Opinion piece submitted by Lionel Nishimwe
Zambia has been and continues to be a haven of peace and a sanctuary for many Rwandan refugees and nationals. Some of us were trained in Zambia and everything we are is a result of the hospitality that was extended to us by the good people of Zambia since we arrived in Zambia years ago.
We see Zambians as our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, and the feeling is mutual in many instances for they have facilitated our local integration and they seemed not to be bothered by our presence until recently.
As Rwandans all over the world remember their loved ones who perished twenty-two years ago during this month of April 2016, refugees and former refugees in Zambia have been the victims of xenophobic events that were inspired by nothing but “rumours”.
Are Rwandans ritual killers?
Rumour has it that Rwandan nationals in Lusaka have been killing innocent Zambian citizens in attempts to enrich themselves. This rumour was driven by poor logic which could be a result of sheer misunderstanding and lack of better judgment.
Culturally, sorcery is considered to be “taboo” in Rwanda and for the most part Rwandans tend to be religious and indulging in ritual killings could be possible but remain highly unlikely. First of all, most of us have christian first names and our history can attest to one fact: we tend to believe in religion more than most Africans. Actually, Rwanda’s first Head of State was a former seminarian who trained to be a priest but changed courses to pursue politics. We might not be a christian nation by denomination but our people are religious in most cases and believe they survived many tragedies by the grace of God.
Rwandans, more than any other people understand the importance of God due to what befell Rwanda in the year 1994. If anything, the Church helped most of us to reach this far and one can tell from our recent conduct. Most Rwandan refugees who lost their property and lives in Zambia fled to the Roman Catholic Parish St. Ignatius to seek help and in hope that they would be protected. God is and has always been our refuge. Even in 1994 as events were intensifying in Rwanda, most of our people sought shelter from churches where they were massacred but still that did not stop them from believing that in one way or another, some celestial force was in control. With the forestated being the case, the rumour that was spread was misplaced and must be condemned with the contempt it deserves.
Is the Kigali government involved?
I am a staunch Refugee Activist but on this issue, the Rwandan High Commission in Lusaka has been more than helpful. Former Rwandan refugees who fled to the Rwandan High Commission in Lusaka were welcomed and helped and the evidence on the ground is that in many cases, the personnel in charge of intelligence there was very instrumental in identifying areas which were prone to attacks and shared intelligence with Zambian security wings that led to the protection of lives of some Rwandan nationals and refugees as well as their valuable goods and property. With that being said, it is rather unfair to place every blame on the Kigali regime as some have done, even where it is clear that they have done nothing but help and mitigate the losses where possible.
Incidentally, at this point Rwandans needed to be safe from the xenophobic attacks and resorting to the Embassy of the country they fled from was a desperate move but to say the least, the ones who have been interviewed so far have nothing negative to say about their stay there. A rare trend but it is the truth. Now more than ever, let us unite and find solutions to our core problem rather than shifting blame where it is not even necessary.
The Zambian economy and tribalism
It is not in dispute that since last year things in Zambia have not been so great. Some external factors such as low demand of copper on the international market sporadically led to the depreciation of the Zambian currency against the dollar and that inadvertently affected the Zambian Economy. Companies closed, workers were laid off, inflation rose to over twenty percent, a wage freeze was introduced, and the cost of living became unbearable in Lusaka.
Everyone was affected but businessmen in general did not suffer much. Rwandan traders operating mainly in Lusaka Compounds (High Density Areas) increased prices on their products, which could not have been well received by the locals whose salaries remained intact.
Coupled with the recent tribal attacks amongst Zambians and other internal politics, the animosity towards foreigners developed at a fast rate. Ordinary people in these compounds began seeing these traders as invaders who were stealing their jobs and were waiting for an excuse to take the law into their own hands, and to rule out jealousy as a factor in the matter would be a naïve endeavour.
The ritual killings just made their plan easy to implement for so far, there is no evidence linking Rwandan nationals to these criminal activities other than propaganda. The small cars Rwandan refugees had started purchasing could also have been a catalyst, but everything is premised on the struggling Zambian economy. It can be seen by the kind of goods these criminal elements who attacked Rwandans were targeting, essential commodities needed for daily survival. Otherwise, Zambians are a good people who could just be acting out of frustration – which is normal in any society albeit undesirable.
Zambia is a peaceful nation. We ran away from our respective countries as a result of unbearable circumstances similar to these recent atrocities. All we want is to see another day to pursue happiness. We want to survive, and killing innocent Zambians is not in our interest to our stay in this lovely country. We thank the Zambian Government (President Lungu and Father Chilinda in particular) for giving us hope that we will see a better day. We thank everyone who helped our people and pray that things do get better for most affected Rwandan refugees and former ones have been traumatised. Let us stop sinking so low by believing in unfounded rumours and let the security wings do their job.