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Commemorating the Rwandan Genocide: Lessons ‘unlearnt’ for Uganda

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Added 7th April 2017 10:26 AM

But as Rwanda commemorates 23 years after the genocide, have we as Ugandans learnt anything from it?

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Elijah Mushabe is LLB IV student at the Uganda Christian University

But as Rwanda commemorates 23 years after the genocide, have we as Ugandans learnt anything from it?

By Elijah Mushabe

Rwanda has been, since Thursday, April 6, 2017, commemorating 23 years since the genocide took place.  Genocide is defined as the intentional destruction in whole or in part of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group of people.

Under the 1998 Rome Statute, genocide is recognised as an international crime and a crime against humanity. As such, perpetrators of genocide can be tried by the International Criminal Court.

But as Rwanda commemorates 23 years after the genocide, have we as Ugandans learnt anything from it?

The genocide did not occur in Rwanda overnight; it was hatched and planned. In fact, the events that happened in the month of April 1994 were a climax of a long standing ethnic prejudice in Rwanda. The signs of genocide were extant but were often overlooked and underestimated by those concerned.

The situation could not be in any way different from what takes place in our day today society. The Genocide in Rwanda took place between the Hutu majorities against the Tutsi minority. Uganda on the other hand is a multi ethnic nation with up to 54 tribes, meaning ethnic tensions would have far more overarching effects.

The reasons for the occurrence of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda were rather clear cut: there had been historical ethnic bigotry that had been promoted by the colonial regimes, especially Belgium. Belgians favoured Tutsis based on their appearance against the Hutu. Tutsis received quality education, jobs as well as inclusion in the colonial administration and successive governments. Hutu’s on the other hand were often pushed under the rag and marginalised. The result was that the Hutu felt betrayed by their brothers and opted to redress this longstanding imbalance.

The genocide was, therefore, only but a climax of the several social prejudices that existed in Rwanda such as nepotism/tribalism, ethnic clashes and conflicts and historical colonial prejudices. These evils are also prevalent in our Ugandan society and like the Rwanda of then, we continue to turn a blind eye upon them.

The East African region has had its fair share of tribal and clan tensions in the recent years. Incidents such as the 2009 Buganda riots and most recently, the Kasese ethnic outbursts are examples. In Kenya, the 2007 post electoral ethnic clashes between the Kikuyu and the Luo/kalenjins claimed an estimated 1,500 lives, not to mention South Sudan and Burundi where tribal/ethnic clashes are still claiming hundreds of lives.

Tribal or clan clashes, if not handled cautiously are nothing but a hatchery for worse conflicts.

Nepotism is the other key factor that fueled the genocide in Rwanda. The Tutsi had historically infiltrated every sector of government. They enjoyed several privileges and preferential treatment compared to their brothers. Allegations of nepotism in our society are also not alien.

Nepotism and tribalism are practices unbefitting of the Ugandan society. Nepotism only yields bias and tribal sentiments that are a long run investment for ethnic clashes and genocide as was the case in Rwanda.

The role played by the media in the Rwandan Genocide cannot also be underestimated. Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) is remembered for spreading hate and violence speech. It incited the Hutu to rise against the Tutsi; “to get their tools to work, to cut down the tall trees.” The media plays a crucial role in society building. It is capable of either enlightening the masses or misleading and inciting them altogether. Therefore, the media ought to ensure that the right content is dispersed to the public. Media houses ought to be used as platforms for condemning ethnic prejudices and fostering social unity rather than fueling divisions in society.

Lastly is the role played by individuals in the spread of ethnic/tribal bigotry. While some Rwandans chose to actively partake of the genocide by joining youth militia groups to execute the massacres, others chose to distance themselves from the same. Indeed, some lost their lives for being moderate or for protecting the Tutsis.

When it comes to ethnic prejudice, we each have a side to take: to be part of the bandwagon that spreads ethnic divide or to distance ourselves from such unyielding behaviour. Whereas it is important to take pride in our tribes and clans, the same should never be a basis for exalting ourselves higher than the others. In all circumstances, we ought to hold the humanity flag higher than the tribal/ethnic placard.

Each of us has a role to play in combating genocide and ethnic violence. The Rwandan genocide should be a constant reminder of our prime cause. It has given us too much to remember than to forget. In remembrance of this, we ought to always be aware of ethnic chauvinism and vow to fight it.  Genocide begins with us but it also ends with us.

The writer is LLB IV student at the Uganda Christian University

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