It is imperative to subject Genocide’s Child, Dele Olojede’s Pulitzer winning story to metaphysics, psychoanalytic reading and a newer, pro-life criticism. Unlike The Diary of Anne Frank and The Story of Von Trap Family that has become an epic film The Sounds of Music, Genocide Child turns out to be a curiously horrid story of an evil time. Not nuclear warheads, not chemical or biological weapons but ordinary machetes, 2 feet long and 2kg by weight, imported en masse from the People’s Republic of China were the weapons of mass destruction, which brought the Rwandan rivers of blood into being. The UN, and the self-appointed police of the world could only foot-drag over intervention. They never did. The resulting close to one million deaths remains a permanent skull hung on the conscience of the world.
Untypical for a report, is the sleek, subtle vocabulary, breezily creative. Olojede’s inventive restlessness is in the lexical choices deployed like the materials of a supple prose. At times, the boldness and virtuosity of his phrases intoxicate and the cadence, a thing of beauty. But surprisingly, their effects end with the second section of the story. Genocide’s Child is hence distinguished more by its content rather than the virtuosity that do not follow the story till the end.
The story pivots around the contradictions implied in living with an impossible memory. Aphoncina Mutuze, then a girl of 20 years was gang raped during the genocide. What is still worse, she lost all her brothers and sisters and parents. Her consciousness is pending between the nastiness of life and the meanness of death. She carries in the self a tomb. Life to her no longer has meaning and she has a shallow opinion of life and a low sense of self-opinion. Her son, Gervais Tuyishime, outcome of rape or her sex slavery is not only a subject of phantasmatic identification but a mnemonic presence within her self which aids the reconstitution of the images, ignominy and feelings of that traumatic incident, but at the same time breaks them down. “This child is not mine. I could not imagine how I would nurse this child.” Mummy sees her son as a tumour and wants to subtract him from life: “I wanted to kill this child. I looked at him and I wanted to kill him. I beat him even when I was still nursing him. I beat him even now. At times, I try to WILL myself not to beat him anymore (my emphasis. Comment, in a moment). I tell myself he is the only relative in the world I have. So yes sometimes I feel I am his mother.”
She is not serious. And Olojede too does not help matters. Deconstructing this story reveals that at the age of 20 before the incident happened, Aphoncina Mutuze was psychologically immature and superficial – Still is. And gone worse – in the metaphysics of life, of the self and the relationship between the two. Her son is much more mature than her. Unquestionably, if it were the son as a she that had this ghastly episode, he would have handled it much better. Gang rape is a barbarous crime, no doubts. It vandalizes the psyche of its survivors. They are subjected to a memory that must live with them to the end. Ethics will frown nevertheless, at why in the presence of a journalist, for days more than one, a mother would reveal the details of how she was raped in open day light, her sexual servitude, how she wanted to kill, kill and kill his boy; how the child’s grandparents, uncles and aunties were murdered, how she joined taunting neighbours in calling the boy, Little Killer, telling him she is not his mother. In his presence. It is a kind of story that attracts for children, parental warning/ explicit content. Yet we were told the child sat quietly, ‘without losing the gentle smile that appears to be a permanent feature on his handsome face’. His visage does not betray anything but an inner freedom of ‘blissful contentment’.
The whole story was written from the perspective of the mother while the child as a narrative, was deliberately kept meagre. Not even a single word does Olojede deem worthy to ask the boy and report, yet he is unperturbed. Cool. Calm. Collected. Modest. Obedient. He is made to be silent through out. The disquisition informs that Gervais Tuyishime spoke when spoken too and responded monosyllabically. On what exactly? Many of the statements, the feelings and conditions of the mum, Olojede find analysts for to evaluate or corroborate. From the executive director of Rwandan Women Network, to the Advocacy Director of Rwandan Association for genocide widows, to an associate professor of experimental psychology in the Rwandan National University; but none for the boy nor the action of the boy or his mental health assessments or together with at least 10,000 other rape children, the sociology of their presence. At least Gervais attends an orphanage school run by Italians which means that a support network also exists for kids. But why should Dele Olojede just walk over their inputs and existence?
