Rwanda Gen Zs combat lingering hate speech

Kigali — Hate speech fueled Rwanda’s tragic 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, resulting in the loss of around 800,000 people. Today, a new generation – including some very determined Generation Z members in Rwanda – is leading the charge to stop hate speech from spreading again and working towards a future of unity and understanding.

In a quiet dark room, Clara, a young Rwandan, tearfully confronts her mother. Born long after a genocide forced her family to flee, she seeks the truth about her roots.

Clara is a fictional character in a stage play presented by the Rwandan youth organization Peace and Love Proclaimers, or PLP.

She represents a majority of Rwandan Gen Z’s, said the group’s head, Israel Nuru Mupenzi.

Over 100 days in 1994, Hutu extremists massacred some 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in what is known today as the Rwandan Genocide against Tutsis.

Thirty years on, a new generation feels lost in a broken society, said Mupenzi.

“We were not there, but we are now facing the aftermath. We are seeing our parents and our neighbors closing doors to each other because of lack of trust. Some couples are breaking up because of that. They say, ‘My parents said they can’t, he can’t allow me to be married to that family,” said Mupenzi.

Parents haunted by the past are reluctant to share why.

“They kinda try to hide it. ‘Dad, you don’t want to talk about this? But you know you have to tell me about this so I can know what to do,” said Mupenzi.

So, they go to the internet and social media for answers. But social media influencer Noella Shyaka said the space is very unhealthy. She explained that perpetrators of the 1994 crimes fled the country and continue to use social media to spread hate.

Their goal, she said, is to radicalize the youth against each other. 

“So, we get attacked. Certain groups, they target you, they always come in your comments, they call you names, ‘Slut’ ‘Tutsis’, yeah, we are not comfortable,” said Shyaka.

Many youths are angry, according to Rwandan artist and PLP creative director Colin Kazungu. He said some youth react to these hate speeches by writing songs and poems about violence and revenge.

To help, he is using entertainment, arts, and sports to dispel the hate and also create a safe space for genocide conversation.

“Art has a way to your heart even when a speech or a president’s speech cannot go straight to your heart. But I can talk to your heart with music even before a government official gets a platform to talk to you. Because many people follow music than they follow political things,” he said.

Kazunga said the toxicity around genocide conversations drives most youths away from the topic, but through art, entertainment and other fun events, PLP has seen them re-engage.

“People are now starting to understand that we need to take part in this journey, in this journey to fight genocide ideology, in this journey to say never again, to make never again a reality,” he said.   

The Peace and Love Proclaimers together with youth artists in Rwanda continue to raise awareness through community and school engagements. They have about 60 partner schools where they organize entertainment and education events, including peace walks all year round.

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