On Peace: The Rwandan Genocide: Lessons for a Divided Nation

Amb. Tunde Ogunyale

Ed.196/   09.08.2022.

Nothing, perhaps, is more important and more valuable than peaceful coexistence in a multicultural, multireligious, and diverse nation. Anything short of that can upset the order of things and throw the nation into an unfathomable commotion -violence. It can be so primitive that it can never have been imagined to attract the fancy of any reasonable man. Yet, an unchecked, ‘simple’ act of bias can lead to gruesome violence.  

I was in Kigali, Rwanda, some weeks ago for some professional development training organized by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) where I took out time to visit the Rwanda Genocide Memorial which keeps the memory of what transpired in Rwanda during the gruesome genocide of 1994. I also visited the Nyamata Memorial church where the Tutsis – young and old alike – fled for safety and were massacred! The church is also one of the many mass- grave sites in the country. Both places are sober atmospheres and they are filled with emotions that perpetually make the memories of the victims ever fresh. The places are filled with the actual remains of the victims – their dried skulls, bones, cloths, sandals, cooking utensils, etc. – and the tools – machetes, arrows, wood, guns, net, etc – the genocidaires used to end their lives abruptly. Rwanda consists of three ethnic groups: the Hutus who are about 85% of the population; the Tutsis, about 14%; and the Twa who amounts to about 1%. Due to the long years of unchecked division among the people made glaring by the country’s colonial masters who somehow ‘favored’ the minority Tutsis over the majority Hutus economically, the Hutus developed a high level of hostility and bias towards the Tutsis. This bias continued and unchecked in post-colonial Rwanda to the extent that the Hutus ‘carefully’ planned to eliminate the entire Tutsis tribe when they gained power.  

The genocide started on April 7, 1994, a day after the murder of the country’s president, and lasted for about one hundred days. There at the memorial center, I learned the genocide resulted in the deaths of over a million people when the country’s population was just about six million. Meanwhile, death was not its only outcome as I also gathered. It was said that tens of thousands of people had been tortured, mutilated, and raped, and tens of thousands more suffered machete cuts, bullet wounds, infection, and starvation. There was rampant lawlessness, looting, and chaos. Victims had their tendons cut so they couldn’t run away. Death was made a painful, agonizing, frightening, humiliating end. Many families had been wiped out, with no one to remember or document their deaths. The streets were littered with corpses. Dogs were eating the rotting flesh of their owners. The country smelt of the stench of death. The genocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than anyone would have dared to believe. Unfortunately, the international community kept quiet for too long before their intervention. Rwanda was dead!

Now, there are many drivers of violent conflicts. These drivers include but are not limited to intolerance, bias, prejudice, discrimination, lack of understanding, etc., and are often present in a multicultural setting. Nigeria is, by all standards and metrics, a diverse nation with over 250 ethnic tribes and languages, and the already mentioned drivers of violent conflict are visibly the realities of contemporary Nigeria, unfortunately. What separates us is much more than what unites us as a nation, and we need to better intensify efforts towards significant reduction – or possible total elimination – of our biases as a people.

 A careful study of the Pyramid of Hate shows that genocide emerges from an unchecked act of bias.  Historically, our nation is replete with violent conflicts ranging from religious violence to ethnic, and electoral violence in different parts of the country which have led to the death of hundreds of people. Perhaps, we are just a step away from genocide which is the last stage in the Pyramid of Hate. I, like every sane person, neither desire nor pray for this which is why one of the reasons we do what we do at Peacepace Initiative for Peace Advocacy and Developments is to promote peace and peaceful coexistence, unity, and oneness, tolerance, and alternative dispute resolution among Nigerians.

In this year 2022 alone, Nigerians have been killed by their fellow citizens in such a barbaric way on the altar of religious blasphemy just because of the high rate of religious intolerance in the country. Yet, section 38 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) emphasizes that every Nigerian has a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. In other words, Nigeria is a secular nation with no known state religion. Everyone has a right to choose their religion and hold their thoughts.  Furthermore, religious tolerance is earmarked as one of the nation’s 7 national ethics as provided in section 23 of the constitution. But this is hardly lived in contemporary Nigeria, a state in which social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. We will have to do better than this as citizens and as a people and country.

We will have to quickly spread the gospel of tolerance, respect, nationalism, unity, and love among ourselves like a wide fire to redeem our country and prevent it from heading in the direction it is at the moment. This noble role starts with each of us as an individual, then a group, and a community of changemakers.

Today in Rwanda there are neither Hutus nor Tutsis but Rwandese. And this is why they are – a fast-growing eastern African state in every sphere of development. Rwanda, today, is one of the finest African states to invest in. A publication even says it is the best. They have learned their lessons. Rwanda was dead but alive!  United we stand, divided we fall like a pack of cards. Ubuntu.

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5 thoughts on “On Peace: The Rwandan Genocide: Lessons for a Divided Nation

  1. Great lesson. This is hoping that we all will be peace ambassadors.

    Great work my barrister.

  2. Hmm…
    I learned so much from reading this.
    It’s quite insightful and at the same time, very instructive.
    Learned the lessons and the new info I had no idea about before now.
    So, many thanks.

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