ANALYSIS: ANTHONY MUKWITA
SOMEONE once said the absence of darkness is light while the absence of war is peace. Peace is the most cherished ingredient a nation can ever have.
Zambia has enjoyed doses of it since independence in 1964.
It is a priceless commodity that is often in short supply in some countries on the continent, according to studies.
It is this same peace that disappeared in Rwanda some 23 odd years ago when Rwandans of Hutu heritage killed fellow countrymen, women and children just because they belonged to another tribal grouping called Tutsis for simply not sharing the tribe or differing on opinion.
I tackled the Rwanda genocide extensively in a university paper under a unit called Media and Identity when I did my Masters at Edith Cowan University (ECU), so I can state that I’m fairly qualified to discuss the matter with some level of competence.
Therefore, seeing the President of Rwanda, General Paul Kagame, walking the walk and talking the talk in Lusaka on a state visit recently opened the floodgates of the Rwandan genocide memories back to me as if it happened yesterday.
Watching the President of the Rwandan Patriotic Front break bread and wine with his Zambian counterpart President Edgar Lungu made me believe two things.
Firstly, it takes a strong leader to steer a country away from a path of self-destruction and blood to that of growth and stability.
Secondly, there is always darkness before sunrise, in my view, is the apt summary of the bloody story of Rwanda that can never be told enough.
In the midst of the blood, the rampant raping, the bloody hacking to death with machetes and burning to the ground of huts and churches (with people in them) in a bid to eliminate Tutsis and moderate Hutus nicknamed hatefully as cockroaches by the Hutus came one man – General Paul Kagame. Basically Rwanda’s black Moses.
Today, even as the country prepares for elections set for August 2017, President Kagame looks indestructible, an image of stability that has brought peace and predictability in a country that witnessed the death of over one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days in 1994.
To date, almost half a million children remain orphaned without both parents that were killed during the swift and brutal murders, making Rwanda a case study of a path that must never be walked in recent African history.
Put crudely, 10,000 people died a day, 400 every hour, seven a minute during that dark period of time as the world watched.
The murders were coordinated by a hate media via radio mostly and the killers included teachers, priests or men of the cloth, lawyers and just about any extreme Hutu.
The root cause for the senseless bloody murders was simply that extreme Hutus felt they were getting the wrong end of the national leadership stick with the minority Tutsis controlling most of the economy and government. Hutus refused to accept that they were not in charge and chose the path of blood that brought untold mysery to the nation.
Speaking to President Lungu after his meeting with counterpart Gen Kagame, you get the sense that the Zambian leader elected twice to office of the President of Zambia in 2015 and 2016, does not want to walk the Rwanda path.
You get the sense that he takes both economic lessons and stability from Gen Kagame that has held together for more than a decade now ruling with what pundits have fondly called a firm and strong hand. He has to protect the peace of Rwanda.
“The lessons we learn from Rwanda and my colleague President Kagame are many,” President Lungu says. “We learn that as leaders, if we are not firm enough and let things get out of control, the results can be catastrophic on the general population, including children.”
By catastrophic, the President means that “innocent lives might be lost while the damage to the economy may be too costly to repair. We must strive all the time as elected leaders to maintain peace and not take our peaceful nature for granted. This includes respecting the rule of law at all costs.”
President Lungu warns that “instability and bloodletting can happen in Zambia if we are not careful as a nation and we ignore the symptoms of anarchy and despondency.
From April 6 to July 16, 1994, Rwanda was the scene of the genocide or bloodbath of Tutsi and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus and members of Akazu.
About 85,000 orphans now head own households following the deaths of both parents in the senseless genocide.
The authors of the Rwandan genocide were the Akazu people, the small house or clan of president Habyarimana, who mobilised extremist Hutu in the north.
They organised an army and coordinated groups. The interahamwe, “those that work together”, was a force recruited from the civilian population whom they armed and incited to commit bloody murders. All Hutus were called to genocide, whoever did not participate in the “job” was considered an enemy, and killed instantaneously.
The distinct and particular features of the Rwandan genocide are visible today even though the economy under Gen Kagame has made Rwanda one of the best economies in Africa boasting a virtual internet hot spot in entire Kigali.
Rwanda, in fact, exports potatoes to many countries in Africa, including Zambia, even as President Lungu and colleague Gen Kagame signed more trade agreements during his diplomacy tour to Lusaka.
In November 1994, the Security Council of the United Nations created the ICTR, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania, to look into genocide crimes.
By 2011 the ICTR had tried and sentenced 70 people only for the murder of millions.
Grisly tales are still recalled on how extreme Hutus purchased machetes from China through a firm called Chillington in Kigali.
They then wrote lists of leading Tutsi figures to kill as they launched “Radio Machete,” the Free Radio Television of Thousand Hills, in order to coordinate and incite the Hutu to “complete the job” of exterminating the “cockroach Tutsi”.
The point is that the dark page is in the past but lessons can be drawn from it by stable democracies such as Zambia that has enjoyed peace since 1964 and has had six smooth transitions and two Presidents that have conceded defeat twice – Kenneth Kaunda in 1991 and Rupiah Banda in 2011.
Even as Zambia basks in the glory of greater stability and peace under President Lungu, there are pundits that warn that peace must be given a chance all the time. It must not be taken for granted.
It is also comforting to hear President Lungu in his greater call for stability declaring that, “God is in control of Zambia but I am totally in charge of ensuring that Zambians sleep and wake up under a blanket of peace. We won’t allow those that want to disrupt our peace to flourish.”
Presidents Kaunda and Banda nevertheless remain a constant reminder of ‘true statesmanship’ in Zambia for having done the right thing – concede defeat and let democracy prevail.
The author is Charge d’Affaires at the embassy of Zambia in Sweden.