Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Genocide is never spontaneous. It is an intentional act of multiple murders, aimed at destroying the presence of the victim group.” Kigali Memorial Center.

Unfortunately to most Westerners Rwanda is most known for the genocide of 1994. Perhaps even more unfortunate is the belief held by that population that these events were some sort of civil war absent of any Western or European influence. I believe this belief allows the world live in some sense of ignorance and therefore the atrocities that occurred here are somehow easier to dismiss.

The first thing to realize is that the concept of genocide to this population is not a new one, nor is it devoid of western influence. It began when the Germans successfully colonize against local resistance in 1895. During WWI the country was occupied by Belgian troops who were mandated to govern Rwanda by the League of Nations in 1923. When the first Europeans set foot in this land they discovered a population associated with eighteen different clans. The categories of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were merely socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstances. Under colonial rule, the distinctions were made racial, particularly with the introduction of the identity card in 1932. In creating these distinctions, the colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows a Hutu and this also applied to his descendents. The population had lived in peace for many centuries, but now the divide had begun.

With a shift in the political landscape placing the Hutu in a position of privilege toward the end of the Belgian rule, some 700,000 Tutsis were exiled from the country between 1959-1972 as a result of ethnic cleansing encouraged by the Belgian colonists and implemented by the Hutu. In October of 1990 a group called the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) which was made up of mostly exiled Tutsi invaded Rwanda from Uganda in an effort to reclaim there homeland and force a power-sharing government. The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) were able to call on international support, in particular France, and the assault was contained. The Rwandan government used the October 1990 invasion as a cover for a massive campaign  to begin the ethnic cleansing of Tutsi.

In order to convince the Hutu majority to turn against there Tutsi neighbors one of the most oppressive and derogatory media propaganda campaigns in history was undertaken. Nearly two dozen newspapers and journals preached hatred toward the Tutsi. These campaigns urged the Hutu to prepare for a pre-emptive attacks because the Tutsi were planning a war that would “leave no survivors”. In 1994 The Independent Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was established by the Hutu controlled government to further fuel this anti-Tutsi hate propaganda and two articles appeared in the paper Kanura predicting that the Rwandan president would die in March 1994.

On April 6, 1994 at 10:23pm President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down while flying into Kigali airport. By 11:15 roadblocks had been established nation-wide and houses were being searched in Kigali for individuals listed on pre-determined death lists. Armed militia had one objective to identify and kill Tutsis.

The number of dead is perhaps not nearly as disturbing as how they were executed. The hatred was so extreme on the part of the Hutu militia that their subjects were first demoralized before being executed. The overwhelming concept was to inflict as much pain on their victims as possible. To accomplish this, machetes, clubs, guns and any other blunt tool was deployed. Pregnant women were first raped, then their children would be murdered in the womb and finally they themselves would be executed. Often times tendons or ligaments would be sliced with machetes so the victims would not attempt to escape as the torture and ultimate death came. Families were forced to watch in torment as each member was brutally and systematically put to death. Because the genocide was ethnic based, the killings did not discriminate based on age. The smallest children were executed in the most horrific ways. It was genocide from the fist day, with no Tutsi overlooked.

In 100 days, more that 1 million people were murdered as the world turned there back. It amazing to think this happened in my generation. 1994 was the same year the US invaded Kuwait. When I think back at the media coverage of the Gulf War its inconceivable that the genocide in Rwanda was occurring without a turning of the camera. The world dismissed the events as a civil war or ethnic strife until it was too late and the 85% of the Tootsie population had been murdered.

Fortunately, mankind has a way of looking back - often times so as not to repeat in the future. In Kigali there is such a place that has turned its focus on the genocide in Rwanda but also highlights the genocide violence around the world. The Kigali Memorial Center, which was inaugurated on April 2004, the 10th anniversary of the genocide, dramatically tells the story of the depravity of man, specifically in Rwanda. It does not seek to be bias or retaliatory, just as the post genocide Rwandan nation itself, but rather it sheds a light on the past to educate, and in some way warn. Over 250,000 victims of genocide are buried at the site. It truly is a place of quite contemplation. The Center provides a visceral experience by not hiding the violence or placating the visitor as to the atrocities. It exists as a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and is by far most comprehensive and moving memorial I have ever visited.

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