I am a native of Rwanda. I came to the United States in 1971 as a Fulbright
Fellow to pursue my graduate studies at UCLA hoping to go back and contribute
to the development of my country. I never saw my family and friends since. I
ended up becoming an American citizen, instead due to the massacre of my family
members and my friends in 1973 because of their Tutsi ethnicity and the 1994
Tutsi genocide which exterminated almost all my entire family : parents, paternal
and maternal uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, causins, nephews and nieces.
To get a resident status in the US was not easy, however. I applied for political
asylum but it was rejected by INS on the grounds that my country was democratic.
This was the period of the cold war. The two superpowers were at each other's
throat and the US was supporting dictators everywhere such as Marcos of the
Philippines, Sese Seko Mobutu of Zaire now the Democratic Republic of Congo,
the Shah of Iran, Pinochet of Chili,Somaza of Nicaragua, etc. because they were
not communist. I was able to get my permanent residency because of my job through
the Labor Department.
Although I am a linguist by training and profession, I decided to pursue research
and studies in both ethnic studies and genocide and holocaust studies in order
to understand the beastly behavior of 'the man's inhumanity to man' and started
also to develop courses related to this phenomenon. In a sense, my whole life
has been shaped by events. I don't understand how other people can plan their
I didn't even plan my career and field of study, either. When I was still in
primary school, I wanted to go to the seminary because of the influence of the
the school's principal who was a priest wanted me to. When it was time to go
to high school I changed my mind. The priest became angry and made sure I could
not be accepted by the school I had selected. I ended up by going to the one
I hated, Collège du Christ-Roi at Nyanza because of the Belgian priest,
Father NAVEAU, a mean individual. He was vice-rector of the school and for some
unexplained reasons had a visceral hatred against Tutsi. In this boarding school,
he would, in the middle of night, without any warning or explanation, wake up
and expell all the brightest and most intelligent Tutsi students who had excellent
grades. I was lucky because when I was admitted, he didn't stay there long.
Despite this hostile environment, I had a very good education there, because
the majority of the teachers, all foreigners were excellent and apolitical and
I wanted to go to medical school after my high school graduation. I ended up
majoring in Modern Languages instead studying Kinyarwanda, English and French
as an undergrad student. Upon graduation, the government decided to refuse entry
to Tutsi students from my school to the National University. Toward the end
of the first academic year, however, I heard my name on the national radio ordering
me to report to National Institute of Pedagogy (IPN). This school was newly
founded and supported by UNESCO and its goal was to train enough teachers for
the country. To keep getting financing by UNESCO the institute had to have enough
students. The government was thus forced to find the minimum number of students
that UNESCO requested and that is how I was picked. Since I was admitted in
the middle of the academic year, the government was thinking that I would fail.
I didn't because the professors were foreigners and didn't know about the government's
official policy of discrimination against Tutsi. I was the only Tutsi from my
high school to be admitted at the Institute because government officials had
found me to be the least evil among my Tutsi classmates.
I also came to the US also against the will of the government. It wanted to
replace me with somebody else but the US embassy refused. Indeed, the previous
year my friends Gérard RURANGIRWA and Tatien NTAGANDA who was killed
together with his wife and all his children during the 1994 genocide were awarded
the Fulbright Fellowship but the government was able to replace them with Hutu
students. Because of the US pressure and the threat that these fellowships will
be suspended if we were not allowed to come, me and my friend Justin NSABIMANA
who was able to survive genocide but whose wife and children were savagely massacred,
were finally authorized to leave the country and given Rwandan passports, an
exceptional event. I am always wondering why I have always been the lucky one:
to be admitted to high school, to be allowed to go to college, to get the Fulbright
Fellowship, to be one of the few in my extended family to survive. This question
always haunts me.
