Reliving the Rwanda genocide

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Recently in Kigali, Rwanda

THE gory images displayed in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum succinctly demonstrate the colonial policy of divide-and-rule at its devilish best.
In the various compartments of the museum, skulls and other human skeletal remains, mug-shots and clothing of victims of the 1994 Rwanda’s three-month genocide are there for all to see.
It’s a heart-rending sight.
Included in the picture gallery of people accused of complicity in the genocide is a man of collar in the form of a Roman Catholic priest – a common feature in Africa’s colonial history.
Rwandese are very eager that visitors tour this macabre museum of death, where 250 000 were buried in a genocide that is said to have claimed 800 000 to one million lives in 100 days.
The museum is classified as one of Rwanda’s critical tourist attractions.
On arrival, the message spelt out very eloquently is that all the genocide victims at this Kigali museum are Tutsi, who make about 15 percent of the population.
The Hutu, who are about 84 percent and were in control of government during the 100 days of the 1994 massacre, are portrayed as insane butchers. The Twa make up the remaining one percent
But Boheur Pacifique, who was manning a Kigali Genocide Memorial stand at the Convention Centre, where the recent African Union (AU) summit was held, puts the blame entirely on Belgian colonial policy of divide-and-rule.
“Before Rwanda was colonised, Hutus and Tutsis were one people with a similar cultural background, sharing the same language, Kinyarwanda,” said Pacifique.
However, the Belgians opted for scientific racism to promote the lighter-skinned Tutsis as they argued they were closer to Europeans because of their origins.
The Belgians introduced identity cards, which became a symbol of class division.
Unlike in a colony like Rhodesia, there wasn’t a significant physical presence of the Belgians in Rwanda
That is why the army, police, civil service and other national administrative duties were the responsibility of Tutsis on behalf of the Belgians.
“The Hutus then hated the Tutsis as they were seen as the face of the repressive colonial rulers,” added Getrude Mayambere, who had joined my conversation with Pacifique. So, as political consciousness rose with the formation of nationalist political parties, the Hutus became more influential in the late 1950s.
Hatred towards Tutsis became violent and in the riots of 1959, thousands were killed and several others fled to neighbouring countries.
Rwanda became independent in 1962, with a Hutu president, and this spelt doom for the Tutsis.
Thousands of them fled to refugee camps in Burundi, DRC, Tanzania and the bulk to Uganda. They were not allowed to return.
When President Juvenal Habyarimana became the next Hutu leader in 1973, he was adamant, since Rwanda was too small, there was no room for returning ‘Diasporans’.
When Yoweri Museveni overthrew President Obote with his army of guerillas, Rwandese Tutsis who had helped him, decided to turn on their country.
They invaded their home country in 1990 from Uganda. Intermittent invasions culminated in the assassination of Habyarimana on April 6 1994.
“July 7 marked the day when the 100-day Rwanda genocide began,” said a senior journalist from a Rwandan daily.
What appeared to be a well-organised campaign of ethnic cleansing ensued.
“The instruction was simple; kill every Tutsi or anybody with Tutsi blood – painfully,” said a friend of the journalist.
“Machetes, clubs with nails, axes, knives, poles, grenades and guns were used,” writes Kigali Genocide Memorial in their book We Survived Genocide in Rwanda.
Survivors who tried to escape were caught up in forests, hills, churches and swamps – there was no safe haven.
Since Hutus and Tutsis lived together, it was easy to identify a Tutsi neighbour for slaughter.
Teachers killed their own students and even doctors were not keen to treat Tutsi patients.
Miriam Yankevuje, who was seven years old at the time of the genocide, had a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother. She was unwilling to give details, but said her mother and brothers were killed in her presence, while the father escaped.
But there are said to be cases where a Hutu husband would kill his Tutsi wife to demonstrate compliance.
Non-compliance, if detected, meant death.
Tutsi women are generally very beautiful.
This helped them when they fled to Uganda as their hosts couldn’t resist marrying them, speeding up the integration process.
But this was not the case during the genocide madness.
Instead, they were deliberately raped repeatedly by HIV positive men as punishment for being the face of a colonialist.
Thank heavens the senseless systematic killings ended on July 4 1994 when the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front entered Kigali from Uganda.
Rwandese are generally reluctant to relive their experiences of the genocide.
Instead, at face value, they seem to have reconciled themselves, not only to the genocide, but also to the ethnic hatred created by Belgian colonialists. They no longer want to identify themselves as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa.
“We are Rwandese and in fact, the identity cards introduced by the Belgians differentiating us are no more,” said Pacifique, who had no kind words for Western colonialists.
“Identifying yourself by your ethnic roots might not be a criminal offence, but is considered taboo and may lead the offender into trouble,” said a hotel guest at Gorilla Hotel, where I stayed.
Gorillas are a major tourist attraction in Rwanda.
Kigali is a smart city growing at a remarkable pace and the disciplined residents appear friendly and co-operative.
I wondered how this was so after such a troubled recent past.
“My friend, in Africa you don’t need the kind of democracy preached by our Western colonisers, we need a dictator like what Paul Kagame, a former army general is,” a Rwandan journalist confided in me.
Hopefully, the existing peace and reconciliation in Rwanda is going to outlive Paul Kagame.
Even if a Hutu president is going to emerge in the distant future, it is unlikely he would re-open old wounds.
The feeling of guilt might make him even more reconciliatory.
For instance, the feeling of guilt following the Nazi Holocaust could explain German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy. It was appropriate that the 27th AU Summit was held in Rwanda.
The virtue of a united Africa could be consolidated by the practical example of Rwanda which 22 years ago could have disappeared from the face of Africa.
Concrete measures like the launch of an African passport are a necessary step towards erasing colonial artificial boundaries.
As President Kagame rightly put it: “The tissue of brotherhood and sisterhood cannot be amputated by lines drawn on a map in another century.”
The 0,2 percent levy on all eligible imports unanimously agreed upon will see Africa take the destiny of a united continent into its own hands by contributing financially to its development and management of crisis.
The AU Chairman, Idris Deby, pointed out that with our own funds guaranteed, it was possible for an African Standby Force ready for rapid response to be a reality. Such a position would enable a united Africa to intervene in cases like South Sudan, where exploiters’ interests might even encourage chaos in order to loot its natural resources.
In the case of the Rwandan problem, the West had conflicting interests, with France backing the Hutus and America backing Kagame and the Tutsis.
Neither side had genuine concern about loss of life.
In fact, France is accused of giving cover to genocide criminals as they escaped to Eastern DRC.
President Kagame has persistently accused France of playing a ‘direct role’ in the ‘political preparation’ of the genocide.
A 2008 Rwandan commission of inquiry established that France had trained the militias responsible for the bloodbath with French troops also participating.
Africa and the rest of the world are littered with similar examples.
Positive steps towards integration of and self-reliance by the continent are what Agenda 2063, launched by President Robert Mugabe as AU Chairman in Addis Ababa last year, is all about.

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