February 11, 2019

Fights Over Terminology Of Genocide Is A Contest to Define The Genocide Story



As often happens towards and during the commemoration period, a “war” of words has started on social media about the name of what happened in Rwanda in 1994.

As often happens towards and during the commemoration period, a “war” of words has started on social media about the name of what happened in Rwanda in 1994.

This fight is between some foreign academicians who regard themselves as experts on the country and some Rwandan officials and activists who regard themselves as more knowledgeable about their affairs and therefore natural knowers of their history and what needs to be done to ensure Never Again.

The spark of this public spat is a poster allegedly published by Dr. Timothy Longman announcing a series of lectures across some universities in Europe and the United States on which the theme introducing the lectures is Commemorating the “Rwandan Genocide”.

Reacting to Longman’s advertised lecture series, Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe tweeted denouncing this “naming” as denying the genocide against Tutsi and calling on friends of Rwanda not to associate with it.

Nduhungirehe said: “This is an unacceptable attempt by a Rwandan hater to deny the genocide AGAINST THE TUTSI, at the very worst moment. Please stop your cynism Mr. Longman. We don’t need it for #Kwibuka25 and I hope that no friends of Rwanda will be associated with it”

Longman is the Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs and an Associate Professor of International Relations at Boston University who has done some research in Rwanda but his critics refer to him as a “a Rwandan hater and peddler of double genocide narrative”

Interestingly, even some foreign diplomats in Kigali are participating in this debate.

For example, Swedish Ambassador to Rwanda, Jenny Ohlsson sent a series of tweets where she noted: “This thread aims to prevent misunderstandings the months ahead, when different definitions on the genocide against the Tutsi will be used by outsiders that are unaware but not necessarily revisionist”

In part, Ohlsson added: “most people outside Rwanda don’t have nice Rwandan friends that can explain the anger, pain &

[and]

support of revisionism that certain definitions can result in. They just don’t know”

This is an honest observation but which isn’t generalizable especially to individuals like Longman and others who call themselves experts on Rwanda and therefore should know the facts.

Nonetheless, it’s indeed the responsibility of Rwandans, particularly the government, CNLG, the academic and writers – to explain, without getting tired about what happened in 1994 and provide all the facts whenever needed. There are many in the world, who don’t know what happened for no fault of their own but due to distance and engagement in other worldly problems near their homes.

This debate isn’t new

However, this debate isn’t new. In fact, it started during the genocide when countries like the United States under the Clinton administration ordered officials not to call what was happening here in 1994 as genocide in order to avoid taking responsibility to stop it as required by the genocide convention of 1948.

Writing in The New York Times on June 10, 1994 under a self-explanatory headline: “Officials Told to Avoid Calling Rwanda Killings‘Genocide’, Douglas Jehl explained: “Trying to avoid the rise of moral pressure to stop the mass killing in Rwanda, the Clinton Administration has instructed its spokesmen not to describe the deaths there as genocide, even though some senior officials believe that is exactly what they represent”.

He added: “Rather than compare the massacre with, for example, the deaths under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the State Department and the National Security Council have drafted guidance instructing spokesmen to say merely that “acts of genocide may have occurred”

Former US President Clinton apologized on his visit to Rwanda as President on March 25, 1998 and called the decision not to help when he could, one of his worst as president.

Even President Paul Kagame has in the past commented on this failure to name the obvious suggesting that those who struggle to find a name for what happened, “have a problem”

In his speech during the 23rd Commemoration speech in 2017 Kagame said: “When you listen to the discourse around the world now, it’s not about lives lost, but about playing with words. Semantics. Was it the genocide of Tutsis, or the genocide of 1994?”

He added: “There are those who now bring ‘improvements’. You can’t call it the genocide against the Tutsi, it’s the ‘genocide of 1994’, or the ‘Rwandan genocide’. They are struggling to be vague, as if being vague is very important”.

The President concluded: “Genocide has a definition, and I’m not the one who put that definition there…If you have a problem matching the definition with what happened here, it’s because you have another problem. You need to address that other problem”

So what “other problem” do individuals who can’t “match what happened here” with the definition have?