Social and political activism
I have always been sensitive to social injustice even when I was a child. I
witnessed the massacre of innocent civilians during the so-called " Hutu
Revolution " in which thousands of ordinary Tutsi, children, old people,
peasants, intellectuals with the support of the Belgian colonial government
and the blessing of the Catholic church. The Catholic archibishop at that time
was a Swiss called André PERRAUDIN. He is the one who anointed Grégoire
KAYIBANDA, his private secretary, founder and chairman of Parmehutu (part for
hutus) as the first President of RWANDA. This is also the first date of the
Tutsi exodus to different parts of the world where they were condemned to stay
until RPF captured Kigali after the 1994 Tutsi genocide. The 'Hutu Revolution'
is really a euphemism for mass killings of innocent civilians. It was not orchastrated
by Hutus but by the Belgian colonial power. Rwanda became independant in 1962,
three years later after this 'Hutu revolution'. There is no way then that these
senseless killings could have taken place without the authorization of the Belgian
ruling power of that time. Another indication that Belgians were the mastermind
of the 'Hutu Revolution' is that many Hutu nationalists or monarchists were
also massacred and thousands of them had to flee the country as well.
From 1959 until RPF took over, the Tutsi who stayed in Rwanda were disenfranchized
and denied all their basic rights and this culminated in their extermination
in the 1994 genocide.
I spoke out and wrote about these injustices. In high school, I was exposed
to and very much influenced by the existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre
and Albert Camus, especially his novel the Plague. Other activist intellectuals
who have shaped my life are Noam Chomsky, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein,
Franz Fanon, and W.E.B Dubois. Kwamé N'krumah, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara,
King Mutara III Rudahigwa, Malcolm X, Thomas Sankara, Fred Rwigema have also to a large extent
affected my life as role models for their courage, unselfish love for their
fellow human beings and their gospel of human solidarity. To take concrete actions,
however, came as a result of my association with my colleagues and friends,
David Covin and Otis L. Scott. Because of them, I joined the Sacramento Area
Black Caucus, an association whose purpose is to empower black people in the
Sacramento area. I was at a time the vice president of this organization and
editor-in-chief of its newspaper, The Speaking Drum. I immediately understood
also that to be effective, it was necessary to focus, rank and hierarchize causes
that one chooses to work for. Because being involved in all just causes, one
gets stretched thin, wasting energy, resources and time. It is through this
organization that I remembered the plight of of stateless Tutsi refugees who
had been condemned to live in exile since 1959. It is in this context that in
1982, I started the journal IMPURUZA to mobilize and 'conscientize' the Rwandan
refugees all over the world about their natural right to return to their homeland.
Its impact was the birth and creation of many Rwandan refugee associations all
over the world. And in August, 1988, with the help of the association ABD "
USA " (Association of Banyarwanda in Diaspora) and US Committee for Refugees
headed by Roger Winter, I organized the First international Conference on Rwandan
Refugees in Washington, D.C. To shift the world's attention from this conference,
the Rwandan government of General Habyarimana decided to arm Burundian Hutu
rebels to go and kill Tutsi in the Northern part of Burundi in what is known
as Ntega-Marangara mass killings. These killings were attributed to the Burundi
government and claims were made that it had massacred Hutu when in reality it
was the opposite. The majority of the victims were Rwandan Tutsi refugees. I
also understood that the only way the voice of these refugees could be heard
was joining a political movement. That's why I decided to join RPF (the Rwandan
Patriotic Front) to achieve these objectives and was appointed to the Executive
Committee as Director of Research and Documentation. RPF didn't have any difficulty
obtaining members and support because the ground work had already been done.
All these associations became part of it.
Why I become a dissident of RPF
I am presently the President of the political party AMAHORO-PC. AMAHORO means
'peace' in Kinyarwanda, and PC stands for People's Congress. Members of AMAHORO
are former RPF members, former other party members such as MDR, PL, PSD and
Millions of people especially in the diaspora joined RPF because of its attractive
political program. When RPF got in power, however, it was hijacked by a group
of individuals who betrayed the ideas and ideals which had made it a very popular
When I left RPF, the government declared that I did it because I was refused
the position of Prime Minister. These are false accusations. In a 1997, RPF
members issued a document labelled the Michigam Memo which denounced the hijacking
of the movement by a group of individuals which was conducting policies and
issuing unpopular declarations in the name of RPF without its members' consultation
and approval. Previously all the movement's decisions were taken by RPF Congress.
