I was a kid when it happened but already old enough to understand too well that this sort of thing isn’t an African or a Rwandan or a Hutu or a Tutsi thing.
I had just been watching it on CNN, nearly every day there was an update on how far along Bosnia was in murdering itself. Plus I was an inquisitive kid, always reading things that should have been kept beyond my reach, so I knew about Stalin’s Gulags, China’s genocides, Americans wiping out native peoples, Amin’s purges of Acholi and Langi in the army. And I was to see it again and again. Both LRA purges and Anti-LRA purges, then Kenya was set on fire…
It was clear that this thing was not ethnic or tribal or racial. It was a human thing. That is what we were like. It is always easy for us to decide to kill each other.
I grew up anxious because I knew it was always there somewhere, a flammable undercurrent beneath us just waiting for a spark.
The thing that can so easily one day turn into a machete at your neck.
And we could be going for anyone, because anyone human can be dehumanised and “othered”. The poor. The NRM government staff. Muslims. Balokolole. The rich. Indians. Mixed tribe kids. Residents of Kulambiro. Another tribe.
And you want to think that when this happens you will hide and stay out of harm’s way. You could be one of those who runs and hides. Refugees. Fleeing the crossfire. About suffering they are never wrong, the old masters. Most of us will just want out.
But this sort of thing could easily find you in spite of yourself. A small mob barges into your house and puts a knife in your hand and says those words that underscore the acts of tyrants and warmongers and demagogues all throughout history: “Either you are with us or against us.”
So you have to protect your life. Or your family. They will threaten your family. They usually do that sort of thing.
You can’t talk them out of it, you can’t appeal to their reason. You’re asking for what? Mercy? Compassion? Goodness? These guys are not being fueled by evil that can be convinced to convert to goodness. The worst evils are done by people who believe with an unshakable passion that what they are doing isgood. In their eyes, you’re the evil one for asking them to stop.
We can all love our people enough to die for them. But loving them enough to kill for them? That person you are trying to plead with already proven to himself that, in his estimation, he is better than you. You are the evil one, the traitor, the coward, the turncoat.
But it’s not as uncomplicated as good people and bad people. It’s as complicated as genocide.
That’s why Kwibuka means so much to me. It means that while we are at peace we can grow our kindness towards each other. We can love and share across the superficial differences. Eat together, dance, give hugs, miss one another, laugh and exchange the joy in each other’s hearts not in spite of our differences but in full, certain, absolute, knowledge of our sameness, that stuff that runs along the heart and is felt in the blood. Our abiding, eternal sameness.
And if the madness comes and burns? This is what Kwibuka means to me: It means that it ends. And the ashes settle, and we remember ourselves and we return to ourselves and we sit at our table and 25 years later, we don’t forget or pretend it never happened, but we can be kind to one another, see ourselves in each others eyes, and avenge those fallen by doing what should have been done instead: sharing.