IGIHE: Give us the exact reasons that prompted you to react to this preparatory note.
Véronique Clette Gakuba: I was born and live in Belgium, I am of Belgian mother and Rwandan father. I am also a sociologist, doctoral researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In this context, I have been closely following the consultation and negotiation relations between the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgian Museum and Scientific Institution, MRAC) and the African diasporas (Congolese, Burundian and Rwandan). These consultations and negotiations took place in the context of the Museum’s renovation.
In the wake of anti-racist rallies which, since the police murder of George Floyd in the United States, see the uprising of an impressive number of people across Europe, Belgium, for its part, decided to put establishes a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) aiming to establish the historical truth about its colonial past in the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.
The External Relations Commission of the House of Representatives is looking into the establishment of this CVR. The deputies mandated the Royal Museum for Central Africa to produce a first guidance note proposing a list of experts and a methodology to Parliament. At the outset, it should be noted that certain deputies (André Flahaut, PS, in particular) contested the legitimacy of the Museum in this matter, the latter being judge and party. Indeed, according to a series of researchers including myself, the Museum must be one of the institutions whose involvement in Belgian colonialism is to be analyzed.
There is much to be said on this note. I was not the recipient of this note; it was addressed confidentially to Parliament.
But it quickly leaked and is now widely circulating. I wanted to respond to this note by speaking directly to the Director of the RMCA, G. Gryseels.
Among the 20 experts proposed by the Museum is Professor Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian lawyer. He is also cited three times in the note (as an expert and as a reference, for Rwanda and Burundi).
He is also presented in the note as a neutral and impartial player. However, it is clear that Filip Reyntjens participated in the writing of the constitution of Rwanda under Habyarimana in 1978. He too should, therefore, be the subject of an examination of his role. On the other hand, it is unacceptable, concerning a commission supposed to restore the Truth with a view to Reconciliation, to propose F. Reyntjens who promotes revisionist theses, in particular by erasing the genocidal intention within the framework of the genocide against the Tutsi (Le Monde, September 25, 2017), reversing responsibilities, minimizing the role of Belgian colonization, etc.
It is also characterized by an ethnicist approach referring to colonial and racialist ideologies and their dramatic effects.
Museum officials know this. On numerous occasions, we, along with other Rwandans, have pointed out to the museum the problematic approach with which the RMCA presents the history of Rwanda in its new permanent exhibition.
In March 2017, the renovation was still under way and we warned the RMCA that the story concerning the history of Rwanda and the genocide of the Tutsis tended towards negationism.
A year later, without the Museum having answered us, I learned that different members of the diaspora had also addressed the same type of complaints. Several exhibition panels were photographed; they contained highly problematic information.
Among other elements, it read: "The International Tribunal for Rwanda, created in 1994, is the first international court to judge both Tutsi and Hutu genocidaires"! It was already then F. Reyntjens who influenced the Museum’s writings on condition of anonymity (referee ref anonymous ’we were told). He is, however, internationally and academically an obviously contested personality. In Belgium, it should be added that the theses of this "professor" are likely to greatly activate the tensions between Congolese and Rwandans in Belgium.
To my letter of July 2, 200, the Director of the Museum, G. Gryseels replied:
"We know that Professor Reyntjens’ name will be controversial, as will the names of some of the other experts. It is up to the parliamentary working group to make the final decision.” (July 2, 2020). This response demonstrates a minimization of the seriousness and the harmfulness of the proposal made to parliamentarians.
It is intriguing to note that I also, without being consulted, was mentioned by the Museum as one of the referees. Unlike Mr. Reyntjens, I was not mentioned at all from my academic skills (Université Libre de Bruxelles, sociologist) but as "African voices".
The note to parliamentarians of the Museum mentions, in fact, with regard to the experts selected according to their skills that "This group of experts does not include people of African origin who are members of action groups or who speak on behalf of the Belgian -African women in public opinion "(p. 6). In other words, Reyntjens is considered to be scientifically neutral where myself, along with other Afro-descendant colleagues engaged in the debates on decolonization, dismissed as full-fledged experts.
As for the display panels, it was only this week, two years after our complaints, that we learned that some of them have been changed. We will still question the overall ideological line of the exhibition which we do not see how it could have disappeared.
Interview by Karirima Ngarambe A.