By Owei Lakemfa
They were five days that began to reset the world. Days in which significant steps were taken to redress years of senseless and mind boggling genocide against hapless peoples while the rest of humanity watched unconcerned. The five days of May 27 to June 1, 2021 provided some relief, and assurance that humanity might yet throw off its garments of denial, acknowledge its gory periods and try to make peace with itself.
It began on Thursday May 27, when President Emmanuel Macron made a soul searching visit to Rwanda where he saw hundreds of skulls; all that remained of kids and the elderly, children, men and women, massacred 27 years ago in killings which France was in a position to either mitigate or prevent. They were 100 days of horrendous massacres that claimed some 850,000 lives, events in which France was complicit. After the genocide, France spent years not just assisting accused persons to escape justice, but also trying to jail some Rwandans who had resisted and stopped the massacres.
France had tremendous influence on the Rwandan Hutu leadership which it did not utilize positively to stop the massacres. It provided military training and arms to the Interahamwe, the militia which carried out the genocide. It had boots on the ground, knew as the massacres were planned, witnessed them but did not raise a finger. Even when at the close of the genocide, French troops set up the ‘Turquoise Zone’ ostensibly to prevent further massacres within the zone, it turned out to be a means of assisting Hutus implicated in the genocide to escape into Zaire (now, Democratic Republic of Congo) and thereby evade justice.
Macron in Kigali, accepted that France was aware of the impending genocide and has in the past 27 years, “valued silence over examination of the truth”.
Speaking at the genocide Kigali Gisozi memorial where more than 250,000 victims are buried, Macron said: “I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognise the extent of our responsibilities.”
He claimed that: “The killers who stalked the swamps, the hills, the churches, did not have the face of France. France was not an accomplice…France did not understand that by wanting to block a regional conflict or a civil war, it stood de facto by a genocidal regime. By doing so, it endorsed an overwhelming responsibility.”
The day after Macron stood in Kigali trying to come to terms with his country’s sordid acts of omission and commission in the Rwanda genocide, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued a statement acknowledging the genocide his country carried out in Namibia 117 years ago. The annihilation which took place over four years from 1904, was the first genocide in the 20th Century. It was one in which the colonial German Army wiped out 65,000 of the 80,000 indigenous Herero people and over 10,000 or fifty per-cent of the Nama people they colonised.
German soldiers executed many Namibians and forced thousands at gun point into the Kalahari Desert with no food or water while the Germans had poisoned waterholes 240 kilometres into the desert. Thousands were forced into concentration camps where they were tortured, starved or worked to death. The Germans also used many Namibians as guinea pigs for experiments to work towards their preconceived ‘scientific claims’ that Blacks are inferior to White people. In furthering these criminal researches, the Germans transported 3,000 of the skulls to Germany for further research.
Last week Friday, Germany acknowledge its genocide against the Namibian people and offered $1.3 billion as a “gesture of recognition for immeasurable suffering.”
Minister Maas in announcing this on behalf of the German people said: “It was, and continues to be, our aim to find a common path towards real reconciliation in the memory of the victims. This requires us to be unreserved and unflinching in naming the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia, and especially the atrocities of the period 1904 to 1908. We will from now on officially call these events what they are from a contemporary perspective: a genocide.”
That same May 28, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his own regrets about the genocide against the indigenous Indian population. That day, the remains of 215 Indian children, some as young as three, were discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. A ground-penetrating radar specialist had helped to uncover the remains in the school which had been shut in 1978. This discovery, Trudeau wrote: “breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history”.
Before this latest discovery, 4,100 children had died or been killed while attending these residential schools where indigenous children were brainwashed to forget their ancestry.
This Tuesday, June 1, the United States of America which styles itself ‘God’s Own Country’ acknowledged for the first time in the last one century, the massacre of African Americans living in the Black Greenwood community district in Tusla, Oklahoma.
In the two days of May 31 and June 1, 1921, White residents armed by city officials using guns, clubs and aircraft, pulverized the district killing at least 300 Black people, and injuring about 800. The White establishment then cleared the corpses, buried them in unmarked places so there would be no visible graves. It also detained many Blacks and intimidated the victims into silence. So for generations, the massacre was merely whispered and denied.
It did not surface in national discourse until the whispers became louder in the 1990s. In the mid-1990s, Oklahoma State set up a commission to verify if such a massacre ever took place. The Commission report was positive with survivors coming out to testify, and names of verifiable victims complied.
It was not until October 19, 2020 the state began excavating four possible secret burial sites. These led to this Tuesday’s official acknowledgement of the Tusla Massacre by President Joe Biden on behalf of the American people.
Biden who said he had “come to fill the silence” about the massacre, told his audience: “Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try. Only with truth can come healing.”
Biden speaking on decades of concealment and denials, said: “Just because history is silent, it does not mean that it did not take place…hell was unleashed, literal hell was unleashed.” “We can’t just choose what we want to know, and not what we should know. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen.”
There remain across the world, scores of genocide cases in which the perpetrators, apologists and their heirs still need to come out clean.