Rwanda's Agony - 1 Million Individual Murders.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
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Trip End Dec 31, 2018


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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Sunday, September 4, 2011

"If you remember, remember this....
The Nazis did not kill 6 million Jews.....
nor the Interhanwe kill 1 million Tutsis,

They killed one
then another
then another....

Genocide is not a single act of murder,
It is millions of acts of murder"

This quote is from Stephen D Smith, the project Director of the Kigali Memorial Centre, the genocide memorial museum and education center in Kigali, Rwanda. Opened in 2004, 10 years after the genocide, it provides a place to grieve and remember. On this particular spot alone 250,000 murdered bodies lie.

It was April 1994. The shooting down of a plane containing the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi who had been attending peace talks in Tanzania, was said to be the catalyst for an unbelievable 100 days of systematic killing of Rwandan Tutsis. Around 1 million men, women, and children. There was no UN intervention. In fact UN numbers were reduced to a few hundred and they had no mandate to do anything. It has never been established WHO shot down the plane. Perhaps it was not even the Tutsi's - given the Genocide had been planned prior and began within hours of the plane incident. No facebook in 1994 to coordinate a riot as in London recently - it seems it was pre-planned.

The Memorial Exhibition gave us some prior history. During the Belgium Colonisation period (who took control from the Germans after WW1), ethnic differences were, unfortunately, encouraged. Ethnic groups had to carry an identity card labelling them. Two main classes were created by the Belgiums. Hate between Huits and Tutse escalated. Hundreds and thousands of Tutse's fled the country to Uganda and there began to form an army just over the border

Several years before the genocide, the President, Habyarimana, formed a youth militia with arms and power (sounds familiar -  Nazi youth again?) and set about using the media for a massive campaign to turn Hutu neighbour against Tutsi neighbour. The propaganda message was that the Tutse's were an inferior people and if they were not removed they would rise up and enslave the Huits.

Our news at the time in Australia talked of Civil War in Rwanda. There was news of people fleeing across the borders into, Tanzania, Uganda and the Congo. Pictures appeared in newspapers and on TV of crowded refugee camps, but the vibe was that it was a tribal civil war of Africans who couldn't get along or couldn't deal with independence from their previous colonial rule.  

In truth, in 100 days 20% of the population were violently, and maliciously murdered.

Hacked with machetes, beaten with clubs, raped and shot. Only 17 years ago. Bearing in mind the quote above - it takes a lot of individual murderers to achieve this. It was not just a reaction to the assassination. Proof remains of the death squads having been formed and trained specifically for this. Lists of names had been prepared. This was government and media sanctioned wholesale murder. This was a planned genocide and worse it appears to have been church sanctioned with ministers participating and churches rather than being places of sanctuary, were places of mass murder.

We took a mini bus, designed to hold 12 at the most, but in the usual African style crammed with 20 people, to one of the Church memorials to the genocide, 35 kms outside of Kigali. On asking for directions we found people not forthcoming, but in the end we found it ourselves. Surrounded by purple ribbons which has become the symbol of the genocide, is a modern looking church that belies its awful story. Rwandans, fearing for their lives, once the murdering was underway,crowded into  village churches for sanctuary. 2,000 sheltered in this church alone. The youth death squads just found it easier to have everybody in the one place and  they were murdered inside the churches in the most horrific, bloody and brutal manner.
 
A Rwandan woman who was sitting at the entrance to the church when we arrived and managing the visitors book, had, we were told, lay amongst the dead for many days feigning death to survive. The bones and clothes of many bodies remain at the church and people come here to grieve and remember.

We walked back to the mini bus stop, discussing the enormity of what we had learned and keeping an eye on the threatening rain clouds as we were without our raincoats. Finding the bus just before the clouds opened we sat up front with the driver, which was a little bit less squashy. The driver didn't have much English (French is widely spoken as Belgium was their colonial ruler before independence) but he asked why we had come to Nyamata. We said to see the church and he looked at us sadly and said simply "My parents died there" .   

The overwhelming thought that haunts us as we stay in Rwanda is that it takes a LOT of people to do this amount of murdering, in such a short period of time. So many of the people we are dealing with day to day, the taxi driver, the waiter, the shopkeeper, may be a mass murderer.

A quote from an 11 year old, Donata soon after the genocide, chillingly points this out.

"Sometimes I get terribly sad because I can't imagine what my life will be like. I'll never see my parents again and yet I will see the people who killed them and those people's children for the rest of my life. I can't bear the thought of it"

The message given to current visitors to Rwanda is that they are a united people now and have put the genocide behind them. Could that be possible? A lot of monetary aid was poured into Rwanda after the genocide and today Kigali the capital, has the look of a modern city that does not look like other African cities in the region. There are excellent roads with curbing, footpaths and crosswalks. World Aid organisations abound and modern 4 Wheel drive vehicles bear logos of NGO's and embassies.

At the Kigali Memorial, there was also an exhibition of other genocides which we found interesting. Having travelled through the former Yugoslavian countries earlier this year and leaned about the Balkans wars and the ethnic cleansing there in the 90's, and having visited Auschwitz Poland, and Cambodia on other trips, the exhibition was extremely interesting. We also learned about a genocide of Armenians by the Turks in the early 1900's and also a genocide by Germans in Namibia of an African tribe.

Two days in Rwanda posed many more questions than were answered.
The biggest two questions though will remain:

"How could this happen?"
 
and
"Why have the murderers not been convicted?"  

To date only SEVENTEEN convictions have happened.  

On the way to the airport to leave, we chatted to our young taxi driver. His story was that his parents fled Rwanda to Uganda before he was born, due to the tension and orchestrated hatred against the Tutsis. After the genocide, his family were amongst the many who came back to Rwanda. He now feels that he doesn't quite fit in. His peers learned and speak French but he doesn't. He instead learned English in his Ugandan school. He is not sure whether he feels more Rwandan or Ugandan and is called and treated as a "newcomer" even though his family's roots are Rwandan. 

Goodbye Rwanda - may you have peace now and forever.

Tourist Tip: We took a mini  bus called Sotra Tours to Nyamata. Tours is a total misnomer, it is simply a mini bus route. It was very cheap at 700 Rwandan Franks each (around $1), however it was very uncomfortable and my wallet was emptied in the cramped conditions. We had also hoped to visit Ntarama Church Memorial, on the same road closer to Kingali, however we were told the bus did not stop there, we could get off but not back on. We would suggest the best way would be take a taxi.  
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