… could be a day in your life that you will never forget.
Earthwatch have written to me …
If you have any friends, family, or colleagues who you think might benefit from the once-in-a-lifetime experience of living a day in the life of a chimpanzee, please let them know that we have a team in need of more volunteers running from October 7-18, 2017, as well as 6 teams scheduled throughout 2018 that need a good head start on their recruitment …
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.
This is Kigali, a city of about 750,000 people, capital of Rwanda and a city in transformation. Like Rwanda generally, it’s hilly. The photograph is taken from outside the Genocide Memorial. Inevitably a view point from which Rwanda as a whole has to be examined.
The memorial was opened in 1999. It is the final resting place of more than a quarter of a million people killed in the genocide. It is one of several memorials. The total number of victims of the genocide is imprecisely known, but is somewhere in the vicinity of a million. The total population of Rwanda now is only a little more than 11 million.
As the genocide unravelled 2 million Hutus fled to Zaire (now DRC). Any portable wealth went with them. The country was essentially in ruins.
Whatever the situation was before, whatever the reasons may have been, in just four months of 1994, just 23 years ago, this country tore itself apart on an almost unimaginable scale.
The Memorial has a souvenir shop and a cafe. These provide employment for people directly impacted by the genocide. This is a noble objective, if you visit I suggest you go to these establishments on the way in, you may have other things on your mind on the way out.
The galleries take you through time from life before the genocide, the genocide, the aftermath. There are separate spaces where you can sit and watch video accounts by survivors, there is a children’s gallery and a gallery to remind you of other genocides.
What, in my view, the Memorial does well is to present the horror that can come in the wake of social division. Women were raped, tortured, murdered in front of their families. People were forced, alive, into pit latrines, men were hacked to pieces, children were slaughtered, children were orphaned. Individual bodies, groups of bodies, mass graves were being found long after the carnage was over.
Survivors then needed to drag themselves forward without their partners, without their children. There were tens of thousands of households headed by children. No one escaped untouched by these events.
Many visitors will have considered the implications of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong ethnicity on their ID card. How many have asked themselves what they would have done if they had the opposite ethnicity on their ID card. There were heroes who risked their lives to provide shelter and there were nuns who incited the Hutu militias to greater fury.
If the visitor hasn’t already come undone, and I had, the Children’s Gallery will certainly test your composure. Innocent of everything but their supposed ethnicity, slaughtered for what?
After leaving the Memorial our next stop was a souvenir market. I hadn’t the inclination and was soon back at the car. We had grown to enjoy the company of our driver, a lovely man. He asked me if I was troubled by the Memorial and I admitted that I was. We talked for a while. He was seven at the time of the genocide. His father was murdered, his mother had raised the family on her own. At school, prior to the slaughter, Tutsis had been made to sit apart from the rest of the class and were vilified.
I asked him why such a thing could happen. His answer surprised me. It was nothing more than party politics, he said.
Although we were now in the big city our quest for wildlife isn’t quite at an end. The city boundary is, in part, formed by the Nyabaronga River and just over that is the Bugasera Swamp. The river is home to Hippos which you can find with diligent searching, they are just around the next bend. And although the banks are intensively cultivated the birding is excellent.
Perhaps because the farming is mostly labour intensive by hand implement the birds permit quite close approach, a chance to sort out some Weavers, generally a challenging group …
Other denizens of the marsh include …
Whilst in a vegetated area we encountered two of the African Babblers …
and along the river some Herons …
To keep the hippos out of their crops the locals dig a trench between the river and their field. It only needs to be about two feet deep and two feet wide to keep the hippos out.
Rwanda is quite a small country just south of the equator. It’s hilly, all of it is above 950 metres (~3000 feet) and in the west it’s positively mountainous. Mt Karisimbi is the highest point at 4,507 metres (14,787 ft). The Nile/Congo divide runs north south. About 80% of Rwanda is in the Nile basin, its contribution to the Mediterranean goes via Lake Victoria.
The divide crosses the Albertine Rift between Lake Kivu and Lac Edouard (shared between the DRC and Uganda). Edouard drains north to Lake Albert, collects reinforcements from Murchison Falls and gives rise to the White Nile.
Lake Kivu, on the other hand, drains to the south into Lake Tanganyika through the Ruzizi River. Lake Tanganyika then drains into the Congo River via the Lukuga River and heads for the Atlantic.
The source of the Nile fired the 19th century imagination in a big way. A rough and ready definition of “source” is the furthest point from the mouth where a river is still recognisably a water course, which might be a spring, a marsh or a lake. Uganda would have you believe that Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile, perhaps on the grounds that it doesn’t have Nile in its name until after it leaves the lake. The DRC could mount a similar claim to Lac Edouard. However there is a lot of river running into Lake Victoria. The Kagera River is the longest feeder, so which is its longest tributary? Burundians will tell you it’s the Ruvyironza, from Bururi Province, Burundi. But my money is on the Rukarara River from the Kamiranzovu Marsh in the Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda.
We drove past the marsh (where we had been walking a couple of days before) first thing in the morning, headed over the hills in the general direction of the capital, Kigali.
The journey gave us a little chance to see some real life in the countryside …
Our starting point is Gisakura with Lake Kivu in the distance. As you can see the road is of a good standard.
Before long we were passing tea plantations. This and coffee are important exports from Rwanda, tourism is another major earner of foreign exchange.
Much of the agriculture, though is subsistence farming. There are gardens on terraced slopes at every turn. It is a densely settled country, most of the surface area has been transformed by human activity. Many of the trees in the landscape are eucalypypts, fast growing and handy for construction and cooking fuel.
Most of the people have access to safe water supplies but the majority must carry it home from communal pumps.
When you meet children in Rwanda they will almost certainly ask you for money.
Because of the altitude Rwanda isn’t oppressively hot. There are two wet seasons and two dry seasons. In mid summer the sun is overhead the Tropic of Capricorn whereas in mid summer it is overhead … the Tropic of Cancer. No, it’s true.
It’s overhead Rwanda in spring and autumn, these are the wet seasons. June to September is especially dry, December to February less so.
By evening we were in Kigali but we stopped on the way at the National Ethnographic Museum. It is a well presented collection that follows the course of human society in Rwanda from stone age through the iron age to modern times. One striking absence is any mention of ethnicity.
Our tour there finished with a performance of drumming and traditional intore dancing.
Nyungwe National Park is home to at least 13 species of primate and in our short time there we were able to add four new ones to our monkey trip list.
There was a baby in the group that we encountered, and just like little humans it was overactive and keen to get some attention …
fortunately for mum they come with built-in reins …
They are initially all white, one of the reasons that mum doesn’t want it exposing itself in the canopy is that they are easy pickings for Crowned Eagles which are monkey specialists and their main predator.
A Mona monkey was feeding on the fringe of the Colobus group.
Next up were l’Hoest’s monkeys that had found an abundant supply of unripe fruit.
A troop of Johnston’s Mangabey also put in an appearance but were far less cooperative when it came to photography, keeping their distance and staying well back in the foliage.
Old friends like Chimps and Olive Baboons are also present. There are a couple of nocturnal primates here as well as some other hard to find species.