Of course, as pointed out earlier, State Minister Nduhungirehe defines their problem, as in the case of Longman, to be deniers of genocide and Rwandan haters.

Objectively, we really can’t say that researchers like Longman “lack of information” as ambassador Ohlsson suggests since anyone who has researched the truth of what happened should have facts of what happened as well as know conclusions of institutions like the UN General Assembly.

On January 26. 2018, 24 years after the genocide, the UN General Assembly adopted an appellation of what happened here from the “Rwanda Genocide” to the “1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda”.

This change after a Decision modifying UN Resolution 58/234 of 2003, which reads, in part that “The General Assembly adopted today (January 26, 2018) a decision designating 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda

The decision only changes the “title and operative paragraph one” of the 2003 UN Decision and as Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN noted at the time, this change was designed to capture “the historical facts of what happened in Rwanda in 1994─genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

It’s therefore impossible for researchers like Longman and other who have at one time lived and wrote articles on Rwanda not to know the facts of what happened here nor decisions of organization like the UN on the matter.

In that sense, the contestation about what to call what happened in Rwanda in 1994, particularly between some western academicians and activists who write on Rwanda and Rwandan officials and writers is a contest to define and own the narrative about what happened in Rwanda.

In simple terms, it is a battle to define the truth of what happened in 1994 with guardians of Never Again insisting on the truth that it was a genocide against Tutsi and the counter-point narrators who prefer to talk about “Tutsi killings” and “Hutu killings” to blur the uniqueness of the former’s killings, to perpetuate the idea that “historically these people kill each other periodically because it is in their veins and were born to kill each other” – thereby calling it “Rwandan Genocide”.

Broadly, this is a contest about who can tell Rwanda’s story. In the past, it was foreigners; today, Rwandans are increasingly getting interested in telling their own story!

This fight is between some foreign academicians who regard themselves as experts on the country and some Rwandan officials and activists who regard themselves as more knowledgeable about their affairs and therefore natural knowers of their history and what needs to be done to ensure Never Again.

The spark of this public spat is a poster allegedly published by Dr. Timothy Longman announcing a series of lectures across some universities in Europe and the United States on which the theme introducing the lectures is Commemorating the “Rwandan Genocide”.

Reacting to Longman’s advertised lecture series, Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe tweeted denouncing this “naming” as denying the genocide against Tutsi and calling on friends of Rwanda not to associate with it.

Nduhungirehe said: “This is an unacceptable attempt by a Rwandan hater to deny the genocide AGAINST THE TUTSI, at the very worst moment. Please stop your cynism Mr. Longman. We don’t need it for #Kwibuka25 and I hope that no friends of Rwanda will be associated with it”

Longman is the Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs and an Associate Professor of International Relations at Boston University who has done some research in Rwanda but his critics refer to him as a “a Rwandan hater and peddler of double genocide narrative”

Interestingly, even some foreign diplomats in Kigali are participating in this debate.

For example, Swedish Ambassador to Rwanda, Jenny Ohlsson sent a series of tweets where she noted: “This thread aims to prevent misunderstandings the months ahead, when different definitions on the genocide against the Tutsi will be used by outsiders that are unaware but not necessarily revisionist”In part, Ohlsson added: “most people outside Rwanda don’t have nice Rwandan friends that can explain the anger, pain & and

support of revisionism that certain definitions can result in. They just don’t know” This is an honest observation but which isn’t generalizable especially to individuals like Longman and others who call themselves experts on Rwanda and therefore should know the facts.

Nonetheless, it’s indeed the responsibility of Rwandans, particularly the government, CNLG, the academic and writers – to explain, without getting tired about what happened in 1994 and provide all the facts whenever needed. There are many in the world, who don’t know what happened for no fault of their own but due to distance and engagement in other worldly problems near their homes.

This debate isn’t new

However, this debate isn’t new. In fact, it started during the genocide when countries like the United States under the Clinton administration ordered officials not to call what was happening here in 1994 as genocide in order to avoid taking responsibility to stop it as required by the genocide convention of 1948.

