Episode 137 – Genocide, Leadership and Reconciliation

Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast wherever you might be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger your host. This last week I had the honor and privilege of visiting in East Africa, in the country of Rwanda. And that is the subject of my visit together with you today, wherever you might be. I wish that we had had the opportunity to be together in person to visit about this subject. But I’d like to share with you the experience that I had, at least one aspect of the experience.

As you may know, in April of 1994, a terrible tragedy took place in the country of Rwanda. The seeds really came out of colonial powers that divided the nation up in two or three groups, major groups, the Hutus, the Tutsis, among others. These two groups became factions and not only factions, they vied for power, and over the decades one of those took power and started describing the others, the Tutsis, Hutus took power and described the Tutsis as a group of people that were not good for the country. As a matter of fact, they were a group of individuals that were of lower quality and that actually were individuals that were the enemy of the state. This is kind of the lying that took place, the storyline as the majority started classifying and launched a publicity campaign.

It was very interesting and what ultimately happened is very secretly, the Hutus set up an extermination plan to massacre the Tutsis and to eliminate the problem. Now, this is a terrifying set of circumstances that took place that we’ve seen other times in the history of the world and that we certainly need to fight against. And so this is what I want to talk about because what followed at that time in 1994 and that part of the year, was that the Hutus launched a terrible massacre of the Tutsis, killing over 1,100,000 in 100 days before it could be stopped.

It was very interesting because in Kigali in the capital of Rwanda today, there is a museum, the Genocide Museum that actually tells the story. And at that Museum, there are over 250,000 victims that are buried and honored on about a half an acre of property. It’s not very large at all. It’s interesting because this is a place where people can come from all over the world and learn more about this experience, what led up to it and how it was stopped. Families come to visit their loved ones there. Over 7000 complete families perished during that genocide and during that very few months. It’s a sobering experience.

It was interesting to see the different videos of survivors who did lose the vast majority of their family, and their parents and siblings are buried at the Genocide Museum and in the sacred grounds for them. They come to find peace, they come to find happiness as they visit with their family members. After the group that we were there, with the Young Presidents’ Organization, with other CEOs, their spouses, and some had children there. We then went to another part of the visitor center called the Reconciliation Village.

This is a very interesting place because it is to celebrate the fact that after General Paul Kagame came in with the rebel army to stop the genocide, that action took place to restore the peace and the health and the future of this country of which I’ll talk about in a moment. But the only way it could go forward, one of the elements was to find a reconciliation between the victims and those that perpetrated these crimes against humanity. So for one of the first times ever, the museum arranged for a village, a number of individuals from one of the villages where these attacks took place to come and meet with us in person.

There were about 35 to 40 individuals, men and women, and even their children that were there as part of this experience, to share their experience. Among the individuals that were there a woman by the name of Maria, a lovely woman who stood in a beautiful colorful dress. Maria described how six out of her nine children were slaughtered. And we could all feel the pain that she felt.

Then the next individual that was introduced, was sitting next to her and his name was Patrick. I’ve changed the name to protect him and his anonymity, was the one who did the killing. He explained that when the rebel forces came and stopped the killings, the rebel forces were led by the Tutsis. Of course, the Hutus feared their future and what might happen to them. I might add that as Patrick explained this, he explained the background on how he was a young man and how he approached this. Well, he was put in prison. He remained in prison for five years. He pointed out that what happened is, he just didn’t feel like it was wrong, because he saw the Tutsis as the enemy. He saw them, he was taught that they were a threat to his existence and he just didn’t realize that it was wrong. The Tutsis were not only a threat, but the solution was to kill all of the Tutsis and exterminate them. It was like he explained going to work. They actually taught them how to be efficient at killing and that they learned how to kill 1000 people within 20 minutes.

And as he set in prison, he realized the horror of what he did. And the approach that Paul Kagame and the other leaders took is that they wanted to bring these people back into society, into the Rwandan society, because, and this is the part I’ll talk about in a moment, but they had set a vision for the future, for a future of hope for all Rwandans, and that they’d no longer be Hutus or no longer be Tutsis but they would all be Rwandans. He set a bold vision for the year 2020, of having a safe country, a unified country, a country on the move, a country that was happy. That built upon this legacy and turn this terrible experience into a motivation for success and prosperity in the future of cherishing life.

So as Patrick started understanding this, he understood the huge mistake that he had made. And so part of that coming out of prison and getting back into the society is that these perpetrators that participated in the killings, would go back to the village that they came from, to people they had killed their relatives and they would ask for forgiveness. So this is what took place. As Patrick went back to their common community and asked forgiveness from Maria for killing her six children and many others. He repented and she forgave. Today, they are friends, and he is an enormous help to her and her family and their community. To many this process is somewhat incomprehensible, but for Rwanda, it was the vision forward to heal a country. They had no other way forward.

