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Edouard Bamporiki, a filmmaker, has been in the news for the past few days over an initiative he, together with fellow youth, has been running to nurture true reconciliation in the country based on trust. While meeting The New Times’ Felly Kimenyi, the 30-year-old gave a glimpse into the nature of his activity. Excerpts;

Bamporiki talking to New Times

Who is Edouard Bamporiki?

I prefer to identify myself as a filmmaker. I write poems, I do theatre, I write books, and I am currently pursuing my law degree. I have also done a course in peace building and conflict resolution in the US.

It is said the just-concluded YouthConnekt dialogue that covered at least 15 districts was your initiative, is that so?

That is true, but it was not entirely my initiative as an individual. We are a group; we have an organisation called Art for Peace. The general idea started in 2006 after I gave my first testimony during the Genocide commemoration; I continued giving my testimonies on similar events.

During these sessions, I would meet many people, fellow youth who would be inspired by my message and my movies, and poems. I met friends, young Hutus and young Tutsis, those who were born in the country and those born in exile.

We would debate candidly on the issues pertaining to our backgrounds, and through this, we were getting healed gradually and we became great friends. We decided to make it a point to share our healing story across the nation and that is how we began planning for the youth dialogue because we realised this is what was lacking.

YouthConnekt, therefore, came into existence to build trust among the Rwandan youth, cognisant of our backgrounds

What is your personal story during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi?

I got to know that I’m Hutu when I was nine years old. It was a kind of homework from our teacher who told us to ask our parents about our ethnicity. When I got home, I asked my mother, she said I was Hutu, at that time, my father had already passed on.

When I got back to school because we were all required to loudly give our answers, we realised we only had six Tutsi children in my class, we remained friends until the Genocide.

During the Genocide, we were in holidays and I had been admitted to Kibogora Hospital (in then Cyangugu Prefecture) and all of a sudden I heard people being killed. When I asked my mother, she said Hutus were killing Tutsis.

I was too naive at the time that I remember stepping out and seeing the body of my teacher who had been killed, then ran and told my mother that they were not only killing Tutsis but they were also killing teachers because I didn’t know teachers belonged to any ethnic group.

When I went back to school, my Tutsi classmates had been killed and this is when I wrote my first poem, Had you not killed them, we would be laughing together. After this, I kept writing, until in 2006, when I stood up to tell my story.

To be honest, before 2006, I did not believe a Hutu could stand up during the Genocide commemoration and give testimony and I was happy when my message was accepted, and I was comforted, which gave me courage to go on. Fellow youth started coming, saying the trust I was promoting across the ethnic divide was crucial.

My argument was, for a young Hutu to step out of the shadow of what was done by our parents, we needed to openly discuss these things.

What is the ultimate goal of YouthConnekt?

I believe in dialogue. If people sit down tell their story and get to know each other better, it is easier to achieve a common goal, which, in this case, is better future for our country.

It’s important for us to know who we are and our backgrounds. For example, my paternal uncle, Gaspard, participated in the Genocide, if I sit with my colleagues and make them understand that despite the fact that my uncle killed–which he should be punished for–we still have a country to build, based on trust and the youth have a central role to play here.

By telling the truth, would you rather people identified themselves by ethnicity, rather than building a national identity?

People already know who they are deep inside, but they are trying to promote the Rwandan identity, which is good but I don’t think it matters that I told you who I’m first and who I want to become.

Much as we may not want to be identified by our ethnicity, people in the villages already know who is what. We need to understand clearly our dark history, and build a solid identity as Rwandans, but we need to build it based on truth and mutual trust. All we need to do is show Genocide survivors that, we, the youth, don’t support what was done in our name and this is what we are doing.

What happened at the closure of YouthConnekt has been interpreted in many ways. Some critics argued that government hoarded the youth in a hotel and told them to seek forgiveness on behalf of their parents against their will…

That is not true. YouthConnekt was not a government initiative, government only came in to support the youth, and it is their responsibility. Two, the youth that gathered in Serena were from different backgrounds.

We had young professionals, university students, young people from villages… and it is wrong to say the whole group was Hutu. We had survivors, we had those from mixed backgrounds, and those from Hutu families and our discussions were diverse, as you can imagine discussing issues collected from the 15 districts we toured.

The main idea was about creating on platform for dialogue. If someone wants to apologise, it is fine, but no one was pushed or will be pushed to apologise in our subsequent dialogues. Those who were in leadership during the Genocide, I am sure they know what shame they brought on to us new generation, and I’m sure they are the same people misleading the public.

One thing we can never erase from our history books is the fact that Genocide was committed by the Hutu against the Tutsi, so even those who didn’t participate, it’s a shame to us, which we need to first accept then chart a way forward.

What is your take on this issue of apologising? Does apology have a role to play in reconciliation process?

I think it is an important tool not only for reconciliation, but also for sustained nation building. My conviction is that apology redeems people. If we don’t help the young people do away with this kind of shame, whoever is willing to harm government, or Rwandans for that matter, will find it easy to manipulate them.

However, expressing the shame we feel about how the genocidairs killed people in the name of the Hutu, shouldn’t mean that those that killed should be absolved of the crime; it’s an issue of conscience that has nothing to do with the course of the law.

You have just completed the districts tour, what is the way forward for YouthConnekt? 

We are actually already in advanced stages for the second phase. This coming weekend we have a dialogue with journalists; it’s a dialogue on how better we can build the nation.

After the dialogue, we shall embark on the remaining districts and are targeting different groups. We are looking at young professionals, youth and women councils, churches and many other sectors. The second phase will end in December.

Basically, it will be the same process as we have already done, we shall be learning the country’s history, sharing testimonies and after an open discussion, we will come up with what we call the ‘Promise of a Generation’, which is basically like Imihigo for the youth. From each district, we pick 10 pledges and it is from these that we choose the best 10 to be presented by the youth at the national level.

With this kind of message you have been promoting for the past few years, has there been any kind of backlash of, say, people saying you are taking the wrong course?

I was fine in the past, between my writing of the first poem when I was 11 years old until last month. People didn’t mind about my books and the testimonies I’ve given, until the dialogue [Youth Connekt], where I think some people misinterpreted my intentions. They thought I was representing Hutus and I’m apologising on their behalf, which is wrong because whichever role I played was to create a platform where people can express their views.

I have lately been receiving calls, people are saying all sorts of things on radios but I don’t have any fear whatsoever, as long as no one is going to assault me physically.

You are running for MP seat, are you using YouthConnekt as political capital?

Yes, I’m vying to represent my people, but I won’t vote for myself; there is an electorate and if the work I am doing makes people vote for me, I will appreciate it but we should look beyond politics.

What I am sure of, this is not an undertaking I have embarked on to seek any financial gain. I’m just a citizen trying to play my part in the development of my country.

I’m primarily an artist and this alone has provided, and continues to generate income for me. Art for Peace was started by many people and I don’t think any of my colleagues want to join politics. But personally, I feel it is my right as a Rwandan to vie for this political office.

The New Times