On July 4th, 2023, Rwandans celebrated the 29th anniversary of Liberation. It marks the decisive military victory by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) over the genocidal forces of the MRND regime and the end of one of the most devastating tragedies in recent human history: the genocide against the Tutsi. As is often the case during such important celebrations, President Paul Kagame invited Rwandans to reflect on the significance of the liberation struggle and the sacrifices they made to turn a broken nation into a resilient, thriving and ambitious one. Commenting on the work of overzealous ‘critics’ who are keen to rewrite the country’s history, Kagame emphasized: “a history written in blood can never be erased by stories written in ink.”
While reflecting on this profound statement, I remembered a particular moment in the famous series, Game of Thrones. In one episode the character of Tyrion Lannister asked rhetorically: “What unites people? Armies, Gods, flags?” before concluding: “There is nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.” It was Tyrion’s view that no enemy or army, however powerful, can defeat a good story because it is what unites people.
Indeed, throughout human history, societies have relied on stories, legends and myths that inspired nations, to emulate their heroes’ feats. At times these stories have given nations their purpose. It is not surprising that the Chinese, for instance, never lose sight of their Century of Humiliation as they contemplate their nation’s rebirth and evolution into a major world power and work tirelessly to ensure that the tragedy that saw parts of China fall into the hands of foreigners, never befalls their country again. Every society has one particular story, a point of departure, if you will, from which it draws inspiration for pursuing what it aspires to be, going forward. For Rwandans, the liberation struggle is one such story.
Ironically, that story is also the reason why Rwanda’s progress since 1994 is under constant scrutiny and ceaseless criticism from powerful Western soft power networks. The decision makers at the helm of these networks have something in common: they understand that if this “history written in blood” and the revolution it birthed were to be widely known and emulated across the African continent, whatever psychological sway the West might still hold on Africans, would likely vanish. Thus, to preserve the West’s dominance over Africa, and maintain the exploitation it facilitates, they must take control over the narrative, tarnish, and bring confusion around the achievements of Africans, of which Rwanda’s incredible story is an important part.
Rwanda’s unforgivable crimes against the West
From the West’s perspective, Rwanda has committed numerous crimes along its liberation journey, which, God forbid, should never inspire other African nations. Before delving into these crimes, it is worth noting that from the onset of its interactions with the West, Rwanda’s original sin, prior to colonization, was its existence as a united nation, with a sophisticated state organization underpinned by Ubuntu values and belief in one God. As such, Rwanda, like its sister and neighbour Burundi, defied the dystopian representations of Africa that colonizers relied on to justify their criminal enterprise, which they called a civilizing mission. Thus, to achieve total control over the country, it was necessary for the colonizers to bring down the entire societal structure by depicting the rulers of the time as “Tutsi invaders who oppressed the large Hutu majority” and replacing Rwanda’s God and values with their own. It was classic divide, confuse, subjugate, and rule. In 1959, Rwanda’s centuries-old monarchy was overthrown and replaced by an ethnocracy which, with the help of remnants of the Belgian colonial invaders, slaughtered and exiled tens of thousands of Rwandans; bowed to foreign powers and expressed eternal gratitude to their enlightened friends in the West who had helped chase the oppressing “Tutsi colonisers”. When the ethnocracy came under challenge in the 1990s, it committed genocide. Though torn to pieces, the nation stubbornly refused to die.
Worse, RPA leadership committed unforgivable crimes against the West. To begin with, they dared to reject the misguided assumption that France, a western superpower, the penholder for Rwanda in the United Nations Security Council, and the accomplice of the genocidaires, could determine the fate of the Rwandan nation. RPA leaders did this, first, by challenging, sometimes capturing, and ultimately defeating French troops in combat, thereby leaving France’s genocidal allies no other choice than to flee or surrender. Secondly, by dismissing France’s unwarranted suggestion that Rwanda should be divided into two countries: a Hutuland and a Tutsiland. And thirdly, by insisting that France’s political and military leaders, not Rwanda’s, should be brought to justice to answer for their crimes. For all this, Rwanda’s new leaders would attract the wrath of the French political establishment whose retaliatory acts ended with France’s half-admission of guilt in 2022.
Most importantly, by seeking to rebuild the wounded Rwandan nation in 1994, Rwandan leaders had embarked on a pattern of “bad behaviour”. In so doing, the country’s leadership ran into a frontal collision with the West’s neocolonial project in Africa. In his article “How Rwanda dodged the bullet of international NGOs”, Dr. Alphonse Mulefu provides insightful details about the offenses that Rwanda repeatedly committed against western international NGOs and academics. It was mainly by exposing the shallowness of their “best practices” dogmas, as well their greed and thirst for control, usually clothed in their intrusively saviorist posture. For instance, in less than five years after the genocide, Rwanda sent packing about 40 NGOs which the government deemed redundant, then proceeded to dismiss recommendations by western NGOs and their armies of experts and instead chose to look inward-for ways to handle post-genocide justice, nation building and governance. This denied NGOs and foreign experts the policy control they usually enjoy elsewhere. As a result of these crimes, Rwanda’s traditional Gacaca courts handled more than 2 million genocide-related cases in 10 years whereas the western-inspired model, the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR), could only manage 93 cases in 20 years. Minding one’s own business could possibly be forgiven, but not exposing the limits of a supposedly superior model.
Adding insult to injury, Rwanda’s Kagame has kept telling offensive truths to the West over the past 29 years. This is a behavior which, invariably, sends western commentators into various states of shock. For instance, in response to criticisms against Rwanda’s governance system, he most recently recidivated by affirming that “Democracy is not defined by the West”. He also dared to widen the currently narrow scope of the West’s definition of human rights to include development, healthcare, education, food security, among other things as he defended Rwanda’s human rights record.
