April 26, 2006

A short history of recent conflicts in Rwanda

(Bear with me, this is a long one...)

We visit the Jenoside Museum (note: this is not a spelling mistake). It is very well designed, though some say that it seems a bit one-sided. I see images and footages of mass graves and gruesome death. I read each and every exhibit and come out confused and perplexed by the complexity of national and foreign involvement.

Later, I put this timeline together (note: this is almost verbatim from Wikipedia and the BBC):

1312—the Kingdom of Rwanda is founded
Hutus are subjugated through an extensive set of patronage relationships with the Tutsis. Over time, being Tutsi begins to equal “power”.

1756-1765—Mwami Rujugira reigns
He sets up Rwanda as a military power. Though there are little class distinctions in the military, Rwandan society is still very divided with the Tutsis in power positions and Hutus in serving positions. At the time, the terms Hutu and Tutsi are not really indicative of ethnic class. Rather, one that does well economically becomes a Tutsi, while one that is subjugated is considered a Hutu.

Germany briefly colonizes Rwanda, reinforcing Tutsi and Hutu class divisions.

1916—Belgian colonists arrive
They favor Tutsis over Hutus. Tutsis consistently get the better jobs and good educations.

European theories of race are propagated in Rwanda.

1959—A series of riots begins
This stems from Hutu resentment of the state of Rwanda’s civil society. Perceptions start the shift and Tutsis are viewed as feudal overlords.

Land is scarce and the country is overpopulated.

A Hutu majority is set up within the government. In the process, 20,000 Tutsis are killed and 200,000 flee to other countries.

1985-Tutsi refugees in Uganda form the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame
Their aims are to overthrow the current president Habyarima (a Hutu) and secure the right to return to their homeland.

January 22nd, 1994-A shipment of arms from France is intercepted in Kigali airport
The French government argues that the shipment is legal.

October 1st, 1990-RPF forces invade Rwanda
Habyarima represses Tutsis and Hutus that support Tutsi-interests. The killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus begins. Radio stations encourage resentment and participation by diffusing hate messages and propaganda.

Radical groups start to amass weapons. Government leaders meet with secret groups.

June 1993 to mid-July 1994-A UK company supplies arms to the Hutu regime

January 1994-General Dallaire in charge of the UN, aware that something big is going to happen, pleads for more reinforcement
He is denied permission.

April 6th 1994-President Habyarima’s plane is shot down. The president of Burundi also dies in the same plane crash
No one really knows who did it and why (though you can talk to pretty much anyone who knows Rwanda’s history and they each have a different theory)—some blame Kagame (RPF leader), others blame his wife, Prime-Minister Kambanda, family members of Habyarima, and others say the Congolese or other foreign governments were involved etc…

The presidential guards set off a campaign of retribution against Tutsis in the capital, Kigali. Tutsis and moderate Hutu understood at once they would be attacked.

A militia group called Interhamwe (Hutu) is now 30,000 men strong. In their hands, the killing becomes more efficient. Family members, neighbors, children, couples are encouraged to participate in denouncing others, and often forced to undertake killings. The killings quickly spreads to the rest of the country. Close to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus are killed.

Mass exodus of Tutsis into Congo and neighboring countries. RPF troops (Tutsi) wage a civil war against the Hutu government.

The US tries to help by dropping large parcels of food, instead causing hungry mobs to fight. The US refuses to be involved in internal conflicts. UN troops evacuate foreigners and withdraw leaving few troops behind. The international community does little to help.

April 29th, 1994- The UN concedes that “act of genocide may have been committed”

Mass grave at the Jenoside Museum

July 1994-RPF captures Kigali
The government collapses, RPF ceases fire and is victorious. 2 million Hutus flee to neighboring countries, but especially into the DRC.

The large number of refugees into the Congo, destabilizes the country and sets off two civil wars there. Battalions of Interhamwe continue to operate in eastern Congo, causing tensions between Rwanda and the DRC (personal note: this is my Aha moment. I have been here for a year but I’m pretty slow to grasp politics).

UN troops and aid workers now arrive to maintain order and restore basic services.

July 19th 1994-A new multiethnic government is formed
Pasteur Bizimungu (Hutu) is made president while his cabinet is formed from RFP members (Tutsis). The president of Rwanda today is Paul Kagame, the one believed by some to have set off the internal war.

1996-1997-The Gacaca process is now started
A large number of ringleaders of the massacre are still at large.

In the evening, we are invited to a reception where Rwandese dancers shake and hop to the beat of their large drums. While the rhythm is intoxicating and subtly form-shifting, I can’t help shuddering when a male dancer, imitating a laborer plowing his field raised and lowers his hoe fiercely. I think of blood and decapitation. I walk amongst the Rwandese with a heavy heart.


Lori said...

Thanks so much for the update. I am so glad your trip to Rwanda went well. One question--How do the two groups (Hutu & Tutsi) get along now?
Have a great day,

TheMalau said...

Lady D, the timeline is about 80% right, except that every once and a while you confused Hutus and Tutsis but that is no big deal. There is a shadiness to the Kagame regime that is beyond comprehension... but that is another story, right?
Happy you had fun!

007 in Africa said...

Hi Lori, there are still palpable tensions in the country but I don't think it's a Hutu vs. Tutsi thing. It's more that people are traumatised by what's happened.

The Malau, can you help me identify the mistakes? I would really like to correct them as it gives me a better insight into what happen there. Thanks! I had lots of fun...

TheMalau said...

Okay Lady D, here we go:
April 6th 1994: You got it mostly right. It is important, however, to say that the "interahamwe" were the youth section of Habyarimana's party, MRND. Plus, when you list the people suspected for taking down the plane, you say "his wife"; whos wife Kagame's or Habyarimana's? I know you mean Habyarimana's, but that is not clear.
Also the US tried to drop food, but they were also the ones keeping the UN Security Council from stating that there was a genocide going on. Just watch/listen to that interview of the State Department lady in both "Hotel Rwanda" and "Sometimes in April".

July 1994: It is important to state that although Pasteur Bizimungu becomes President, Kagame is both Vice-President, and Defense Secretary, and therefore has been the real strongman in Rwanda since 1994, until today.

October 1st, 1990: You need to also know that the RPF attack on Rwanda, was followed by an intervention of Zaire's Presidential guard, at the request of the Rwandan government. That is the only way the 5,000 men strong Rwandan military could resist the first attack of the RPF, and push them back to the north of the country (Byumba, parts of Ruhengeri). It is only after this that Mobutu's military strategists, including Gen. Mahele were invited to train the Rwandan military, raising it to about 50,000 in about a year.

Also, the radio stations' hatred messages did not start until about end 1992, about the time when Tele-Rwanda had its first broadcast ever. And it is important to note that the RPF had their own radio too, Radio Muhabura.

Other than the above, you got it pretty right, Lady D.

007 in Africa said...

Thanks Themalau...I will try to change these details in the coming days (it's worker day on Monday though so I get to...not work on that day. Yeah!!)

Beaver said...

"I can’t help shuddering when a male dancer, imitating a laborer plowing his field raised and lowers his hoe fiercely. I think of blood and decapitation. I walk amongst the Rwandese with a heavy heart."

What to say? Keep your gentle heart, sweet D.

Much love,


Roni V. said...

Hey- Thanks so much for all the wonderful info! You've been a great help!