Rwanda genocide offers serious lessons

By John Mwazemba

Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Sani Abacha aka "the Butcher of Abuja" are leaders who have earned themselves a place in world history by ordering massacres of their own people.

As our politicians wallowed in politics as usual, blurring the lines between comic seriousness and

actual madness, on April 7, the world commemorated 15 years since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Our infamous short memory was in display as we savoured the politics of the day to the point that

we conveniently forgot to remember one of the greatest single act of evil since Pol Pot turned Cambodia into a killing field in 1945.

We are cursed with a short memory and that could be our greatest undoing as a nation.

Only a year after the post-election violence, one would hope Kenyans, would be interested in remembering, studying and collecting lessons from the Rwandan genocide.

One of the most chilling accounts of the Rwandan genocide is found in the book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.

As I reread the book and relived the horrors of Rwanda, I wondered if we know what we are playing with as we continue our tribal stereotyping and petty prejudices. It is the kind of book one reads and sees how fragile and dangerous their lives could easily become.

Gourevitch gets the title of his book from a letter written by about two thousand refugees in a church in Mugonero to their pastor asking to be saved from the slaughter. The helpless refugees wrote:

"Our dear leader, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, …We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. We

therefore request you to intervene on our behalf and talk with the Mayor. We believe that, with the help of God who entrusted you the leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention

will be highly appreciated, the same way as the Jews

were saved by Esther".

Massacred in a church

Unfortunately as recounted later, "Instead, most of those holed up in the church met the fate of

many of the Jews of Auschwitz 50 years earlier, except in this case machetes were used instead of gas chambers".

People massacred in a church now sounds familiar in Kenya.

If someone had acted, these unnecessary deaths could have been averted. It reminds one of the indicting words of Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men

do nothing."

The international community went to sleep and we

all watched on television screens from the comfort of our living rooms as Rwanda burnt. A year after the killing I went to Nyurabuye with two Canadian

military officers. We flew in a United Nations helicopter, travelling low over the hills in the morning mists, with the banana trees like

green starbursts dense over the slopes. The uncut grass blew back as we dropped into the centre of

the parish schoolyard.

"A lone solider materialised with his Kalashnikov, and shook our hands with stiff, shy formality. At least 50 decomposed bodies covered the floor, their belongings strewn about … The bodies… did

not smell. They did not buzz with flies. The victims had been killed thirteen months earlier, and they

had not been moved. Skin stuck here and there over the bones, many of which lay scattered away

from the bodies, dismembered by the killers, or scavengers..."

This gut-wrenching prose one wishes was fiction. Unfortunately, it is a true account. And it is a warning to us. There are a few lessons we can learn from Rwanda.

In Ten Lessons To Prevent Genocide, Alison Des Forges says that lesson one is to "stop the genocide

before it becomes genocide".

We should stop ourselves from moving towards genocide in future by being vigilant against attitudes, prejudices and practices that encourage genocide. We must outlaw language that fans tribal hatred

and stereotyping. All Kenyans are equal regardless of tribe and they must not be divided for the benefit

of politicians.

—The writer ([email protected]) is the publishing manager of Macmillan Kenya Publishers.