Guest entry by Claudine Kuradusenge 

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The following blog post is based on my personal research on Hutu Diaspora, which I interviewed in Belgium in the summer of 2014.

“Today, we are the Palestinians, the only problem is that we don’t have intifada and don’t have terrorists. Who knows, maybe they [the Rwandan government] are creating the terrorists of tomorrow,” said a concerned parent when talking about the impacts the current Tutsi government and its policies are having on the new generations of Hutu in diaspora’s communities. The Hutu identity, which in most cases has been equal to ‘perpetrators,’ not only stigmatized the majority of the Rwandan population, but it has also, in an interesting way, empowered many Hutu youth to undertake a struggle for freedom, rights of belonging to more than a legacy of genocide, and rights of victimhood.

The formation of the self and collective within Hutus in diaspora in Europe has highlighted important identity crises. The younger generations who were born in Rwanda but grew up in Europe had to struggle with who they wanted to be, what the society said they were, and their parents’ expectations. Also, the official narrative of the Tutsi government has helped crystallize the stigmas by refusing to be called victims. This narrative has encouraged the divisions within these communities and created more radical responses among the self-empowered Hutu youth.

Finally, as diaspora, the idea of homeland, Rwanda in this case, is essential in the development of their new sense of collectivism. Therefore, Hutu diaspora communities have embraced the role of watchdog and created an opposition movement aiming to bring to light abuses committed in Rwanda and aboard by President Kagame’s regime.

Damaged Identities

Seeking who we are and where we are from is part of the human nature. Yet, the sense of individual or collective identity is not as clearly defined within these communities. Many have decided to take on their host country’s identity and move on. Others have been confronted by the stigmas of their ethnic group’s labels and decided to engage in the identity struggle. They proclaimed that their ‘Hutuness’ is as important, or even more important, as any other identity that was imposed onto them.

Thus, a small group of people has been caught in an internal conflict where their identity was not only defined by what they had lost, but also by socially constructed labels. These people see themselves as ‘stateless, refugees, unwanted, and damaged.’ Their fight is not only within themselves but also with the society that has allowed President Kagame to create the dictatorship regime that has taken away their home, their loved ones, their dignity, and their pride.

The idea of damaged identity comes from the still existent legacy of genocide that has been hunting their past, present, and future. One young man portrayed the unease by saying:

“When we hear ‘Rwanda,’ we hear ‘genocide.’ I don’t think that there is a Rwandan…who is proud to hear genocide, which made them deny their heritage, their identity. When we hear ‘Hutu,’ it is even worst. People see genocidaire. If we did not commit the genocide, our parents did.”

Therefore, there is no way to escape the powerful labels that were put on ‘all’ Hutus in the aftermath of the genocide. They have caused ripple effects on the new generations that have been fighting for a personal identity in the chaotic situations they had to grow up in. Now these youth are caught in the middle of a struggle that started 20 years ago and is still ongoing.

Narratives of surviving in the Mystical Homeland

With these struggles of identity and narrative, Rwanda has taken a mystical place. Those who are old enough to remember their homeland are aware that things have changed, not always for the best. They recall a Rwanda where they were seen and considered, not labeled or stigmatized to be the ‘wrong’ kind of Rwandans. For those who have created a perception of Rwanda based on storytelling and personal research, Rwanda is the land of their ancestors; it is part of who they are and want to be. Consequently, they have undertaken the role of a guardian and done what they could to make their perceptions become reality, by being actively involved in the Rwandan politics.

Also, many have adopted a narrative of ‘surviving.’ Because their victimhood was ignored and they still cannot mourn their lost ones, they have developed ‘radical’ views and deny the term ‘genocide’ when it comes to Rwanda. Yes, mass killings happened, but politics and the law of the winner decided to label it ‘genocide’ as a way to gain power. What many agree on is that if we want to talk about genocide, we have to talk about a ‘double’ genocide in Rwanda and in DRC.

In conclusion, Hutu Diaspora communities have experienced two decades of individual and social identity transformation shaped by their chosen trauma, the stigmas of a legacy of genocide, and the dominant Tutsis stories promoted by the Rwandan government.

  • Many have emotionally struggled to find their place in the host countries. They used the words stateless, refugee, and unwanted to identify themselves.
  • The competing narratives of the 1994 genocide have shaped the perceptions of the actual events and victimized the new generations that grew up in the aftermath.
  • Rwanda has become the land to fight for even if they might not be able to go back.

Now, what we need to ask yourselves is: ‘How will the new generations of Hutus in diaspora be able to be part of the peace process in their homeland if their own sense of self was constructed on ideas of ‘us against them,’ chosen trauma, and ignored victimhood?

Claudine Kuradusenge, originally from Rwanda, is a Master’s student at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR). She is interested in post-conflict identity formation in relationship to history, memory, and competing narratives. Although her background is in communications and public relations, she has worked with refugees, international students, traumatized youth, and Diaspora’s.