Can you place Rwanda on a map?

Twenty-six years ago, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was on tv, The Spice Girls had just been formed, and there was a genocide that killed almost a million people. The Rwandan genocide is one of the most recent atrocities that, unfortunately, most don't know about.

Over 100 days, 800,000 people were murdered —the majority through guns and machetes. The violence was so extreme and rampant, and the motive so very clear that this was the first genocide to be given the title of genocide whilst it was still happening. The Hutu's militias, army and governments goal was the total extinction of the Rwandan Tutsi population. Any Tutsi, no matter what age and any moderate Hutu were in real danger. There had been constant propaganda since the 50s that the Tutsis were "cockroaches" and it was Hutu's duty to eradicate them. Many pundits in the West described this as happening practically overnight. Still, the truth is this was the foreseeable outcome of decades of hatred and bigotry. Colonialist pseudoscience pitted these two groups against one another, deeming the Tutsis superior then Hutus due to their slightly more eurocentric features. When Rwanda got its independence, it was from a Hutu revolution, and this was the beginning of a new reign of 'Hutu Power'.

The West looked in at the 1994 atrocity (along with the obvious build up) whilst not doing anything to stop it. Although UN peacekeeping troops were in the country, they did nothing, the USA in fact, actively ensured the UN would not get involved. A weird consensus of immunity from the situation built in the UK, US, and the original colonists of Rwanda, Belgium. It was looked upon more like a tribal dispute, than a systematic genocide. We were not innocent. For years Aid had been sent - directly into the hands of future genocidaires. This money was directly spent on machetes that would be used to tear down families and children. Rwanda had infrastructure, a 'semi-democratic' government and was seen as the most comfortable place to send money. The language of violence and anger was ignored. Even directly after the aftermath, genociders still were using foreign help, with a few living in refugee camps, hidden amongst the displaced survivors they had helped put there. The white saviour complex is more dangerous than a few 18-year-olds on their gap- years, it leads to blind support out of ignorance, in Rwanda that cost lives.

It is so vital we as people, know this and inevitably endeavour to stamp out all bigotry from our politics. We have seen time and time again, from the Holocaust to Rwanda, and now even hearing of Uigur Muslims forced to work in camps, that humans are far too capable of monstrosities. We must learn our place in every one of these harrowing moments. Britain could and should have done more then; surely, we can do more now? Belgium has recently, in light of the Black lives matter movement, made some concessions and acknowledged 'regrets' over their past, but surely we can see a cop-out when it's staring us in the face. Indeed saying sorry is the least we can do for the past? Just as importantly what action can we take for the present?

There is a lot we can learn from Rwanda. Since the murders were committed by not just militia but also everyday people, community justice has had to become the way forward. It is estimated 1.2 Million local cases have been heard, in which the community decided what restorative justice should be. We can learn that the classic trope of African Warlords comes from colonialism, if one so-called European scientist had not decided that the Tutsis were better, this could never have happened. These militias would never have been formed, and the leaders of these militias would never have gone on to cause chaos in East Congo.

There are also some things we struggle to understand from this, Kagame, the 'liberator' of Rwanda who was pivotal to the end of the genocide has become a dictator. Only recently Paul Rusesabagina, who is credited for saving 1200 people during the genocide, and has even had a movie based on this, was arrested. He had been vocally opposed to Kagame and has now been charged for terrorism. How do we ensure we do not act out of supposed 'paternalist' superiority, as not to repeat colonialist mistakes, whilst also not condoning this behaviour, the way we did before the genocide?

The only way to answer these questions and the only way to learn - to be better is education. As a starting book, I would recommend 'We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families' by Philip Gourevitch.

Jennifer Maidment

7 Sept 2020

POLSIS in Colour /

Can you place Rwanda on a map?

Rwandan refugees return home, image by Jean-marc Bouju