So I started thinking about revisiting the Rwandan genocide of 1994 (I wrote about it for the original (now old fashioned, newsletter style) Megoracle a few years ago), and then – as my life is a mosaic of synchronicity but that’s a weird story for another day – Rwanda popped up everywhere – on the telly, on the radio, on the internet (I stumbled across an organisation right here in Tassie called the “Rwandan Coffee Club“) and then this morning, there was talk about protests over the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth. Why? I thought he was a goodie? So that’s my cue – Looking back on Rwanda. Off we go…
In the space of 100 days – between April and June 1994 – an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed, for the most part in cold blood (incidentally, “in cold blood” is a phrase that indicates a lack of involvement or reason – detached behaviour, performed with cool deliberation).
Where the bloody hell’s Rwanda? The Republic of Rwanda is a country in central and Eastern Africa with a current population of 11.4 million.
Where did the trouble begin? The genocide was the culmination of a long history of ethnic tension in the central African Republic of Rwanda. There are two main ethnic groups in Rwanda, the majority Hutus and and the minority Tutsis. 600 years ago the Tutsis moved south from Ethiopia and successfully invaded the Hutus in Rwanda. The two groups came to live harmoniously as one – inhabitating the same regions, speaking the same language and living the same traditions under a Tutsi king. Then the country was colonised by Belgium in 1916 and the Belgians considered the Tutsis the superior group (they looked more European). So the Tutsis enjoyed better education and employment that the Hutus. Resentment grew and by 1959 the Hutus began a series of violent riots in which up to 20,000 Tutsis were killed and many more fled to neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.
Why didn’t the Belgians just butt out? They did – eventually. In 1962, after pretty much starting the troubles, they got the hell out of the hot kitchen and granted Rwanda independence. The Tutsi monarchy was dissolved and the two groups fought to fill the power vacuum. The Hutus gained majority while the Tutsis became a refugee diaspora (or scattering of people from an ancestral homeland). Fighting and rioting flared on and off in the following decades and the Tutsis became the scapegoats in every crisis.
What is the Rwandan Patriotic Front? (RPF) In camps surrounding Rwanda, the Tutsi diaspora became increasingly organised (and cross), forming the RPF in 1985. A formidable military force, the RPF (supported by some moderate Hutus) invaded Rwanda in 1990, demanding a return as citizens and an end to discrimination. Meantime, the Hutu President, Juvenal Habyarimana was facing economic crisis and wavering popularity among the Hutus. He used the RPF threat as a means to bring dissident Hutus back to his side.
Campaign of Hate Habyarimana generated a campaign of fear and hate, based on the assertion that the Tutsi rebels intended to enslave the Hutus and must be resisted at all costs. Media outlets were mobilised and anti-Tutsi propaganda circulated. Hutu groups rallied together to face the RPF, tensions and violence escalated. The Government openly discussed plans to rid the nation of all Tutsis, arms were acquired (reportedly from UK company Mil-Tec Corporation) and high ranking officials trained militia in preparation for ethnic cleansing.
Habyarimana Dies In April 1994, President Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down by unknown perpetrators. In (Rwandan capital) Kigali, the presidential guard immediately prepared for revenge. Opposition leaders were killed, the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate, pro-peace Hutus began.
Genocide Within hours, militia were deployed throughout the country to carry out the wave of killings. Before long, unofficial militant groups and Hutu citizens joined the violent campaign, encouraged by the Government and their anti-Tutsi radio propaganda. Money or food was offered as incentives for murder. In some cases, Hutus were told they could appropriate the land of the Tutsis they killed and in other cases, Hutus were forced to kill their Tutsi friends.
International Response A few weeks into the violence, the UN attempted to negotiate a ceasefire on numerous occasions without success, and after the death of 10 UN soldiers, they withdrew altogether, leaving the conflict to play out without them. They have since been widely criticised for their pallid response.
So Who Won? The RPF (Tutsis), under the thirty-something Paul Kagame as leader, renewed their invasion and by July had captured Kigali and declared a ceasefire as the Government collapsed. Around 2 million Hutus fled to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and thousands died as disease swept through the camps.
Aftermath What was left behind was, in short, a complete disaster zone, a wasteland. I can hardly bear the details but here they are (in estimates): 250,000 women widowed, 100,000 children separated from their families, 300,000 children killed. 300 children, some less than 10 years old, had been accused of murder. Most surviving children thought they had no future. In Kigali the population had fallen from 300,000 to 50,000 and half of these were displaced. Food and water were scarce. Schools and hospitals were destroyed and basic drug and health supplies had been looted. The new government ministries had no staff, no offices, no equipment, no vehicles and no money in the coffers. Outside the capital, whole families were dead, livestock killed and crops left to decay. Everywhere lay the rotting corpses of the killed.
What Happened Next? On 19th July, a multi ethnic Government was formed. Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, was made President while RPF members were assigned to most cabinet positions. Paul Kagame, the RPF leader, was granted vice-presidency. UN troops and aid workers arrived in Rwanda to help restore basic services.
