40,000 is the figure representing the number of high school students that will attend this year's Ingando indoctrination camps in Rwanda. As the Kagame Times tells us, there are a total of 84 camps, located in each of the 30 districts. Ingando has been a state mandated right of passage for every graduating class since the 1994 genocide. Along with Umuganda (a monthly community service program) they are part of the wider government's program to re-create a new society and revise history.
Ingando is for all intent and purposes a mandatory activity. However, this is not decreed by the country's constitution. Regardless, failure to attend Ingando is akin to declaring oneself an enemy of the state--a serious crime anywhere in the world. If, for some reason, you refuse to participate, you would have to forget ever receiving your high school diploma or any other government service for that matter. That is at least what the government officials threaten. And we know that the consequences have already been felt by some sections of the population, in particular, members of the Jehovah Witnesses. Such people are referred to as as Ibipinga (plural) a derogatory term used to describe RPF opponents. In the late 1990s being called Igipinga meant in some cases, an automatic death sentence at the hands of RPF killing squads. Although the situation has improved, being Igipinga still comes with a lot of risks.
The government, obsessed with the urge to control as they are, believes that the three-week long camps can help teach the youths how to "love the country". They also claim that Ingando can be a tool for promoting reconciliation. This certainly would be the case, for instance, if the state was interested in teaching a more diverse version of Rwanda's history. However, this is far from the case. At the camps, the youth are forced to memorize the RPF's narrative and are also taught how to shoot guns. In the history lessons delivered by military instructors, everything that went wrong in Rwanda is blamed on the colonialists and members of the past Hutu regime. There is no mention of RPF's crimes both in Rwanda and the DRC.
Ingando camps would not happen without the participation of the church and the civil society. In fact, this is what scares me the most. That the entire civil society has been co-apted to advance Kagame's interest, with the devastating consequence of turning Rwanda into a complete totalitarian state. One of the leaders of these camps is Bishop Rucyahana, an influential Episcopalian minister, with close ties to the ruling regime. In the past, the church abandoned the poor and became consumed with elite political interests even as the 1994 genocide occured. Sadly, the church is not keen to change. It is has lost the prophetic voice. Bishop Rucyahana represents this unhealthy union between the church and the state. By advancing RPF partisan interests and accepting to be used as tools by the Kagame regime, they are not different from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church who served as President Habyarimana's advisers in the 90s.
In fact, it is puzzling how much the situation has remained the same. President Habyarimana enjoyed deep support from the Vatican and from the Christian Democrats in Europe. Today, it is American Evangelicals, such as Rev. Rick Warren, who market the Kagame brand the most. Rev. Warren is said to have adopted a Rwandan citizenship (never mind that many natural-born Rwandas live in exile without such privilege) and dreams of making Rwanda "the first purpose driven nation".
Last year, at Kagame's swearing in ceremony (elections which were marred by intimidation and murder of opponents), the Rev. Warren devised the slogan Sibomana ("they are not God") to denounce RPF's opponents. He was implying that Kagame is God's chosen leader for Rwanda. How someone accused of genocide by the U.N. would help transform Rwanda into a "purpose driven nation" is difficult for many of us to comprehend. I could be wrong but as far as I know, there are no Christian heroes who killed that many people.
Many scholars have studied Ingando more closely and in greater detail than I have. Here I recommend the work of Dr. Susan Thomson who was forced to participate in them, which gave her a rare glimpse into how Ingando functions. Another excellent account is that of Chi Mgbako published by the Harvard Human Rights Journal. Almost all of these accounts conclude that Ingando is a tool of imposing the government's will on the people. It is a way for the government to break up the will of these young ones and transform them into "obedient and patriotic" citizens.
Regardless of what spin the government puts on it, it is unlikely that such a platform would advance reconciliation. People will not build unity based on deceit and coercion. It simply cannot happen; will not happen Programs such as Ingando are the remaining vestiges of communism and have no place in the 21st century.