PeaceVoice: Rwanda offers lessons in value of honest reckoning

##Wim Laven
##Wim Laven

If you ask most people my age about Rwanda, the only thing they remember is the 1994 genocide, in which up to 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered in a 100-day period.

I was 16 at the time, so my interest and understanding of politics was limited. But it was easy to see something was very wrong.

I visited Rwanda this year, arriving just in time for its Fourth of July celebration.

I’m used to the triumphant jubilee of Independence Day celebrations in the U.S., but in Rwanda, July 4 represents Liberation Day — the day in 1994 when rebel troops marched into Kigali and ended the genocide. And the contrast is so stark it’s hard to put into words.

In the U.S., many people follow the colloquial wisdom, do not speak of sex, politics or religion.

The things many hold closest to the hearts and see as the greatest reflection of their values and identities can frequently become the catalysts for great division. How many Thanksgiving dinners have been ruined by arguments and bickering over politics?

But in Rwanda, I was meeting and talking with people every day who shared their survival stories.

The horrendous experiences of cruelty were not swept under the rug or hidden. They were memorialized and actively remembered.

It would be impossible to forget, even if a person tried, because even 29 years later, the reminders were everywhere.

One memorial features a mass grave with the remains of more than 250,000 lives cut short. A church I visited is no longer used for worship, as 45,000 bodies are interred there.

Churches were a common location for massacres. It seems unthinkable, it feels gratuitous to write about the violence, but I was not educated in a country with a peace curriculum.

Light pierced the church’s corrugated metal roof like stars in the night’s sky because shrapnel from grenades had made hundreds of tiny holes. Children who were lucky enough to survive learned lessons about playing dead and smearing themselves with blood to make it look believable.

All of this was freely shared, part of a commitment to never forget.

Of course, it is uncomfortable. It would take a sociopath to find talking about genocide comfortable.

Maybe the U.S. should learn from Rwanda.

We are having political debates about Ron DeSantis’s “Slavery had some Good Points” curriculum. In the process, we are sugar-coating atrocities, war and crimes against humanity, which contributes to amnesia and denial.

I think we would all benefit from an honest appraisal of our painful past. Remembering our collective history — with all its blemishes and bloodstains — could be more than a wakeup call.

The whitewash is not just more dishonest political gaslighting. It provides cover for more malicious agendas.

After all, the 10 stages of genocide include discrimination, dehumanization and polarization before getting to persecution and extermination.

The contrast could not be more embarrassing. While Rwanda takes great pains to remember cruelty that pushes beyond the mind’s limits, the U.S. plays mental gymnastics to find the silver lining in slavery.

Can we learn a lesson in being honest about the past? Clinging to lies is not doing us any favors.

Professor Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, focuses his teaching and research on political science and conflict resolution.



Should have just called this an argument against DeSantis. Which is sad. To draw our politics into the atrocities of Rwanda is just wrong. It detracts from the important things you could tell about this horrific event. Why go THERE? It’s also wrong to twist the words (formerly known as libel) of someone and redefine the intent to fit your narrative, DeSantis never said “slavery had some good points”. What he was talking about was the fact that those slaves while being forced into labor, were being forced to develop skills to do the jobs they had to do AND those skills could be used outside of slavery. That’s not the same thing. Life is full of all kinds of learning and teaching, some of the worst moments a person has to face, can still leave you learning something you didn’t know before.

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