“Those who still harbour genocide ideology will not be allowed to take us back to our tragic history. They will not. They cannot. They have already failed.” These were part of President Paul Kagame’s concluding remarks at the start of the genocide commemoration week on Saturday 7th April. At other times the fighting spirit behind the words would have brought out a thunderous applause. Not so this time. The mood was too sombre for that.
He was not done yet. He went on in the same vein and declared: “There is not a chance in many millions for them to succeed with us. We are more than ready to be tested on this. It does not matter who back them. It will not work.”
Tough talk? Certainly. Anything to back it? Absolutely.
It is now almost customary that President Kagame will make a hard-hitting speech on April 7th. Rwandans love it and have come to expect it. And it is not because of the tough words, but rather because he says what they feel – the resolve that never again should genocide happen in the country; anger that it was allowed to happen and that not enough is being done to bring culprits to book; and the steely determination to move on and better their lives.
The president’s words speak of a new Rwanda – confident in its capacity, proud of its achievements and focussed on a non-reversible forward march.
This has perhaps been the unintended consequence of the genocide, but also the product of a conscious post-genocide effort.
Not since pre-colonial times – certainly not since the glory days of the expansion of Rwanda – have Rwandans felt so much pride in their country and nationality. Not since those times have they been eager to display their pride.
The feeling comes from the knowledge that they are doing the right thing; from the evidence of lives that are improving daily, mainly from their own efforts. They see ahead greater prospects of improvement. It comes from the satisfaction that they have built a strong foundation of nationhood that cannot be shaken easily.
All these have given Rwanda a measure of power and respect among nations not seen before. It is natural therefore that this should fuel national pride.
It is also normal for human beings to identify with power, success and well-being, and want to own them. The reverse is true. No one wants to be associated with weakness and failure. They will want to put daylight between themselves and the very idea of failure.
In post-genocide Rwanda, this is the case. It helps make the gains of the last eighteen years irreversible.
Of course, there will always be nationals and foreigners who will deny Rwanda’s progress – maybe out of envy, or the feeling that it should not be done without their participation (or permission). Opportunists of every hue will argue that the progress is really an illusion and is in any case unsustainable, and that what appears like satisfaction is really masked fear.
I have a feeling, though, that privately they admire what is happening here, only something stops them from admitting it publicly. Only an idiot can argue with figures and physical evidence.
All the vitriol and venom they pour on Rwanda and the president are only the reflection of the frustration caused by the struggle between acceptance of the actual reality and an impotent wish for a different reality.
As we left Amahoro Stadium last Saturday, a Member of Parliament and former diplomat told me that it was impossible to slide back to 1994 and that in any case the scale of killing of that time is unimaginable today. He made the assertion with the same confidence as President Kagame had done earlier.
How so, I asked.
“It’s simple. The mobile phone is the insurance”, he said.
The mobile phone has become such a necessary communication tool for nearly everyone that we cannot imagine the world without it. The near total secrecy of what was happening here eighteen years ago is impossible today. The whole world would learn of the massacres – complete with footage – of the massacres as soon as they happened. With sms, twitter and other forms of social media, the news would be out literally in a flash. So would warnings of impending attacks, the whereabouts of marauding packs of killers and so on.
Lessons from the success of the Arab Spring are still fresh in our minds.
Other guarantees that gains we have made so far will not be lost lie in the lessons learnt from the past. The principal lesson is that Rwandans have to do things themselves. They must remain in charge of their own affairs.
So, yes, as President Kagame said, there is no chance in millions that we will slide back. And it’s not just tough talk. It is the only option.