Mzungu Memoirs

Cain and Abel

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. — Genesis 1:8

The struggle of brother against brother is almost as old as humanity itself.  It began with Cain and Abel and has taken many forms through the years.  The term “brother against brother” is often used in histories of the American Civil War, describing the situation faced by families in which loyalties and military service were divided between the Union and the Confederacy. There are numerous stories of brothers fighting on opposite sides of a battle and even of brothers killing brothers over the issues.

I think the term “brother against brother” can also be used to describe many of the conflicts on the African content, both civil wars within one African country as well as wars between African countries.  When Europe divided up the continent during the “Scramble for Africa,” there was no attention paid to tribal lines and loyalties, causing divisions within countries and across borders.  Even when a tribal area was left somewhat intact, the colonizing country often found a way to use tribal organization against the native people, sending them into a tailspin of self-destruction.  Such was the case for Rwanda.

We had the privilege of visiting the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali this past week.  It was a very sobering experience, one I hope I will never forget.  There was a lot that I didn’t know about the Rwandan genocide, particularly how premeditated it was.  It didn’t just happen.

Genocide is any of the following acts committed with intent  to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Genocide as defined by the UN Convention of 1948

The roots of the genocide in Rwanda can be traced back its colonization.  Before colonization, the primary identity of all Rwandans was associated with eighteen individual clans.  The distinctions of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans and could change with personal circumstances.  Under the colonial rule of the Belgians, the distinctions were made racial with the introduction of identity cards in 1932.  Those with ten cows were labeled as Tutsi, while those with less than ten cows were labeled as Hutu.  This distinction applied to all the generations that followed.

The Belgians then used this imposed ethnic distinction to divide and conquer the population.  Power was concentrated in the hands of the wealthy Tutsi minority.  When Tutsi leaders began calling for independence in 1956, Belgium switched their allegiance to the Hutu majority who favored a more gradual and prolonged timeline towards independence.

Tutsi bloodshed began with the “Hutu Revolution” in 1959 which was instigated by the death of the head Tutsi political leader.  An estimated 20,000 to 100,000 Tutsi were killed, while another 150,000 were driven from the country and force to resettle as refugees in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In 1962, Rwanda gained its independence and the Hutu majority came to power, introducing quotas for Tutsis that limited their opportunities for education and work.  A new round of bloodshed followed, resulting in thousands more Tutsi deaths and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the country.

On October 1st, 1990, forces of the Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) attacked Rwanda from the west in an effort to reclaim a homeland, and to force the government into a power-sharing agreement.  But foreign troops were called from France, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Hutu led Rwandese Armed Forces (FAR) was able to contain the concentrated assault.  With foreign support assured, the FAR went on a rampage against the Tutsis and any Hutu suspected of having collaborated with the RPF. Thousands of people were killed, and countless others were indiscriminately arrested.

After the RPF invasion in October 1990 and subsequent skirmishes, pressure from neighboring countries and the international community brought the two sides to the negotiating table.   On August 4th, 1993, an agreement was reached and the Arusha Accords were signed, addressing issues such as the rule of law, power- sharing, integration of the armed forces, resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, and elections. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) was created to oversee the implementation of this agreement.

Then on April 6th, 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda was returning from an implementation meeting with the president of Burundi when their plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.  The source of the missile is unknown, however many believe it was Hutu extremists who had been promoting ethnic cleansing over the airwaves.  The plane was shot down at 8:23pm.

By 9:15, roadblocks had been constructed throughout Kigali, and houses were being searched.  Shooting began to be heard within an hour.  The death lists had been prepared in advance.  No Tutsi was exempt.

One of the first to die was the ‘moderate’ Hutu prime minister, as well as 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers, prompting the immediate withdraw all Belgian troops, precisely what the FAR wanted.  Rwanda was left to its own devices, paving the way for the slaughter of over 1,000,000 Tutsi and Hutu sympathizers in 100 days.  The world stood by and watched and did nothing.

What I have come to realize as the root of it all, however, is the fundamental indifference of the world community to the plight of seven to eight million black Africans in a tiny country that had no strategic value to any world power.  An overpopulated little country that turned in on itself and destroyed its own people, as the world watched and yet could not manage to find the political will to intervene.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Alain Dallaire, who served as force commander of UNAMIR during the Rwandan genocide.

It was estimated that as few as 5,000 UN troops with authority to enforce peace could have stopped the genocide.  Instead, the UN mission was recalled, and the UNAMIR who was present throughout the genocide was powerless to prevent the killing.

There was a glaring and tragic lack of political will to intervene to stop the genocide, especially on the part of the most powerful member of the UN organization.

Ibrahim Gambari, Former United Under-Secretary General of the UN

The murderers used machetes, clubs, guns, and any blunt tool they could find to inflict as much pain on their victims as possible.  The most shocking part about the whole thing is the enthusiasm with which ordinary Hutu men, women and even children as young as 10 joined in the carnage.  They were caught up in a wave of blind hatred, fear and mob mentality inspired, controlled and promoted by their political and military leaders.

Eventually, the RPF was able to push the FAR into Burundi and the DRC.  Finally in July, the UNAMIR was reinforced and given a more open mandate, but it was “too much, too late.”  The genocide was over; the RPF had taken control of Kigali.  More than 1,000,000 men, women and children were dead and another 2,000,000 had fled their homes and their country.

The memorial grounds are the burial site of over 250,000 of those killed in the three month period of the genocide.  The memorial itself is a convicting educator of what happened.  I have to admit that since I had Caleb in tow, or rather he was pulling me through the museum, I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked to.  But that’s okay; I probably would have ended up sobbing my way through it.  It was difficult enough to make it through what I did get to see.  I think the hardest part was the section dedicated to the children killed in the genocide.  There were life-size photos accompanied by intimate details about their favorite toys, their last words and the manner in which they were killed.

I did my best to explain to Caleb what the museum was about and why we were there, but I’m not really sure he understood it all.  It is probably just as well.  I’m not sure I’m ready for his innocence to be crushed by the sins and cruelty of the world.  That will come all too soon, I’m sure.

Rwanda is doing a remarkable job of healing after their horrific past.  While the Hutus currently outnumber the Tutsi four to one, the government is predominantly Tutsi with Hutu representation.  But rather than adopt an attitude of retaliation, the Tutsi government has done an impressive job of promoting reconciliation and restoration of trust.  They are attempting to build a society with a place for everyone, regardless of tribe.  “There are no more Tutsis, no more Hutus, only Rwandans.”

I pray that something like this will never happen again.  But looking back at history, I see all the genocides that have been committed over the years, both those universally recognized (the Holocaust of World War II) and those that are not (the Armenian genocide of 1914-1918).  And I wonder, will humanity ever really learn?

When they said ‘never again’ after the holocaust, was it meant for some people and not for others?

Rwandan Apollon Katahizi, who survived the genocide.

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