Writing in The New York Times on June 10, 1994 under a self-explanatory headline: “Officials Told to Avoid Calling Rwanda Killings‘Genocide’, Douglas Jehl explained: “Trying to avoid the rise of moral pressure to stop the mass killing in Rwanda, the Clinton Administration has instructed its spokesmen not to describe the deaths there as genocide, even though some senior officials believe that is exactly what they represent”.

He added: “Rather than compare the massacre with, for example, the deaths under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the State Department and the National Security Council have drafted guidance instructing spokesmen to say merely that “acts of genocide may have occurred”

Former US President Clinton apologized on his visit to Rwanda as President on March 25, 1998 and called the decision not to help when he could, one of his worst as president.

Even President Paul Kagame has in the past commented on this failure to name the obvious suggesting that those who struggle to find a name for what happened, “have a problem”

In his speech during the 23rd Commemoration speech in 2017 Kagame said: “When you listen to the discourse around the world now, it’s not about lives lost, but about playing with words. Semantics. Was it the genocide of Tutsis, or the genocide of 1994?”

He added: “There are those who now bring ‘improvements’. You can’t call it the genocide against the Tutsi, it’s the ‘genocide of 1994’, or the ‘Rwandan genocide’. They are struggling to be vague, as if being vague is very important”.

The President concluded: “Genocide has a definition, and I’m not the one who put that definition there…If you have a problem matching the definition with what happened here, it’s because you have another problem. You need to address that other problem”

So what “other problem” do individuals who can’t “match what happened here” with the definition have?

Of course, as pointed out earlier, State Minister Nduhungirehe defines their problem, as in the case of Longman, to be deniers of genocide and Rwandan haters.

Objectively, we really can’t say that researchers like Longman “lack of information” as ambassador Ohlsson suggests since anyone who has researched the truth of what happened should have facts of what happened as well as know conclusions of institutions like the UN General Assembly.

On January 26. 2018, 24 years after the genocide, the UN General Assembly adopted an appellation of what happened here from the “Rwanda Genocide” to the “1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda”.

This change after a Decision modifying UN Resolution 58/234 of 2003, which reads, in part that “The General Assembly adopted today (January 26, 2018) a decision designating 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda

The decision only changes the “title and operative paragraph one” of the 2003 UN Decision and as Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN noted at the time, this change was designed to capture “the historical facts of what happened in Rwanda in 1994─genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

It’s therefore impossible for researchers like Longman and other who have at one time lived and wrote articles on Rwanda not to know the facts of what happened here nor decisions of organization like the UN on the matter.

In that sense, the contestation about what to call what happened in Rwanda in 1994, particularly between some western academicians and activists who write on Rwanda and Rwandan officials and writers is a contest to define and own the narrative about what happened in Rwanda.

In simple terms, it is a battle to define the truth of what happened in 1994 with guardians of Never Again insisting on the truth that it was a genocide against Tutsi and the counter-point narrators who prefer to talk about “Tutsi killings” and “Hutu killings” to blur the uniqueness of the former’s killings, to perpetuate the idea that “historically these people kill each other periodically because it is in their veins and were born to kill each other” – thereby calling it “Rwandan Genocide”.

Broadly, this is a contest about who can tell Rwanda’s story. In the past, it was foreigners; today, Rwandans are increasingly getting interested in telling their own story!

Christopher Kayumba, PhD, Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Rwanda (UR), Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd,

P.O.Box, 4753, Kigali Kay Plaza Building, Kiseminti, Kimoronko Rd

Telephone: +250-785645179 or +250-725254252 E-mail: ckayumba@yahoo.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website: www.mgcconsult.com


1 Comment

  1. I honestly fail to understand why this discussion continues. The 1994 genocide cannot be called the “Rwandan genocide” because only a group of Rwandans was targeted, not all Rwandans. Everyone knows the identity of the targeted group, namely the Tutsi. So this is the “genocide against the Tutsi”, even though technically speaking the “1994 genocide” would not be incorrect.

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