Monday, September 6, 2010

A Short Rwandan History by Gentil Kalisa

In response to a comment on my students' blog for more info on Rwandan history, Gentil Kalisa wrote the essay found below.

Next year, Gentil and another 12th grade student of mine will be applying to the University of Tennessee-Chatanooga Honors program. The admissions faculty encouraged my supervisor to have Gentil apply after reading his essay, I Do Remember Him, which can be found on an earlier blog post. International students who are accepted to the UTC UHON program are given full tuition, room, and board for 4 years--truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these two students!!! However, federal law requires that international students have bank accounts with a sizable amount of cash on hand in case of emergency. African Learning Foundation is working on setting up trusts to enable these students to meet the federal requirement, while requiring ALF's permission to actually withdraw the funds.

Anyway, enough of the details. Here is the essay.

I’m Glad I Am!

Each country, each nation, and every people have their own history. You can have many nationalities, but it is impossible to have two natal countries. I am Rwandan but I have discovered that there is a part of my country’s history that no one is able to describe, that is impossible to be portrayed by Rwandans, and even those who know it don’t want to talk about it. I have been hearing and reading histories from other countries, but I have found that the history of my country is neither a good one, nor a simple one. I can easily understand those who don’t want to talk about it, because even I don’t like to speak of the events that occurred in April of 1994. This is because even now no one understands how the Rwandan genocide took place.

Sometimes I feel obliged to lie about my nationality, especially to white people, because they want me to explain to them what I don’t like to talk about. “Were you in Rwanda in April 1994?” This question is the one most asked by strangers, and if your answer is “Yes,” there will be a good set of endless questions.

Before the coming of colonizers, the issue of being Umutwa, Umuhutu or Umututsi, was not a problem. Someone was qualified rich or poor according to how many cows he owned. I could be called Umututsi because I had many cows, Umuhutu because I owned few cows and Umutwa because I had no cow. When colonizers came, they associated themselves with Tutsi because they were well-considered in Rwandan society. While living with Tutsi, colonizers transmitted their new innovations and creations so the clan of Tutsi became stronger and stronger.

When colonizers arrived in Rwanda, they found it very different from what they thought it would be. They wanted to dominate over Rwandans, but this was not possible as long as my people were well organized. The colonizers had no choice but to “Divide and Rule.” The ideology they devised was to show Rwandans that there were many points to consider regarding our innate differences, such as the length of our noses and how short or tall we are. Those strangers lied to my people and the cord that bound us together was broken. That was the beginning of hostilities through every Rwandan’s heart. That was when their dark ways began. Tutsi were killed by Hutu in 1969, 1973 and finally during the genocide of 1994, which took around one million of Tutsi in only one hundred days.

Even though a large number of my people were killed, something makes me proud in this story: The 1994 Rwandan genocide was committed against Rwandans, by Rwandans, but it was also stopped by Rwandans. A group of Rwandan refugees in neighboring countries organized themselves and decided to stop the killing. In 1990, the RDF Inkotanyi, with their leader Major General Fred Gisa Rwigema, started the long way with peaceful negotiations. A peaceful solution was not possible so they felt obliged to start a war that they were not sure to finish. After a short time, Gisa passed away and Paul Kagame, another Rwandan refugee from a United States university, became the leader of RDF Inkotanyi. The war of liberation was fought mainly by young people known in Swahili as Kadogos. The war lasted about four years. When the RDF started the war, there were Tutsi killed in some regions of the country, but the largest number of Tutsi were killed in April, May and June of 1994, after the death of the President of the Republic, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, who died in an airplane crash on April 7th.

According to many reports by Romeo Dalaire, a chief in command of French soldiers from the UN, there were few to stop the genocide. Even Paris could have helped the Tutsi with no huge effort because they were good friends with Kigali. The friendship was maintained, which is why French soldiers became teachers of Interahamwe, a group of Hutu militants with only one mission “Exterminate all Tutsi.” French soldiers trained the Interahamwe how to cut off Tutsi heads, or snacks, as they used to say. Even now, each year around April there are endless debates between Paris and Kigali, regarding the part that the French played in perpetuating the genocide.

This story might be shorter than the history of your country, but it is much harder to understand. You may even have your own true comments about this genocide, but all I will always be sure of is that the true story lies inside Rwandans hearts, minds, and hands, but not on their lips. After all, the past made me who I am now and only what I am doing now can make me different in the future. A few years ago, I was ashamed to be called Rwandan, but now my nationality is a source of pride. This is due to the long distance we have traveled in the past sixteen years. No matter how tall or short I am, despite the shape of my nose, I feel free like the wind. I feel satisfied and proud of the achievements of my country, hoping for a better tomorrow. I feel proud of what I am.

Gentil Kalisa
Ecole des Sciences de Musanze
Senior 6-PCM

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