Peace is not absence of war, it is the ability to tolerate one another

Rwanda commemorated 25 years since the 1994 genocide that left over a million people dead on April 7, 2019.

For the Rwandese and non-Rwandese like me and two of my colleagues who, coincidentally, happened to be in Kigali during the annual event, it was a day of sad memories. April 7 is the day in a year that evokes bitter memories of darkness and hopelessness for the country.

We ended up in Nyamata, about 20 kilometers from Kigali city, one of the 213 genocide sites in Rwanda. Heartbreaking.

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We saw bones of human beings, skulls drying out in the open, coffins in which thousands of the remains of people who died in the genocide are stored, clothing left behind by the deceased and many bullet marks on doors and walls.

People who ran for safety in churches were cornered and killed right in the church.

Religious leaders were not spared either. But three incidents caught my imagination in a very particular way.

First, at the genocide site, a young man walked in to join us as we were being shown around. The guards pulled him away. We learnt that the man had come to mourn a relative.

But, as a rule, he had to be counselled before seeing the remains of his relative.  Well, healing takes time.

Second, the commemoration is done in villages. The 213 sites are located in villages across the country. The sheer guts to erect these sites, the courage and humility to face the reality genocide in Rwanda and the resilience of the Rwandese to admit responsibility and take corrective measures for what happened is worthy emulating.

Revenge missions

Third, the commemoration will run for 100 days with flags flying half-mast. This is slightly over three months of deliberate remembrance of what happened in 1994. I can only imagine the government is telling the young generation, “look, never again!”

In the first incidence it occurred to me that the absence of war does not mean peace. The killings were stopped 25 years ago, but the effects are still felt. Death is painful regardless to whom it happens.

But, politically instigated killings have a horrible chain of lumping people into platoons of hate leading to attacks, revenge missions and escalated tension.

That Rwanda has gone through this, talks about it, people give testimonies on public TV and go on with their lives is no ordinary achievement for a small country, moreover, with two big tribes; the Tsutsi and Hutu. The Twaa are a minority. On this, Rwanda deserves global respect.

The second and third cases got me wondering about ways in which our sporadic but also politically instigated violence especially before, during and after general elections may not, 25 years to come, plant seeds of hatred.

Seeds that will germinate over time to a point where one day we shall hack each other on a larger scale than we did in 2008 following the disputed presidential election.

Legally constituted

In the worst case scenario, just as it happened in the last general elections, we frowned and charged at each other following another disputed presidential election outcome. Thank God, the Handshake de-escalated the ballooning tensions. But come 2022, there is reason to worry. We have tolerated a limping IEBC  and allowed it to conduct elections without being fully legally constituted, and more significantly without meaningful initiatives towards addressing the perennial grievances that push us to the brink of civil disorder. 

Electoral reforms become a subject of debate a year to elections when we are faced with tense and intense political campaigns, such that the challenges and concerns of critical electoral institutions do not make sense.

Attention is always drawn to horse race stuff, including specialised throwing of insults from one political camp to another.

The Rwandese have learnt that peace is not a luxury. Our leaders will do us a great service if they address factors that constantly throw us off balance once we are faced with a general election. We have a life to live and, please God, we should live it peacefully.

Across the country, there are many scars. The tribal fights over land, cattle rustling, boundary feuds, unresolved mega corruption cases, the worrying high rate of unemployment among others can serve as triggers of chaos and killings.

Our best given scenario is that we have very highly qualified Kenyans doing great transformative works in and outside the country. We only have ourselves to blame should we fail to guard the peace we are enjoying.

Dr  Mokua is Executive Director, Jesuit Hakimani Centre 

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