G******e: What Kenya can learn from Rwanda

Friday, April 12th, 2024 11:00 | By
Rwanda President Paul Kagame led a sombre commemoration ceremony in the capital Kigali on Sunday April 7, 2024, during the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. PHOTO/AP

Rwanda this week marked 30 years since the genocide. They have done a good job at it. Across the world, ceremonies have been held with reflections on what happened and what lessons could be learnt from it.

In many cases, positions continue to evolve as people reflect on what happened. Could the world have done more to save lives? Drawing from memoirs, interviews, and existing documents, it is obvious that if the world had cared more for this African country, then precious lives would have been saved.

What is the purpose of a memorial? Part of it is simply to draw from the lessons of the past and never forget or repeat what happened. It honours the memory of those who have gone and strives to be better people and a better community.

The reflections of journalists who covered Rwanda three decades ago are still chilling. It is nearly impossible to imagine what they went through and what the people themselves, the victims, went through. But it is good for a nation to move forward.

Moving forward, however, would not have happened without a clear plan and deliberate efforts to keep the memory alive. Kigali set everything in motion and invited the world to stop for these many days to remember.

They say those who forget their history are bound to repeat it. In Kenya, however, little effort is often made to keep the memory of momentous occasions in our history alive.

The 2007 elections were traumatising. Following the disputed results, over 1,000 lives were lost and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Across the land, people still live with scars of this past.

About half a century ago in Kisumu, security agencies opened fire and killed many citizens. The stand-off between the founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, and the founding Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, scarred many who attended the official commissioning of a hospital in the lake-side city.

However, if one lives in Kenya, it is often as if these never happened. We seem to take pride in wiping off history, clearing up our hard discs, and behaving as if nothing happened.

But we seek to forget not only these traumatising occasions, which clearly ended in shame. As a nation, it almost appears that there is no deliberate effort to keep our memories alive. Our liberal predisposition subjects every incident in the past to revisionist history.

Our propensity is to debate how the events occurred, who the critical players were, what the outcomes were and so on. For instance, the history of Mau Mau is a hotly debated one at the best of times.

Through this rigorous debate, we have mired October 10 and 20, and today, the average citizen is just happy it is a holiday, but what is being commemorated is hazy. What holidays were they again? Now, we commemorate Heroes Day. As expected, the identity of the heroes is another fiercely contested one.

When the late President John Magufuli scrapped Independence Day celebrations in Tanzania and ordered the money to be spent on other projects, there were nods of approval. It is such small steps, seemingly rational, that we begin to lose the bigger picture. Who are we as a country, and what is our story?

Here in Kenya, we disdain subjects that draw our attention to these pasts. Our museums are neglected, our archives are abandoned monuments, and our libraries are seldom visited.

Leaders and those with stakes in shaping these events to their liking must shoulder some blame. Rewriting history distorts the past and cheats the present by falsifying facts.

Rwanda is showing us that history is important. If we do not make an effort to remember, then we will not be able to explain the past, and we lose the way.

—The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

More on Opinion