Spotlight on Africa - Rwanda's challenging road to reconciliation
In the 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, the country has emerged to become one of Africa’s success stories. Its remarkable recovery has stemmed from efforts towards nation-building. But some critics argue this bid for ethnic reconciliation is far from complete. In this week’s Spotlight on Africa, RFI's Christina Okello travels to Kigali to explore how Rwanda has dealt with the trauma of its past.
Tucked away in a courtyard away from the main commercial area in Kigali, is a small memorial site dominated by an imposing building of red bricks and white panels. The building is the Sainte Famille church, the largest Catholic Church in Rwanda. It is also where more than 2,000 people were massacred during the 1994 genocide.
“We still remember those people who was killed, who are called Abatutsi [or Tutsi] people,” recounts 19-year-old Nadine Ouwiduhaye, pointing to the names of the victims engraved on a black marble wall.
When violence broke out on 7 April following the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana, many residents from troubled districts of Kigali fled to Sainte Famille church to seek refuge, only to be handed over to Hutu militias by the priest in charge there.
“I’m just looking at these people; they’re too many. This is something like inhumanity. How can people take something like a knife and put to the neck of others, how they can kill their people, kill their child, how people can kill his mother? Just too many questions,” Ouwiduhaye told RFI.
Is God listening?
Up to one million Tutsis and Hutus were killed in a brutal one-hundred-day massacre that has led some to question whether God exists. In his commemoration speech to mark the 25th anniversary since the killings, President Paul Kagame reiterated the poem of a young girl who once said: “Where was God on those dark nights of genocide?”
“People say he was absent, no he wasn’t,” responds Ouwiduhaye.
“Something bad happened, it doesn’t mean God forgot us. He is trying to teach us how we can treat each other, how we can be together. Before, they didn’t have a unit, they just had something like Tutsi, Hutu, Twa. But right now, we are just Rwandan, all of us we are just Rwandan,” she said.
Today, ethnic labels in Rwanda have been erased, and most children like Ouwiduhaye have grown up with the idea of “Rwandaness,” inculcated into them in education camps, known as ingando that try to minimize ethnic differences.
“Many people don’t understand how we have made this reconciliation,” comments Rwandan author Jean-Marie Vianney Rurangwa, who was invited to discuss his work in preserving the memory of the genocide.
Author of four books on the topic, including Au Sortir De l’Enfer (Out of Hell), Rurangwa explains how writing about the genocide can “teach the youth about all those atrocities so that they cannot be repeated.”
Roots of Genocide
Explaining the racist ideology that sowed the roots of hatred between Hutus and Tutsis is a start. Traditionally, Hutus were people who farmed crops, while a Tutsi minority made up Rwanda’s cattle-keeping aristocracy. Because cattle were more valuable than crops, the minority Tutsis became the local elite. Gradually, these class divisions became ethnic distinctions, which were later exploited by German and Belgian colonisers. When in 1959, a Hutu elite toppled the Tutsi royal family, the regime that followed took a staunch nationalist turn, forcing thousands of Tutsis to flee.
“The genocide didn’t just start in 1994,” says Rurangwa. “There were episodes of violence even in 1961,” after the Hutu majority won the country’s first elections; and “right up until 1990,” he said.
“Forgetting would be a mistake,” he adds, saying how writing about his experience and the identity battle he’s faced since, has been “cathartic” not just for him but for others. “Sharing pain can be a kind of healing.”
Accusations of genocide denial
Yet officials accuse critics of trying to create an alternative truth. In their crosshairs are people like Hutu opposition leader Victoire Ingabire. The government has long accused her of inciting “divisionist” (i.e. Hutu v Tutsi) rebellion, an allegation she has always denied.
Last September, Ingabire was freed from prison after eight years in detention, following a decision by Kagame to pardon over 2,000 inmates. She continues to campaign for what she believes is the truth.
“I ask for justice for all Rwandans, it does not mean that I minimize the importance of the Tutsi genocide,” she told RFI.
By everyone, Ingabire means the thousands of Hutu civilians who were killed by Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) forces as they hunted down those who had committed the genocide in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, which later expanded into calamitous regional wars.
“The crimes committed by certain members of the RPF are never mentioned. We are not allowed to discuss it. So how can we talk about reconciliation?”
Yet everywhere reconciliation and unity are espoused by the state. When speaking at the 25th commemoration of the genocide, Paul Kagame vowed to never allow such large-scale violence to ever happen again.
And indeed, there has been none. Dissent too has been carefully stifled throughout the RPF’s time in power, much to the dismay of rights groups.
Moreover, government indicators such as the Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer, an opinion survey conducted every five years, routinely reports that more than 90 percent of Rwandans believe their communities have fully reconciled.
This reconciliation has been based on a collective memory of the past to construct a post-ethnic national identity.
The aim is to get people to “come out of their traumatic memories and divisive identities and go for nationhood,” explains Eric Ndushabandi, director of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace.
The political choice is to say “You have been taught this, you have been reading this, but the truth is this,” he told RFI.
Dealing with trauma
Common experiences often allow individuals to cope when memories are particularly traumatic. But some Rwandans want to simply forget.
