August 17, 2017 – October 1st Quit Notice: How To Prevent A Repeat Of Rwandan Genocide In Nigeria
FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN: LESSONS FROM THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE
By Gbenga Adebambo
Irish Philosopher Edmund Burke once said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”. This was further corroborated by George Santayana in his book, The life of Reason, where he said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Twenty three years ago, a tragedy of immense proportion occurred in the heart of Africa, in the small nation of Rwanda. The 1994 Genocide perpetrated against Tutsis lasted for one hundred days(between 7th of April to 4th of July, 1994), where more than a million Tutsi and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered.
The founding members of Never Again Rwanda(NAR), a human rights peace building organization that arose in response to the 1994 Genocide recognized that the minds of young people were exploited to destroy Rwanda-both leading up to and during the 1994 Genocide. Guided by a vision of a nation where young people are agents of positive change and work together towards sustainable peace, the organization recognizes the role of youths in developing and rebuilding a united country.
Some few months ago, Rwanda celebrated the 23rd anniversary of a genocide that claimed and ravished the nation. History has it that the genocide was not a sudden occurrence; it was as a result of national negligence of salient issues over the years. An English proverb has it that there is no smoke without a fire! The Nigerian music legend, Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa succinctly captured in her single, “Fire on the Mountain”, a clarion call to pay attention to symptoms before they become full-blown sicknesses!
I have distilled some lessons from the Rwandan genocide that can help us navigate through the tension created by various ethnic groups with the hope of avoiding a Déjà vu replay of the Rwandan genocide.
HATE SONGS AND SPEECHES: The Rwanda Genocide was believed to have been ignited by a song titled Nanga Abahutu(I Hate These Hutu), sung by Rwanda’s then most popular musician, Simon Bikindi. Tagged internationally as a ‘killer’ song, Nanga Abahutu was a crucial part of the genocidal plan because it incited the ethnic hatred of Tutsis and further incited people to attack and to kill Tutsis. Simon Bikindi is presently serving a 15-year jail term. Charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, Simon Bikindi was sentenced for his role during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In its judgement, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said: “Three of Bikindi’s songs were specifically referred to in the indictment: ‘Twasezereye’, ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’. The chamber found that all three songs manipulated the history of Rwanda to extol Hutu solidarity. It also found that Bikindi composed ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’ with the specific intention to disseminate pro-Hutu ideology and anti-Tutsi propaganda, and thus to encourage ethnic hatred.” Although several of Simon Bikindi’s ‘hate songs’ against Tutsis played a strong role in the genocide, Bikindi was not sentenced for his songs but for a speech he made from a vehicle equipped with a public address system, where he encouraged ethnic Hutus to kill Tutsis.
Correlating this with the Nigerian situation, there is a song that has gone viral disparaging people of Igbo origin and wishing them dead in some northern states. Northern Leaders should come out to condemn this currently trending anti-Igbo song. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar outrightly condemned the anti-Igbo song and the people behind it. The Nigerian police and National security agencies must dig out the originators of this song and arrest the perpetrators. Religious leaders should come out openly to condemn hate speeches and songs. I want to also advise the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), to bring together musicians from the various geo-political zones in the country in order to compose peace songs that will command great following and diffuse tensions.
NATIONAL YOUTH POLICY: After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, devising a National youth policy became imperative in view of the several challenges plaguing the youths. A national youth policy is a road map for youth empowerment, development and inclusiveness. I have analyzed and compared the National Youth Policies of Rwanda and Nigeria and was in no doubt that ours is more robust. While the priority domains of the Rwandan Youth Policy consist only of eight themes, that of Nigeria cut across eighteen priority themes. The only challenge is that the Ministry of Youth and Sports is not giving priority to Youth development and this policy has been made redundant.
The Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, on assumption of office assured Nigerians that Buhari’s administration would avoid those mistakes in the past that led to the non-inclusion of the Nigerian youths in policies, programs and empowerment initiatives that border on youth development. If the truth were to be told, it is very obvious that the Minister has become too much pre-occupied with Sports to the neglect of the core needs of the teeming youth population. I will like to suggest that we revisit this policy in view of promoting the youth economic, social, cultural, intellectual and moral welfare. We should set up appropriate mechanisms for implementing and coordinating the policy. The Ministry of Youth and Sports must be made to realize that it is the trustee for implementation of the National Youth Policy.
EDUCATION AS A TOOL: Malala Yousafzai said, “With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism”. Education serves as veritable tool and foundation for the promotion of national unity. By the 1920s, the colonial educational system was being used as “a divisive instrument” and stressed differences between Hutu and Tutsi pupils, putting them into categories in and out of school (Rutayisire et al.2004). Fictitious histories of divisionism were drafted, incorporated in the country’s educational curriculum and taught to the Rwandan population.
The President of Rwanda from 1973 to 1994, Juvénal Habyarimana, used the Rwandan education system to propagate his ideology of ‘apartheid’ famously referred to as “Equilibre Ethnique”(Ethnic Equilibrium). Hate propaganda was developed and channeled through various means. It is important to note that it was not only the structure of the educational system that reinforced divisionism, but also the content. The teaching of the false history of the differences between Hutus and Tutsi inflamed ethnic hatred and violence that eventually culminated in the 1994 genocide (Kranish, 2010).
