Friday, April 18, 2014

A Visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Today I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  If you are unfamiliar with the Rwandan genocide, here is the Cliff Notes version: The Rwanda genocide took place over the course of 100 days in 1994.  There were two major ethnic groups in Rwanda: the Hutu (84% of the population), the Tutsi (15%) and the Twa which accounted for a mere 1%.  Rwanda was initially a German colony, but after World War I Germany was forced to relinquish all its colonies.  As a result, Rwanda was bequeathed to Belgian.  The Belgians put provisions in place to make the Tutsis the major ruling class; due to the fact Tutsis had features which were considered more similar to Europeans, such as their small, narrow noses, tall height, and lighter skin.  Identity cards were issued which stipulated to which ethnic group a person belonged.  This led to the establishment of group identities- prior to this time there was little effort made by Rwandans to differentiate themselves according to ethnic group.

Towards the end of the 1950s, Belgium began preparing to grant Rwanda independence, and with that instituted a democratic election process.  Naturally, due to the fact Hutus constituted the majority of the population, they won the majority of the elected positions.  The Belgians realized there was no turning back and thus reversed their position, now showing preference to the new Hutu ruling class.  After nearly four decades of repression the Hutus began lashing out at their former oppressors, the Tutsis.

Violence against Tutsis occurred sporadically until the early 90s, causing many Tutsis and moderate Hutus (Tutsi sympathizers) to flee to neighboring countries.  In attempts to institute rule of law, repatriate refugees and dismantle rebel armies the Arusha Peace Process occurred, with little success.  Upon returning to Kigali from the Arusha Accords, the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, which set off the genocide.  During the next 100 days nearly a million people, mostly Tutsis, were killed throughout the country.

The most unfortunate thing about the genocide was that no western country was willing to involve themselves in an effort to halt the killings.  Only six months prior the U.S. had suffered the Black Hawk Down situation in Somalia and refused to get involved in another African skirmish.  Here’s the thing: Very few guns were involved in the genocide because almost no one in the country owned a gun.  The vast majority of the killings were either the result of being hacked by a machete or beaten with a club.  Farm tools were the weapon of choice.  Perhaps a few tanks and guns from a peacekeeping force would have made a difference.  Nevertheless, it’s too late now.

As I was saying, I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial today.  I haven’t been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. but I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp.  But I’m not comparing.  The Kigali Memorial was well done:
Since it is the 20th Anniversary Remembrance there are a lot of people coming to the memorial this month to pay their respects.
There are fourteen mass graves at the memorial where nearly 250,000 people are buried.  From time to time, as building occurs around Kigali and the nation, more victims are found and brought to rest in peace with others who lost their lives:
By the time the killings ended, barely 300,000 Tutsi survived.  Prior to the 100 days of violence there were about four times that many Tutsi in Rwanda.  That equates to 10,000 people murdered each day, 400 per hour, 7 every minute.  What an unfortunate waste of life.

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