Tuesday, 8 April 2014

RWANDA: Twenty years after the Genocide

This week Rwanda marked 20 years since the genocide that killed 800,000 people in just over three months, President Paul Kagamé reiterated his conviction that France was partly to blame for the slaughter, saying bluntly in French that "facts are facts". ( Les faits sont têtus).

Rwandan President, Paul Kagamé directly accused France to have played a "direct role" in the killings and said that French soldiers – who helped train the Hutu nationalist-controlled Rwandan army prior to 1994 – had been both accomplices and “actors” in the bloody tragedy. "Twenty years later, the only thing you can say against them (the French) in their eyes is they didn't do enough to save lives during the genocide," he continued.

His accusations against France can be justified but also they fail to address objectively the political causes of the genocide that took place 20 years ago.

On April 6, 1994 at 8:20 p.m., a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, a French government puppet, was shot down as it approached the airport in the capital Kigali. The circumstances of the incident remain a mystery to this day. But the apparent assassination marked the beginning of the genocide.

That same night, the presidential guard and Interahamwe militias ("fighting together" in the official Rwandan language Kinyarwanda) went on a murderous and incendiary rampage through the streets of Kigali. A group of fanatical Hutu had seized power and decided to wipe out the Tutsi minority, which made up about 10 percent of the population, once and for all. The violence swept across the entire country within a week.

During the next 100 days, the Hutu regime and its accomplices murdered some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu -- the equivalent of five killings a minute. It is likely that never before in human history had so many perpetrators murdered so many people in such a short period of time. I am not exaggerating by characterizing it as an "African Holocaust."

The genocide, one of history’s worst and certainly its quickest, finally ended in July, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front seized control of the country. The rebel army was led by a 36-year-old Tutsi former refugee named Paul Kagame, who promptly took political control: serving first as the de facto leader of the country while defense minister and vice president and then, in 2000, assuming the presidency. During Kagame’s two-decade rule, Rwanda has made spectacular progress.

In April, 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down by ''Tutsi'' U.S. trained rebels stationed in Uganda. Hutus had seized power and decided to wipe out the Tutsi. They pursued a simple logic of extermination: If we don't wipe out them, the Tutsi, they will destroy us, the Hutu.

As Hutu extremists went on a murderous rampage following Habyarimana’s assassination, killing minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, a Tutsi rebel force, the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) took advantage of the social disorder and managed to sweep through the country. By July 1994, the RPF – led by Paul Kagame – had taken Kigali, sending Hutu forces fleeing east toward Zaire.

In this fog of war, France stepped in to protect ''Tutsi'' in a military operation dubbed: '' Opération Turquoise'' under a UN mandate. The launch of the French Operation Turquoise was controversial since the UN already had a peacekeeping force, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in Kigali.

The Rwanda's genocide was borne out by the geopolitical agenda of the superpowers: U.S/UK and France/Belgium. Rwandan President can rightly accuse France's direct role in the massacre, however his accusations do not make him a saint either.

The first TV images appearing around the world during those initial days were so monstrous and inconceivable that commentators referred to the slaughter as an "aberration of nature," a murderous frenzy, a "maladie de tuer," or "killing sickness" -- as if the genocide had descended on Rwanda like an insidious virus.

The murderous excesses had nothing at all to do with "tribal warfare." The Hutu and the Tutsi have shared language, customs and culture for centuries. There were mixed marriages, and many Rwandans were unable to tell whether someone was Hutu or Tutsi. The causes of the tragedy were to be found elsewhere: the geopolitical agenda of superpowers in action in Africa.

Today we know that the genocide was not the work of archaic, chaotic powers, but of an educated, modern elite that availed itself of all the tools of a highly organized states: the military and the police, the intelligence services and militias, the government bureaucracy, the mass media and the geopolitical agenda of the U.S. and United Kingdom in central African region.

Twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda, a country famously deemed “nonviable” in the mid-1990s has become one of Africa’s best-run, most orderly, least corrupt, and safest states, with a booming economy (Rwanda’s GDP has grown by an average of eight percent in recent years). But Rwanda’s success has come with a darker side: opposition politicians have been jailed or killed under mysterious circumstances, journalists complain of harassment, and Kigali has been regularly criticized for meddling in neighboring Congo’s long-running civil war.

The current government is doing exactly the same thing that the then Rwandan government was doing - rigging elections and imprisoning voices of opposition. The lack of freedom and democracy is why, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, rose up and finally revolted against a regime that was oppressive and was not willing to listen.

As Rwanda is moving forward towards a permanent reconciliation, 20 years after the genocide, Rwandan political leaders must learn from the past mistakes of others. ''Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.'' Over our history, wars ended with confiscatory terms of surrender inevitably breed more wars. Revolutions that give an individual absolute power inevitably end up as brutal dictatorships.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP-Photo: