Rwanda: When a nation moves on
7TH APRIL & THE GENOCIDE IN RWANDA: LET’S MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
By Olusanya Oluwole Sheriff
Today, 7th April is a very loaded one for yours truly. For one, it is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide. This article would discuss in extensive details, the historic event and its implications for our continued and collective existence as Africans and humans.
And then, guess what friends? Today, April 7th, 2017 is my 3rd anniversary in Sterling Bank Plc. If the truth is to be told, it has been a fantastic journey thus far and I have to state with all sincerity that I have not regretted my decision to leave my job at the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives for Sterling Bank at any time in my eventful and educative journey so far. I would have loved to give you guys a full gist of my highs and lows at Sterling Bank but then let me return to our Rwandan story.
Rwanda is a very small country, located near the center of Africa, a few degrees south of the Equator. It is separated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) by Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley to the west; it is bounded on the north by Uganda, to the east by Tanzania, and to the south by Burundi. The capital, Kigali, is located in the center of the country. According to the 1991 national census, the total population of Rwanda was 7.7 million, with 90% of the population in the Hutu ethnic group, 9% Tutsi, and 1% Twa. The Rwandan Genocide itself began with mass killings in Kigali, but over the course of its 100-day duration, killing spread to all corners of the country.
(Luke Walker – Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) is a partner of World Without Genocide. February 21st, 2017)
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. An estimated 800,000 – 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, constituting as many as 70% to 80% of the Tutsi population. Additionally, 30% of the Pygmy Batwa were killed. The genocide and widespread slaughter of Rwandans ended when the Tutsi-backed and heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame took control of the country. An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.
The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, an ongoing conflict beginning in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule. Waves of Hutu violence against the RPF and Tutsi followed Rwandan independence in 1962. International pressure on the Hutu government of President Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a ceasefire in 1993, with a road-map to implement the Arusha Accords, which would create a power-sharing government with the RPF. This agreement was not acceptable to a number of conservative Hutu, including members of the Akazu, who viewed it as conceding to enemy demands. The RPF military campaign intensified support for the so-called “Hutu Power” ideology, which portrayed the RPF as an alien force who were non-Christian, intent on reinstating the Tutsi monarchy and enslaving Hutus. Many Hutus reacted to this prospect with extreme opposition.
On April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali. The assassination of Habyarimana ended the peace accords.
Genocidal killings began the following day. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda in order to systematically identify and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited and pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons to rape, maim, and kill their Tutsi neighbors and to destroy or steal their property. The breakdown of the peace accords led the RPF to restart its offensive and rapidly seize control of the northern part of the country before capturing Kigali in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide.
During these events and in the aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and other world powers – the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium were criticized for their inaction and failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers. Other observers criticized the government of France for alleged support of the Hutu government after the genocide had begun.
Effects of the Massive Atrocity
The Genocide may have ended some 23 years ago but the pathetic truth is that the effects of such disasters are always long lasting and ever evident. The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries.
“Immediately following the RPF takeover in July, 1994, around 2 million Hutus (perpetrators, bystanders, and resistors to the genocide) fled into the neighboring countries to avoid potential Tutsi retribution. Thousands died of epidemics, which spread like wildfire through to overcrowded refugee camps”. (Luke Walker of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies – February 21, 2017). The RPF military victory and installation of an RPF-dominated government prompted many Hutus to flee to neighboring countries, particularly in the eastern portion of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), where the Hutu genocidaires began to regroup in refugee camps along the border with Rwanda. Declaring a need to avert further genocide, the RPF-led government led military incursions into Zaire, including the First (1996–97) and Second (1998–2003) Congo Wars. Armed struggles between the Rwandan government and their opponents in DRC have continued to play out through proxy militias in the Goma region, including the M23 rebellion (2012–2013). Large Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi populations continue to live as refugees throughout the region.
Additionally, the pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows. The destruction of infrastructure and the severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy, challenging the nascent government to achieve rapid economic growth and stabilization.
In a paper titled; “Observations from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda” written by a World Without Genocide Associate. The author (exact name unknown) explained in explicit details our individual and collective contributions to a better world. The author summed up his/her experience at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which was established to try the perpetrators of the war crimes in 1994. Excerpts from the article;
“It is really difficult to see something you know needs to be resolved and want to help out so badly but feel like there is no solution. Such a feeling of uncertainty has almost driven me away many times. I remember thinking how easy it would be to pursue a lifestyle that ignores all of this inequity. I have a privilege to do that – but how could I live with that when I know that not everyone is in a situation to do that, and that because of our inter-connectedness I would somehow be benefiting from others’ pain. Many people choose to take this life of privilege without looking back. It is so easy to do, and this is where greed comes in, this is where genocide and violence happens – in forgetting the other, in thinking only of oneself, of one’s own survival. But what would the world be like without the other? Don’t we all shape each other? Aren’t we all apart of each other? As my host brother said, “It seems key to always think about the other as your own…if you think about him and he thinks about you, then you have 2 people looking out for yourself rather than only 1, and soon the whole world is looking after each other.”
“To me, justice is denying the option of turning the other way, acknowledging our own personal involvement in every situation, and working to end the negative ramifications of our individual actions. Above all, the experiences at ICTR and in Rwanda emphasized that we should always strive to question what is before us and to embrace those who are around us.”
Oh, and now that we are through with theRwanda story, would anyone want to wish me a happy 3rd anniversary in Sterling Bank?
God Bless Us All
Olusanya, Oluwole Sheriff is a Relationship Officer at Sterling Bank Plc.