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Nigeria decides: Lessons from Rwanda


ElectionAS a lover and avid reader of history, I have come to appreciate the role of history in any nation’s quest for greatness. Whether you love or loathe history; you cannot ignore the facts history presents to you anytime you go searching for the truth. As Nigerians decide to vote for a new leader; I have watched, read and listened to positive and negative commentaries by politicians and government officials.

And I must say that a lot of the advertorials and commentaries have been seditious and incendiary to say the least. As an avid reader and researcher (for personal knowledge) of World War 11 and Rwanda Genocides related issues; I can say that inflammatory comments by politicians are usually what ignite violence meted out by supporters. Inflammatory comments and advertorials by politicians or individuals might sound like the usual “spur of the moment speech” but the violence are usually planned, orchestrated and executed to the minutest detail.

What is synonymous with the histories of these countries; Armenia; Auschwitz in Poland; Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda? In simple English, politically laced violence which evolved into genocide.

Armenia According to the Microsoft Encarta; the Armenian Massacres were a series of deadly acts against Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, organized by government authorities in the last decades of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century. The most devastating massacres began in 1915 during World War I (1914-1918). These wartime atrocities have become known as the Armenian Genocide.

More than a million Armenians perished as a result of these actions, according to most estimates. The Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I, but sporadic attacks against its remaining Armenian subjects continued into the 1920s, as remnants of the once mighty empire struggled for survival. In 1923, the Republic of Turkey inherited what remained of the Ottoman Empire, including the legacy of the Armenian massacres and deportations.

Although an Ottoman Military Tribunal convicted members of the empire’s ruling Young Turk party for these crimes after the war, the Turkish government denied that the Ottoman government organised the massacres and disputes their characterisation as genocide. Armenians never relented on the fact that genocide against them did occur.

Though, the Turkish government denied it for close to a century but accepted her complicity in late 2014. Auschwitz (in Poland) According to Microsoft Encarta; Auschwitz, infamous complex of concentration and death camps, was run by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939-1945). The complex was located in southern Poland, outside the town of Oswiecim (which the Germans called Auschwitz), on the Wisła (Vistula) River about 50 km (30 mi) southwest of Krakow.

The complex comprised the largest of the Nazi death and concentration camps, and its name has become forever associated with genocide. Cambodia According to the Microsoft Encarta, The Khmer Rouge was a communist movement that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The regime, which was headed by Cambodian guerrilla commander Pol Pot, came to power after years of guerrilla warfare. While in power the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians, or more than one-fifth of the country’s population.

Bosnia Also, according to the Microsoft Encarta; Srebrenica is a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The town’s name means, literally, “A silver mine.” Local monuments date Srebrenica back to at least the late 14th century.

In the Middle Ages, Srebrenica was ruled by many different powers, until it became a part of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 16th century; it remained under Turkish control for almost 400 years. Srebrenica was the site of a massacre that occurred during the civil war that erupted in 1992 between Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Croats, and Serbs.

However, Bosnian Serb troops overran Srebrenica in July 1995. They rounded up and massacred about 8,000 unarmed Bosniaks— men and boys from the area— and then buried them in mass graves. After the war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord in December 1995, dozens of mass graves were discovered. One of the largest, found near Zvornik in 2003, contained the remains of about 700 victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

DNA tests have been conducted on exhumed remains as part of a UN-led effort to identify the victims. In July 2005, about 30,000 people gathered at a cemetery in Potočari, outside Srebrenica, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the massacre and properly bury the most recently identified victims. A total of about 2,000 victims had been identified.

Rwanda While I am yet to travel to Armenia; Auschwitz in Poland; Cambodia, Bosnia (and I would love to visit these countries to discover and research first hand what transpired during their difficult years); I have made visits to Rwanda. Considering what Rwanda has gone through and her present rapid development and not forgetting her detailed plans for the future; I cannot but make use of Rwanda as an example. I implore you that anytime you visit Rwanda; you have to visit a genocide memorial.

A visit enlightens your understanding of how genocides and organised violence begin and the repercussions of allowing reckless hate speeches. I would state that for every trip to Rwanda; visit a Genocide Memorial and you would see through the hate speeches and adverts that flooded our senses during the 2015 election campaigns.

A visit to a Genocide Memorial would remind you of the sacrosanct value placed on human life and how if citizens are not careful, they can get carried away by inciting speeches peddled by politicians.

My first visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial last year revealed some pertinent facts to me which are as follows. Politicians are the instigators of violence via the irresponsible hate speeches. Media houses can be a vehicle to channel hate speeches and campaigns. Violence emanating from political speeches is always never sudden but is well planned and executed using youths as foot soldiers.

Walking through the Kigali Genocide Memorial for the first time, I observed that the foregoing facts were not only peculiar to Rwanda; the Genocide Memorial has sections dedicated to the victims of World War 11 and 1 discovered the symptoms for political violence which can snowball are the same. Discussing with my Rwandan friends, I have come to realise that they have a first-hand experience of the kind of political terrain we live in. And I have an understanding of what unchecked political utterances can instigate.

Nigeria should not go through that route. It is not pretty. Let Nigerians vote for their preferred candidates and should not resort to violence if their candidates do not win. • Aina wrote from Lagos.

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  • Bello Barriga

    NIGERIANS proved all the prophets of doom WRONG. If you are a true daughter or son of Nigeria, please put your hands together and clap for yourself. According to Charles Ketting – “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that bring on progress.” Furthermore, please uncook a cold one and share a glass or two with your love one. Cheers. Nigerians want and need PROGRESS. They voted for CHANGE. Sai Baba, Sai Buhari. Nigeria saecula saeculorum.

  • New Nigerian

    Guardian I bet meant to publish this before the election was won & lost…just putting it into context. It is a lag, relevance wise to where Nigerians are today. We are happy that we voted, it counts, the election is credible and there is peace in the land from the atlantic ocean to the sahel savannah. We thank God.

  • Layree

    Well written warning for us to heed violence especially in light of foolish utterances allegedly made this week by people who should know better. These warnings are not just for these elections but to help us remain TRULY and DEEPLY united as a nation. we still the April 11 elections in 2 days.

    I’d like to connect another point made with a simmering related issue that has been stated in the past.

    The Igbos are perhaps the ethnic group that suffered the most from Nigerian civil war for obvious reasons but they have also raised claims of genocide relating to the war and several targeted mass killings of Igbos in the North. A few times in recent years I have stumbled on discourse of Igbos demanding an apology from a government as well as compensation but much more sadly for me as an avid reader of history, is the near non-existence of well circulated documentation of the Nigerian Civil war in both publication and film. Worst still, is that it’s still a topic ‘not to be discussed’ like a taboo and treated as if it never happened. Our students know far more about the history (civil wars and ethnic growth) of other countries than they know of Nigeria’s similar past.

    I daresay that until we teach and inform our youths of the price paid to enjoy the platform they have now i.e. document and teach about our civil war and other nationalistic issues swept under the carpet; until they (and we) know and understand the origin of ethnic divide they cannot fathom; until the issues sensitive to Igbos are brought to light, discussed and dealt with as a nation, it will be difficult to start the healing process. We need to seal many assumptions that developed well embedded fault-lines that have unnecessarily fractured many relationships with the Igbos over the years and will keep rearing their heads when anything from personal relationships to politics, appointments, leadership and revenue sharing is discussed.

    We need to learn from history and not forget ours.