“There are traumatic wounds, which come back,” comments Ndushabandi, who runs community dialogue sessions between survivors and perpetrators in villages. “People are looking at their scars and traumatic memories and they say, oh, this proximity and inter-relationship; it’s still very problematic.”
The other concern is that promoting one Rwandan identity could provide “an escape route for people who have to take responsibility for their deeds,” reckons Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a research chair on historical trauma and transformation at the Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, who participated in activities during the 25th commemoration of the genocide.
While nation building is “a tremendous idea, that we as South Africans can learn from, the problem is when people immediately replace the idea of being ‘I am one Rwanda’, without taking accountability and acknowledging what they did. I think that’s where the slippage lies,” she told RFI.
The trauma of the genocide remains endemic throughout the population and affects the youth in particular, despite many of them being born after the mass killing.
“I cannot say that I was not affected by it [the genocide], because my parents, my grandparents are affected by it,” says Rwanda University student Deborah Chisozo.
“This is a painful time for everyone because they’re telling us stories, about that history, that was a very dark time here in our country,” she told RFI, as the country observes a 100-day mourning period for the 800,000 Tutsis and 30,000 moderate Hutus who were killed.
“I feel bad, some of my friends are having trauma because of that time. But we’re going to pass it and we have hope that we’re going to have a beautiful country.”
There are “encouraging signs,” coming from the youth, says Vincent Sezibera, a professor of psychology at the University of Rwanda.
“Wherever you go, you have clubs of young people,” made up of “children born from survivors and children born from perpetrators, collaborating together,” he told RFI.
The youth were the centerpiece of this year’s tribute. “They send a clear message that a child born from a perpetrator is not necessarily a perpetrator, and they even go on to say that the perpetrator of yesterday is not necessarily a perpetrator of tomorrow,” adds Sezibera.
Such youth clubs have taken on names such as Ikisere, which means hope in Kinyarwanda, the official language. “I’m surprised by their resilience but also the creativity of the young generation. And yes, it gives me hope,” he said.
Spotlight on Africa - One month on, Chadian diaspora still angry over French air strikes
Chadians living in France and Germany have been demonstrating against French air strikes supporting Chad’s longtime autocratic ruler, Idriss Deby. The strikes on 3 February were intended to prevent an armed group from Libya from toppling the president. Instead, they have sparked familiar accusations of French interference in African politics.
French authorities have defended the strikes against Chadian rebels, insisting that it was Deby himself who invited them in.
But is Paris overstepping the mark? And, is President Emmanuel Macron's hopes of resetting France's fraught relationship with Africa now in tatters?
Click 'Play' above to listen to this week's Spotlight on Africa.
Spotlight on Africa - Spreading the word of dementia amongst Nigeria's growing elderly population
With one of the largest populations in Africa, Nigeria has nearly 200 million people. And with that is a rise in the number of elderly people, but many are unprepared with seeing loved ones suffer from the problems of dementia. But with traditions still very intact, often those suffering from the effects of dementia are feared to be witches, wizards or possessed by a supernatural spirit.
In this edition of Spotlight on Africa, hear about one woman's campaign to spread the word of dementia and to ensure that those suffering from the brain disease are getting the help they need.
You can read more about it here
Spotlight on Africa - “No future in Sudan under Bashir” says opposition leader
Sudan is on the verge of a new revolution, as protesters angry at President Bashir's 30-year rule, demand change. At least 51 people have been killed since 19 December when anti-government demonstrations began, according to rights groups. Opposition parties have urged the international community to investigate the killings.
"Business as usual is not possible," says Yasir Arman, deputy head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N).
Arman is leading a coalition of opposition parties called the Sudan Call alliance, that have joined doctors, lawyers, teachers and students in calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.
"We want the international community to support the basic demands of the Sudanese people," he told RFI, following meetings with British and French envoys to Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday and Thursday.
Arman is hoping to raise Sudan's two-month old crisis at an upcoming meeting of the Human Rights Council on 25 February.
"We need an international investigation into the killings," he comments.
Officials say 30 people have died in the violence that was triggered on 19 December by a government decision to triple the price of bread. Rights groups put that figure to at least 51.
Hopes for third revolution
"We need them [the international community] to put pressure on Bashir to stop the killing. We need them to recognize the need for change in Sudan, and the right of Sudanese people to democracy and a peaceful transfer of power," he said.
Al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, has ordered the use of force against protesters, accusing them of trying to emulate the Arab Spring.
Sudan has had two successful revolutions so far. In 1964 and 1985, mass protests overthrew military dictatorships and installed civilian governments.
Could these latest demonstrations--the most sustained challenge to al-Bashir's three-decade old rule--lead to a third revolution?
Opposition leader Arman says "there is no future in Sudan under Bashir."
To listen to his full interview, click on the play button in the photo or below.
