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SEPTEMBER 11, 2007

Rwanda :: The Genocidaires



In the eyes of the western world Rwanda represents the complete breakdown of the United Nations as a governing body of the global community. For most people, Rwanda's single defining moment is the genocide of the Tutsi's in 1994. Oddly enough, even though at the time I was 16 years of age and still in the education system, I can not remember a single news report of the issue. Worse still, 14 years on and I know very little of the events that took place, or how the fate or Rwanda and it's Tutsi's is entwined so deeply with that of Central Africa in general.

With this in mind I did some reading and before I continue I would like to provide a brief history lesson - at least as to how I now understand the situation to be...

Setting the Scene
Unlike many African countries, both Rwanda and Burundi have been independant nation states with their existing land borders since as far back as 1000 AD. In the late 1800's with the advent of the German push through Africa, they were both absorbed into German East Africa. Unfortunately for the Germans, 1916 saw the Belgians conquering much of Central Africa and with the end of World War One Rwanda and Burundi were handed over to be administered by the Belgians.

In the 1830's, the Belgians conducted an extensive census to identify and categorise the Rwandan peoples as either Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa, and, as in South Africa during the Apartheid, they issued the population with identification cards outlining their tribe. To determine what tribe a person belonged to the Belgians used several scientific methods such as measuring the head and torso, as well as some not so scientific methods like the ten cattle count - those with more than ten cattle were assumed to be the more wealthier and intelligent Tutsi's.

It is now known that prior to the Belgian intervention, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa categorisations were purely socio-economic categorisations and as a person improved so they could change class.

Throughout the 1800's and into the early 1900's the Tutsi's were the favoured peoples, assumed to be more intelligent than their Hutu counterparts and therefore given most of the academic and Governmental jobs. In a strange twist, as the end of colonialism swept through Africa in the early 1900's the Belgians changed their allegiance to the Hutu majority. Finally in 1959 King Mwami Rudahigwa died, Rwanda achieved independence from Belgium, and through a series of democratic elections in the early 1960's the Hutu's took power. In true African style, democracy was short lived as the Hutu leadership implemented a single party policy. Before long revenge was being sort and, while they steadily took over the Government and military - the first Hutu/Tutsi massacres began.

Between independence in 1959 and 1973 over 700,000 refugees were forced into exile in Uganda and with that formed the Rwandan Refugee Welfare Foundation - later renamed to the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the RPF.

Over the years the RPF conducted many guerilla style raids into Rwanda, however their first major push came in 1990 when they invaded Northern Rwanda in an attempt to end the Hutu one party leadership. With the help of French, German and Congolese troops the RPF was repelled and in the following months the number of troops in the Rwandan army was steadily increased. So to did support for the RPF and by 1992 they were almost 12,000 strong and were being led by Major Paul Kagame (the current President of Rwanda).

In retaliation for the Tutsi 'cockroach' problem, the Hutu's secretly formed the Interhamwe, an armed militia. All through the early 1990's a series of Tutsi massacres took place. In October of 1993 the President of neighbouring Burundi was killed in a military coup and the United Nations started sending troops into Rwanda in an effort to quell ethnic tension.

The Hutu Government began spreading hate - they first published the 10 Hutu Commandments and in the days leading up to the genocide public radio began broadcasting inciteful messages.

The Genocide
On the 6th of April, 1994 a plane carrying the Presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi was shot down on approach into Kigali airport (ironically crashing into the Rwandan President's house). Within minutes the killing began. The first to be executed were the politicians, journalists and business men on lists given to the Interhamwe. On the 7th of April the Prime Minister was executed and the genocide spread across the country.

The RPF launched a major offensive into Rwanda on the 8th of April in an effort to end the genocide. With killing taking place openly in the street the Commander of the United Nations advised the Security Council of the situation - only to have his force reduced from 2,500 men to only 500. It was later revealed that General Romeo Dallaire advised the council that only 5,000 troops would be required to put an end to the genocide.

Unlike the German Holocaust or other similar events in history, what makes the Rwandan Genocide so scary is that a large portion of the killing was undertaken by civilians on the streets. Neighbours killed neighbours, husbands killed wives, friends dobbed in friends. In Kibuya in the west a catholic priest was responsible for shepherding many Tutsi's supposedly into safety at the local soccer field where they were executed by the military. Those that did manage to escape were hacked down in the street by the surrounding villagers.