And so what we were given the opportunity to ponder, were the many different elements and deep rooted factors of love, of forgiveness, of what it would take to move forward, to heal. This is how it has gone for Rwanda because indeed, they have turned their country around. They have found a way to bond together to move forward. So as we visited with the 35 individuals from that village, they were all victims or perpetrators of the genocide and now working side by side to build their country. Wow, what a great example for all of us. That gave us much to contemplate of what you and I can do individually to make a better world. Of how can we get on with things and start focusing on the big problems that are in front of us together, even though there may be a great divide between us. This shows that it can be done,

We had other activities in Rwanda, as we went and visited the countryside and visited some of the villages, went into the homes of some of the Rwandans. And by the way, across the board, this spirit that I just talked about, is universal within Rwanda. We’ll talk about the President and the standard and inspiration that he set in just a moment as I indicated. But I’d like to talk about a couple of experiences that we had traveling to the exterior areas in Rwanda, and particularly about two of the drivers that we had that we were with for a day each.

The first one is John Paul. John Paul is a tall, good looking young man and as a young boy, during this period of the genocide, he was ushered into a chapel with 4000 other fellow Tutsis. That day, the perpetrators started throwing grenades into the chapel and out of the 4000, 11 survived. Among them was John Paul, he was one of the 11. Today, you can still see the shrapnel scars in different parts of his head and neck. That day, both of his parents and three of his siblings were killed. John Paul described how he forgave and how he moved on. He’s a wonderful inspiration as he’s moving forward, he’s gaining an education, he has a great job. He’s an expert chauffeur, I might add.

The second one was a fellow by the name of Cebu. He’s probably 30 years old today, maybe he’s 34. The genocide happened about 24 years ago. Next year will be the 25th anniversary. His dad was killed, his uncles, other members of his family. He described to us how over all of these years he’s been so unhappy. And then he described that six months ago, he was finally able to forgive the perpetrators and to understand this better. And he shared that from the very moment he was able to do that, of how everything shifted in his life and how happy and at peace that he is today.

Now, I mentioned that I would talk about Paul Kagame. Paul was the general of the force that came in, that restored peace that stopped the killings. Just think about this because he was in a position to do great harm to the Hutus and literally wipe them out, but Paul Kagame is an extraordinary leader, he’s a becoming your best leader. He does these 12 principles that we’ve talked about. He has learned to apply those in his life, and he eventually became the President of Rwanda. Now, if during that time you became the President of Rwanda, what would you do if you were the leader of this deeply traumatized, rudderless nation, totally destroyed? Their heart was taken away.

Well, what Paul Kagame did is what great leaders of humanity, over the history of mankind have done and that was that he set a vision for the future. He led with a vision. They call it the vision 2020 and as I explained just a few minutes ago, it was to have a happy, unified, productive, successful Rwanda with a future for everyone. The young people, middle age and the older. No Tutsis, no Hutus, all Rwandans. That they would build a strong economy to help provide a future for their people. That they would have a safe, secure, honest country. And that they would rise out of the ashes to create this type of a base for the people and so that they could be hard working and happy and that is exactly what Rwanda is today. It’s the second fastest growing economy in the African continent. It’s the fifth safest nation to be in in the entire world. You can walk really anywhere there 24/ 7 and not fear for your safety. This is a country on the move.

The people of Rwanda are building upon their past to cherish life and make the most of their opportunity today, and they’re taking the good and making it a great future. They’re highly focused on building the infrastructure of their country, of providing an educational opportunity, of having a favorable business climate so businesses can come in. It’s a safe place. This is what Rwanda has become today and it is an extraordinary credit to their President Paul Kagame. I appreciate the example that he set.

We had the opportunity on this trip to meet with him for 90 minutes. He already has had a copy of the book Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders. Rob and I had the opportunity to visit at his White House about three years ago. He shared that I’m glad to have somebody else in this country talking about Becoming Your Best. He said, I’m not sure that people hear me anymore. Well, that’s not really correct, because they clearly hear him and adore him as a leader. I had the opportunity to also present to him our second book, The Transformation Challenge, which is how you manage through change and how do you take your good and make it better, and your better, best. So it was really fun being with him.

We had the opportunity to ask questions. One of the questions that I asked him was that, they’ve done a great job in getting their country back on track and to no a small amount to their vision of 2020. Everybody really knows about the vision of 2020, and so I asked him, now so you’re getting very close, we’re in 2018 now, halfway through the year and so we’re close to 2020, what’s next? What do you have stirring in the pot for a new vision in the future?

