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‘I was once a Tutsi. Now I am only Rwandan’

  • Published at 02:21 am August 9th, 2019
Rwanda-Dhaka Tribune
Rurangwa Longin Dhaka Tribune

As we travelled through the Rwandan capital, Longin, who appeared to be in his late 40s and spoke English well, was happy to answer our questions about his country, which had made world headlines for all the wrong reasons

When a pair of journalists asked for a taxi at the Serena Hotel in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, taxi driver Rurangwa Longin answered the call. 

This correspondent and Zillur Rahman, anchor of Tritiya Matra, were in the North African country to attend the recently held Kigali Global Dialogue. Following the dialogue, which intended to highlight the potential of Africa, especially Rwanda, we had asked for a taxi tour to get a feel for the city.

As we travelled through the Rwandan capital, Longin, who appeared to be in his late 40s and spoke English well, was happy to answer our questions about his country, which had made world headlines for all the wrong reasons.

However, there was one question which he was reluctant to answer: when we asked whether he belonged to the Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa community.

Rwanda used to have three major ethnic groups – Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. All citizens of the country used to be identified in accordance these ethnicities, a mechanism introduced by Belgium, which had colonized the African nation.

From April to July 1994, the government, led by Hutus, and its militias massacred more than a million of Tutsis and one third of Twa population. About 70% of the Tutsi population was wiped out. Modern history had not witnessed the slaughter of so many people in such a short time.

On July 4, 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Force led by current President Paul Kagame, a retired general, defeated the Hutu government forces and militias, liberating the country. Since then, July 4 has been celebrated as the Liberation Day of Rwanda.

Following the liberation of Rwanda, which is home to 11 million people in an area one-fifth the size of Bangladesh, there were international and domestic trials to hold the perpetrators of the genocide to account, and many were punished.

Subsequently, the Rwandan leadership realized there was no choice other than reconciliation for the advancement of the nation. As a result, the leadership and Kagame, himself a Tutsi, began the process of reconciliation by abolishing the identification by ethnicity that had been introduced by Belgium. 

Now, every citizen of the country identifies themselves as a Rwandan, regardless of how easy it may be to tell their ethnicity from their appearance. 

During the five-day stay in the beautiful African country, this correspondent interacted with quite a few people, but was unable to learn from them which ethnicity they belonged to. It has become a kind of law to not to identify oneself as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. Taxi man Longin was no exception, intent on following the excellent decision by the Rwandan leadership.

As we pressed further, unsatisfied by his answer that he was “just a Rwandan,” Longin said: “Well, I was once a Tutsi. But now I am a Rwandan. We no longer talk about Hutus, Tutsis or Twas. We have been able to get past those horrific memories of long ago. Nowadays, our only identity is Rwandan.”

When asked why they do not talk about the memories of 1994, Longin said: “Memories that offer nothing but pain are not worth discussing.”

In response to a question on why reconciliation was not possible before the deaths of more than a million, Longin said: “Perhaps, this was the price we had to pay for peace and harmony. 

When asked how he could forgive those who wished to wipe out his entire community, Longin said: “At one stage, you have to learn to forgive for the greater interest of the entire country.”

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