From an African perspective, Rwanda’s liberation journey is an inspiring story. It is a constant reminder that with the right leadership, attitude, vision, discipline and values, Africa has a bright future. From the West’s perspective, however, Rwanda’s story is a direct challenge to western wisdom and, by extension, the world order. This must be discouraged. Hence, the viciousness of the attacks against Rwanda is proportional to the perceived danger posed by Rwanda’s influence and the story that unites and gives purpose to Rwandans and potentially inspires many Africans must be rewritten. For western decision makers behind this project, just like their colonialist ancestors, a partnership of equals between the West and African countries is not an option; they demand subservience.
Enter Caucasian saviors and genocide deniers
Critics of Rwanda invariably end up denying, revising and/or minimizing the genocide against the Tutsi. This is not by accident; it is a predictable pattern. What happens is simple: the critics are faced with an unshakable reality: Rwanda’s leaders are the heroes on whose shoulders Rwanda stands, reborn from the ashes. This story is too powerful to ignore; in its presence, their criticisms die their own death, swallowed by the incontrovertible historical fact that Rwanda’s leaders stood up and accomplished a miracle whereas most in the West had predicted their failure and chose to look the other way as killers went on the rampage. To counter this story, they start by pointing to aid to reassert western centrality to Rwanda’s rebirth. But the argument cannot stand the simplest of tests: where else has western aid accomplished such a miracle? Nowhere. The reaction to this realization is infantile and defies logic. It goes like this: “if we are not the heroes in this African story, neither are you!”
The critics then draw inspiration for their jihad against Rwanda from the genocidaires and genocide deniers’ textbook. The arguments vary from: a) Rwandan leaders provoked the genocide against the Tutsi by shooting down the plane carrying the then President Juvenal Habyarimana; b) the RPA committed genocide against the Hutu and Congolese; and in desperation c) Rwanda’s leaders weaponise the genocide against the Tutsi to exploit western guilt. All these stories have one common theme: there are no heroes in Rwanda’s story, only villains against fellow villains. This is what they want everybody to believe. As is to be expected, each of these vilifying campaigns has ended in disaster for the credibility of their sponsors.
There is the fact that the genocide against the Tutsi was never a spontaneous initiative led by ordinary people seeking to avenge a president they barely knew and directed against innocent neighbours who had no hand in the act; it was the consequence of government policy. France’s own forensic inquiry into the plane’s downing discredited the conspiracy around it and pointed to genocidal forces as the most likely culprits. Not to mention that the numerous so-called witnesses who were lined up by the corrupt French Judge Louis Brouigiere recanted their testimonies.
British investigative journalist, Linda Melvern, has revealed that some of the anonymous witnesses brought before the ICTR to give credence to allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the RPA turned out to be French soldiers who had fought alongside the genocidaires. When these witnesses failed to convince, efforts to vilify Rwanda’s leaders were revived in the infamous mapping report for the DRC, which to date cannot name the victims of the RPA’s alleged crimes. In parallel, former Rwandan refugees who survived Congolese jungles testify how the RPA saved them from certain death by bringing them back to Rwanda.
As for the West’s guilt, it turned out to be another myth entertained to deflect from the fact that masterminds of the genocide against the Tutsi have found safe havens in different Catholic Church institutions, the UK, France and other western countries, while their foot soldiers, the FDLR, have never faced any military action from the decades-old and western founded UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. Evidently, what critics call manipulation on the part of Rwanda is the fact that the country invariably chooses to hold the mirror up to the West each time its leaders claim moral superiority.
But critics insist against all reason on pushing these narratives, crushing their credibility against historical facts. Still, they are determined to create their own heroes in this story. Their heroes are people like Rusesabagina, the former hotel manager who, during the genocide, threatened to throw Tutsi into the hands of killers if they refused to pay their hotel bills, a vile act he tried and failed to justify later. The critics’ predicament is what Kagame captures in that statement: “a history written in blood cannot be erased by stories written in ink.”
Only Rwandans can steal defeat from the jaws of victory
So far, Rwandans have not rested on their laurels. Their exceptional circumstances after the 1994 catastrophe and state collapse dictated that they regroup, reunite and rebuild. The determination of Rwanda’s leaders to realize the dreams of a new Rwanda that were born in exile has ensured that the country remains committed to that path. Today, Rwanda has become a safe haven for the oppressed around the world, an incubator for innovators, a coveted tourist destination, a hub for international conferences, a reliable partner for African and non-African (Haiti) states seeking to restore security and state control, an exemplary peacekeeping force, a partner of global sports brands and pharmaceutical compagnies, etc… All of this serves the country’s national and pan-African interests and irks its detractors who worry about its growing influence on the regional, continental and world stages.
However, the heroes behind this story are not immortal. Or better said, their immortality lies in the sustenance of the liberation struggle by the next generations of Rwandans and yes, Africans. For Rwanda’s beautiful story is not Rwandan per se. It is part of Africa’s numerous and significant contributions to the history of the world. Its erasure would have as much significance as the erasure of Africa’s contribution to global knowledge and advancement which is evidenced by the decoupling of Africa from Egypt’s glorious past or from the enactment of documents proclaiming human rights. To paraphrase President Kagame, Rwandans have a choice. They can either honor the sacrifices of the heroes who gave their lives for the country to survive, or let their sacrifices go to waste and become a historical footnote.
Indeed, each generation has a mission. If the next generations of Rwandans and Africans do not betray theirs, then the stories written in ink will never erase the history written in blood. Such is the power of a beautiful story.