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The Rwanda Genocide

Most of the Rwandan population belong to the Hutu ethnic group, traditionally crop-growers. For many centuries Rwanda attracted Tutsis - traditionally herdsmen - from northern Africa. For 600 years the two groups shared the business of farming, essential for survival, between them. They have also shared their language, their culture, and their nationality. There have been many intermarriages.

Because of the nature of their historical pastoral or agricultural roles, Tutsis tended to be landowners and Hutus the people who worked the land; and this division of labor perpetuated a population balance in which Hutus naturally outnumbered Tutsis. A wedge was driven between them when the European colonists moved in. It was the practice of colonial administrators to select a group to be privileged and educated 'intermediaries' between governor and governed. The Belgians chose the Tutsis: landowners, tall, and to European eyes the more aristocratic in appearance. This thoughtless introduction of class consciousness unsettled the stability of Rwandan society. Some Tutsis began to behave like aristocrats, and the Hutu to feel treated like peasants. An alien political divide was born.

After their first delight in gaining power - and, in 1962, independence for Rwanda - a politically inexperienced Hutu government began to face internal conflicts as well. Tensions grew between communities and provincial factions. Tutsi resistance was continually nurtured by repressive measures against them (in 1973, for example, they were excluded from secondary schools and the university). In 1990 RPF rebels seized the moment and attacked: civil war began.

A ceasefire was achieved in 1993, followed by UN-backed efforts to negotiate a new multi-party constitution; but Hutu leaders and extremists fiercely opposed any Tutsi involvement in government. On April 6 1994 the plane carrying Rwanda's president was shot down, almost certainly the work of an extremist. This was the trigger needed for the Hutus' planned 'Final Solution' to go into operation. The Tutsis were accused of killing the president, and Hutu civilians were told, by radio and word of mouth, that it was their duty to wipe the Tutsis out. First, though, moderate Hutus who weren't anti-Tutsi should be killed. So should Tutsi wives or husbands. Genocide began.

The Genocide Begins

Up to a million people died before the RPF (some of whose personnel are Hutu) was able to take full control. Unlike the instigators of the killings of Armenians in 1915, and of Jews and Roma in 1941-5, no-one tried to keep the genocide in Rwanda a secret. Journalists and television cameras reported what they saw, or what they found when the genocide was over. There was even a UN force (UNAMIR) in place, monitoring the ceasefire and now obliged to watch as people were killed in the street by grenades, guns and machetes. ('We have no mandate to intervene.' UNAMIR did their best to protect trapped foreigners, until they were pulled out of Rwanda altogether.) But the genocide organizers were conscious of the risks of international scrutiny: over the radio the killers were constantly incited to continue, but 'No more corpses on the roads, please'. Corpses in the countryside were covered with banana leaves to screen them from aerial photography.

Although on a large scale, this genocide was carried out entirely by hand, often using machetes and clubs. The men who'd been trained to massacre were members of civilian death squads, the Interahamwe ('those who fight together'). Transport and fuel supplies were laid on for the Interahamwe - even remote areas were catered for. Where the killers encountered opposition, the Army backed them up with manpower and weapons. The State provided Hutu Power's supporting organization; politicians, officials, intellectuals and professional soldiers deliberately incited (and where necessary bribed) the killers to do their work.

Local officials assisted in rounding up victims and making suitable places available for their slaughter. Tutsi men, women, children and babies were killed in thousands in schools. They were also killed in churches: some clergy colluded in the crime. The victims, in their last moments alive, were also faced by another appalling fact: their cold-blooded killers were people they knew - neighbors, work-mates, former friends, sometimes even relatives through marriage. Even aid agencies were helpless; having let into compound or hospital people injured or in flight, they were forced to leave them there. Few survived.

Cold blood, with a shot of motivating fear, was what the planners wanted: the Interahamwe weren't fuelled by drink, drugs or mindless violence, but by fanatic dedication to a political cause. There were indeed people stoked-up on drink or hysteria or a manic wish to show they were 'on the right side' ; but when these mavericks began to join in and kill on whim, local administrators called for police assistance: such 'disorderly elements' might derail the genocide programme.

Around 2m Hutu perpetrators, their families and supporters, and anyone else who feared reprisals, even simply for being Hutu, fled over the borders, at least half of them to Congo (then called Zaire).



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