Genocide and Reconciliation in Rwanda: From Complicity to Credibility

Article excerpt


The world stood by and did nothing for one hundred days from April to July 1994. At that time Rwanda was one of the poorest countries in the world on a par with my wife's adopted homeland of Haiti. Drought and war diminished food production significantly. Estimates at the time put the number who would need food to survive at 800,000. In an ironic twist of fate this is the figure used for the total number killed in the genocide when Hutu took up machete against his Tutsi neighbor. According to Gourevitch, the genocide "was the most efficient mass killings since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" and on average the perpetrators terminated five and a half lives for every minute of the genocide. (1) By the time they were finished killing, dead, mutilated, decomposing, and bleached skeletal bodies were all that remained. The total number killed represented 10% of the 8 million citizens of the country of Rwanda. Atrocities included killing, rape, torture, and maiming of babies, children, youth, and adults of every age. Eyewitnesses reported watching in horror as perpetrators beheaded children. In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed, there were hundreds of thousands who perpetrated violence and killing.

Colonial and Missionary Roots of the Genocide

A report commissioned by The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission in Rwanda in 2005 traced the roots of the 1994 genocide. (2) Anastase Shyaka who wrote the report on behalf of the Commission identified several causal factors that precipitated the carnage in April 1994. He views the conflict as one that is "identity-based" and fueled by fears that one group feels threatened by another and thereby perceived as an enemy (p. 8). The identity mechanisms in place in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis arose from a complex interweaving of both external and internal factors. Colonization of Rwanda by European oppressors brought a foreign ideological conception of the racial heritage and makeup of the African people. The biblical story of Noah's three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth according to some interpretations of Genesis 9-10) seemed to support this racial theory. The so-called "Hamitic myth" (p. 11) explained the various distinctions between "genuine Negroes" and "less Negroes." The genuine Negroes were the branch placed under the "curse of Ham" and seen as servants of the other branches of the Noetic line. The "less Negroes" came from a more "Caucasoid" branch seen in Egypt and Abyssinia.

In Rwanda, many believe that European explorers, traders, businessmen, and missionaries brought with them this racial ideology and imposed it on the three tribes designated as Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas. Within the ideological matrix imported with the Germans and Belgians the Tutsi minority (14% of the population) viewed as the superior non-cursed branch while they viewed the Hutu majority (85% of the population) as those under a curse and destined for servitude to the superior brothers. With this ideology in mind, the colonizers identified the Tutsis for important government positions and for selection to attend private schools. This practice of "indirect colonization" (p. 14) gave practical impetus to the "divide and rule" strategy of the colonizers. The Tutsis became the natural choice for assisting in the control of the other "inferior" groups who could be "naturally dominated" and controlled by proxies (p. 14). The Commission provided an example an example in the exclusion of all the Hutu chiefs from the political and governmental structures in the 1930s based upon previous colonial administration of the country under Morthehan Law. Instead European and American missionaries, with the full agreement of the government, placed Tutsis in administrative positions. Ethnic choices in favor of the Tutsis, made at the administrative and political levels of government, trickled-down to selections about who attended the elite government run and missionary sponsored boarding schools. …