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Rwanda’s Liberation and Ingabire’s incompatible vision for society


The RPF liberation would not have succeeded if it didn’t have a worthy moral cause. At the core of that cause was the desire to rescue Rwandans from a politico-military quasi-independent outfit that had, for 30 years, held them captive to the Belgian colonial era divide-and-rule philosophy of governance, with Dominique Mbonyumutwa and Gregoire Kayibanda fashioning themselves as the heirs to that philosophy and Juvenal Habyarimana posturing as its military custodian.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi only radicalized the RPF and underscored its conviction to craft a new society with a different value system. At the symbolic level, it set out to rid society of everything reminiscent of that captive past: the flag, the anthem, and all other symbolic reminders and vestiges of pain and suffering. In addition to the painful memory of the symbols, the political parties most responsible for fomenting the carnage, Kayibanda’s MDR and Habyarimana’s MRND, were deemed to represent an existential threat to Rwandan society and were, to that effect, permanently banned from Rwanda’s political scene.

The RPF also thought it would inculcate a new moral culture whose value system was diametrically opposed to that past by accentuating what Rwandans shared in common and de-emphasizing their perceived differences. RPF promoted the idea of equality of everyone in the eyes of the state: a public space that treated everyone equally even when it could not be realistically expected that people could immediately overcome their biases in the private spaces.

Unifying programmes like Ndi Umunyarwanda were created to inculcate a new moral culture that elevates a common national identity over other forms of parochial identities. The RPF bets that gradually the young Hutu generation would compare the two approaches and come to the conclusion that a “glorious past” never existed; it was, in fact, a dark past that they ought to dissociate themselves from and denounce anyone seeking to speak on their behalf using it as an inspirational reference point. It is betting that this will serve as sufficient reassurance to rescue a young Tutsi generation from the recurrent trauma of the past repeating itself. It is betting that this shared view of the inglorious past will lead the two groups to become one and live in a compatriotic embrace in pursuit of an indivisible common future.

A resilient ideology

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi demonstrates the extent to which the custodians of the ideology that the RPF was fighting are willing to go to preserve their warped vision of the state. Further, the subsequent insurgency wars that challenged RPF’s consolidation of power, as well as the multiplicity of armed groups that operate from the DRC, illustrate the resiliency of the ideology that since the death of Habyarimana in 1994 has lacked clear, uncontested custodians – except some pretenders to the throne, like Ignace Murwanyashyaka, who have surfaced only to disappear into obscurity and death without much fanfare.

In 2010, Ingabire made a splash when she descended on Rwandan soil for the first time since the genocide in 1994, and made two significant visits. First, she visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where she asked to see where the Hutu genocide victims are buried, in a veiled suggestion that what happened in Rwanda in 1994 were inter-ethnic killings, implying a double genocide, and referring to Hutu victims of the civil war as “genocide survivors.” Second, she marched southwards to Monyumutwa’s tomb in Gitarama, the site of the passing of the ideological baton from an alien to a native authority during a revolution that ushered in the first systematic violence against Tutsi in 1959.  

By these visits and other actions, Ingabire was in reality announcing herself as the symbol of the resilience of that “old” ideology by connecting the generational thread from herself and Mbonyumutwa. Since that time, she has been tried and convicted for perpetrating the double genocide theory. Ingabire’s actions were predicated on a political mission whose aim is to discredit the emergence of any “new” value system that is counter to the kind that prevailed during the “good old days” in general and to pull the rug from underneath those who stopped the genocide.

She targeted these because they constitute the twin bases upon which the RPF-led government claims the moral mandate to shape society in its imagination. Consequently, Ingabire has been psychologically manipulating Hutu youth to, rather than dissociate themselves from the crimes of the old generation, justify its crimes and project onto themselves this criminality. An example is the Belgium-based Jambo ASBL whose membership reads like an ancestral “who is who” of the “good old days” with household names like Ruhumuza and Gustave Mbonyumutwa, the grandsons of Dominique.

Ingabire refers to these and other Hutu youth as genocide survivors, which is to suggest that no one should take responsibility for the dark days of the past since everyone, including the RPF, is responsible for the crime of genocide. They in turn accept this manipulation because they believe it shields them from the shame and guilt of the actions of their forbearers and provides psychological reprieve. But they are not their parents, hence the cynical manipulation and unconscionable exploitation on Ingabire’s part.

Further, by attempting to level the moral terrain on the genocide of 1994, Ingabire hopes to beat the RPF with the stick of ethnicity, to kickstart the “good old days” as if they never ceased:  once demystified in the eyes of the Hutu by the double genocide charge, the RPF would only retain legitimacy in the eyes of the Tutsi, which would strike the death knell for its vision for society. Most importantly, the political utility of this manoeuvre would be a backdoor reintroduction of ethnicity-based politics in the country’s body-politic that would conscript the RPF to a mere historical hiccup, an intervening variable or negligible footnote, in Mbonyumutwa’s imagination for Rwandan society.  

Ingabire, therefore, presents herself as an idea, a symbol and embodiment of resistance and resilience in pursuit of a return to the nostalgic “good old days.” But the “good old days” were anything but good. The abyss that this country fell into in 1994 was the outcome of those “good old days.” And so, by positioning herself as the remaining custodian of resistance, Ingabire stands opposed to any future that doesn’t reflect this past. Crucially, her willingness to expose herself to criminality in the pursuit of this “evil” vision is what separates her from the rest. For her, the end justifies the means. As long as she is sabotaging and antagonizing the post-genocide vision for Rwandan society, she couldn’t care less if she is perceived as a criminal rather than a politician.

Unfortunately for her, as I recently argued, the moral aims of the RPF and their subsequent radicalization during the process of halting the genocide singularly committed it to confront, by any means at its disposal, anyone – including its own cadres – with the embodiment of destruction. In other words, the two visions for society – the old and the new – being diametrically opposed means that they cannot coexist in the same political space. One must supplant the other. From Mbonyumutwa to Kayibanda and Habyarimana, the “who” is entirely incidental to the “what.” I suspect the liberation would never have succeeded if it had preoccupied itself with the who rather than the what, which, from the RPF’s perspective, is the terrain for existential contestation. To put this in perspective, experience from the “good old days” suggests that if Ingabire’s chances of success were only one per cent, it would still be far too high a risk to accommodate alongside the post-genocide vision.  

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