Women were raped, victims were hamstrung and left for days before being killed, people were tortured for days before death came, often at the hand of a loved one forced to kill his own, no one was safe from the killing, while the machete was the weapon of choice - crucifixion and hand grenades were not beyond use either.

Walking the streets of Kigali one finds it hard but to wonder if a person you are looking at is in fact a killer...

As the genocide spread throughout Rwanda, the RPF moved further south unimpeded by the Rwandan National Army, the Government moved from the capital Kigali to Gitarme and still the United Nations talked. The United States refused to let the security council use the word 'genocide' as under international law this would require of them military intervention, and with the Somali debarkle fresh in voters minds, this was the last thing they wanted.

Finally in June, with the RPF pushing steadily across the country, the French army created a "Safe Zone" in the south of Rwanda, essentially to harbour the fleeing Hutu's. On the 4th of July the RPF took Kigali and by the 18th they had claimed victory in the war, albeit at a high cost and with no support from the United Nations or the outside world. Almost 1,000,000 Tutsi and Hutu Moderates were killed in the preceding six weeks. The Hutu Government fled into Zaire (now Congo).

In August the UN decided to send in troops...

Gacaca
Over 100,000 people were placed in custody for the crime of Genocide. While the Arusha Tribunal deals with the high profile criminals, there were too many for the court system to handle, hence the reinstatement of the tribal Gacaca courts to deal with the bulk of offenders. It is hoped that Gacaca will be completed towards the end of 2008.

Following the RPF victory there were over 2,000,000 refugees of both Hutu and Tutsi origin, and this is where the crux of the modern problem lies.

A Present Day Dilemma
While many of the Tutsi and Hutu refugees returned to Rwanda, a large number of Hutu's reformed in the hills of north east Congo and began a series of guerilla raids into northern Rwanda. The leader of Congo - President Mobuto, was a Hutu sympathiser and when the Rwandan Government requested he do something about the rebels, he instead began arming them. To create a buffer zone the Rwandans took the matter into their own hands and in 1996 invaded Congo.

One thing that should be made clear is that the RPF is not the clean cut rebel force many would have you believe, during the genocide they were responsible for exacting a harsh revenge on many innocent Hutu civilians killing tens of thousands on their advance into Kigali. Then later in 1995 the RPF was responsible for massacring nearly 10,000 people in a UN Refugee camp. The 1996 invasion of Congo was in a big way the fault of the United Nations who paid the Congolese army to police the refugee camps in Goma (on the Rwandan border). All in all, conservative estimates are that up to 150,000 people died in Congo at the hands of the RPF.

The invasion went so well that the powers that be decided to try and conquer the whole of Congo. With the help of Uganda they enlisted a Congolese rebel, Kabila, and began pushing through towards the Congo capital. By May of 1997 the Rwandan backed rebels marched into the capital.

Unfortunately for Rwanda the peace did not last very long, in fact within 12 months Kabila had betrayed the Rwandans and realigned with the Hutu Rebels. The Rwandans re-invaded, flying across the jungle setting up a number of bases around the Congo capital threatening to shut down the city's power. To make matters worse, the Congolese were immediately supported by troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia and managed to push back the Rwandan Army. With the Hutu's back in favour the Congolese began moping up which basically meant killing anyone in the capital who resembled a Tutsi - the genocide was happening all over again.

If things looked bad for Rwanda, they got steadily worse in 2000 when, while raping the diamond fields of Eastern Congo, a fierce battle broke out between the Rwandans and their allies the Ugandans that lasted six days.

Finally in January of 2001 Congolese President Kabila was assassinated by his body guard and by early 2002 a peace deal had been brokered between all of the warring parties.

And so we find ourselves standing in the Kigali Genocide Memorial looking at actual video footage taken during the genocide of Hutu civilians macheteing a Tutsi to death on the street - spine chilling. The 2002 peace agreement looks decidedly shaky with just this week rebel troops causing havoc over the border in Goma. Thousands of refugees are again fleeing.

How did we get here - I think that's a story for another day...

     
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