The Rwandan Tribunal is being held in Arusha, which is about an hour drive west of Moshi. We have been to Aursha a few times already, and interestingly enough, it is the location of the Rwandan tribunal. As you may remember, Rwanda was the location of genocide in April 1994. In Arusha, it is easy to see the effects of the Tribunal. There are western hotels, newly paved roads, and, of course, the glorious Tribunal building. Unfortunately, we cannot post a picture of the Tribunal building because it is illegal to take pictures.
For Rwanda, the effects are much different. We know that it is host to the Genocide Museum and the last of the silverback gorillas, but other than that we find that few people know about the landscape of Rwanda. We know that when we mention Rwanda to our friends and families in the USA, the genocide or the movie “Hotel Rwanda” are among the first things mentioned.
Many people remember the Rwandan genocide, but to this day, few people know what happened. In a country of just eight million, 800,000 people died in about 100 days. Ten percent of the population was massacred, mostly by machetes, and no international interventions were offered to stop the genocide. There are so many questions we wanted to research before visiting Rwanda. What happened? Why would something like this take place without international intervention?
This is what we have learned through the book, The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. The conflict was between the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes. Before the trouble started, both tribes lived closely to one another in Rwanda. There is no real history of war between the tribes other than the 1994 genocide.
In October 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a small rebel army, entered Rwanda from Uganda. The mission of the RPF was to remove Rwanda’s president and make it possible for Tutsis, who were living in Uganda and Burundi, to reclaim their rightful citizenship in Rwanda. This marked the beginning of fear for many in Rwanda.
For the next 5 years the repeated question on the street was not, “how was your day?” It became, “are you Hutu or Tutsi?” As the political tensions between the two groups increased, a growing hatred began to permeate everyday life. The Hutu lead government would purchase commercial time on the radio and in newspapers. According to The Blue Sweater, their message would consist of this, “Tutsis have invaded Rwanda to regain power and subjugate the Hutus. Thus the Hutus were now in a ‘kill or be killed’ situation.”
According to The Blue Sweater, the government’s plan was to “ensure the collective guilt of every Rwandan, while exterminating every single Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Like a dark cloud inching across the sky, the government co-opted the weaker officials and murdered the ones who resisted.” It was clear that the government officials who orchestrated the genocide knew that moderates are the main enemy for extremism. Any moderate Hutu or any Hutu who was known to not actively participate in the killing of Tutsi civilians was also killed. Thus, for the Hutus, it actually became a “kill or be killed” situation.
Due to the fear politics and propaganda, tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis were incredibly high. On the morning of April 6, 1994 a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down and the genocide began. The two leaders were Hutu and the plane is believed to be shot down by the Tutsi RPF. “The government released a radio announcement that it was ‘Time to clear the bushes.’ At this time ordinary Rwandan citizens resorted to murdering their neighbors, an act cheered on by local authorities.”
Another interesting fact is that in Rwandan culture ethnicity is not blood born as it is with Europeans. Ethnicity is passed down from the father. So, a Hutu woman could have married a Tutsi in the 1980’s when the tribes were not afraid of each other, and she would be a Tutsi ethnically; so would her children. In the genocide of 1994, it is very likely that her Hutu relatives could have participated in the murder of her husband or her children.
On the first day of the genocide the army captured 10 United Nations peacekeepers, which were armed but not allowed to use their weapons. The Rwandan army castrated, mutilated, and killed the soldiers, showing the entire world their viciousness. The Hutu Power government of Rwanda understood that the sight of 10 dead Caucasian peace keepers would keep the United States and Europe from intervening in the genocide. They were correct.
The next 100 days consisted of neighbor killing neighbor, and blood relative killing blood relative. One of the most terrifying stories told in The Blue Sweater discusses how a Hutu pastor told his congregation that his church was a safe haven for the Tutsis who were being massacred. After the Tutsis were in the church, he locked the doors and told them they would be safe and that he would return in the morning. In the night, the front doors opened and men with machetes’ entered and slaughtered all of the Tutsis in the church.
We imagine that it would be difficult for a country to recover from this type of violence. However, from what we have read that does not seem to be the case. Though the tribunal continues in Arusha, the country of Rwanda, and its’ people, have moved on. Those who remain in Rwanda have forgiven each other in a way that sounds nearly unbelievable. After losing 10% of its population over 17 years ago to genocide, there has not been a single revolution or coup in Rwanda, and the country has been as peaceful and safe as it was before 1990.
We will discuss this in more detail next week in the “Through our Eyes” section!