Spotlight on Africa - Merkel's Africa trip wasn't just about migration & investment, it was a signal to EU partners & German voters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrapped up a three-day tour to West Africa at the end of August visiting Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. The trip was seen as part of a new German diplomatic effort to strengthen ties on the continent with a focus on migration and investment. At the end of the trip, Merkel said that “every country is different”, but she had seen that the continent has “a generation that wants a future in their own countries”. Discussions on irregular migration come at a time when the European Union is taking measures to stem the flow of African migrants who cross the Mediterranean seeking a better life. Talk of greater German investment in Africa is also framed in the context of China’s continuing push on the continent and the British Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent charm offensive. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Julia Leininger, head of the German Development Institute’s research programme…
What do you think of Angela Merkel’s choice of these three countries in particular – Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana?
Angela Merkel’s choice is one of shifting priorities in German-Africa policy and it's a clear choice to cooperate more with countries where lots of migrants coming to Europe and Germany are from. So this is probably the first point why she chose these three countries. The second reason why she chose these countries is that Germany aims to foster the private sector and engage more in private sector investment. These three middle income countries are a good context to do so.
Much of the commentary on her West African trip has focused on migration – do you see this as the main reason for the visit?
First of all, on this shift that we’re facing at the moment of German-Africa policy, yes it has a lot to do with the so-called migration crisis in Europe. Because although the migration flows are decreasing, migrants coming from Africa, the numbers are increasing. So there is this new focus on the African neighbour and I think migration was a driver for various political initiatives of the German government like the compact with Africa, the Marshall plan with Africa – all initiatives that were launched last year. So the driver is migration, but at the same time it has a lot to do with the relationships between EU member states as well. Increasingly France wants Germany to cooperate on security, Theresa May in Great Britain is looking for a more independent role from the European Union since they leave the European Union. So the two main drivers are really the changing political game within Europe, but also migration flows to Europe.
Some in the German media saw the trip as an effort to please voters back home – how does this fit in to the political narrative in Germany?
In Germany, media, but also parts of the population think that there will be an increasing migration from Africa because of the demographic change in Africa. Meaning that by 2050 we expect two billion people to live in Africa, more than 50 per cent of them younger than 18, meaning that there are a lot of people without jobs who might want to go somewhere else to find jobs. That’s actually the standard picture of Germans and German politicians at the moment. So German-Africa policy is very much into job creation in order to create conditions for people to stay in Africa. Travelling to Africa is a signal to Angela Merkel’s constituency that she taking care of what’s perceived as a problem in Europe – it’s expectation management and signalling that, ‘I’m doing something, we’re are aware of the problem’. Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s a problem.
Did the chancellor’s trip reflect an alternative to the EU’s solutions to migration? In particular, policies such as detention centres, or processing centres, as they describe them, which are set to be established in North Africa.
So far Germany has supported the larger EU policy. But for the first time in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria the chancellor talked about regular migration with the other heads of state. So they had illegal migration on the agenda but also regular migration which is a slightly different approach.
Merkel travelled with nearly a dozen CEOs, linking the issue of irregular migration to the possible solution of investment and job creation. Do you see German companies really ramping up investment in these three countries - Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria?
So far, it has been very difficult to incentivise German companies to invest more in Africa. Most of German investment still goes to South Africa. But since the state has given some guarantees, some insurance that if business doesn’t work, the state comes in, there is more willingness for the private sector to engage. But still it’s not about big numbers and big changes. It’s rather about individual companies –now we see Volkswagen opening in Ghana and Nigeria plants where new cars are assembled. The interest is increasing, but it’s not reflected in more investment. And we shouldn’t forget that Nigeria is a very big market and competition is very high. On the other hand we’ve got Senegal, a francophone country, with very strong French firms, enterprises. They are already closed markets, so it’s important for Germany to find a niche in these markets, which has not taken place yet.
The statistics are quite revealing – some 400,000 German companies operate abroad, but just 1,000 of those in Africa and if you remove South Africa from that number then less than half of that operate in Africa.
Yes, the German private sector is still very hesitant because of the risks and high levels or perceived high levels of corruption. The private sector is still very hesitant to invest in Africa. There is this big strategy of improving, supporting the private sector investments from Germany and elsewhere, or growing new markets in Africa with supporting small enterprises in Africa. But it will take time before the German private sector really comes in.
Merkel’s trip came at the same time as a visit by the British Prime Minister Theresa May. China, France and the US have also been influential foreign actors on the continent. Where do you see Germany fitting in?
If you look at the past, Africa hasn’t been - like in the case of France or in the case of Great Britain, as former colonial powers in Africa – it has never been a high level political issue. So for the first time the chancellor and the German government wants to be visible on the African continent. First, it’s about letting the other European partners know, we are there, letting one of the main allies in Europe, President Macron of France, know we support your approaches, we want to cooperate, and we are there. But it’s also about competition with China and others, exploring new markets and the idea of not being there despite of this global competition on the African continent. That’s the motifs for the German approach, but where does it fit in? It will be difficult or it is difficult for Germany to find a niche and the comparative advantages of German enterprises to come into the market – there’s solar energy, one very big advantage is producing in a sustainable way. Sustainability and we’ll have more sustainability standards in the future global economy. That’s what Germany is good at. That’s a market where Germany can help African governments and get African economies to improve and be more competitive on the global market by producing in a more sustainable way. So this is an investment in the future of African economies, but also of Germany.