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Genocide of Rwanda
"Hate. We think we know it, but most of us will never face it. Hatred is a corrosive force, able to ruin lives, wreck co-operation, destroy communities, or races, or nations. It is present in small ways in daily life, but it is at is most lethal in prejudice, discrimination, and racism." (Quote:HMD09: Hope-Survivors.org)
Throughout 1994, hatred cost 800,000 innocent people their lives. For months, ten thousand of these people were being slaughtered each day. Nations everywhere knew carnage was arising, but what did they do? Nothing, and when they did, it was already too late. The worst genocide in the twentieth-century was taking place right before their eyes, and humanity decided to turn its back, and pretend like nothing was going on. Now, fifteen years later people everywhere know this genocide to be one of the worst in history. This is the genocide of Rwanda.
Rwanda is located in central Africa. In addition to being one of the smallest countries in Africa it is also one of the poorest. The land cannot hold all seven million people that have inhabited it, therefore it is extremely crowded. The population of Rwanda is made up of two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi.
The Hutu people, also known as the Bahutu, make up eighty percent of Rwanda's population. Hutu's have a stockier, more muscular build than the Tutsi, and also have darker skin. Historically Hutus have been Rwanda's farmers. They are the largest ethnic group, yet Hutu have been inferior to the Tutsi for many years before the political uprising in 1959.
The Tutsi people, otherwise known as Watutsi or Batutsi, are the second largest ethnic group in Rwanda. They make up nineteen percent of the population, although the number has since decreased due to the genocide. Historically the Tutsi have been known to be Rwanda's nomadic herdsmen and warriors. The Tutsi had control over Rwandan government for many years, until the independence of 1962. Tutsi people have lighter toned skin than the Hutu, and are also taller and thinner.
There has always been tension between these two ethnic groups. They have been known to fight for political and social power regularly. After World War One, Belgium and France were sent to mandate Rwanda's government. These countries favored the Tutsis more than the Hutu people, and gave the Tutsis more wealth and power. This caused the two ethnic group's hostilities towards each other to rise. An increasingly restive Hutu population, encouraged by the Belgian military, sparked a revolt in November 1959, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsis' political powers.
Rwanda later became independent from France and Belgium in 1962. The Hutu people quickly gained control over the country's government. Throughout the years following Rwanda's independence, discrimination as well as ethnic violence began to grow rapidly. By the 1980's the Bahutu people forced over three thousand Watutsis into exile. In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group mostly made up of Tutsi men, attacked the government in order to gain back control and stop the banishment of Tutsi people. Three years later both groups signed a peace treaty to stop the unethical violence.
Although the treaty was for peace, Hutu people continued discriminating the Tutsi. Tutsi children were expelled from their schools. Cattle was being stolen from them, and their homes were burned down. Tutsis were not allowed to attend church, and some were forced to leave the country. All individuals in Rwanda were forced to carry identification cards, also known as tribal cards. These cards held the person's ethnic background and practice left over from colonial days. Later these cards would mean the difference between life or death. On April 6, 1994 a plane that held Juvenal Habyarumana, Rwanda's Hutu president, was shot down. Habyarumana was killed in the crash. Within hours of the wreck Hutu militias began, simultaneously, killing Tutsi people. The genocide had begun.
Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF), Hutu extremists also known as the Interhamwe immediately took control over Rwanda's radio waves, and started violence campaigns. On all radio stations hate propaganda was played nonstop. The propaganda encouraged Hutu people to rise up against their Tutsi neighbors. Many Tutsi people were taking cover, but it was no use. In addition to hate propaganda, the radio stations were also telling Hutu people where to find the Tutsis' hiding places. Hospitals, churches, and mission compounds became the sights of the largest massacres because most Tutsi were taking cover there.
Checkpoints were set up in villages at which anyone whose tribal card showed they were Tutsi was killed; either shot or more often lacerated to death with machetes. Soon after the killing began, it was very common to see lifeless corpses drifting down the Kigara River and into Lake Victoria. Interhamwe massacred about ten thousand Tutsi each day. Many were killed by machetes or clubs, others by guns and grenades. It is sad to say that it was extremely ordinary for women and children to be gang raped and tortured until death. Hutu extremists often forced Tutsi people to murder their own families. Hutu people that were brave enough to refuse in the slaughtering were also murdered. Even nuns and priests have been found guilty of taking part in these homicides.
While innocent Tutsi blood was being poured all across Rwanda, nation after nation turned their back on the genocide to pretend nothing was going on. The United States of America were cautious never to call the massacres a genocide in order to stay uninvolved. Belgium, France, Italy, and the UN offered aid once to Rwanda, but after a group of Belgian peacekeepers were captured, tortured, and killed by the RAF, all offered assistance was withdrawn. There was no effort to evacuate Tutsi civilians whatsoever.
The genocide finally ended in mid-July 1994, when the RPA (Rwandan Patriotic Army), Tutsi militia secured Rwanda's capital, Kilgali. The remaining Hutu government fled the country along with thousands of refugees. The RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), governing body of the RPA, set up a new government in Kilgali. Although the genocide only lasted about one hundred days, one tenth of Rwanda's population was killed. That is an estimated 800,000 people. It was rightfully named the worst genocide in the twentieth century.
It is amazing how blind the world can be. Genocide laid right before it's eyes, yet nothing is done to stop it. That is why we are to learn from our past, and prevent genocide before it begins. As Tony Blair wrote:
"We should remember [our past] so that we do not repeat...Each life was sacred; each human tragedy and each had a family, loved one and friends."
There are many ways to learn more about Rwanda and get involved with helping to prevent genocide. Famous movies have been made that are based on the genocide of Rwanda such as; Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April. These movies put a face to the people that were massacred during the genocide. It is truly important to understand the numbers killed in terms of people, rather than just numbers.
It is still not too late to get involved in making a difference in Rwanda. The Hope Survivors Foundation is a foundation that is dedicated to helping the genocide survivors of Rwanda. One can visit hope-survivors.org to learn more about Rwanda and find out how to help their cause. There is no words to explain how important getting involved and stopping hatred and genocide is. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he spoke these words:
" Please join your effort with ours because, at the end, we will remember, not our enemies but the silence of our friends."