To assert that all I did for RPF and the country was motivated by my desire
to become prime minister is without any foundation. I have no desire to occupy
any political position. If in 1994, I was offered any position, I would have
accepted without any hesitation but as a sacrifice because I understand that
I have to fulfill my citizenship responsibilities especially in that critical
time when few individuals were left to perform many tasks in rebuilding the
country's infrastructure. Now, I would not trade my university position with
any other profession on earth. I am paid to do things that I enjoy. To me I
don't know any other profession as exciting and rewarding as being a university
professor. I advise students to seriously consider this option before they choose
When I was elected to be President of AMAHORO-People's Congress, I made it clear
to the congress participants that I will help in the building of the party but
I will never assume any political position when it joins the government. I have
won the wrath of my former comrades in the struggle who are now in power because
of my opinions. I have not understood, either, why my suggestion of creating
a Ministry of Genocide would anger the Rwandan authorities whose legitimacy
comes from the international community belief that they stopped genocide. RPF
defeated and removeda genocidal regime. It is a fact and it should be congratulated
for that. It did not stop genocide, however, because there no single part of
the country where genocide didn't take place. The genocide spread even beyond
the Rwandan borders after RPF's victory when Laurent Kabila, the President of
the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave orders to exterminate all ethnic Tutsi
in DRC. Many of my friends inside Rwanda have advised me to keep quiet if I
want to visit the country. I wish I could but I can't. This is the price I have
to pay.I truly believe that academicians have a responsibility to be concerned
with social and political issues. Most of us do research not to advance the
world but for selfish intellectual pleasure and curiosity, which is legitimate.
Even if we are doing it to make this world a better place to live, it doesn't
make sense to keep quiet and act as if things are normal, when people whose
lives our research is supposed to improve are having their basic rights violated.
I have also been lucky to be associated with the Ethnic Studies Department because
all my colleagues are convinced that we should not live in the Ivory Tower confined
in the halls of the academe without being involved in social, economical and
political issues that affect our society. All of us are affected by bad political
policies. And we should be concerned.
My position on the African situation
I believe that the West is still responsible for the political instability
we see in Africa and its continued underdeveloping. My people argue that after
40 years of independence we should not be blaming colonialism and neocolonialism
for the many problems the continent is experiencing right now. My response is
that for Africa has to get out of this situation, it needs a Marshall Plan or
compensations and that the West has a moral responsibility to provideit and
the sooner the better. If Japan and Germany were recipients of these programs
after the wars that they started, why didn't Africa benefit from these programs
after the atrocities it was victim of by European countries? Outsiders are convinced
that Africans are victims of problems of their own making. This is a classical
example of blaming the victim.
Nation-building is a long process. The post-colonial ethnic conflicts found
in many African countries are a legacy of the 1885-6 Berlin Conference on the
Partition of Africa. At that conference, artificial countries were carved arbitrarily,
without taking into consideration natural, national, cultural and linguistic
boundaries, but looking at the colonialists' interests, instead. Families and
relatives were separated. The same ethnic groups found themselves this time
in different countries and many nations ceased to exist. Because of the "
divide and rule " strategy, the new conquerors also favored some groups
than others. The ethnic conflicts found today are attempts to right the wrongs
The purpose of colonialization in Africa was not investment or development or
importing the so-called " Western values " but a brutal and vicious
maximum exploitation of its natural and human resources. The books of Walter
Rodney, How Europe helped to underdevelop Africa and Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's
Ghost : A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa are very eloquent
on this subject. Not only were natural resources taken but millions and millions
of Africans had to die. Forced labor without any renumeration was imposed everywhere.
It consisted of doing dangerous jobs, in terrible working conditions in mines
and in road and railroad construction. Many times people were buried alive in
mines. Dynamites which were used to break rocks would also make mountains and
rocks fall on them burying them alive as well. Today the African landscape is
littered with carcases of mountains and valleys unsuitable for any kind of life,
human, animal or plant. Those who were unable to do these hard jobs were either
killed, mutilated or tortured. I was born in the dying days of colonialism.
