The following is a reflective account of the struggles of my people provided to me by my father.
The Rwandan genocide is historically one of the shortest yet also bloodiest genocides of all time.
The genocide lasted only 100 days, exterminating approximately about 20% of the country’s population. The small central African country of Rwanda, there was a deep running history of tension between the two major ethnic groups the Hutus and the Tutsis.
The Belgians found it easier to enforce Tutsi superiority because they were the majority population. When Belgium granted Rwanda their independence in 1962, the Hutus took over. In the aftermath of the genocide, the Rwandan government refused to call it a genocide instead insisting that it was merely a civil war.
Rwanda originally had two ethnic groups: Hutus were the crop farmers and Tutsis were cattle farmers. The Germans took control and then lost control after WWI. Then, Belgium gained control and all ethnic identities got along until the 19th century.
1959 marked the end of the Kings of Rwanda and resulted in ‘The Hutu Revolution” killing almost 20,000 Tutsis from 1963-1967. Following this mass extermination, about 100,000 additional Tutsis were killed by the Hutus using machetes. Hutus targeted the Tutsis long before 1994 when President Habyarimana’s plane is shot down after he signed a peace treaty with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Our country is unsure who did it, but Hutus automatically blamed the Tutsis.
This was the perfect excuse the Hutus needed to begin the massacre. April 6, 1994, Hutus mandated every Hutu must spread this ideology widely.
Every Hutu who persecutes his Hutu brother because he has read, spread and taught this ideology is a traitor.”Interahamwe” (Kinyarwanda word meaning “those who attack together”) was a gang that was trained to hate and kill Tutsis: Rwanda Genocide Interahamwe vs. RPF.
Two years before the outbreak of the genocide, the U.N. deployed 2,500 troops in Rwanda. They observed the tension and informed the international community of the massacre that would surely occur.In August of 1994, the Tutsi RPF group lead by Kagame retook the capital and soon after, the rest of the country, ending the genocide.
Hutu and Tutsi status was passed down from the father and when the killings began children of mixed marriages were of their father status so those with a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother lived, while those with a Tutsi father and a Hutu mother were killed. It is said that under Belgian control things became so separated that Belgians actually sent scientists to Rwanda to measure the nose lengths of Hutus and Tutsis.
As I was interviewing my uncle who told me that the stereotype of “tall, light, superior, Tutsis, and short, dark, inferior, Hutus” came from a British guy who discovered the Rwandan tribes in the 1800’s–and that it’s still going on to this day.
So, I ask, what can we do as a population to stop the horrendous acts of discrimination as a result of aspects of one’s identity and or cultural affiliation? What is the responsibility of the witness? How do we diminish feelings of superiority in the mentalities of those around us? How do we destroy the existence of hierarchies of privilege that exist among human beings? How can we reach a place of equality as a global society?