‘On occasion Gervais makes his mother breakfast porridge- (son of 9years loves mother unconditionally but mother of 30 ‘loves’ son conditionally), and both sit down to share the meal. While she has no steady job and money is perennially scare, now and then she finds enough to buy him candy – “which he likes very much” – just like her brother did when she was child.’ Olojede does not find any expert neither does he further on the unusual love the boy shows at the beginning of this same paragraph, rather he was swift to find an expert for the mother’s love. He continues writing: ‘Kayiganwa, the Avenga official, is not surprised by this. “I can tell you as a mother,” she says. “There is one thing that cannot be erased, and that is a mother’s love.” We need to be really suspicious. Hear Mutuze: “I can’t say this child brings me joy. If you know anyone in America who would like to have this child, perhaps it will be better for him and for me. I feel like giving him away not just because I hate him but because I can’t properly take care of him. He could end up being a mayibobo (street child).’ He will not. There are no signs. The mum continual hatred is not enough to overcome his subterranean coordination, balance and drive. Except, to justify herself, she deliberately tries harder to make one out of him. Hence she will confirm that she herself is obsessed with the same philosophy with which ‘Hutu Power’ is complicit. But the boy from what we have seen have the critical psychical energy to withstand such. ‘He is an obedient child but I don’t know why I beat him often’, Mutuze says later.
It is difficult to read this story and not support her earlier decision to have an abortion or generally support abortion for raped victims. Titilola Shoneyin asks in her poem A Quiver of Questions: Does he really have to live/ in the pipes of a clinic sink? Will [she] ever laugh again?/ without memories of [her] legs strung high. The scaffolds used universally to justify abortion is similar to this which Olojede employs: exploiting the psychology of fear; clusters of emotive words around romanticized figures; magnified statements of unwantedness; misrepresentation and at times, outright demonization. Life of children like Gervais, in
the future, will be like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Sound of Music: a beautiful thing out of a most evil period. He is most likely to be one of the most eloquent symbols against uniculturalism, rape, abortion, ethnic and racial rivalries and genocide. The snippets given about him is already a rebuke to Aphoncina’s actions and to Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved who under the horrors of slavery, killed her babies in order to protect them from the future. The women trying to persuade Mutuze to give her new baby a positive name says: ‘… it was not his choice to be born.’ That it is not a baby’s choice to be born or not is not supportable with scientific fact. All we know from ultrasound scan is that even when the instrument of abortion is about to crush the unborn, he/she is usually seen running around for corners of safety in the mother’s womb, not wanting to die. Could we still say it is the baby’s choice not to be born? Moreover, we being alive today is not because our mothers decided so. Rather, once a child is conceived, he/she enjoys inherent rights which includes right to life protectable at all cost. A right, let it be noted, is a moral claim made on others, that they either give one something, or do something for one or refrain from doing something to or for one. The origin of life has been tied to arguments of treachery that makes it possible for the mothers’ freedom of choice to be master over right to life of their unborn babies. It should never be.
The cover photograph says it all. It is the summarising metaphor of the whole story. We see the face of the mother but the child’s is facelessness. (A factor keeping crime going is the cover of facelessness.) Gervais backs the view. He backs the narrative. Thinly invisible, antithetically stationed vis-à-vis the paramount. Like his described demeanour, he is draped in a brightly coloured outfit possibly white. Both hugs, creating a fixed illusion of consensus. Mutuze is deceptively indifferent to the snap. Surround room light falls only on her own face to augment her centrality. With crying eyes slightly opened, the mum’s 10 year old post-genocide face is lachrymose, empowered to figure continually in the viewer’s consciousness, creating jolt, pulling sympathy towards her side, her life only, her position and dis-position, what she tells, the way she view issues. It is an Oscar winning performance. This photograph, is a specie of cheap rhetorics.
Common to all authors of programming writing, Olojede, like a camera turns himself into an absolute tyrant. We see what he wants us to see. He shows us HIV when we need to see HIV, and nothing else; a cholera pandemic, a boy dropping his bag, is/was, crucifix, University, 1995, a gauntlet of road blocks, vampire, Lake Kivu, when and only when he wants us to see these. When he moves we move, when he remains still we are still. Not giving his own opinion explicitly, his investigative report presents a selection of the thoughts and descriptions which are relevant to his opinion, and we must follow these consecutively, as he leads us; they are not spread out, as a background, for us to contemplate in order to know not fed.
