It is heart-rending to note that although it was one of Cameroon’s illustrious sons, Barrister Bernard Acho Muna, who was charged with piloting the justice, reconciliation, and reconstruction phase of Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide, as Lead Prosecutor at the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, in Arusha-Tanzania; and who helped in redefining to the world what genocide and war crimes in the case of the conflict pitting majority Hutus against minority Tutsis was; he was seen at the start of the conflict in Bamenda in 2016, urging youths bubbling with anger in front of the Governor’s Office, to fight for their rights, when he himself at the ICTR, was at the forefront of sentencing military and civilian leaders in Rwanda to death and life imprisonment for aiding and encouraging youths to fight and kill fellow Rwandans, a trigger that resulted in the worse deadly conflict the world has ever recorded.
There’s no doubt that Rwanda and Cameroon share some historical and socio-cultural elements together that led to some of the real or perceived injustices since independence in 1994, leading to one group revolting against another.
While a marked difference could be that Southern Cameroonians enjoyed some form of independence before being forced to join with French Cameroon, Rwanda under the French and Belgian tutelage saw the minority industrious Tutsis provide leadership to the country until after independence in the 60s when the majority Hutus seized power and started witch-hunting Tutsis. And just like citizens of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons who started exiling themselves to foreign countries to escape persecution, so too did Tutsi Rwandans.
The lack of an institutional framework to address the boiling-over of hatred from one group against another in Rwanda led to the unspeakable genocide of 1994. When Rwanda came over it, the world never knew it could happen again in any other part of the world, until we are shocked to see it happening in Cameroon, as the world itself watches on in much the same way it watched Rwandans butcher and hack away each other in 1994.
As we reflect on these sad memories, gory pictures of a Cameroon soldier killed in battle in Santa, Cameroon, are making viral rounds on social media. Just like Tutsi Rwandans were pummeled and hacked away in the most despicable manner using crude instruments, so too was the uniform officer in Bamenda, who, after being killed, his killers went ahead to chop off his head with a cutlass. The same, unfortunately, has also been a currency on the side of government forces, with images of the brutal killing and slicing up of the body of Sam Sawyer still fresh in the peoples’ minds. Killing a fellow human being is bad enough…hacking him/her away is a worse war crime, as concluded by the late venerated Barrister Bernard Muna-ICTR.
Rwanda teaches the world, and Cameroon, in particular, that when the chips are down, there is no hiding place for all those who commit war crimes, however genuine the cause could be. Not in the Rwandan genocide situation; certainly not in the Cameroon situation. Not even a single individual, however, masked s/he could have been at the time of committing the crime, was not tracked down after the Rwandan genocide, either by the ICTR, the National courts, or simply by the local community courts.
The so-called international community that most Cameroonians seem to be looking up to may be good at assisting war-torn countries to reconcile, rebuild and move forward, but it doesn’t seem to be their business discouraging the seeding and escalation of conflicts.
In the heart of the Rwandan Genocide, when the whole Tutsi minority was about to be wiped out, the UN instead reduced its over 2,500 peace-keeping forces in Rwanda to less than 300.
Extremist Hutus then took advantage to step up the hacking away and pummeling of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Hutu women who were married to Tutsi men were encouraged to not only kill their husbands but also their own offspring. Tutsi guides at the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in Kigali would narrate to you tear-provoking stories of even women who sort refuge in Church but were all massacred by extremist fighters. Just like the Church in Southern Cameroons, the Catholic Church in Rwanda originally supported the Hutus’ quest for power and control.
As the genocide against Tutsis became unbearable, Paul Kagame, himself a Tutsi and a senior wealthy General in the Ugandan Army, decided to give up his juicy position and privileges in Uganda, to form the Patriotic Liberation Front, FPL, and come home and fight to liberate not only his Tutsi minority group but the whole of the Rwandan people.
In a few weeks, his army had overrun the capital, Kigali, and even though he was in a winner-takes-all-position, Paul Kagame, listened to the voice of wisdom and calls from the international community for a negotiated peace deal where he opted to rather become Vice President and allow a Hutu, the post of President of the Transitional Government, till elections in 2000, where he was overwhelmingly voted President. He could’ve opted to revenge the ruthless decimation of his Tutsi minority tribe, but against the wishes of the few remaining Tutsis and the larger Diaspora community, he opted for unity, peace, and reconciliation, thereby attracting the international community to come in for the rebuilding and reconciliation of all Rwandans.
It took approximately 100 days for the massacring of Rwandan Tutsis, but it has taken over 22 years of rebuilding the minds and hearts of Rwandans, talk less of destroyed infrastructure. It is approximately five good years since conflict broke out in the former UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons, also referred to as Ambazonia. How much longer shall it take to reconstruct? It seems neither Rwanda nor any of the Cameroons have the answers.
Important to note is the fact that like Rwanda in 1994, both sides to the conflict in Southern Cameroons can have the answers to when it is peacefully negotiated to an end.
Over 30,000 Hutus were formally charged to court and convicted for taking part directly or indirectly in the Rwandan genocide. Complaints about receiving orders from above, either from military or civilian leaders didn’t constitute an excuse in the Muna-led International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR. Probably, it would not be different when the time comes for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Cameroons, ICTC.
Over and above, and fortunately for the Cameroons, Rwanda and Rwandans have demonstrated in triumphant detail that there’s life after hate.
Colbert Gwain, CEO of the Colbert Factor: reflections after visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Rwanda, 25-1-2022. This article has been edited by the editorial team of Timescape Magazine and some redundant sections dropped, language readapted in some places and historical contexts adjusted.