It was great because he looked right back and he said, we’re now working on our vision for 2050. Now, I love that. They’re going to set up some intermediate checkpoints and they understand that it’s not just the vision. They also have a plan of how to achieve that vision. So they are setting up now an inspiring vision for 2050 of where they want to be as a country. It’s great to see this kind of leadership in play. I did mention to him, I said that’s great because in 2050, I’ll be 100 years old and I can’t wait to come back and see how it’s going. This is great.

Well as we ended up this visit, we had the opportunity to sit back and reflect with the other attendees. One of our groups, Emery mentioned Rupa Janga who is from Rwanda. He said, it’s very interesting, because bad leadership produces bad results and he said, good leadership produces good results. Then I’ve been thinking about Emery’s comments, and I’d like to just take that a little further that bad, corrupt and evil leadership produces bad, corrupt and evil results. We’ve seen that in the past history of what can happen. And this starts if we think about these 12 principles of highly successful leaders. The first one is to be true to character. Well, what kind of character? Well, that’s character built upon timeless principles, principles that are good and right, they’re correct principles. And when leaders focus on correct principles, they don’t get off track and commit these heinous crimes that do not succeed, that are not sustainable, that with time will be overturned.

So these are things that can impact this type of bad leadership, an entire nation with terror and intimidation, inhumane treatment of others, labeling. One of the labels they gave the Tutsis, the Hutus did back when they perpetrated this, is that they defined them as snakes. And whenever you see a Tutsi, look in their eyes, and you’ll see snake eyes. In other words, they’re actually dehumanizing these people and making them into something else. They’re classifying others as inferior, that they should be exterminated and to perpetrate this. Well, that’s not good leadership because it’s not sustainable and it hurts people and it kills organizations and countries I might add. It’s such a waste of humanity and all that we stand for.

On the other hand, good leadership, highly successful leadership stands up for what is right, and that is character. What is right are basing your character on these timeless principles. And so this is a prime example of why all of the 12 principles becoming your best are vital and work together. Alone, each is important, but they are insufficient. It’s how they work together, along with the other 11 principles that creates a transformation of sustainable excellence, ultimately, of good. In the absence of practicing these 12 principles comes misery, pain, and sometimes tragedy and death, as in the case of Nazi Germany and Rwanda and there are many other examples unfortunately, over history of this type of leadership.

Leadership is standing up against of what is wrong, regardless of the peer pressure. It is being true to yourself of right, of knowing what is right and wrong. I love the quote in Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true. And as the day follows night, thou canst not do wrong under any person.” Wow. Well, even in our politics today in the United States, it seems to me it is far too uncivil. We can have differences of opinions, but to ceaselessly call one another names, to point fingers, to blame, and condemn doesn’t help us to get to a better place and solve the complex problems before us today. So it seems to me, if we could all figure out how to stand up regardless of what party we belong to, or what persuasion and insist on being more civil, regardless of what the other people do, we can get to a better place. And it doesn’t mean we can’t have strong opinions, because we can. But when we are committed to applying these type of principles to get to a better place, we will.

In the meantime, it’s so hard when we get slowed down by constant bickering, focusing on personalities and other things. Again, this is not about any particular party, it is that about how we do things. There are other places in the world that even today are far more desperate that require individual and collective leadership, it is our only hope. So as we apply these kind of principles that we’ve been discussing today, that there’s a way forward, we can tell you what these key things are and we can look at these. They’re based on many years of research of what has caused success over the eons of time. As we do this, patiently, steadily, persistently, these principles will produce a predictable result and in the moment that is least expected, even a glorious, wonderful result, it has always, it has ever been so, that the good will win out.

So it has been great leadership that’s working towards building a great nation, a company, a team, a home and even your life. If things have gone south, you can turn them around. If there is a bad situation, you can improve it and work to make it better. It is the defining force of leadership, of great leadership that will define a great future. That is the defining difference. It is this unique thing that each one of us can develop within us, within you.

I hope that this podcast message of genocide, leadership and reconciliation may have sparked a resolve in you, as it has in me. The impact that an individual may have, regardless of how small or simple, minute or insignificant it may appear, that you can make a difference. Every day, may you and I remember that we have the opportunity to make this type of a positive difference. We can forgive, we can have a unilateral behavior of setting a higher course, of setting that vision in our own lives, of setting a plan of how to execute, of how we treat other people unilaterally not dependent upon how they treat us. How to create innovation by tying in to the good of other people, of recognizing the good of other people, of taking responsibility and never giving up. These powerful principles make all the difference in the world.

May we each be inspired, as we work in becoming our best, to stand anchored to these principles, to make good, better and our better, best. That’s what you can do. That’s what I can do. Wishing each one of you today, a great day. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host

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