I never would have known about this till the day I’ve watched the movie Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle who portrayed the role of Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu hotel manager in Rwanda who sheltered hundreds of Tutsis. So when I read this article I knew I had to post it.
The Last battle of the colonized against the colonizer will often be the fight of the colonized against each other.
-Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
David, Eunice Earl
Prof. Victor Mote
The Rwandan Genocide
“Decimation means the killing of every tenth person in a population, and in the spring and early summer of 1994 a program of massacres decimated the Republic of Rwanda. Although the killing was lowtech – performed largely by machete – it was carried out at dazzling speed: of an original population of about seven and a half million, at least eight hundred thousand people were killed in just a hundred days. Rwandans often speak of a million deaths, and they may be right. The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killings since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”(Gourevitch 1998, p.4)
Geography. Rwanda, known as the land of a thousand hills is a mountainous country located at the center of the Great Lakes region of Central to Eastern Africa, near the famous “Mountains of the Moon,” of ancient Greece. The country lies east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, south of Uganda, west of Tanzania, North of Burundi and is located 2°00 South and 30°00 East of the Globe. It has a total territorial area of approximately 26,338 sq km; 24,948 sq km of land and 1,390 sq km of water bodies. It is slightly smaller than Maryland and is landlocked with zero coastline and no maritime claims. The terrain is mostly grassy uplands and hills with mountainous reliefs that have a declining altitude from west to east. Most of the territory is savanna grassland with a predominantly rural population. The lowest point if the country is the Rusizi River at 950 m and the highest point is Volcan Karisimbi elevated at 4,519 m. Some of the natural hazards in Rwanda include experiencing periodic droughts and the danger of the volcanic Virunga Mountains located northwest along the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.
Most of the population lives in the medium-altitude area, a land of breathtaking beautiful vistas dotted with countless hills. The climate is particularly favorable for human occupation with an average annual temperature of 18℃ and 900 to 1,600 mm. of rainfall per year according to altitude. There are four seasons in the year, quite different from the European ones since they are divided not according to temperature (which remains quite the same throughout the year) but rain levels. In many ways Rwanda (and its twin Burundi) can be called a climatic and ecological island. This peculiar physical environment has had a strong impact on the nature of human settlement. Agriculture has always been prosperous. Rwandese peasants are in fact large-scale gardeners and, apart from the remaining forested areas (Gishwati in the North and Nyungwe in the south), the meticulously tended, almost manicured resembling more the Indonesian or Filipino paddy fields than the loose extensive agricultural pattern of many African landscapes. Not only is the land generous but it was also protective. The natural fortress of the highlands acted as a defense against the tsetse flies and malarial mosquitoes. (Prunier 1995, pp.1-2)
Rwanda’s natural resources include gold, cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), methane, hydropower and arable land. About 40.54% of Rwandan land is arable, 12.16 % is dedicated to permanent crops like coffee and tea, which serves as the country’s major foreign exchange earner, and about 47.3% of land is dedicated for other minor crops such as chrysanthemums (from which pyrethrum for making insecticides is derived), bananas, beans, sorghum and potatoes. Other exported products include hide and tin ore. Aside from these agricultural products, Rwandan economy also relies on livestock and other industries which include production of cement, agricultural products, small-scale beverages, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles and cigarettes. Some of the current environmental issues experienced in Rwanda today involve deforestation resulting from uncontrolled cutting of trees for fuel, overgrazing, soil exhaustion, soil erosion and widespread poaching.
Rwanda is known to be the most densely populated country in Africa, with a current estimated population of about 8,440,820 citizens as of the year 2005. The population growth rate is at 2.43%, with a birth rate of about 40.6 births per 1000 population and a death rate estimated to be approximately 16.32 deaths per 1000 population all in the year 2005. Its GDP composition by sector is 41.1% agricultural, 21.2% industrial and 37.7% in services. As of the year 2000, Rwanda’s labor force is estimated to be at 4.6 million, 90% of which is in agricultural occupations. It has an inflation rate of about 7% and about 60% of the total population is below the poverty line. Among the country’s biggest problems affecting the population is the prevalence of AIDS and HIV among its citizens. In 2003 alone, the estimated number of Rwandans infected with AIDS and HIV is about 250,000 and an estimated sum of 22,000 deaths from AIDS and HIV had been accounted for. Rwandans also suffer from major risks of food and water-borne diseases, namely; bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and the vector-borne disease, malaria.
Rwanda’s government type is a republic, presidential, multiparty system. The country’s capital is Kigali and there are twelve provinces; Butare, Byumba, Cyangugu, Gikongoro, Gisenyi, Gitarama, Kibungo, Kibuye, Kigali Rurale, Kigali-ville, Umutara and Ruhengeri. There are three official Rwandan languages, namely; Kinyarwanda, French and English. Other languages use in the country is Swahili, which is commonly used in commercial centers. Rwanda’s legal system is based on German and Belgian civil law systems and customary law. There are three ethnic groups in the country; the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twas – and so begins the conflict.
