By Jean Gatera
The crowdfunding for one Dylan Kawende for his tuition fees at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom has caused uproar in Rwandan online communities against what they call “a fraud”. Kawende calls himself the son of two “Rwandan Genocide Refugees”. The term “Rwanda Genocide Refugee” is not a term used by survivors of the 94 Genocide Against the Tutsi, and it raised suspicion.
Rwandans on social media spotted inconsistencies in Kawende’s “genocide” fundraising strategy. “His story is clearly fictitious, starting with the non-Kinyarwanda name,” tweeted Rwandan Twitter personality Mwene Kalinda in response to another tweet that questioned the Kawende name.
26 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, cases of genocide denial and revisionism are rampant, as numerous denialist social media accounts, blogs and websites attest.
But there also is an increase in cases of fake Genocide survivors.
By Kawende’s own account, his story is at best confusing. Knowledgeable readers call it outright fictitious. Research shows that in 2017, before he began his fundraising project, Kawende on his medium blog said: “I’m three-part Congolese and one-part Rwandan.” In 2019, when he began his fundraising effort he changed to become the son of two “Rwandan Genocide” survivors in his strategy to get money.
Furthermore, his accounts of his parent’s supposed survival vary from surviving and fleeing to the United Kingdom (UK) via Kigali in some media to a different survival route. His latest version this month, on BBC was that his parents joined UK via Bukavu in DRC Congo after his mother’s side of the family found itself in “the crossfires of Hutu-Tutsi ethnic tensions in Rwanda.” In the interview, he is even uncertain of when his great grandmother mother was supposedly attacked, not sure if it is before or after the genocide.
Also in one of his posts, in his 2017 Medium blog, Kawende writes: “I should say that I have no qualms with telling people that my parents migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda in the early 90s, by way of exposition. Indeed, I am deeply proud of the sacrifices they made for me to secure a better future, and I share a profound and inextricable connection with Congolese culture.”
This has prompted readers to wonder how his family migrated in the early 90s, then reached the UK before the Genocide against the Tutsi in April to July 94, but now is a victim? It’s such a mystery!, some commented. Also, “why would Kawende’s 2017 ‘profound and inextricable connection with Congolese culture’ give way to the tragic Genocide in 1994 as the centerpiece in his 2020 crowdfunding fundraiser?” asked a genocide scholar when approached for comments.
A leading British paper, the Guardian, was forced to change their coverage of Kawende as “a student descendent of genocide survivors crowdfunding his tuition fees.” The Guardian changed the article’s title from “…The son of Rwandan genocide refugees…” to “…Rwandan refugees’ son…” and removed all references to the genocide.
A genocide researcher we talked to explained that there are numerous conmen and women that use the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis for personal gain. “Some fake to be survivors to obtain asylum while others use the fake identity to mask their genocide denialism with ludicrous versions like the double genocide thesis,” the researcher said, giving examples of Rene Murenzi, Jean-Claude Gatebuke and many others who pretend to be a genocide survivors. “Gatebuke’s father was an influential member of the political party, MRND, that planned and perpetrated the genociden” according to a childhood friend of his.
As further evidenced by the Kawende case, there are a lot of crooks out there; “some more harmful than others,” said the scholar.