The drums of war had been screaming ever since news that an army primarily formed of refugees had attacked. Bosco was an Aid worker based in the capital. He frequently traveled around the country. At first, he didn’t feel threatened by the attack. He was though aware of how divided this particular country was. Led by a President from one ethnic group, who was clearly dominating, many in the minority population had been forced out as refugees. It is these who were now fighting back.
On occasion, Bosco had a moment to sit down with either ethnic group for banter. The way each group described the other would leave him numb. “Those people are cockroaches!” so labeled one against the other. “Those dirty creatures are lower than us!” The other rebutted, casually.
The war slowly sneaked its way to the capital. Bosco was based at an office and residential complex where both ethnic communities freely mixed. He felt quite protected as his was an international port. Besides, he was not aware of any serious friction between the two major tribes beyond disparaging remarks against each other. “It will all end well,” he thought.
However, as the fighting approached the capital, suddenly vicious gangs belonging to one group, armed with machete, started attacking their nemesis. Soon the gangs descended on to his office complex. When they came up they asked for his ID to prove he was not a member of the hated tribe, whose members were being targeted. And then, what completely blew his mind, was that these gangs were largely formed by teens who had grown up in the same neighborhood. These had now gathered to unleash terror on their fellow countrymen, just that they belonged to different ethnicity.
It took a while to be rescued by his international organization. On the way out to the airport back home, Bosco was shocked beyond belief on sporting bodies of victims scattered all over the streets. He saw a church with a mountain of corpses at the doorsteps. People had taken refuge in the house of God only to be butchered there. A genocide had taken place – and would within a space of 90 days claim over one million lives!
After he had settled back home, Bosco did a lot of soul searching. How could people who used to live next to each other turn in a moment so violently against one another? At his office, they employed nationals without asking for one’s ethnicity, and all along these people had seemed to get along. But what he was not aware of was how deep they resented each other.
Recalling the way either side used to speak of each other, Bosco concluded that it was all due to ignorance. “I suspect these people all grew up in environments where they were fed on a diet that poisoned their minds,” he reasoned. “By the time they became of age each held the other in low esteem.” Bosco, who was still single decided that when he married and started a family he would do everything to expose his children to a diversity of ethnic and racial groups. “This would kill prejudice against any other different group before it is too late.”
After marrying and once his kids started school, Bosco deliberately decided to go out of his way to look for a school with a diverse ethnic community. His wife, Anne, though found it a bit odd- especially when during one holiday Bosco asked that their son, John, goes out to live with a family in the Western part of the country.
“Why do you want to send my son to live with these people we don’t know much about!” Anne wondered. “What good have you seen in them .!”
“It is exactly for that reason,” Bosco interjected. “You have grown up hearing a lot of negative vibe about them. Let John go out and get exposed before that poison clouds the rest of his life.”
Anne let John go reluctantly but with a warning to him. “Be careful of those greedy people!”
Next holiday Bosco sent John to live with a family based in the Northern region. Again Anne was bothered. Upon return from his holiday, Anne sat John down. “I hear those people eat babies!”
“Mom, what are you talking about!” John expressed mild disgust at the accusation. “There are people just like us and some of my best friends are from that region.”
Bosco did not stop sending John on holiday in homes of different ethnic members, but he also took every opportunity to host diverse races. Once he heard of a student from Netherlands looking for a short-term boarding, he made available a room. The young lady came fearfully with all kinds of notions she had heard about black Africans. At the end of her stay, she confessed, “My parents were very afraid of me coming to live with an African family. I too had some doubts. But now I can see we are all the same people.”
Later in life John joined politics and was appointed a Minister of Education. Over the years unlike him who had been freed of ethnic and racial prejudices early in life, John observed that many were still locked up with mythical beliefs about how special their tribes were. Occasionally he would come across comments like “those people are all thieves!” Or, where one tribe was described as “lazy”! Another was written off as having “unstable women. There are all prostitutes.”
Recalling the way his father, Bosco, had raised him, John decided to push a proposal to Cabinet. “Can we have all children after secondary school is posted to different regions nationwide!” He was asked why. “Well, this will help them become familiar with other tribes whom they might be harboring prejudice before this blooms into full hatred!”
“You mean you want to force our children on other people,” scoffed one member from a bigger tribe. “Are you here to play God who created us different?”
“For us we know we are special,” argued another aloof cabinet member. His tribe was known to forbid its daughters from intermarrying.
“The reason you say so,” John fought back, “is because your minds and attitudes were long hardened as children with myths about how special you are. Also, I know of some people who have never traveled out of their birthplace. Only exposure will make them revisit their hardened beliefs. You ought to give the generation a chance before their minds are also poisoned. You saw what happened to our neighbors and how they slaughtered each other, including in the church.”
“But we are okay here,” came one response.
“My father who lived through a genocide told me that’s what everybody thought,” John said, folding his papers. “Till one day when something very ugly happened!”