All refugees were promised a safe return to Rwanda. As they began their return in 1996 and killers, victims and survivors are living uncomfortably side-by-side, the long-awaited genocide trials began, with UN assistance, to bring the countless murderers to justice. Paul Kagame was elected as President in 2003 in the new process of parliamentary election. Another element of the aftermath includes the birth of between 2000 and 5000 babies as a result of “war rape”.
So what happened to the people who committed atrocities? Around 120,000 suspects were rounded up and put in overcrowded prisons, some held there, without trial, for years. 22 people were publicly executed for murder, until the abolishment of the death penalty in 2007. In 2003, prisoners who were very young, old, sick or fully confessed to their crimes were released. They spent three months in education camps (to learn the tragic course of history, the need for national unity and the physical, practical expectations of one who had committed murder) before returning home. For those who truly repented – and they were many among those who were sorry for the misfortune it had brought upon themselves – those who were truly sorry, knew that they needed to say sorry to the survivors left behind. As one killer said (from the Rwandan Stories website), ““I don’t know if my repentance will be accepted, if I will be spared. But regret is like death: you must bring it back home to your hill.” (Nb – Rwanda is known as “the land of a thousand hills”).
Recovery by gacaca Here, I quote the pages of the beautifully written Rwandan Stories:
“In 1998 the government started looking at the possibility of re-introducing Rwanda’s traditional community justice process called gacaca. The word refers to the small grassy area where villagers would traditionally get together to solve disputes. It was a controversial idea. Was it wise to hand over the responsibility to the community? What would the rest of the world think? Would it emphasise punishment or reconciliation? President Kagame, who was Vice President at the time, said, “I wan’t convinced that gacaca was the best approach. I still don’t think gacaca gives us all we need… but it gives us most things… I wanted something stronger than gacaca. The survivors were calling for strong justice. After all, they had been through genocide. Was gacaca going to be enough for them? …eventually I was persuaded that gacaca would help us deal with the massive number of genocide suspects who were in prison.” ”
After two years of training, development and public education, the gacaca process was put into action and later evolved into a full blown court system using methods of transitional justice designed to promote healing and progression. The system classified crimes and assigned appropriate punishment. Citizen judges were appointed from within communities. It was completed in 2010 and while it has obvious shortcomings, and attracted widespread criticism, the process has had much success while adhering to a simple philosophy:
“Rather than rebuilding a society which had already broken apart – even before the genocide – the new government was determined to build something new. One people, one country, open to all Rwandans regardless of ethnic identity. These were values which had never been experienced by any Rwandans in living memory, but built on shared ideas about the past.” – Rwandan Stories
Why is Paul Kagame being criticised? Well it seems there are plenty of people hollering about President Kagame being a dictator of the dick-tator kind. Why? Because allegedly:
- His Government and army has seen to executions outside the course of justice , as well as incidents of deaths in custody, torture and random arrests based on insufficient evidence
- He censors the media beyond belief and deals ruthlessly with anyone who shows signs of dissent. Journalists are placed under surveillance, threatened, harassed and/or arrested.
- He is exceptionally media savvy and has manipulated the public to believe he is a caring and wise leader who has revived the country post tragedy
- He ensures there is no freedom of religion in Rwanda
- Along with the Ugandan government, he invaded the north and east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing thousands of civilians. He declared war against anti-Tutsi policies and claimed he was fighting for historical Rwandan territories when actually he was honing in on Congolese mineral resources.
- He suppresses, under threat of arrest, opposition members and parties.
What is Rwanda like today?
“What these people have achieved in the short time since the genocide is unbelievable… this is a terrific country.” Paul Schonherr, Ambassador of the Netherlands.
Rwanda Tourism’s current catchphrase is, “Discover a New African Dawn”. It is growing as a travel destination and tourism is now an important and fast growing economic contributor. Kigali has city tours, Gorilla Trekking in the mountains is a ‘must do’, traditional music and dance is celebrated and demonstrated, basketry and ceramics are displayed.
The economy is mainly dependent on subsistence farming and has recovered since the genocide, with Gross Domestic Product near on quadrupling since 1994.
The population is young – 97.5% are under 65.
Today’s Rwandan news includes reports of HIV rates falling, the upcoming Rwandan Film Festival, athletes in training for London 2012, carbon markets and clean energy ramp-ups, additional Governmental staff and the birth of rare gorilla twins.
April the 7th is Genocide Memorial Day and every year marks the beginning of an official National Week of Mourning.
A Thought for the Twa The original inhabitants of Rwanda are the Twa, or Batwa. They are descendent of the ‘pygmy’ people of Central Africa. They consider themselves the forgotten people of Africa. In Rwanda there are an estimated 33,000 Twa, none of whom own land. They work mostly as potters or porters, but their services and goods are required less and less. They are “displaced” and often live in grass huts. Up to 10,000 Batwa died in the genocide while another 8 to 10,000 fled. Their number are still said to be depleting.