You’ve no doubt heard about it: “If you want to hide something from a Munyarwanda, write it.” Personally, I have never subscribed to this assertion by some cynical commentator, which was aimed at explaining how Rwandans are averse to the written word.
I know Rwandans are as good as anybody at reading, and interested researchers should rather focus their attention on the availability and cost of reading material. And, in fact, somebody proved the allegation wrong when they confronted me in an e-mail, over my writings last week.
I seem to have given the wrong impression that I didn’t mind about Catholic priests sexually abusing small boys in USA. On the contrary, though, my intention was to condemn all abuses perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy, in any part of the world, in the strongest terms possible.
Only in the case of Rwanda, these abuses were so widespread and so varied, especially during the colonial era, that His Holiness the Pope will be hard-put to find which abuse merits urgent atonement, when – not if! – he finally comes for that long-overdue mea-culpa.
Symbolically, as I said, sexual abuse of small boys by Catholic priests is like ‘abuse’ in the Kinyarwanda culture, which is harmless because it is only verbal. This was because the Rwandan kids had been conditioned to despise themselves so much that they took the abuse to be a privilege.
The act of making the youth lose their self-worth is itself an abuse of such magnitude as to make sexual abuse pale in comparison. And yet, again, the bigger abuse is that this loss of self-worth has been so much imbedded in the psyche of Rwandans that none can dare openly rise and voice their protests, even today.
The significance of going in the open as sex abuse victims and protesting will be appreciated when one remembers the American case. Many American victims of such abuse laid siege at the Vatican practically everyday before the pontiff owned up to the misconduct of his prelates.
Which may be why the pontiff finally relented, and apologised. The case of Rwanda, however, raises many dilemmas, one being: who is a victim, who isn’t? In colonial Rwanda, schools were almost exclusively Catholic, and the number of schools that belonged to any other religion was negligible.
Yet in these schools, Catholic prelates taught Banyarwanda children that they belonged to different races. More than any of the other of the numerous abuses, this was probably among the gravest, because it affected many generations.
It was inculcated in these young Banyarwanda that the Batwa were the indigenous ‘race’, and therefore had right to the land, and the Bahutu had right to the land by virtue of their long occupancy of this part of Africa, and as a majority ‘race’.
As for the Batutsi, they were described as an invading ‘race’ from Ethiopia, descendants of the Biblical Ham. Meanwhile, a parallel induction was going on among the adult Banyarwanda, carried out by the priests in churches and by the colonial administrators outside churches.
This divisive campaign, more than the other serious abuses of sex assaults by priests and the forced labour imposed by the Catholic Church and the administrative authority, was among the biggest abuses to all Rwandans. It brought Rwanda to her knees in 1959, and sent her to her grave in 1994.
That is why it should be understood clearly that even if the Rwanda genocide ended in 1994, it actually began on the advent of Belgian colonialism, with the launch of the divisive operation. From then, it had different picks of its manifestation, especially in 1959, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1973, 1993, until its culmination in 1994.
The gigantic, dark hand of the Catholic Church always bobbed up its ‘head’ wherever there was an ocean of Tutsi blood during these pogroms. The master-planner, architect and executioner of this Tutsi elimination drive was the ‘prelate-killer’ of all time, Arch-Bishop André Perraudin.
The late Arch-Bishop Perraudin is most notoriously remembered for his pastoral letter of 1959, when he was head of the Catholic Church in Rwanda. The letter urged Rwandans to get rid of the Tutsi as a tyrannical ‘race’, and was distributed in all churches as the operative manual.
He set out to consolidate his racist teachings by actively helping to institutionalise ethnicism, exclusion and the reign of terror. He actively participated in forming Hutu political parties like PARMEHU and APROSOMA, whose sole mission was annihilation of the Tutsis, and from which sprang today’s infamous INTERAHAMWE.
The concerted activities of his colonial kith and his converted Banyarwanda resulted in what was dubbed an “assisted revolution” in 1959, in which Tutsi houses were torched and thousands of Batutsi were systematically and brutally murdered. Over one million were sent scampering for refuge outside the country, while those who remained behind were subjected to periodic, state-inspired slaughter.
For his pains, Arch-Bishop Perraudin was assimilated into the ranks of PARMEHUTU and was praised and honoured in political songs as a hero and defender of the Hutu cause. The Kayibanda exclusionist regime, successor to the colonial rule, adopted him as “umubyeyi” (mother figure), whom they turned to for council and guidance.
When Habyarimana Juvenal toppled Kayibanda Grégoire in 1873, and formed the so-called second republic, he adopted Perraudin as his closest confidant. On 16th August 1981, he even decorated him with the Order of Commander of the Revolution, and as Grand Officer of the National Order of the Revolution on 16th August 1987.
The Swiss Arch-Bishop Perraudin André, as head of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, was part and parcel of the killer systems of Kayibanda and Habyarimana. His successor and faithful follower, the Rwandan Arch-Bishop Nsengiyumva André, did not betray the cause of his mentor, either, having been a leading member of the MRND, the successor architect-party of the Rwanda genocide.
If these heinous acts of the erstwhile representatives of the Holy See in Rwanda cannot prick the conscience of Pope Benedict XVI, surely his predecessor’s words to Perraudin should. On his visit to Rwanda in 1990, Pope Paul VI personally addressed Rwandans thus, in reference to Perraudin: “He remains for me the ultimate symbol of a missionary bishop.”
Maybe only our compatriots in Switzerland were able to give Perraudin an appropriate parting gift, just before his death, due to old age: a well-packaged bundle of human excrement!