I witnessed its atrocities. I know many people who lived in the bushes, hiding
because they were unable to pay "the body tax ". All males who reached
18 years, had to pay a 'body tax', regardless of whether they had money, a job
or property. People had to carry a receipt with them everywhere all the time.
The police would also raid people's homes in the middle of night to find out
if everybody had paid the body tax. Women's body tax was payed by their husbands.
People were thus forced to find work or sell their cattle or property not for
themselves but to be able to pay for these taxes. Count de Burgrave, a Belgian
butcher, had been authorized to go to villages and take any people's cows he
wanted for Belgians' meat consumption. There was no compensation to the cows'
owners. Cows' owners had also to deliver a certain number of milk liters every
day to the Belgian administrators. Those who failed were severely punished.
Colonialism not only deprived people of their basic rights but it also impoverished
There is also ample evidence even in the public domain that the West was involved
in the assassination and the overthrow of nationalist and Pan-Africanist leaders
replacing them with corrupt, brutal and incompetent puppets such as Seseko Mobutu,
Idi Amin, Emperor Bokassa, Sergeant Samuel Doe and more. The Belgian government
has accepted its responsibility in Patrice Lumumba's assassination but it has
not done anything for compensation. Neocolonialism and the cold war have not
only resulted in the destruction of African countries, political instability
and economic stagnation but in the massacres of thousands of intellectuals as
well. Philip Agee's book, Dirty Work II : CIA in Africa gives a chocking, disturbing
and detailed account of how Western intelligencies have been actively involved
in assassinations of African leaders and nationalists.
Because of the West farmers'subsidies by their respective governments, African
farmers cannot sell their cash crops. These cash crops namely, cotton, sugar
cane, coffee, tea, tobacco, were introduced during the colonial period destroying
the fields for staple crops fields (beans, rice, sorghum,
) which explains
also some areas suffer from famine and endemic food shortage. African farm products
which are the only source of hard currency cannot compete with Western subsidized
cheap crops in the international market.
IMF and the World Bank are also destabilizing Africa instead of helping it.
For African governments to function, they need to borrow money and the only
banks that give loans with many strings attached, unfortunately, and a very
high interest are the two financial institutions mentioned. The structural adjustments
are destroying the continent : these are democratization, privatization, devaluation
of currency, the downisizing of the work force and the military. Democracy doesn't
mean just rushing to elections. These elections don't mean anything since many
times people who seized to power by guns are the ones who get reected. Privatization
of state parastatals also breeds corruption since the government officials sell
them to themselves or to their cronies. Devaluation makes goods expensive and
forces many well-to-do Africans to take their money to Western banks where it
is safe. When people are fired from their jobs, the whole economy suffers and
all sectors of the society are affected : banks, schools, businesses, etc.
Colonialism, neo-colonialism, the cold war, the unfair Western trade policies
and the structural adjustment programs of IMF and the World Bank are clearly
the ones which are responsible for Africa's predicaments.
To come out of this vicious circle, a Marshall Plan is of the essence. African
leaders should put pressure on Western countries reminding them to fulfill their
moral obligation. If Western countries don't want to provide this Marshall Plan,
they should thus pay compensations for all they robbed from Africa and their
responsibility for its current misery. I hope that the government of Rwanda,
for instance, is going to demand compensation from France because of the Francois
Mitterand's government's role in the Tutsi genocide. There is a legal precedent
for this. The US government apologized to Japanese-Americans for wrongful treatment
during World War II and agreed to a financial compensation of $20,000 for each
prison camp internee. The apology and the compensation came as a result from
the pressure from the Japanese-Americans and the Japanese government.
My Position on Linguistics
I completely agree with Noam Chomsky that language is biologically based.