Genocide in the making. One hundred years before the genocide of 1994 an unsuspecting king of Rwanda welcomed a German count, Gustav Adolf von Gotzen to his court. He had no idea that ten years previously, at the Berlin Conference of 1884, the European superpowers had agreed to divide the African continent to themselves. Rwanda was gifted to Germany. The Germans found a unique and extraordinary country, an organized and structured monarchy, semi-feudal with aristocrats and vassals, and an administrative structure that emanated from the court. It was organized on four levels: province, district, hill and neighborhood. High chiefs managed the provinces, two chiefs for each district appointed by the king, a land chief in charge of agricultural levies and a cattle chief who collected cattle taxes. The hills were administered by hill chiefs. Each layer of this hierarchy was linked in a relationship of mutual dependence based on reciprocal arrangements regarding goods and services. In Rwanda, there were three groups of people, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. (Melvern 2004, p.5)
German rule over Rwanda did not last very long. Soon after the First World War, the western provinces of German East Africa, Rwanda and Urundi, which is now known as Burundi, were handed down to Belgium under a League of Nations mandate. The League of Nations mandated a system intended to help those of the world’s people who were considered incapable of ruling themselves. Under the mandate, Belgium was made to pledge to ensure freedom of speech and religion for its colonies to be, however, this was not the case. Belgium’s colonial rule eroded the power of the king of Rwanda and disrupted the old state apparatus. Western education was made available for the sons of the chiefs and money was introduced throughout the country. Obnoxiously and tyrannically enough, Belgium instigated a system of forced labor mainly for the purpose of building roads and made cruelty by whipping prevalent that some of the citizens fled to Uganda to become migrant workers.
One people, three divisions. Even before Rwanda was occupied, the country was already classified and divided into three groups; the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twas. Before being colonized, the definitions of the differences between the three groups were different. What differentiated Hutus and Tutsis was not race or ethnicity but their traditional economic specializations – the Tutsis were cattle breeders, the Hutu farmers, and the Twa hunters. Moreover, far from bringing them into conflict, these economic functions made the groups complementary. Their social functions were also fluid; they were never closed compartments. With the development of a westernized Rwandan society, these specializations were destined to disappear. (Rittner 2004, p.28).
The divisions in society were enforced. In 1933 the Belgian organized a census. Teams of Belgian bureaucrats arbitrarily classified the whole population as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa, giving everyone an identity card with the ethnic grouping clearly marked. Every Rwandan was counted and measured: the height, the length of their noses, and the shape of their eyes. For many Rwandans, though, it was not always possible to determine ethnicity on the basis of physical appearance: Rwandans in the south were generally of mixed origin and were classified as Hutu although many of them looked like Tutsi. In the north mixed marriages were rare. Some people were given Tutsi identity card because they had more money or more cows. The divisions in society became more pronounced with the Hutu discriminated against in all walks of life.
(Melvern 2004, p.5-6)
In the past, the Tutsi minority was considered the aristocracy of Rwanda and dominated Hutu peasants for decades, especially while Rwanda was under Belgian colonial rule.
The genocide begins. In the year 1959, three years from Rwanda’s independence from its Belgian colonizers, the majority group of the once oppressed Hutus overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. The Hutus quickly reversed the roles, oppressing Tutsis in revenge through systematic discrimination and various acts of violence. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were annihilated and about 150,000 were driven to exile in Rwanda’s neighboring countries. Soon after, the children of these exiled men formed a rebel group known as, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and began engaging in a civil war in the year 1990. The war culminated high tensions affecting Rwanda’s politics and its devastated economy. It was during April of 1994 when the civil war finally culminated its tragic, very unfortunate climax, the Rwandan Genocide.
The massacre. On the 6th of April 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile as it approached Kigali airport. Even until now, the responsibility for the assassination has never been confirmed. No one could pinpoint the mastermind. Nevertheless, looking at the speed with which the genocide was subsequently launched strongly suggests that the Hutu extremists had decided to finally rid themselves of their accommodationist president, and implement their own rendition of a “final solution” to their Tutsi “problem.” It was the signal for the Hutus that their time for ultimate revenge against the Tutsis had finally begun. The next following 100 days, Hutu militiamen started cold-bloodedly killing without guilt, without remorse, up to over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates, inhumanely clubbing and machete-ing up to over 10,000 in one single day. They spared no one, not even the children, in fact specifically targeting them as to ensure the doom of all Tutsis, that there would not be a next generation for their “cockroach” oppressors.
