Behind the genocide in Rwanda

Wednesday, August 10, 1994

By Theogene Rudasingwe

Rwanda is distinctive among the countries of Africa for the small size of its territory and the high density of its population (7.5 million people, 285 inhabitants per square kilometre).

It is inhabited by a people called Banyarwanda. The Banyarwanda comprise of three groups: the Hutu, Twa and Tutsi which are commonly, but misleadingly, called ethnic groups. These groups are not ethnic groups in any meaningful sense. The three groups are one people with a common ancestry. They share the same language and culture. Whereas tribal societies are usually divided by geographical boundaries, the three groups have lived together on the same hills throughout the country from time immemorial.

The differences between the groups have always been more a reflection of caste. Rwandan society was always stratified, with the royal family, army commanders, chiefs and rich cattle keepers being Tutsi. Citizens who lived by growing crops and a few of the chiefs were Hutu, the lower caste. A small group of hunters and potters were Twa.

Although the ruling class was Tutsi, only a minority of Tutsi were nobles. Most Tutsi were poor and benefited little materially from the caste system. However, social mobility and intermarriage were common, and blurred caste distinctions. The system was more one of class than ethnicity.

The Rwandan people lived together in peace until mid this century. The centuries-old animosity and wars between the Hutu and Tutsi, which the international media never fail to refer to, are a myth. Ethnic divisions and misunderstandings leading to civil strife between these communities only started around 1959 and, even then, were influenced by foreign forces.

What was taking place in Rwanda over May and June must be classified as genocide. It must be noted that the mass killings, which were accentuated by the death of President Habyarimana, had been planned in advance. It is not true that the killings started as a result of the President's death. The events can easily be understood when one analyses why large quantities of arms were imported and channelled to certain sections of the populations.

Significant quantities of arms and ammunitions were imported from France, Egypt and South Africa by the government, whilst on the other end we were engaged in finalising the implementation of the Arusha Peace Accord which was signed in August 1993.

The international community has been manipulated into believing that the killings which the Rwandans experienced were ethnic, and those not familiar with the history of Rwanda now believe that it's the Tutsi killing the Hutu or vice-versa. This is not true. The authors of the genocide are well known; top of the list is the late President Habyarimana who was the master planner and should posthumously be pronounced the mass-murderer.

Another important instrument of the plan was the army, the paramilitary force-national gendarmerie and the militia forces which were created by the ruling party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development. At the end of the day, it would be false to say that the authors of this genocide are the Hutu population, because it is clear that those who have been at the helm of politics in Rwanda since independence have cultivated the ground for all this carnage.

The victims of this genocide have been largely Tutsis, the internal opposition politicians, the business leaders, the elite and academicians whom the government believes have not been sympathetic to the kind of politics that have come to characterise the two post-independent regimes. That is why the entire democratic opposition parties, with whom we could have entered into a coalition if we had successfully implemented the Arusha Peace Agreement, has been wiped out.

The killings were not limited to any geographical location in Rwanda, but were nationwide. It is no coincidence that almost all democratic forces were routed on April 6 in Kigali and simultaneously in all other districts. Most importantly, these killings were a continuation of a 34-year-old policy characterised by a gross abuse of human rights.

Despite the apparent dictatorial and autocratic nature of the post-independent governments in Rwanda, certain sections of the international community, namely the French and Belgians, have been struggling to control Rwanda and ending up in supporting the regime. This involvement further complicated the Rwandan problem in a negative way.

At the other end, certain nations took a keen interest in resolving the conflict and offered facilities for a peaceful solution resulting in agreements like the Arusha Peace Accord. There were also other organisations and people who mounted a campaign to highlight the plight of Rwandan refugees which resulted in enormous amounts of diplomatic, political and material support.

The way forward must establish a framework of existence that will make it very difficult for the nation to experience this kind of carnage. The first step should begin with a clear identification of the group that has authored a kind of politics that has created the current status quo. They should be condemned together with those which ran the provisional government [before the Rwandan Patriotic Front took over in late July] because it continued with the killings.

Secondly, all our efforts will not be realised unless the United Nations reinforces its humanitarian assistance. At the same time, the world should know that the UN responded negatively to the plight of the Rwandans at the height of the genocide, by reducing its presence from 2500 to a mere 270 symbolic troops. All foreigners airlifted their citizens and troops and in the end, the Rwandan people were left at the mercy of those who were killing them.

Ironically, now that the genocide is complete, the same UN is talking about coming back to Rwanda with about 5500 soldiers. What signals does this send to the international community? For the Rwandans the problem of Rwanda will ultimately be solved by the Rwandans.

[Theogene Rudasingwe is the Secretary-General of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Reprinted from the June issue of the Southern African Political and Economic Monthly.]