I left the Genocide Memorial with many more questions than answers.
The genocide began on April 6, 1994. It had its origins long before that.
The Germans colonised Rwanda in the 1890’s. They found a monarchy with a Tutsi ruling class holding power over a Hutu and Twa underclass. Their interpretation was that there were three races, they believed that the Tutsi were of a northern origin and were higher in the racial scale although not so high, of course, as the Germans themselves. The Germans left the monarchy in place but made sure that they did as they were told.
During the First World War control shifted to the Belgians. They too, chose not to overturn the social structure that they found. One particular action of the Belgians had far-reaching implications, they issued ID cards with the ethnicity of the holder on it.
The modern myth in Rwanda is one of a rosy past, these were not racial divisions, society was fluid, intermarriage was common, the descriptors were of a class, caste or occupational nature. That is, until the Belgians forced a racial structure upon them. In the Genocide Memorial the date is given as 1932 and the dividing line as possession of 10 cows. Another version has it that the division was based on stature and facial features.
There is ample historical evidence that the division existed prior to Belgian involvement. It is generally accepted that the Twa were the first inhabitants perhaps earlier than 3000 BC. Bantu people came from about 700 BC onwards, clearing forests for agriculture. Pastoral people followed and the rate of their arrival reached a peak around 1500 AD.
There is some genetic evidence for a different origin for Hutu and Tutsi. There are some markers that suggest the Tutsi may have come from the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia) and there are differences in rates of lactose tolerance and sickle cell trait. About 75% of Tutsi adults are lactose tolerant, some Bantu peoples are totally lactose intolerant as adults, about 33% of Hutu are tolerant. A particular haplotype of the sickle cell trait, which confers some protection from malaria, is found in central African people including Hutus but is almost non-existent among the Tutsi.
On the other hand there is plenty of evidence of genetic intermixing. In the spurious terms of racial purity there are no modern Hutus or Tutsi of pure pedigree. Such a degree of intermarriage would indicate that there was no general belief in a racial difference.
The Germans found a feudal structure in which Tutsi chiefs were the equivalent of Lords of the manner, the Hutu underclass held land in return for labour. But there was a degree of social fluidity, intermarriage occurred and successful Hutu could join the ranks of the nobility. The entire community spoke the same language, Banyarwanda, a Bantu language.
So yes, the past was entirely rosy, but the nobility got the flowers, the peasants got the thorns.
After the Second World War there was a movement for independence throughout colonised Africa. By this stage the Rwandan populace had embraced Catholicism and in return were receiving an education in church schools and status as officers within the church structure. The old upper class had some competition from an emergent middle class.
The Tutsi pushed for an early independence on Tutsi terms but in 1960 the Belgians dismissed most of the Tutsi chiefs and organised communal elections. The tide had turned in favour of the Hutu majority. The king was deposed. Independence followed in 1962.
Purges of Tutsi followed, refugees departed to neighbouring countries from where some waged an insurgency, more irritating than effective.
In 1973, Army Chief of Staff, Juvénal Habyarimana seized power in a coup d’état. Rwanda became a one party state, his followers were required to sing and dance in adulation at his public appearances. Tutsi’s were discriminated against in employment and education.
In the 1980’s some exiles in Uganda under the command of Fred Rwigyema took up arms with Ugandan rebels in the Ugandan Bush War which led eventually to the overthrow of Milton Obote by Yoweri Museveni. The Rwandans stayed on in the Ugandan military but had plans of their own.
In October 1990, Rwigyema led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) across the border. France and Zaire came to the aid of the Rwandan Army, Rwigyema was killed in action. Paul Kagame took command, led a tactical retreat into the Virunga Mountains. With funds from the Tutsi diaspora he improved the arms and built his forces. By January 1991 he was ready to begin a guerilla war.
The presence of a rebel military force in one corner of the country galvanised the more extreme Hutus to an even more hardline and overtly racist position. The situation for Tutsis became worse.
The RPF was having sufficient success to undermine the government, the French, sympathetic to the Hutu establishment pushed for relaxation of the one party state to produce a broader coalition. The RPF called a ceasefire and peace talks began.
At this point there were four groups taking positions. The government under Habyarimana and propped up mainly by his wife’s family members and connections, a fairly orthodox and moderate Hutu opposition, the Hutu hardliners and the RPF.
The hardliners were forming militia groups and preparing for a final solution. The French were training the militias. When a peace accord and power sharing arrangement with the RPF seemed likely the hardliners unleashed the militias on the civilian Tutsis. The RPF abandoned the ceasefire and took a significant swathe of the country.
The government was forced back to the table, the Arusha Accord was signed. The UN provided a peace keeping force. The RPF would play a part in a Broad-based Transitional Government. By March 1993 the hardliners were drawing up lists of those they intended to kill.
Sentiment in the general Hutu community, alarmed by the Tutsi rebellion, was hardened further by events in neighbouring Burundi. The first Hutu to be elected president was assassinated by Tutsi army officers.
On January 11, 1994, General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peace keeping force informed the UN that Rwanda was on the brink of genocide. Kofi Annan instructed him to do nothing.
On April 6, 1994, the aeroplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board. It is unclear who brought the plane down but the hardliners were suspiciously well prepared for such an event.
A crisis committee met that evening. The Prime Minister Mrs Agathe Uwilingiyimana should have taken the reins but the committee refused to allow her to do so. General Dallaire endeavoured to persuade them to follow the constitution. When this failed he sent 10 Belgian troops to move her to a safe location. The Presidential Guard intervened. The prime minister and her husband were murdered. The Belgian soldiers were tortured and then murdered. The genocide had begun and it was very well organised. Moderate Hutus, journalists, judges were all early victims.
The UN peace keeping force did nothing.
The killing went on for 100 days. It was brought to and end by the advance of the RPF. Kigali was encircled quite early in the campaign but control of the country was given precedence over taking the city. The genocide continued within the capital even as the rest of the country fell.
When the international community woke to the disaster it finally came to the aid … of the Hutu refugees in UN refugee camps in Zaire. Camps that were housing the perpetrators and run by the former military establishment.
Paul Kagame, leader of the RPF, became the President and is the president still. He was reelected just the other day with almost 99% of the vote. For those of us who live in a western democracy that seems an unlikely figure but from personal conversations I can tell you that he is a very popular figure.