Rwanda Genocide“I think if people see this footage, they’ll say Oh, my G[osh], that’s horrible. And then they’ll go on eating their dinners”. — Hotel Rwanda.

When the Genocidal killing in Rwanda was in earnest I was just a year out of High School and heard very little about it in the news and it wasn’t really talked about in the circles I ran in at the time.  Then the events in Rwanda were overshadowed by other things in the media.

OJ Simpson was accused of killing two people and there was the slow speed chase in the white Ford Bronco.  Then the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia.  It was moved into the back of my mind to be remembered another day.

I heard good things about the movie Hotel Rwanda but did not watch it.

I came across this book about a month ago and decided it was time to learn more about it.

This book is a good overview of the history leading up to the genocide and what enabled the mass killing of so many people.  It looks at the different players involved and tries to make sense of what happened.

Rwanda has two primary groups, the Hutus (85%) and Tutsis (15%) before the genocide.  The Hutus killed the Tutsis.

It turns out that there is no real biological difference between Hutu and Tutsi.  These were historical classifications that were based in class more than anything else.  It is an fictional difference to serve a social purpose.  They really didn’t look any different than each other but each person knew whether they were designated as a Hutu or Tutsi.  Ethnic identification cards were issued and people were ordered to carry them around so as to make identification easier for the later killing.

If there really is a marked difference between the two, why the need for the cards and registration?

The genocide was in the making for over thirty years before it began in 1994.  There were many incidents over the years of Hutu actions against Tutsis and increasing animus preached to the nation about killing Tutsis.

The killing began in earnest in April 1994.  Within 100 days an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis were killed.  The killing was mostly stopped by the action of a ‘rebel’ army led by Tutsis.  There was no appreciable effort by the UN or any other major power to stop the killing.

Humanitarian aid was sent to help the displaced people but very little aid for the survivors in the country itself.  Because the Humanitarian Aid was apolitical it was used by the displaced Hutu militants as a way to rest up, get fed, and make plans for going back into Rwanda to finish the job they started.  It was also a base for recruitment and gathering additional arms to go back to war.

Within a couple years the refugee camps were closed and the people were repatriated to Rwanda.  The leaders most responsible for the genocide were in exile or prison.  There were still ongoing raids via guerrilla warfare against Tutsis and some revenge killings of Hutus responsible for genocidal acts but the overall quality of life was getting back to normal.

This book is a great treatment of just what happened and some of the after effects of the genocide.  It severely handicapped the national psyche of the people.  Survivors often had no home, no job, and no family to be with.  Killers were in denial themselves.  Some were pressed into killing and others were active participants.  It took hundreds of thousands of participants to kill close to a million people in 100 days.  Not all of the killers were brought to justice or left the country.

It is the most dysfunctional nation of people ever.  Due to political and geographical realities it is a nation where the survivors and the killers need to find a way to live peaceably with each other.  The worst of the killers were imprisoned.  The practical difficulties in the day to day lives of the people are tremendous.

To me, one of the biggest questions from the book is why the international community did nothing to stop the genocide and is doing very little to bring the perpetrators to justice.  The simplest answer is racism.

The UN and major powers did nothing to stop the killing in Rwanda, is doing very little in Darfur where reliable information is in short supply but it appears around 400,000 people were killed in their Civil War.  In Bosnia which may have also been a Civil war, less than 100,000 people were killed (60,000 of them military) but NATO got involved even when Bosnia was not a member of NATO.

Why the difference?  We had no vital interest in Bosnia but many of the victims were of European stock instead of Africans.

I wish there was a better, more accurate explanation for the difference.

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