However, after the Rwandan genocide, the education system changed radically. The same education that had been used as a tool to perpetrate hatred and genocide is now used as a tool to combating genocide ideology by incorporating subjects relating to genocide in primary and secondary school curricula. I want to really applaud the federal government on the re-introduction of History into school curriculum and resolving the ‘flammable issue’ raised by the dichotomy between the two religious studies (CRK and IRK). Teaching historical perspectives of Nigeria will help young ones appreciate the nation better, understand their identity and embrace national unity. The content should be robust enough to accommodate the civil and Biafra war and how to avoid the likelihood in the future.
PEACE BUILDING INITIATIVES: As a fallout of the Rwandan genocide, several youth building initiatives were born, one of which is the Never Again Rwanda(NAR), an association of students survivors of the genocide. This initiative is geared towards teaching the history of Rwanda, the importance of peace building and intercultural tolerance. The youths in Rwanda believe strongly that they need to learn from the past in order to build a brighter future.
NAR wish to increase youth’s capacity in critical thinking through research and strengthening regional youth exchanges. NAR once facilitated a public speaking competition for the youths in Rwanda, this public speaking art inspired the founders to allow the youths to exchange views on conflict and peaceful resolutions. Another organization called Aegis Trust is initiating different programmes to foster peace education and peace building in Rwanda. They recently initiated a peace programme with the theme “Empowering a New Generation of Peacemakers”, the initiative included the profiling of peace building activities initiated by young people.
ETHNIC SUPERIORITY: Like the famous quotes in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. The colonial political legacy, which established the political identities of the Hutu and Tutsi and glorified the Tutsi over the Hutu, initiated the animosity between the Hutu and Tutsi that precipitated a cascade of violent events leading to the genocide. History is full of the repercussions of master-race theory. The holocaust of the Second World War was propagated by Adolf Hitler’s race superiority agenda. We must affirm that individual excellence, rather than race or ethnic origin, distinguishes one man from the other.
MENACE OF THE FULANI-HERDSMEN: The long walk to the Rwandan genocide was actually dotted with senseless and pocket-killings that were left unattended to by the government. The un-checked menace of the Fulani herdsmen is gradually heating up the polity. I want to quickly allude to the issue of the Grazing Reserve Bill. Law is not law, if it violates the principles of justice.
Josephine Ruffin said, “If laws are unjust, they must be continually broken until they are altered”. A diagnostic look at the Bill reveals its inherent flaws. It’s crystal clear that the contents of the Bill are unconstitutional. The Nigerian Constitution (Section 42(1)) forbids taking any action, or applying any law that favours any particular community or group, and it’s undoubtedly discriminatory to create any sort of “reserved” areas for members of any ethnic group. The ravaging issue of herdsmen’s killings must be promptly attended to. Delay of justice is injustice.
NATIONAL YOUTH CONFERENCE: One of the Rwandan government initiatives to diffuse ethnic tensions and build-ups is to create a national platform for youths to express themselves. The government believes strongly that taking their concerns and proposals into account play an important role in decision making process. Youth intervention is a necessity for sustainable development and I will want to advise the government to convene a national youth conference with the focus on turning the Nigerian youths into Peace Ambassadors. In general, young people feel marginalized when their voices are not heard or trusted as credible.
RESRUCTURING, RESTRUCTURING, RESTRUCTURING!: Who is afraid of restructuring? Since the Rwandan genocide of 1994-95, restoring, restructuring and privatising the economy has been the emphasis. The government has made great strides to excise ethnicity from politics and society. John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.
This peaceful revolution is the restructuring of the nation. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki has reassured the nation that the issue of revisiting the devolution of power Bill is sacrosanct as the content of the Bill will bring Nigeria closer to a federal entity. Injustice is not the real problem, it is a symptom of a deeper problem, and it is obvious that something is inherently wrong in our structures and institutions. It is obvious that Nigeria needs restructuring as the nation is suffering from the consequences of dilapidated structures and weak institutions. We must begin to see that injustice is only a symptom and an opportunity to design new models of governance, education and other options.
Freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship. It is obvious that the Nigerian system requires total overhauling. Edmund Burke said, “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.” We need a vibrant National Assembly that will make laws to bridge the yawning gap of inequality between the rich and the poor and also evolve vibrant institutions.
YOUTHS ON SOCIAL MEDIA: No one today can deny the power of social media in building peace and making positive change. Youths are mostly on social media and we can use social media to drive peaceful co-existence and neutralize hate speeches. The Chairperson of Africa Democracy Forum and the Executive Director of Never Again Rwanda, Dr.Joseph Nkurunziza has often reiterated the importance of social media in propagating peace. Honorable Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Minister for Youth and ICT in Rwanda, has asked youths to fight against people who want to disseminate Genocide ideology through social media platforms. Messages of love and tolerance can be spread through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp to mobilize people to be more tolerant.
The ‘whistle blower’ policy of the federal government on corruption has actually gone a long way to expose corrupt officials. Come to think of it, this policy can be extended to the issue of peace and security. People should be rewarded also for escalating any observed sinister plans, ominous propaganda and anti-peace movements that are bound to endanger the peace and unity of the nation.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people.”
We must not be deceived; nobody is safe in a world of injustice. People must never be pushed to a level where their pursuit of justice has become a survival imperative! Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!