The 100 Days Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda

Among the most told and notorious history stories in Africa there exists the Rwanda Genocide of 1994. The history of Africa cannot be told without mentioning this scary bloodbath that can only be compared to Hitler’s Holocaust (pundits argue that Genocide against the Tutsis was far much worse than the Nazi Genocide against the Jews, because the former claimed 1 million lives in 100 days, compared to the later which crushed 6 million lives in 6 years). Many a times, pundits have equated this genocide that occurred in the East African country covering only 26,338 km squared to the Middle passage (the transportation of slaves from West Africa through Atlantic to the Americas) reason being the severity and the cruelty observed during these occurrences. A lot of people wonder why the country that sits in a thousand fertile hills with only two significant ethnic groups and not so huge population could get into such a bloodshed. Well, I got out of my way to gather some information that I believe will be important in unravelling what exactly happened nearly three decades ago. I relied heavily on massive literature that has been documented ever since the genocide, and I was lucky enough to get a person who was willing to tell me the story of what exactly happened. So besides the secondary data, I went all the way to get the much precious primary data.

It is noteworthy to state that Rwanda has achieved so much, and literally like the phoenix, it has risen from its ashes to achieve huge brilliance. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda is a leading commercial hub in east Africa proving to be a worthy competitor to the traditional regional hubs of Nairobi and Dar-es-salaam. Some of the continent’s most defining ventures are housed in Kigali. The likes of African Leadership University and Carnegie Mellon University all found a home here. It is only fair to conclude that such noble investment ventures snubbed other African Cities for Kigali because of the high degrees of stability that has been experienced in Rwanda compared to any other African country. For your information, Rwanda is the safest country in Africa, and among the safest in the world and of course safer than the United States. I can only imagine where Rwanda will be in a half a century from today. Well, they say the only way to build a future is through learning from history and Rwanda has evidently capitalized on this hence turning a former blood bath zone to become a haven of peace and business. So just exactly, what happened in Rwanda that led to the genocide? Here is the story.

Between April and July 1994, approximately 1 million Rwandans of Tutsi descent were killed in cold blood in a space of 100 days only. Or to put it in another way, the genocide was directed to the Tutsi ethnic group. Just to some background, Rwanda had two significant ethnic communities, the Hutu and the Tutsi. The genocide, like a volcano erupted because of the death of the then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana who died when his plane was gunned down at Kigali Airport on the April 6, 1994. The president was of Hutu ethnic group. Immediately this happened, the genocide spread like wildfire from the capital Kigali through to the provinces and the entire country. It continued skyrocketing until 100 days later. It is however notable that the death of the president was indeed not the primary reason for the genocide. The death only led to a burst of emotions that had been fuming for a very long time. In other words, the death of the president just let to a pulling of a trigger from a rifle full of bullets that was just waiting for the right time to fire.
Looking back, ethnic tensions and violence in Rwanda began way before 1994. There had always been disagreements between the majority Hutus and the slightly minority Tutsi and this bad blood existed even during the times of Belgian Colonial Rule. It is interesting to note that both the ethnic groups speak a similar language (now known as Kinyarwanda), and lived amongst each other with similar cultural practices. Hutu always argued that the Tutsi were from Ethiopia. During the genocide, the cut bodies of Tutsis were thrown into the Rivers with their killers claiming that they have sent them (the bodies) to Ethiopia. The ethnic differences can be traced back to the time when the Belgians arrived in Rwanda to colonize it in 1916. They produced ID Cards classifying people according to their ethnic groupings. The Belgians, in their spree of divide and rule considered the minority Tutsi to be superior to the Hutus. The Tutsi therefore won favor of the colonial government include good job opportunities and education opportunities. This built up resentment and animosity leading to a series of protests in 1959 where more than 20, 000 Tutsi were killed, and majority of them fled to Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. Finally when Belgians handed over independence to Rwanda in 1962, the Hutu who had been sidelined inherited power. Over the years of independence, the Tutsis were portrayed in bad light. This was the case in all years preceding this genocide in the independent Rwanda. The economic situation worsened with president Habyarimana losing popularity. At the same time, the Tutsi refugees in Uganda from the 1959 war expressed hunger to go back home. In August 1993, after several months of unrest, a peace accord was signed between Habyarimana and the Tutsi forces of RPF in Arusha, Tanzania. However, when the plane carrying Habyarimana was gunned down, the final nail in the coffin of any peaceful resolutions was hit. The country went into a frenzy of instantaneous moment of the genocide. Within a few hours, recruits were sent all over the country leading waves of slaughter. In the plane, there was also the president of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira.

Hutu gangs organized themselves and attacked the Tutsi villages, where they hacked any person of Tutsi origin. The unofficial militia that carried out the persecutions was called Interahamwe. Soon after the war started, the United Nations abandoned Rwanda after 10 soldiers who were members of the UN Peace Keeping Mission were killed in the war. Kigali has severally accused the international community especially the United Nations for abandoning them at the time they needed them most. This genocide of the Hutus against the Tutsis was peddled by a philosophy that the Hutus could only exist in Rwanda after wiping out the entire Tutsi population. Most Tutsis ended up in DRC, Burundi and Uganda, even though these countries were also experiencing their fair share of instability at that time with Uganda’s Museveni facing the wrath of rebels, DRC then known as Zaire also very unstable under Mobutu scuffle with Kabila and Burundi tearing apart in civil strife. After 100 days of complete bloodshed, the Tutsi forces from Uganda captured Kigali suppressing the Hutus to surrender. Upon realizing this conquest, a record of 2 million Hutu population fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those who fled included several officers who were implicated in this war. Immediately after ceasefire, a unity government was formed led by Pasteur Bizimungu was deputized by the current President Paul Kagame.

Even though the war ended in Rwanda, seemingly it did not end beyond the borders. The refugees who fled to DRC continued with unrests among each other, conflicts that has so far claimed up to 5 million people who fled into DRC. The world largest peace keeping mission in Goma, east of DRC has been unable to end the conflicts.

Rwanda has seemingly regained normalcy and stability. Like never before, the country now enjoys a state of national tranquility. However, several trials of those believed to have organized the genocide including that of former fugitive Felicien Kabuga are still ongoing. History of this genocide is well preserved at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and many other memorial sites throughout the country.

Special appreciations to Teta who helped me piece up the story. Being a native Rwandese, she was able to hand me crucial primary data. She might not have been born in 1994, but she understands that the biggest peril is ignoring the history of your own country.

By Lincoln Oyugi

Just as Isaac Newton died a virgin, I'll die a writer!


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