Teaching about genocide, between duty and precautions

Kigali (Rwanda)

From our special correspondent

A few days ago, the 27e commemoration of the Tutsi genocide ended in Rwanda. Like every year, it started on April 7 and ended on July 4. One hundred days to remember what happened between April 7 and July 4, 1994: the extermination of around a million Tutsis (1) under the gaze of the media around the world and in general indifference.

Ceremonies, speeches, testimonies, meditation, burial of bodies found in the past year, this memorial time structures the Rwandan calendar. For the survivors, of course, but also for those born after the genocide, ie 80% of the population. “The memory of the genocide is transmitted during these commemorations. But also the sum of our knowledge, explains Jean Damascène Bizimana, executive secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide. This makes it the main tool for teaching about the genocide in Rwanda with memorials and school. “During the period of commemoration, we organize debates, we broadcast testimonies of soldiers, survivors, actors of justice. They are mainly intended for young people ”, adds historian Jean-Paul Kimonyo, former adviser to Paul Kagame. “This is coupled with the memorials.

Rwanda has seven national memorials coupled with a multitude of local memorials where the victims who have been found are all buried with dignity. Among the most important, there is also a museum dedicated to the genocide, an educational trail that tells the history of the place as in Murambi or Bisesero, where we explain the genocide, we defend fundamental human rights and where we fight against the ideology of genocide.

The Kigali National Memorial is central. Here, explains D’Artagnan, one of the employees, 250,000 victims of the genocide are buried. But there is also a museum dedicated to the history of the genocide: the ethnic construction of Rwandan society by the settlers, the role of Catholic missionaries, the speeches justifying the stigmatization of Tutsis, the premonitory massacres, the rise of hatred, friendship of France with the future genocidal regime, the implementation of the extermination, life afterwards. “ Are added ” archives of the genocide that researchers can come to consult“.

Commemorations have evolved over time. Today they are less brutal than the first. More educational, too. For what reasons ? Avoid traumatizing the survivors and provoking the effects of astonishment or psychological shock in the youngest. “Talking about the genocide is taking the risk of awakening the traumas linked to it, explained in 2014 to The cross Rwandan psychologist Augustin Nziguheba. Memories during a song, an image, a testimony, a film can resurface with extreme violence and make you lose your footing with reality. Sometimes definitely.

Studies like the one conducted in 2009 by Rwandan psychiatrist Naasson Munyandamutsa, show that nearly 29% of the population (or 2.65 million people) suffers from post-traumatic stress, 53% from depression, and 74.4% of residents have experienced a traumatic event in their lifetime. ” This is why teaching about genocide is very delicate among us. We know that this can cause significant psychological disorders in the students, even very greedy. We reviewed our programs and our method in 2019 ”, explains historian Paul Rutayisire, professor emeritus of the history of Rwanda and the history of the Tutsi genocide at the University of Rwanda. ” From now on, he specifies, we approach this subject with graduation. We only have it studied in secondary and higher education. We have adopted a participatory approach: the pupils are called upon to comment on texts, to consult books, to listen to testimonies. And we introduced a comparative history of genocides. The subject is all the more delicate as all the students come from this story: “The professor has in front of him children whose parents are in prison for the crime of genocide, others are children of survivors“, recalls Paul Rutayisire.

In this unique and fragile context, nothing is easier than to mark children too brutally, to cause trauma by evoking the dimensions of extermination, its reality and its traces. “We have to pay attention to their imagination, to the way in which we call it into the lessons”, underlines the Rwandan academic.

We must also ensure the genealogy of the students, the reality of their family ties, their own history. “You can develop very good textbooks. But it is difficult for us to avoid trauma in families, memories in which parents locked themselves, guilty silences, silences linked to pain, to mourning ”, he notes.

Teaching about genocide means first of all taking charge of the traumatic dimension of the subject. “If we must prevent the negative psychological effects of this teaching, we must also think about its positive psychological effects: helping the student to accept himself, to mourn his parents, to help him overcome a family reality. painful “, explains Jean Ruzindaza, the head of advocacy for assistance to survivors of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide. And what do we say about France’s role in these courses? “At first, we hit it, answers Paul Rutayisire. Then, we realized that all French people are not the same. So that we began to distinguish the responsibilities.

In memorials, commemorations and schools, the question of Hutu victims and that of the crimes attributed to those who liberated Rwanda from the genocidal regime are not addressed. “We are thinking about doing it but it is complex in our reality“, explains someone close to power, “Because this subject is exploited by our enemies, by those who want to divide us, who blow on the embers of community oppositions, who advocate the theory of double genocide. It is an explosive subject for social peace and living together “.

An analysis shared by the main people responsible for teaching about the genocide in Rwanda. ” He There were of course Hutus victims of the events, many innocent people were killed in Rwanda then in Zaire (former name of the Democratic Republic of Congo, editor’s note). However, we are all observing a rise in negationist discourse in the Rwandan-Congolese diaspora: on social networks, in France, in Belgium. The ideology of the double genocide is conveyed by these people ”, notes Paul Rutayisire. “So what to do, he asks. Build a memorial for the Hutu victims? Next to a genocide memorial? But then, symbolically, we put them on an equal footing. We must not be naive, by going in this direction, we participate in the relativization of the genocide and we give weight to the theorists of the double genocide.. “The survivors of the genocide will not stand it, he slices. And on this level, I will always privilege their point of view.


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