About twenty-three(23) years ago, precisely April 6th 1994, Rwanda experienced a 100-day genocide that took the lives of more than 800,000 people in the country. On that day, a plane carrying Rwanda’s President, Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu President of Burundi, was shot down. The Hutus immediately assumed it to be the work of their archenemy, the Tutsis, and commenced on a state-backed genocide that left an ugly mark on the surface of the earth. They killed the Tutsis wherever they could find them and also killed their Hutu brothers who tried to prevent this from happening. The country bled with the blood of the innocent and the world watched. One shocking thing about the entire scenario was that the Hutus and Tutsis were culturally homogeneous, they practised the same traditions, they worshiped in the same place and spoke just one language. Before the Europeans who colonised the country came, the Hutus were simply crop farming people of Rwanda while the Tutsis were the Animal farming Rwandans. Later on, they were simply distinguished by their physical features and abilities. While the Hutus were short and stronger, the Tutsis were tall and less strong. Their origins and genetic make up was another difference. Besides that, they spoke one Language, they practised the same culture, they shared similar values, and worshipped in the same place.
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Today, Rwanda is on the rise. After the state-backed genocide, they resolved to redefine the path, to redefine the value and identity of their nation to prevent such occurrence from repeating itself. The new leadership proposed a model which has been sustained up to this day. They created a nation of Rwandans rather than a nation of tribes. They created a nation that promotes the unity and oneness of all her people. They knew that their problem arose from the tribalization of their country. They knew that allowing their country to carry and promote different contradicting identities is counterproductive to nation building. They knew that the best way to exist together and prevent the things that separated them in the first place was to cut off the things that separated them. The country’s citizens in 1994 saw themselves as different people lumped into one nation with their inferiors. Their was government support for the tribalization of the country and this broke the cord that binds their soul, resulting in a great lack of empathy for lives on the opposite lives. But today, Rwanda choose to come out of the crises by proposing a system of reconciliation and following this system of reconciliation to its logical conclusion. They created a new nation where tribe doesn’t exist or better put, is not promoted. Their could still exist, and actually do, Rwandans who still talk tribe in their homes but the fact that it is not promoted is a good thing. The fact that Rwanda’s government decided to promote a national identity rather than tribal identities made them achieve a reasonable level of success.
The government of Rwanda worked on every angle, tightening this new-found unity and love. Daily, they watered it with their goodwill, they watched it with their conscience and today, they are eating from the matured fruits. They didn’t just say they will create a better environment, they also stood by their words. Gagaca courts were created to tackle any tension that arose in the communities. The awareness to report and discourage the promotion of dangerous utterances and actions were created. Hate speeches were carefully disposed of and replaced with love, remorse and justice with some touch of mercy. Any speech that created or has the potential to create division was immediately withered and the culprit penalised. Because it was difficult to achieve peace without justice, the Gacaca courts were filled with men of integrity, men who understood where they are coming from, men with raised level of awareness and love for truth and justice, and they delivered and still delivers. Remorseful offenders had their punishments reduced and reintegrated into the society with a greater sense of nationalism. Their were also judgements for the over 150,000 perpetrators who were involved in executing the genocide. Those found guilty were punished and the remorseful ones who pleaded were also considered by the people for reintegration. They knew the importance of reconciliation and helped, in most cases, begged, with the killers found guilty, family members of those they killed. They showed they were really interested in creating peace and reconcile the two sides.
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It is 47 years since the Nigerian Civil war(often called the Biafran War) and the pogroms before the war happened. The war claimed over 2 million lives of innocent persons who had no idea what caused the war or involved in the execution of the ideas that culminated into war. The war broke the fragmented Nigerian state into further fragments. Before the war, the country was already injured, but after the war, it experienced haemorrhage. At the end of the war, it was tagged ‘No Victor No Vanquished’. It was a smart and intelligent way to reintegrate, even if mentally, the Biafrans. And to avoid creating a victor-vanquished problem.
A reconciliation team was set up to reconcile the other parts of Nigeria with Eastern Nigeria. But unlike Rwanda, nothing followed. The government designed a wonderful program that could have saved and helped Nigeria but didn’t follow it up. The regime of the Head of States, General Yakubu Gowon, instituted the 3Rs—Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration, which were aimed towards rehabilitating the traumatized and psychologically affected by the war, reconstructing the areas destroyed by the war, and reintegrating the people of the Eastern Nigeria into the Nigerian system. None of these three was done. None was respected. Minds were not rehabilitated. Buildings were not reconstructed. And the people were reintegrated into the old systems without any re-orientation of the Nigerian people or their mental health. 47 years later, the nation is still split along ethnic lines. The same things that caused the civil war and pogroms are still in abundance.
What Rwandans did can be replicated here. First thing is, Nigeria, if she must exist peacefully and together, must be prepared to ditch all its differences and create a national identity. We have to move from a nation of tribes to a nation of citizens. Every country that succeeds has its own unique identity. What exactly is the identity of the current Nigeria? Where is our declaration of independence and what exactly is expressed in it? Like Rwanda, we must go back to the 3Rs with some other modifications. Hate speeches shouldn’t be overlooked and/or tribalised and this must start from the head. Even if the people are unwilling to change, even if the people still bear deep-seated rational and irrational grudges for one anther, the work of any responsible government that intends to create peace, is to reshape the mind of her people through the use of positive repetition.
That is what is happening in Rwanda. The government is using the power of repetition to create a new generation of Rwandans who genuinely cannot differentiate between a Hutu and a Tutsi. Rwanda punished those who were involved in the genocide that happened in 94 but we can’t execute any judgement for the events that happened in 1967-70 and still happening. Rwandans punish those who make utterances capable of inciting the public but we don’t punish the same people here because we are scared of hurting some tribes and ethnicities. Rwanda went on a thorough reconciliation process but we didn’t reconcile and still can’t reconcile those who are hurt or punish those who hurt. We are a nation of tribes instead of citizens but we want to be like nations of citizens. We sow lemons when our intention is to suck oranges. What sort of sorcery is that?