Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rwanda & Reconciliation: Collective forgiveness?

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I happened to have followed a heated debate between Edouard Bamporinki and a few other Rwandans that was broadcasted through BBC. The debate, moderated by Ali Yusuf Mugenzi, was a little richer in substance than the usual gossip (and at times insults) that passes for "debate." That said, the BBC has so far been the only medium through which Rwandans, of all walks of life, can express themselves freely.

Bamporiki is a young poet who identifies as Hutu. He is from the region of Cyangungu and is some sort of national celebrity due to the humorous roles he plays in theatres. Unlike many celebrities who stay clear from politics, Bamporiki wants to be at the helm of reconciliation in Rwanda, at least among the youth.

While Bamporiki is very close to the Rwandan establishment, he nonetheless brings a refreshing view. I say this because the government of Rwanda treats reconciliation as a done deal. As such, Bamporiki's initiative though supported by the government stretches the official line a little bit. This is VERY necessary in the dictatorial and inflexible system that is Rwanda.

Another important but subtle comment that Bamporiki made was to acknowledge that RPF is responsible for crimes against humanity. In his own words he "will never play the role of defending them." So far so good.

As I have stated before, Rwanda is not condemned to be a basket case. The current government of Rwanda has the power and ability to reverse whatever curse we suffered during the 90s. However, doing so requires irreproachable honesty--the kind that fosters safe spaces for democratic participation. People have to speak their minds about the historical challenges that we have faced. Even more pertinent, citizens should be free to criticize the government and to offer ideas that contribute to good governance.

It is in this context that I welcome Bamporiki's move. While I do not agree with all of his positions, I think that it is possible for us to agree to disagree and move forward as a country. The current dictatorial tendencies that stifle dissent are unlikely to take us to the promised land.

That said, my major disagreements with Bamporiki are worth mentioning.

For starters, I am am cautiously skeptical of any truth and reconciliation forum that is chaperoned by the RPF. One of the meetings organized by Bamporiki had invited Kagame as the chief guest. The problem is that Kagame is almost completely buried into a certain frame that even his mere presence would prevent folks from expressing themselves freely. He is a symbol of the current oppressive system and the RPF machinery, which many (rightly) feel is responsible for killing a good share of Rwandans.

Here, I do not mean to say that the RPF cannot play any role in reconciliation. The danger lies in the fact that we've seen many programs that started off with noble goals only to be co-opted for narrow partisan interests.  Flirting too much with a non-democratic regime poses such challenges.

Second, Bamporiki has recently accepted to run for a political position under the RPF. This is also highly problematic and runs counter to his goal of supporting the reconciliation of Rwanda's youth. It is only a matter of time before he is transformed into an RPF fanatic--we know this naturally breeds aversion to democratic expression.

Third is Bamporiki's idea of reconciliation. He has suggested that the Hutu have to collectively seek forgiveness to Tutsi survivors. I am essentially opposed to the idea of collective guilt. Moreover, I do not believe forgiveness can be institutionalized. It would be a noble thing if the genocidaires asked for forgiveness. However, I will continue to insist that punishment has to come first. As long as the courts are free and fair (I am concerned that they are not), people shouldn't be allowed to get away with killing the innocent.

To demand that the majority of Rwandans, who are under 18, ask for forgiveness for crimes they never committed is completely absurd. It defies logic and goes against the very spirit of reconciliation. The only possible goal that such a misguided approach would achieve is the demonizing of an entire community.

Yet, it is the responsibility for Hutu leaders who served in the past governments to offer an apology. Many of them are still alive and there is a space for them to do so. Similarly, any serious forum on reconciliation must offer spaces for a conversation on the crimes that the RPF committed against Hutu civilians in both Rwanda and the DRC. However, this will never happen without political will on the part of the RPF.

Bamporiki has great ideas. He can be a moral leader for the much needed truth and reconciliation as we near a post-kagame future. However, he needs to stay principled and refuse to be lured into the lingering partisan trap. Unfortunately, that is where he currently seems to be heading.


Vincent Harris said...

Fred Mwasa wrote today on twitter:

'In Nyamaseheke, MP Edouard Bamporiki of 'NDUMUNYARWANDA' campaign urguing "Hutus" to apologise to "Tutsis" #Rwanda '

Vincent Harris said...

today we read on twitter 'In Nyamaseheke, MP Edouard Bamporiki of 'NDUMUNYARWANDA' campaign urguing "Hutus" to apologise to "Tutsis" #Rwanda '