Should political crimes be inherited like the proverbial biblical sin?

Friday August 9 2013

Christopher Kayumba

Christopher Kayumba 

By Christopher Kayumba

This debate has refused to go away.

It is raging in the media; more ferociously so in social networks. It relates to an alleged apology made by some Hutu youths on behalf of their parents and ethnic group for a genocide committed in their name.

The apology was made at a Youth Konnect Dialogue conference supported by the Ministry of Youth and ICT, First Lady’s Imbuto Foundation and Artists for Peace.

It was reported that the president, who was in attendance, welcomed the initiative.

Later, one of the organisers of the dialogue, Edouard Bamporiki, justified the apology thus: “...all we need to do is show the (genocide) survivors that we, the youth, do not support what was done in our name and this is what we are doing.”

As things supported by the president tend to turn out here, a few days later, other politicians jumped on the bandwagon.

The Minister for Internal Affairs and president of the Idealist Democracy Party (PDI), Musa Fazil Harelimana, who first made serious news when he called for the amendment of the Constitution to give President Kagame a third term, issued a statement supporting the initiative.

Days later, the prime minister also apologised for his supposed ethnic group and the leader of Itorero Boniface Rucagu followed suit.

Were Rwanda an ordinary nation, we would say our politicians are morally and socially right.

That all they are doing is to stand up against a crime that Raphael Lamiken first referred to as the “crime of crimes”, because genocide is against our collective moral ideals and the perpetrators a shame to us all.

Apology, like forgiveness, is a twin condition considered important for reconciliation. It conveys a sense of remorse, which helps heal the wounds of the past and create space for a shared future.

But Rwanda is not your ordinary nation, nor are humans naturally good; they are, at least partially, flawed. While voluntary and genuine apology by offenders can serve reconciliation, in this case it is likely to derail it.

The 1994 genocide was a state project, orchestrated and overseen by Hutu extremists — not by all Hutus.

Kudos to IBUKA, the association of genocide survivors, for refusing to support the blanket apology. And there are many Hutus who saved Tutsis and many that have been publicly recognised for their courage to reject evil even when not playing along meant death for them.

So what must these individuals feel when certain characters purport to apologise on their behalf?

Socially, as a number of studies have shown, part of what perpetrators of the genocide wanted to achieve in seeking to mobilise all Hutus to commit the crime was not merely to create as many killers as possible but criminalising all Hutus with the twin objectives of cementing Hutu solidarity and, in case of defeat, overwhelm the new order to make prosecution impossible due to sheer numbers.

Thus, a blanket apology not only serves to walk in the trap of the genocide perpetrators but might also have the unintended consequence of remobilising Hutu solidarity — for the wrong reasons.

Politically, the practice will serve to reenergise those still interested in advancing the politics of “us” and “them”, which will inevitably lead to more unimaginable deaths.

Already, some politicians, including former premier Faustin Twagiramungu, have used the occasion to claim that President Kagame is working to create a community of “those who will forever apologise” and “those who will forever forgive”!

What world do we want to recreate and leave for our children? Should our children be burdened by a sense of collective guilt or shame for the sins of their parents?

Or should we be teaching our children our terrible past so that they can learn from it and participate in designing a collective future based not on shame or guilt but collective values, hope, dignity and freedom?

Our politicians should desist from creating conditions where our children will live in the past. While individuals who committed the crime should continue to apologise and seek forgiveness, our children should be left to grow up without stigma.

Politicians must also learn to carry their own cross.

Dr Christopher Kayumba, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the National University of Rwanda and Managing Consultant at MGC Consult Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @ckayumba