Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation Ambassador Liberata Mulamula was spot on when she appealed for the arrest of all suspects who are yet to face justice for their roles in the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Speaking at the 28th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi on April 7, 2022, in Dar es Salaam, Mulamula said prosecuting the suspects was one of the strong measures to prevent impunity and the recurrence of the genocide.
“Tanzania reaffirms its unwavering commitment to ensuring that all suspects are brought to justice in accordance with international law,” she said. That such a statement should come from Tanzania, a country that has been at the centre stage of serving justice to genocide suspects, is encouraging.
Tanzania hosted the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) till its closure in December 2015 and continues to host the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunal.
But Mulamula’s statement also highlights the fact that the international community still fails to take collective responsibility and play its part to ensure justice is served for genocide victims.
It’s possible that Mulamula’s words have already gone with the wind and life has already returned to normal in Tanzania as the UN staff, the diplomatic corps and other sympathizers look to joining Rwandans for another commemoration next year.
But it’s disconcerting that 28 years after the genocide appeals should still be sent for the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators.
The sad truth is that quite a good number of genocide fugitives (about 889) are in neighbouring countries including Tanzania, according to the Rwanda-based Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit (GFTU). The EAC countries, the new entrant Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) included, harbour 787 fugitives.
Tanzania hosts fugitives
Ambassador Mulamula fell short of explaining what exactly the Tanzanian government was doing to hunt and arrest 52 genocide fugitives that are hiding in the country.
As far as hunting fugitives is concerned detractors could easily claim that the fact that 77 years after the end of the second major European war, popularly known as World War II, some Holocaust perpetrators are still at large is an indication that it is difficult to bring to justice all genocide culprits.
But it is should be noted that the two, the Genocide against the Tutsi and the Holocaust took place in different contexts. While in the former the perpetrators were victims’ concitoyens and the genocide took place inside the native country, in the latter the victims were living in adopted countries far away from the motherland.
This made the tracking of perpetrators who dispersed throughout the world somehow difficult. In fact, in the case of the Holocaust, it was only after the end of the cold war that the united Germany reaffirmed its commitment and made efforts to bring to justice the culprits.
Besides, the failure of various nations to play their part and arrest Holocaust fugitives hiding in their countries should not be an excuse for Tanzania and other African countries to do the same.
What Tanzania and other African countries fail to understand is that hunting down genocide fugitives and bringing them to justice is not doing a favour to the government of Rwanda.
It is essential for the respective countries’ own sake. The possible occurrence of genocide is a constant threat to every country. The young and less dynamic nations of Africa are the most vulnerable. Societies within most countries in the continent, Tanzania included, did not evolve naturally.
They remain a collection of ethnic and religious groups that were forced to belong to a specific country by colonialists at the stroke of a pen in the Berlin conference in 1884/85. The result was states that were ethnically, culturally, socially and even economically incompatible.
Dangerous ethnicity in Africa
It is no wonder that more than 60 years the after the independence of most African countries many people still identify themselves more strongly (and usually negatively) by tribe and religion.
It is understandable that diversity is essential for the growth of any nation but in Africa ethnicity and religion have been negatively exploited by corrupt and selfish politicians, especially during elections.
Tanzania is not immune to that as experience has shown. The founding President Julius Nyerere warned repeatedly before his death about the resurgence of tribalism in Tanzania.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan also repeated that warning when she cautioned on April 9, 2022, about the erosion of the foundations of unity and solidarity that Nyerere and his colleagues worked so hard to build.
In March 2013, the then Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba said her organization had documented incidents that showed Tanzania was heading towards the first stages of genocide.
Ten years have passed without any follow-up report, which makes it difficult to know how the country is fairing. But it is unfortunate to mention that, by design or by default, there are always ‘genocidaires’ lurking underground in every country.
They are just waiting for the right moment to strike. That is the reality of life. The seed of the hate, discrimination and victimization of the other is always hovering near people’s hearts waiting to germinate and take root.
When governments fail to hunt down and arrest culprits of a genocide that happened in another country it sends a wrong, dangerous message to the potential and domestic genocidaires.
And as Ambassador Mulamula rightly said, prosecuting the suspects of the genocide against the Tutsi helps prevent the recurrence of the genocide not only in Rwanda but also in other countries as well.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.