Kwibuka: an annual event that commemorates the lives of the people of the Tutsi minority group that were lost in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 is a Kinyarwandan language meaning “remember.” It creates an opportunity for the nationals of Rwanda to come together wherever they are, worldwide, to commemorate, remember and commit to their united future as Rwandans. While the Rwandan community remembers this gruesome event in the country’s history, the slogan, “never again” which is an underlying theme that gains prominence throughout the event is meant to remind and foster unity amongst Rwandans. In a nutshell, this means that they are coming together as Rwandans to remember the past, acknowledge how far they have come from the healing of the trauma of the past and dedicate their unwavering commitment towards the unity of their country for the future. My interactions with Rwandans in recent years have been one that continues to inspire me daily, and I wish countries like my home country, Nigeria can learn from the genuine identity they carry in their patriotism.
Tribalism was the bane and root cause of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. While going through their healing process in the early days of the post-genocide period, structures like the Gacaca court was created with the sole aim of convicting the perpetrators as well as encouraging the families of the victims to create a small room in their hearts for forgiveness– hearts that were already filled with anger and hatred and rightly so. While the horrors of 1994 still remain justifiably entrenched in the hearts of the old ones who survived the genocide, the country together with its young has come a long way in fighting really hard to ensure that something bearing a resemblance of the events of 1994 never repeats itself. This is why asking a Rwandan if they are of a particular tribe or the other is a question that lacks meaning and significance to them and it is seen as an insult upon injury. All of my Rwandan friends never for once say they are of this tribe or the other; they all identify as Rwandans. Period! The case of Rwanda was a bleak one in the 1990s but today, Rwanda has learnt lessons from the past and as a result, they have been able to create a formidable national identity which the rest of Africa and indeed, some parts of the world can learn from.
In many African countries today, tribalism is a part of the root cause of our problems, hence, why nepotism and favouritism remain constant in some of our societies. For example, if one is evaluating applicants for a job, why should their surname be of significance to the level of their competence? In parts of Nigeria today, we still identify as Igbos, Yorubas and Hausas which has led us farther from the core of our existence as Nigerians, thus, glorifying our tribes over our nation. I am not saying we should let go of all our traditions and culture but we can well maintain some of these without injuring our national identity. The same goes for many other African countries who give more value to their tribes as opposed to their country. While it can be argued that many of these countries never existed before colonialism, my question to this argument would be: now that we have been brought together through colonialism, what must happen? We can either remain to be one and fight for this “colonial,” national, identity or pretend like we can rid ourselves of our “colonial” identity by uplifting tribes over our country which is an illusion in itself.
While chatting about this on Friday, someone said they felt like holding Kwibuka everywhere is not fair for other African countries who have experienced something similar in their past as well. They said, “if Kwibuka is happening everywhere where Rwandans are, then we should also remember the Nigerian Civil War as well as a host of other unfortunate, memorable events in the history of this continent.” However, my answer to this is that Nigeria and many other African countries haven’t built a solid national identity yet which is why we are divided and why we never see the importance of remembering the people that died in the 1967-70 Biafran war in Nigeria. Why? Maybe because the people in question (the Igbos) were and are still a minority group in Nigeria, population-wise. This is why some of the Igbos till this day, want to secede from the country. For us to remember events like that, we need to have a strong sense of national identity just like Rwanda. This is why Kwibuka has gained huge popularity on this continent and across the world. Wherever Rwandans are this weekend, Kwibuka is happening- just look around in your own locality if there are Rwandans there. That is what happens when you are well aligned with the identity that has been built by your country over the years.
The biggest lesson from Rwandans and their annual celebration of Kwibuka is that for us to thrive nationally, we need to define what being Nigerian, Cameroonian, Togolese means for our countries. This can be looking past the genocide into the future for a more united country like Rwanda or for Nigeria: looking over and above one’s tribe to embracing the national identity that we have been given by birth. This, of course, is yet to be achieved in Nigeria. While the whole concept of national identity can be seen as utopian for a country like Nigeria, I’m sure it looked like that for Rwanda in the 1990s but here they are today, 25 years on, marching forward and upwards. For us to begin to cure the ills of our societies, we need to embrace each other and realize that we belong to one country first, before any other personality or trait that divide us. But when we embrace our national identity wholeheartedly like Rwandans, can there be any other trait that’ll divide us really? Think about it.