It was principally the men of the targeted populations who lost their lives or fled to other countries in fear. … This targeting of men for slaughter was not confined to adults: boys were similarly decimated, raising the possibility that the demographic imbalance will continue for generations. Large numbers of women also lost their lives; however, mutilation and rape were the principal strategies used against women, and these did not necessarily result in death. (El-Bushra 2000, p.73)
Abandoned. During the early weeks of slaughter international leaders did not use the word “genocide,” as if avoiding the term could eliminate the obligation to confront the crime. The major international actors, the policymakers in Belgium, the U.S., France, and the U.N. all understood the gravity of the crisis within the first twenty-four hours even if they could not have predicted the massive toll that the slaughter would eventually take. They could have done a lot of measures to prevent the killings, they had all the power and resources to do so but as if they were totally unaware, they did nothing. They took their citizens out of the country and left the Rwandans to die and suffer in their own demise. As for the rest of the world, we sat and watched TV, saw a brief clip of the horrifying mass murder going on in Rwanda, felt bad for a minute or two, and then continued on to eat our dinner comfortably in the safety of our homes. There were a few UN peacekeepers deployed, but they were strictly ordered not to use their weapons so all they could do was observe helplessly as thousands of people brutally died. Rwanda was deserted by the world in the wake of its doom.
“Rwanda is landlocked and dirt-poor, a bit larger than Vermont and a bit less populous than Chicago, a place so dwarfed by neighboring Congo, Uganda and Tanzania that for the sake of legibility its name has to be printed in most maps outside the lines of its frontiers. As far as the political, military, and economic interests of the world’s powers go, it might as well be Mars. In fact, Mars is probably of greater strategic concern. But Rwanda unlike Mars, Is populated by human beings, and when Rwanda had a genocide, the world’s powers left Rwanda to it.” (Gourevitch 1998, p.149)
The horror comes to an end. As soon as the genocide broke out, the Tutsi-led RPF launched a concerted drive on Kigali, crushing Rwandan government resistance and bringing a halt to the genocide in successive areas of the country. RPF forces based in Kigali also took up arms, and succeeded in protecting a large number of residents from the holocaust. On July 4, 1994, Kigali fell to the RPF, and the genocide and “war” finally came to an end on July 18. There followed a massive flight of Hutus to neighboring countries, notably to refugee camps in Zaire, as well as large-scale reprisals against Hutus who were alleged to have participated in the holocaust. (Human Rights Watch, Leave None to Tell the Story.)
The aftermath. After the genocide, some 120,000 Rwandans were put to jail on allegations of participation in the genocide. Thousands died in the brutal and unsanitary conditions, and as of April 2000, some 2,500 people had been tried, about 300 of which will be and have received the death penalty.
The genocide devastated the country in all aspects. I would argue that the most devastating effect of it is the spread of AIDS and HIV throughout Rwanda. Tests conducted on the 25,000 Tutsi women members of the Widows of Genocide Organization (Avega) showed that “two-thirds” were found to be HIV-positive. Thousands of children lost their fathers through machetes and soon they are bound to lose their mothers to AIDS.
The burden placed upon women survivors of the carnage has attracted considerable attention since 1994. In the areas most affected by the massacres — for example in Bugasera in eastern Rwanda — the proportion of women who have been widowed, raped or physically handicapped is very high. It is to a large extent these women on whom the responsibility for producing food is now falling. Their psychological as well as their physical status is therefore a major issue for the community’s survival in the current stage. (El-Bushra 2000, p.73)
Rwanda’s economy had been and will remain greatly damaged and might not at all be able to recover, unless a miracle happens. The main reasons are aside from the fact that there is a lack of roads, bridges or telephone lines, the Rwandan youth’s education lies on the line. There is a shortage of schools and educational materials and many of those who served as teachers died in the genocide. Also, the genocide leads to an even wider gap between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Many Tutsis think that their only survival and peace is to repress the Hutus. Hutus have come to believe that they have been proclaimed guilty by association and that no one cares about their own sufferings, especially not under the current Tutsi-led Rwandan government. Many have become extremists on both sides, believing that the only solution is the complete decimation of the other. It is not impossible that in the future, the dreadful history might repeat itself and that there might once again be another wave of an inhumane genocide in Rwanda.
El-Bushra, Judy. Transformed Conflict: Some Thoughts on a Gendered Understanding of
Conflict Processes.” States of Conflict: Gender Violence and Resistance. Ed. Susie Jacobs. Zed Books: 2000. p. 73
Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We will be Killed with our
Families: stories from Rwanda. New York: 1998
Melvern, Linda. Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide. New York: Verso 2004
Pottier, Johan. Re-imagining Rwanda. Cambridge University Press 2002
Prunier, Gerard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. New York: 1995
Rittner, Carol. Genocide in Rwanda: Complicity of the Churches? Minnesota: Paragon House,
Rowntree, Kate. The Geography of South Africa in a Changing World. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000
Zorbas, Eugenia. Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda. 2004.
United Human Rights Council. Genocide in Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch. Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. March 1999.
July 09, 2007 at 05:44 PM