What is more, one sees dangerously what Olojede or his editor sees professionally. Who really is the Genocide’s Child as the title screams? Gervais or his mother? It is preposterous and later dangerous to refer to or infer that Gervais is the genocide’s child. Rape child, yes? Prostitution issue, yes? Sex slavery offspring, yes? But genocide’s child? Absolutely no! To say otherwise is to further the evil of demonization from the neighbours and Aphoncina. To instigate the holocaust, Nazism demonised Jews, Slavonic and Roma peoples, homosexuals and the disabled. To commence the transatlantic slavery and colonization, black peoples where by the Whites, demonised and misrepresented respectively. Misrepresentation or demonization usually matches forward violence to act in the end. Or is the mother, Mutuze, the Genocide’s Child? It is equally dangerous.
Furthermore, it is very hard t
o build a coherent picture of the Rwandan society. The images move to and fro within irreconcilable poles. At one point we were told that this mother and child had to move from place to place because of disdainful neighbours and arms-length treatment from old friends and the callous interahamwe and rape scoffs on Gervais. Olojede does not tell us whether they are Tutsis or Hutus. We put this down as the wave of de-nationalization of consciousness going on in Rwanda sweeping also the investigative journalist. At another point, we see place- of- work colleagues ‘drunk on banana beer and the genocide’ who raped Mutuze publicly. Yet again, she is being rescued from drowning by fishermen of an unnamed tribe when Tutsis are running around for cover; and she, a Tutsi, being taken care of by Hutu women in their refuge camp particularly when her ethnic origin was no longer a secret. They kept a tag on her so that she doesn’t kill herself. When she wanted to name her newborn, War, ‘These women’ ‘persuaded her to accept a name they chose’, Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what precisely? Olojede does not bother to investigate and report. Also, how the boy was able to arrive at his first name, ‘Gervais’ is also elusive. At another time, instead of seeing the evils of the genocide as a shared calamity, and express solidarity and compassion towards the seriously affected, we see families, relations, ‘old friends’ refusing raped siblings and the resulting children. How did an African society get so subzero, so “a-society” to the level of killing each other; mothers killing foetuses, priests killing parishioners, husbands killing wife, doctors killing patients, then after the war, rejection of victims, when the traditional Africa’s declaration of uniqueness to the whole world is that of its surplus humanism and communalism?
Aphoncina Mutuze is her own problem. She seems to be wallowing in self-reflexivity of pity. The childhood in her is greater than her. It is 10 years since the heinous crime against her body, the active component of her agony supposed to have been spent. Perhaps unknown to her, the memory has less to do recollection of the event than with the repetition of a destruction. Jean Ndayambaje, Head of Department of Mental Health of the Rwandan University, informs of a girl who initially rejected her rape child but after THREE MONTHS (emphasis mine) of counseling the girl and her family, the girl accepted her child, and the girl’s family accepted both of them. 10 years on, Aphoncina is still talking about rejection, adoption, killing. Because she sabotages the self, she esteems her self as a self-saboteur. If she is Hutu, it is very likely she would be among those who sneer at the rape children of others or reject the reintegration of rape surviors into the family. We can blame others for pushing us down but we have ourselves to blame for not getting up.
In a calamity like this, there is fragmentation of self from self, of self from essence, of essence from itself. Before that time, she had not yet undergone a sufficient route of self-discovery, known her self, who she is, what is life, what is the ultimate meaning of existence, why is there pain and death and why, in the end, is life worth living. A person’s shock absorbers to later-life pains and joys illustrate themselves in the response to these questions. Ironically, the more one is implicated in the attempt at these questions, the more one perceives their power, and the more one realizes how disproportionate one is in respect to a total answer. Now, Aphoncina still needs it, she needs an internal dialogue with the self in exploration of meaning in life, an existential openness to comprehend and affirm reality in all its dimensions. The tools necessary for this are inherent in her only.
