As Rwanda commemorates 18 years since the genocide that claimed the lives of some 800,000 people, a former Rwanda chief prosecutor has warned that the likelihood of renewed conflict, even conflict along sectarian lines, is very real in Rwanda.
Gerald Gahima said the Rwandan society has the challenge of ensuring that violence like that experienced in the past does not recur.
“Today, I believe that violence is almost inevitable if there is no political change in Rwanda, said Gahima who also served as Vice president of the Rwanda Supreme court.
He said a lot of innocent people were killed and that should never have happened. “Things like these [genocide] should be avoided at all costs in our country’s future.”
Gahima lamented the lack of reconciliation in the east African country, saying it is still a very contentious issue. “The government would like people to believe that there has been full reconciliation,” he said, “but reconciliation is a long term process.”
The prerequisite of reconciliation, he added, is that people who have previously been in conflict sit together and discuss the root causes of the conflict and agree on how to build a common future. But in the opinion of many outside the government, Rwanda still has a long way to go in terms of reconciliation.
What has happened in terms of Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), he said, is that “RPF has imposed its own narrative of the past and its position on the future without sitting down with people who oppose it to discuss these issues.”
Gahima said there is still a great deal of resentment in Rwanda, for example, about violence that was committed against members of the Hutu community which is not acknowledged by the state, and the victims of those crimes are not allowed to commemorate the way genocide is commemorated.
The genocide, he said, “is a historical fact; it happened, it was planned, it was organized, carried out, and hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of it.”
The problem, though, he continued, is that the government of Rwanda sometimes accuses people of being genocide deniers just because they raise other issues such as the violence and atrocities that were committed against the Hutu community that is not acknowledged.
“The two issues should be separated and the victims of those crimes should be allowed to remember their dead.”
Gahima acknowledged that although some justice has been served, there has been some injustice where some innocent people have been held for long periods of time for crimes they may never have committed. “Our legal system never really had the capacity to deal with such a large number of cases.”
“I don’t want genocide to happen,” he emphasized, but added: “we’ve not addressed the root causes of conflict in our society.”
The causes of the conflict that led to the genocide, Gahima said, such as “ a repressive government, monopoly of political power by one party, the use of violence against political opponents, all these are issues still present in modern Rwanda.”
In Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, President Paul Kagame lit a flame of remembrance at the memorial that will burn for 100 days, marking the length of the time during which the tragedy’s victims lost their lives
All of Rwanda’s schools, sports arenas, nightclubs and other entertainment outlets will be closed for a week. Everyone is expected to use the time to reflect on what happened in the country 18 years ago.