Lesson From Rwanda | Patrick Martin, MD

Lesson From Rwanda 

Patrick Martin, MD

April 9, 2019

Kittitians and Nevisians should note the observance of the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Declared are 100 days of mourning to reflect on over 1 million lives lost in 100 days of sheer savagery. 

Recall that the then Rwandan president, a Hutu, was killed when his plan was shot down. Hutus, 85% of the population, took revenge on Tutsis and their Hutu friends and family. 

Survivor testimonies are heart-wrenching to the point of nausea. They speak of machete chops, people burnt to death in their homes, civilians mowed down by firing squads, and Hutu husbands forced to kill their Tutsi wives. 

The genocide may seem like ethnic cleansing. However, according to all accounts, Hutus and Tutsis have the same language, religion and culture. Differences were exaggerated by German and Belgian intruders who regarded the “taller” Tutsis as more “upper-class”, and used this minority to enforce colonial rule. 

History is replete with examples of “divide and rule”. This strategy was also endorsed by the hegemonic ruling classes of Portugal, France, and England, in their grab for the wealth of Africa.

Thus, the mourning in Rwanda is about a bloodbath triggered by the boiling over of trumped-up social hatred, aided and abetted by insatiable greed and perverse political propaganda. 

Today, Hutus and Tutsis live side-by-side in a country seemingly calm and developing. The price of peace is an authoritarian leadership, and the inevitable shackling of conscience freedoms as we know them in the Federation. 

Notwithstanding, what really served to advance communal healing and peace in Rwanda, was not a foreign intervention, but “truth and justice” tribunals at the village level. Such approach is quintessentially African.

A profound lesson can be drawn. In 1994, angry Hutus took to the airwaves and proceeded to label all Tutsis as “cockroaches”. 

What does one do to a cockroach? Nothing less than search and destroy which were done relentlessly fueled, in large measure, by hate speech on talk shows.

What if social media was available in 1994? The massacres may have been streamed live.

In St. Kitts and Nevis, we have not been spared group-on-group bloodletting. Residents are well-aware of the series of reprisal gang killings since the late 1990s. 

Can such internecine conflict contaminate the wider socio-political arena?

Mercifully, we are not into the deliberate and systematic extermination of people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual preference and political affiliation. However, inflammatory speech, fabricated family and communal disharmony, and political victimization, constitute a potent concoction which is an endemic hazard to personal health and national development.

Gangland appears calm but political emotions are bubbling as the next election looms. Fund-raising breakfasts and evening rallies prove the ground game is on. Candidates are knocking on doors bearing love offerings or literature. Added to the mix are strident defenses of the rectitude of infrastructural projects and robust rebuttals of the professed good governance agenda.

Then, there is uncertainty which is never helpful. Why is the “continuous voter registration” process not continuous? Why is the electorate kept in suspense about the constituency boundaries? And, if the incumbent wins, who will be Prime Minister?  Uncertainty breeds suspicion and tension which can be exploited by those thirsty for power.

Contrived divisiveness and hatred serve no useful purpose. With freedom of association and freedom of expression re-consecrated, let us support candidate leaders who live the nation’s motto, and who steer well clear of dog-eat-dog politics. 

Let us demand that the candidates refrain from hate speech and propaganda on social and other media. Candidates who are unable to comply should be left “severely alone”. 

In the final analysis, let us back who we want, then, after the elections, shake hands and share in a beverage. Such political maturity augurs well for social justice, societal peace and sustained economic growth and development, and circumvents the likelihood of inter-personal hatred and atrocity.