Truly, the mind would not let any victim forget this experience. On the other hand, there should be a stubborn quest to forget, exorcise her own demons and reaffirm her identity. It is within this tension that the fruitfulness of her life is located. ‘Victims’ suggests innocence? Again, we need to be suspicious, there is
yet another angle. Freud, father of psychoanalysis, tells us of repressed consciousness. This is not the first time she is opening up on the revolting community of scars within her; as a matter of fact, she attends sessions at ‘support group of fellow survivors’. Or maybe there are other ‘actions’ she consciously did, for which she is hating herself, but does not feel free to disclose. Telling, let it be noted, can be used to reveal the truth and to distract from the truth. This unexpression- not necessarily implying a split in the ego – builds an active coven with her, constantly, forcing itself as a friend of reference for all her thoughts, judgments, decisions, emotions, actions and inactions and more pertinently, have made the power, the unusual length and the unabativeness of the horrors of presencing of the past in her mind, possible.
For instance, during a war in Sierra Leone, West Africa, while rebels began sacking a neighbourhood, a mother in a hideout abandoned her baby so as not to disturb in her effort to escape and that when the rebels are dealing with the baby, it will give her a little more time. Later, in the course of the civil war, she was gang raped. After the war she did have spells of trauma stress disorder. However, it was the gang raping that she was always disclosing and crying over and being treated for by medics and trauma counsellors. But as later discovered, in her own words, it was ‘because she killed her baby at the expense of her safety’ that was more troubling. In the tenth section, ‘Little Girl Spoiled’, the tale affords us a clue of the strong bond of love between Mutuze and her oldest brother, Pierre Hakizimana. He loved her, ward off from her, street bullies and bought her sweets. “I am heartbroken when I think of him”. Mutuze says, “he loved me so.” Later, unasked, she makes allusion to her dead brother again comparing his love for candy with her son’s. The circumstances of Aphoncina Mutuze family’s death worth deeper details. How did she manage to survive? Or some other death(s) which she confesses she might have been present. Afterwards, the subtexts of her psychic geography can be explored anew.
Besides better trauma counselling which she needs, she also needs to wilfully open up on areas which she feels are closed. Olojede is pertinent: ‘…as if terrified of crossing a line she WILLED herself to FAITHFULLY observe.’ (My emphases). Her present condition is her will. What is willed can also be unwilled. She should exit her defences. A desire which of course is positive, trumps up in her but she deliberately bottles it up. At her own detriment. The story acquaints us: ‘To fend off the attention of men, she has worn wedding band since 1999’. Her predicament, like others in Rwanda, as a genocide survivor, a raped victim is public knowledge. “Every man is a selfish individual who is a liar who wants to take an advantage of me.” This is paranoia, but in another vein, fallacy of hasty generalization and unwarranted assumption. ‘Every man’. It is usual that anyone who has become a victim of an extreme situation tends to be extreme too. But it is unhelpful. No extreme can cure another extreme. She needs love, intimate love. Once more on his brother: “I am heartbroken when I think of him. He loved me so.” This goes to show that her faculty in charge of love, desire for love and effects of love has not been amputated.
Only that she is vehemently resisting.
Frequent with ladies when they want to be pretentiously self-conscious in the sight of suitors, she says, ‘I am not even beautiful. Why should anyone want someone like me?’ Leave this one to the men to sort out. Let them decide. Actually, they have decided, that is why she is putting on a wedded signboard to repulse their romantic interests. Besides, Olojede earlier describes her beauty at the point of rape: ‘at 20 a pretty, smooth-skinned woman (was he there, 10 years ago when she was 20 to have noticed smoothness of skin?), tall and slender. Looking closely at the cover picture with her son, one sees that she is not a bad idea as she is compelling her outlook to be. Yes, the past is a vulgar thief that has stolen laughter from her eyes. Mutuze’s mind has become so stuffy. She should open the windows and let fresh air come in. Romance will rearrange the jagged stars of her past; it will mend her smile, emancipate her eyes, and together with her will, ride that mangled wreck from her mind. There are others who have been through similar emotionally wrenching experience before but after a while, sublimated their anguish; they have seen Meaning in meaning not only in meaninglessness, and moved on. They even set up NGOs, projects to assist other victims, delivering public lectures and also through activism, making sure their experiences do not betide anyone again such that one wonders whether they have really undergone the experience. It is from, once more, the revolting community of scars within, they tap strength and charisma, not despair or end.