Music That Kills

Bikindi, the Poet of the Rwandan Genocide

By Prodromos Paraskevaidis

April 4, 2023

(Krzyżowa, Poland) This morning, a very important tribunal session took place at the Model International Criminal Court (MICC) in the Polish village of Krzyżowa about an interesting and distinctive case with some unique characteristics. 

“All rise”, and the trial had already begun! It was about Simon Bikindi, a successful musician and composer of folk-rap songs in Rwanda. The songs allegedly supported the civil unrest between the two ethnic groups of this African country, the Hutus and Tutsis, because (the prosecution argued) Bikindi’s lyrics promote ethnic hatred.

On one hand, one of the main and most crucial arguments of the prosecution lawyers was that Bikindi was not simply an ordinary, harmless, powerless musician, but that the success of his songs made him a powerful voice in his country. They were well known to the people of Rwanda and had a real influence on the public. Military groups listened to the lyrics of the songs on cassettes and on Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTML) radio. The prosecution argued that the songs actively contributed to the genocide in 1995 of over 800,000 Tutsis.

Even though Bikindi could have tried to stop the broadcast of his songs during the peak of the tension following the death of Rwanda’s Hutu president, he did not, said the prosecution. They asked the court for a sentence of 12 years imprisonment for Bikindi for aiding and abetting the commission of genocide.

The defense team brought up the counter-argument that Bikindi did not have the power to stop RTLM from broadcasting his songs. I feel that he should have tried. I believe that his failure to stop his music being played did lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

Moving forward, the defense attorneys argued that prosecution misunderstood Bikindi’s lyrics, and that the accused never called for the killing of Hutus.

When judges asked Bikindi’s defense about the real meaning of the songs, they claimed that Bikindi was just advocating against the former Tutsi monarchy. I found their argument weak, and in an interview with the defense, they admitted to me they did not know the meanings of the songs.

In my opinion, the court should find the accused guilty as an abettor of these horrendous crimes against humanity. He had full knowledge about what the music he was composing, and in his songs he was using hate speech directed against a whole ethnic group. He did not make an attempt to stop the distribution of his music even when it was obvious that the killing was about to start. I am sure the court will find the defendant guilty.