this job but today more than ever, I know that someone with a microphone just like me, played a big role in the death of many. So spare me your idiocy when I refuse to care about the political alignment of people or their tribal alliances. Your need and greed for some form of worthless political affiliation and supremacy is what creates the violence not the politicians.

As Senator Murkomen said - no politician ever continued talking if the crowd wasn’t receptive. How receptive are you to hate?


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