Boston, 22 April 2014
- Tufts University President Anthony Monaco,
- Students and Faculty,
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I would like to begin by expressing my sincere thanks to President Monaco, for the invitation to speak with you today.
At this moment, my country is in the midst of the annual remembrance period for the victims of the Genocide, which began twenty years ago this month.
Twenty is not a magic number. But the milestone has helped to refocus Rwanda and the world’s attention on the causes and consequences of the Genocide in Rwanda.
That is what I want to talk to you about today. Historical clarity about mass atrocities like genocide is a duty we owe the victims, in all aspects. But it is not only that – it is the foundation of genocide prevention for future generations of humanity.
There are unambiguous truths about the Genocide against the Tutsi that are beyond dispute, despite continuous efforts at distortion, whether by revision or denial. It is not surprising that such efforts exist. Seventy years after the end of the Holocaust, the fight to protect against the falsification of historical record is never-ending.
First, the Genocide against the Tutsi is called so because it was an attempt to eliminate this particular group of people, for the sole reason of their belonging to that group. It was not random killing.
Twenty years later, it is symptomatic of a serious problem that this fact is in dispute and still has to be explained.
Genocide was prepared over decades with profiling characterised by provision of identity cards indicating ethnic group, and the marking of specific homes belonging to the members of this group for future extermination.
During the Genocide, the famous hate radio, RTLM, broadcast lists of Tutsi to be killed. The radio instructed killers not to spare old people or children; it warned that the Tutsi were cannibals, that they had devil’s tails. It was propaganda of the crudest and most violent kind.
Some countries considered disabling the station, but ultimately decided that jamming the signal was too expensive, and might set a bad precedent about violating sovereignty.
Second, the intellectual basis of the Genocide was racial – an ideology that had been imposed on East Africa in the colonial period, and which the Belgian administrators of Rwanda, together with the Catholic missionaries, had made the sole basis of political organisation in Rwanda.
Third, the Genocide was planned, in detail, by Rwandans, supported by European powers and the Catholic Church, who used the power of the state and the mass media to carry out their project, with shocking efficiency.
The genocide planners were determined to destroy the Arusha Peace Accords that the then leader of the country, President Habyarimana, had endorsed, with prospect of losing absolute power they had held for decades. So they killed him and opted for a “final solution” — which as far back as 1963 another of Rwanda’s presidents, called Kayibanda, had warned of, in his speech.
The Rwandan government of 1994 committed the genocide while hiding behind the excuse of a spontaneous outpouring of violent anger. To mask their responsibility and make justice impossible, they made millions of Rwandan civilians complicit in their crime, by inciting them to kill their neighbours and countrymen.
Fourth, the international community not only decided to stand aside when the killing started, after having given people a false sense of security; their choices and actions before the Genocide enabled and emboldened the extremists.
When the UN Security Council voted to withdraw all but 270 peacekeepers from Rwanda on 21st April 2014, then UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali told the Council the violence was “indiscriminate”, the result of “chaos”. Even though he had General Dallaire’s cables demonstrating precisely the opposite.
The decision by the international community to facilitate the flight of the génocidaires to the Congo, and feed and re-arm them there, caused the destabilisation of the Congo, which the region is still grappling with today.
After 1994, we brought back two and a half million Rwandans and resettled them in the country. Many were involved, directly or indirectly, in the genocide. All had been nourished on the most extreme anti-Tutsi, anti-RPF propaganda for years. Impossible as it may seem, we made the choice to build a new nation that included all Rwandans, even those who had fled after the genocide.
External resistance to Rwanda’s determined effort to build a system free from divisive politics, would have condemned us to repeat the past, had we not had the will, confidence and support of the population to push forward a system that would allow for Rwandans to regain trust in each other and their government.
There were some exceptions to the poor performance of international actors. A number of countries and individuals reflected honestly on their conduct, learned appropriate lessons, and altered their policy and approach both to Rwanda and to similar situations elsewhere.
Other countries, however, have dug in, hoping that a false sense of honour will eventually triumph over historical facts.
There have been a few distinct “lessons” from the Genocide and its aftermath.
For example, the international community now generally accepts that it “did not do enough” to halt the slaughter in 1994. From our perspective, its actions and inactions made the situation worse.
What we learned as Rwandans is that people must ultimately be responsible for their own fate; if you wait for help to come, you will just perish.
Similarly, if you wait for outsiders to tell you how to rebuild your country, you may find their instinct is to reconstruct the same flawed structure that just collapsed, because they have no other blueprint.
Another example of divergent lessons concerns justice after mass atrocities. The horror of Rwanda spurred new international action in the field of justice, first through ad hoc courts like the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, later in the formation of the International Criminal Court in the early 2000s — both had their own particular limitations.
But from our perspective, punitive justice is only half the solution.
The more mass participation there is in atrocities, the more the need for justice balanced with reconciliation.
The ultimate goal is to repair a devastated social fabric in order for a nation to heal and begin to rebuild. This is true for Rwanda after 1994, as it is for other nations recovering from major conflict.
Rwanda received and continues to receive critical contributions from governments, countries and other friends in our effort to rebuild our country, both in terms of sound advice and financial resources. We always appreciate this, and know it has contributed to getting us to where we are today.
But without a clear vision for a new nation developed by Rwandans, built on universal values including our own culture, and understanding of what went wrong in our history, those external contributions would not have been able to have the impact they have had.
Twenty years later, are the international responses any better? You only have to look at the current major crises around the world to know, in general, that the answer is no.
But maybe we expect too much from international institutions — after all, many countries, even the most advanced, have their own domestic issues to address. A more useful approach may be to focus on what can be done at home to prevent crises, rather than have to wait for external interventions.
The future we are working toward in Rwanda, and Africa, is one where our continent continues to grow stronger and more self-reliant. In this way we can be less vulnerable to external factors.
As members of the international community, we all have a duty to contribute to addressing global challenges. In the meantime, individually as nations, and collectively, we in Africa have an inescapable duty to build a continent that can fix itself.
I thank you.