Fifteen Years on from the Rwanda Genocide
Having shared my house (then in Uganda) for a time with a survivor of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, and then having taken a small part in the film Sometimes in April, the month of April has come to have special significance for me too. As I watched my young friend, over the course of three successive Aprils – the last of them in 2004 – have serious difficulties concentrating on his studies, becoming forgetful and upset, re-living his trauma yet again, I reached a new appreciation of what that awful cocktail of memory, significant dates, and trauma can do. In April 2005 (by which time I had returned to the UK) he did something very foolish which lost him his studies and nearly his life, with the result that he eventually end up in a refugee camp in a third country, from whence he has not yet emerged 2½ years on. I cannot help but wonder how he will be affected this month, April 2009, fifteen years from the month in which he witnessed the slaughter by machete of his parents, brothers and sisters.
This introduction, dedicated to him (who for his own safety must remain nameless), is intended to be a small resource for anyone wishing to know a little about the commemoration this year, what the Rwandan government and others may be saying about it, so there will be a number of links, and a few comments from me.
For anyone to whom this is a new subject, or who needs reminding, I tell the story as briefly as I can. 15 years ago this evening (6th April), the plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents home from peace negotiations in Tanzania was shot down as it was coming to land at what was then known as Aéroport Gregoire Kayibanda just outside Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The airport was named in honour of the first President of Rwanda after independence in 1962, and the second president was Juvenal Habyarimana, who died in the incident. This incident was the trigger that set off the Rwandan Genocide; but the gun was already loaded. Within hours roadblocks were set up around Kigali and the killing of Tutsis, moderate Hutus and Twa peoples began. The Genocide had been planned and was ready to go. By next morning Kigali city authorities started sending out their municipal lorries and garbage trucks to collect the bodies. By the end of 7th July (day One) 8000 people had been murdered. By day Five, a quarter of a million people nationwide were dead. By the end of a hundred days of killing almost 1 million were dead. You may read elsewhere about the why, the how, the who and the why not – why did we not stop it? Afterwards many of those who killed – mostly Hutus – fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. With them fled many innocent Hutus who feared they would be slaughtered in retribution (some were). But after a time many returned, or were returned.
Today, under their current President – Paul Kagame – the Rwandan people are trying to re-build, to reconcile, sometimes even to forgive, certainly to bring closure – but never to forget. How can human beings find a way to live as neighbours again, as they had before, with the person or persons who killed their family? For that matter, how can people who killed, who recognise the supreme wrong they have done, face the people to whose families they have done it? These are problems faced every day by vast numbers of people in Rwanda. To help deal with this, the government has re-introduced a version of the traditional gacaca courts wherein wrong-doers are charged, tried, judged and sentenced within their local communities. At least in theory, everyone who wants is given a chance to speak. Sometimes at least, speaking and acknowledging the truth, and filling in gaps in information of exactly what happened, brings a measure of closure and thus a beginning of healing. But sometimes those who give evidence live to regret it, or are themselves killed. For the struggle to bring even peace is not yet over.
The Rwandan Government promotes the concept of the population regarding themselves as Rwandan rather than Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. It is not hard these days to find Rwandans who refuse to use such words.
Some of the things that are happening in Rwanda and the meaning associated with them may be found here:
The Rwandan Government has proclaimed the theme for this Fifteenth Commemoration:
Let us commemorate Genocide against the Tutsi while fighting genocide revisionism.
Candles will be lit in Rwanda on 7th and in many other places around the world in memory of those who lost their lives in the Genocide. It is planned that somewhere in the world, candles will be lit for this purpose on each of the following 99 days.
There is a new film Iseta – the story behind the roadblock which includes real footage of killings. But this is no sick voyeurism, the footage is shown later to the survivors, and used in evidence.
Here is a list of web-pages with news and comment relating to this commemoration:
Making ‘Never Again’ come true in Rwanda
Moving away from genocide ideology
Rwanda Police beef-up protection for genocide survivors
A Christian organisation making a contribution to the lives of Rwandan children
Survivors tell their stories
Here are web-pages and books containing more detailed history and analysis of the Genocide and its causes, aftermath and re-building:
Mainly about media reaction
Human Rights Watch comprehensive report: Leave none to tell the story
Part of the story as told by Wikipedia
What kind of state is Rwanda today?
The United Nations Rwanda website
My own drawing together of the background and origins of the Genocide and the differing ways these are viewed
We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. Author: Philip Gourevitch; Publisher: Picador; Dated: 1998
A Thousand Hills; Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It. Author: Stephen Kinzer; Publisher: Wiley; Dated: 2008
(and many others)
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