The arguments which support this position are very clear and simple. One : there
are linguistic universals: rules which govern the sound system (phonetics and
phonology), word formation (morphology) and the structure of sentences (syntax),
which are found in all languages and cannot be violated. Two : this has to do
with language acquistion. In all languages. By the age of five, all children
have already mastered all the rules of their native languages. Those who don't
at this age, cannot acquire them later. Clearly everything as language is concerned
is preprogrammed and wired into the genes.
The strongest argument is the unconscious mind and the rules that ordinary people
cannot create. There is an independent software responsible for this. Look at
the following examples from Kinyarwanda.
The Complex Consonant Formation
Kinyarwanda has complex consonants which result from prenasalization and gliding.
This phenomenon is discussed in my two books : Studies in Kinyarwanda and Bantu
Phonology (1989) and A Tonal Grammar of Kinyarwanda : An autosegmental and Metrical
Account (2002). If a consonant is preceded by a nasal and followed by a glide
(semi-vowels y and w), the nasal takes the place of articulation of that consonant
(lips, alveolar ridge, hard palalate or soft palate). In return, the consonant
is aspirated becoming an h if it is voiceless. A new consonant which assimilates
to the place of articulation of the glide on its right and the voice or nasal
features of the preceding consonant, thus being realized as k, g, n if the glide
is the labiovelar w and k, g, n if it is the palatal y, is also inserted between
the original consonant and the glide.
This rule is formally formulated mathematically as follows:
The symbol O on the left means zero sound and that this zero becomes a sound
wih the features indicated after the arrow sign. The letters in front the phonetic
features refer to the presence or absence of that feature (+ or -).
This sophiscated and elegant mathematic rule is clearly a product of the brain
linguistic software. There is no way a child or any average adult speaker can
make up this rule.
Tone rules also belong to the microlinguistic level out of reach of the conscious
Tone rules discussed in my 2002 book, A Tonal Grammar of Kinyarwanda, namely
Beat Movement, Beat Addition, Beat Deletion, Beat Alternation, Iambic Reversal,
etc show again that they exist independently of the conscious mind. In this
language, one high tone is assigned to a morpheme (stem and affixes). If prefixes
are added to a stem which has this high tone, a prosodic domain is created placing
a high tone on its first mora. Tones rules then take place between the far left
mora to the rightmost mora which carries the initial lexical tone. I refer to
this tone behavior as a U-turn phenomenon. These rules cannot be obviously controlled
by the language speakers.
At the macrolevel : morphology, syntax and semantics, there is also evidence
of the autonomy of language from the conscious mind. This is also discussed
in my book A Relational Grammar of Kinyarwanda (1980) and my on-going research
on the Anatomy of the Metaphor.
In A Relational Grammar of Kinyarwanda, it is shown that nouns have to change
positions in the sentence structure and that verbs change forms when these nouns
are assigned different grammatical functions. Syntactic and morphological rules
responsible for these changes also seem to be outside the control of the conscious
mind. The linguistic underlying structure also known as the mental structure
is different from the surface structure. That is utterances that come out of
the mouth : segments, suprasegments, morphemes and sentences are not the same
as how they are representated in the mind. They have to undergo changes through
the mind's computational rules.
In the Anatomy of the Metaphor, I show that conceptual metaphors are universal
and created independently of language users.
All these examples clearly show that language is genetically programmed and
is not a product of society. This ofcourse goes against the tenants of the "
blank slates " hypothesis who claim that children are born with "
tabula rasa " and acquire language from stimulus-response as advanced by
behaviorarists such as E.B. Skinner.
On the Arbitrariness of the Linguistic Sign
In mainstream linguistics, linguistic signs (sounds, words and structrures)
are thought to be arbitrary. This idea originates from Ferdinand de Saussure,
father of modern linguistics. This position comes from the fact that many descriptive
and theoretical linguists look at language only synchronically. I take the position
of Charles Sanders Peirce that signs whether they are linguistic or non-verbal
are classified into three categories, namely icons, indices and symbols.
