Wednesday, April 07, 2004


From: BBC Caption: Marie can no longer get out of bed. She told me how she was captured by some Hutus. One of them took her as a sex slave. She was passed from man to man. She says she was raped more than 100 times. Marie contracted Aids from her rapists and is now in the final stages of the disease. She is worried about her two sons and doesn't know what will become of them. She now wishes she had not survived the massacres. I cried as I listened to her story.

The territory eventually called Ruanda-Urundi was colonized by the Germans, but reverted to Belgian control after World War I. The population was largely homogeneous with nearly everyone, save the small Twa (pygmy) community, speaking the same Kinyarwanda language and had the same cultural traditions. The Belgian colonizers decided to split the community up into two groups, which they called Tutsis and Hutus. Those who were merchants or otherwise considered bourgeoisie were called Tutsi and the rest (primarily farmers) were called Hutu. The Tutsis were assimilated into the public service and were used by the Belgians to do small tasks and run the country at the local level. It was a divide-and-conquer strategy.

In 1959, the territory was granted sovereignty and became two independent countries: Rwanda and Burundi. As part of the colonial elite ruling class, the arbitrarily named Tutsis were, by definition, a minority. As a result of this and since they were seen as complicit with the colonizers, a lot of anti-Tutsi resentment built up during colonial time. Once independence was achieved and a government controlled by the so-called Hutus took power, the anti-Tutsi resentment was fanned and exploited by politicians.

There were several anti-Tutsi massacres in Rwanda during the 1960s and 1970s, typically launched when the regimes needed a scapegoat to distract the citizenry from other problems (as is almost always the case with such massacres).

In 1990, the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an invasion of Rwanda from neighboring Uganda. After three years of civil war, a peace accord was signed in 1993 between the Rwandan government and the RPF, which provided for, among other things, a power-sharing interim government that included the RPF. These were called the Arusha Accords, named after the Tanzanian town where they were signed.

Many in the inner circle around Juvenal Habyrimana resented what they saw as the dictator’s capitulation. Naturally, the mafioso-like cabal were loathe to ‘share their toys’ and give up their ill-gotten privileged position in the country. Positions which naturally gave them various kinds of ‘access’ to wealth.

The most extreme anti-Arusha faction was led by the dictator’s wife Agathe (aka: Lady Macbeth), her family and their lackies.

These extremists saw which way the wind was blowing and panicked about losing their power. So they developed a plan to rid Rwanda of all their opponents. Since the RPF was Tutsi dominated, this was a plan for genocide.

Following the Arusha Accords, a UN peacekeeping mission was sent to Rwanda. However, they were given a small number of troops and a very limited mandate. Essentially, they were to be observers with no authorization to use force Any violations of the peace accord were to be reported to... the Rwandan government.

An article in The Atlantic Monthly noted In 1993 several thousand Rwandans were killed, and some 9,000 were detained. Guns, grenades, and machetes began arriving by the planeload. A pair of international commissions—one sent by the United Nations, the other by an independent collection of human-rights organizations—warned explicitly of a possible genocide.

In early 1994, the head of the UN peacekeepers, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, learned from informants that mass killings were being prepared. Dallaire was told that Hutu extremists "had been ordered to register all the Tutsi in Kigali," Rwanda’s capital.

Furthermore, Dallaire requested permission from the UN Peacekeeping Office in New York (then headed by Kofi Annan) for his men to raid the arms caches of the Hutu extremists. Annan’s deputy forbade Dallaire to do this. He ordered the general to pass his information to the French, American and Belgian governments... and, perversely enough, to the Rwandan government. The same government that was responsible for said plan.

Dallaire fought with New York for permission to act but was forbidden from doing so, under the pretext that western governments would never accept it anyway so why bother asking.

On 6 April 1994, the airplane carrying Habyrimana and his Burundian counterpart was shot down, killing both and others. This was the pretext for the extremists to launch the genocide. Within 100 days, some 800,000 people were murdered. Mostly Tutsi, but many Hutu moderates who wanted multipartyism or otherwise opposed the dictatorship.


Tommorrow’s topic: how the genocide unfolded and how the rest of the world (chose not to) react.

Recommended reading: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. This book is generally considered to be the definitive account of the genocide and events leading up to it. Click here for more info on the book.

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