(Warning: graphic content) Rwandan refugees cross the Rusumo border to Tanzania from Rwanda carrying their belongings, goats, mattresses and cows, May 30, 1994. The bloodshed that claimed 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu lives began 25 years ago on April 7, 1994, when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira and a French air crew was shot down. REUTERS/Jeremiah Kamau

Rwanda: National memory and violence of forgetting a genocide

The violence of forgetting genocide is violent; as a psychological construct, forgetting inhuman acts leads to them gnawing at the individual conscience and a need to have them violently repressed within the individual.

In contemporary Rwanda, the government attempts to keep the national memory of the genocide at the forefront of the story of the national experience.

On the other hand, contradictory and uncorroborated reports of exactly what led to the downing of the plane carrying then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira as they returned from peace talks, and unproven claims of revenge massacres by exiled Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) on the Hutu, have led to conflicting accounts of the cause and architect of the genocide.

There are two ways the Rwandan authorities can deal with the violence of forgetting genocide. One is to repress free speech and charge any challenge to the events of 1994, what and who caused the genocide, as denialism.

The other is to address conflicting accounts of exactly what caused the genocide and who was responsible, openly and comprehensively.

Efforts to openly address these issues have run into a cul-de-sac. France and Rwanda have mended their tattered diplomatic fence. But the unresolved mystery of the role of the RPF on one hand, and the French government in supporting the Habyarimana regime on the other, have not been resolved.

Repress speech

Repressing conflicting accounts of exactly what caused the genocide and who is responsible only creates an artificial national nirvana of cosmetic peace. It creates fertile ground for the proliferation of disinformation. Genocide memory cannot be used by Rwandan authorities as a coercive tool to repress speech and manipulate international feelings of guilt around the abandonment of Rwanda.

The countervailing forces of the violence of forgetting genocide are straddled in a desire not to retell the true narrative of horrendous events sections of the public do not want to confront. The events that led to the 1994 genocide have left an indelible mark on that country; 29 years later, the complete truth of the causes of the genocide and who is responsible remain unresolved.

Humanity rests in the solace that, ultimately, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

Professor Monda teaches political science, international relations and American government at the City University of New York, New York, USA. dmonda@gradcenter.cuny.edu. @dmonda1

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