Icons are signs which have similarity with objects they stand for. Indices have
an association with objects they represent and symbols are signs whose relationship
with objects they represent is opaque. It is true that the majority of signs
are found in the category of symbols. This doesn't support the 'arbitrariness'
position but Peirce's view instead, because for any system to function, it has
to cease to be iconic and become symbolic. In my work, Anatomy of the Metaphor
and my 1994 Outstanding Scholarly Achivement Award Lecture Iconicity of Language,
I give strong arguments and ample exampels which argue against the arbitrariness
of linguistic sign.
The Sapir-Wholf Hypothesis
It is still an open question in linguistics and anthropology as to whether
language affects the way people think, see and understand the world they live
in and has impart on their lives. This debate is referred to as the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis. It is here that the concepts of linguistic relativity and linguistic
determinism originate. My research supports both concepts, especially my two
articles Kinship Terms in Kinyarwanda and Cow Metaphors in Kinyarwanda. Rwanda
has an extended family structure in which the same linguistic term refers to
individuals who are not necessarily biologically related. For instance the term
umuvandimwe 'sibling' refers to biological siblings but also to the children
of the father's brothers and the mother's sisters' children. The concept of
cousin umubyara exists in this language but it refers only to the father's sisters'
children and the mother's brothers' children.
Those whose offspring are called siblings are also referred to as father and
mother. The father is the real father and his brothers and the mother, the real
mother and her sisters. The father's sisters' children and the mother's brothers'
children are called ababyara 'cousins', literally meanings 'those with whom
you can have children', because the father's sister is a aunt and the mother's
brother is an uncle. This nomenclature is important because it determines kins'
behavior to each other and their respective responsibilities. For instance,
traditionally, it was allowed to marry a cousin. Marrying your father's sister's
child or your mother's brother's child was normal but to marry your father's
brother's child or your mother's sister's child was condemned as an incest.
The article Cow Metaphors shows that the cow has integrated the whole culture.
Not only is it a national symbol but it is also the embodiment of beauty, grace
and elegance. It is the primary inspiration of artists. Cow poetry Amazina y'Inka
ranks first among the elite poetry namely dynastic poetry (praise-poems for
kings), panegyric poetry (praise-poems national heroes and great warriors) and
pastoral poetry (praise-poems for noble cows). Female folk dances imitate the
elegance of the cows and its beautiful long horns. Cow vocabulary is found in
every day language as in greetings, swearing and metaphors. Like the buffalo
among Plains' Indians, everything from the cow is utilized, including its waste,
dung and urine.
Thus the kinship terminology and cow metaphors are examples which convincingly
show that not only the same phenomenon is perceived and understood differently
in various cultures (linguistic relativity) but also shapes and affects their
thinking (linguistic determinism).
Even within the same speech community people may perceive and conceive the same
phenomenon differently, as illustrated by the following examples. There are
people who see Sacramento as " sitting between Roseville and Davis ",
" standing between Roseville and Davis ", " lying between Roseville
and Davis ", " sprawling between Roseville and Davis ", "
overlooking Davis ", " leaning to Roseville ", etc. The proverbial
cliché to see the glass half-full or half-empty or the expressions to
see things through the lens/prism of, from the standpoint of, also lends support
to linguistic determinism.
The study of color terms by anthropologists and psycholinguistics also supports
the Sapir-Wholf Hypothesis. Some languages have more color terms than others.
Speakers of languages which have less color terms see only the colors that exist
in their language. This is a clear case of linguistic determinism.
Problems in American Linguistics
Linguistics is not about ideas or opinions but facts. It is an empirical discipline.
Theories and hypotheses have to be supported by solid data from natural languages.
Obviously theories which cannot withstand empirical evidence are already fatally
flawed. There are unfortunately theories or claims which are made before linguistic
investigation. This approach and method should be abandoned. Like in other sciences
such as biology good solid data collected from all languages all over the world
should be examined before formulating universal linguistic theories. Many times,
hypotheses even good intuitions are confused with realities and this should
be avoided. In many universities theoretical linguists have more respect that
descriptive linguists. This attitude is of ranking higher armchair research
to fieldwork research is obviously counterintuitive and wrong. A good linguist
has to be good at both theory and description.