06.07.2009 - 07.07.2009
“When they said 'never again' after the holocaust, was it meant for some people an not for others?” [Apollon Katahizi]
In a way, it all comes down to a point of Belgian administration.
Sadly though, I must admit that my local knowledge is not as good as it should be. I had long laboured under the idea that the Hutus and Tutsi's were ancient tribes, possibly bearing a timeworn grudge. Though there is some grain of truth in that – they were 2 of 18 smaller groups, and date back to the 10th or 11th century at least – it never really mean't anything on the grand scheme of things. It was only later that the groups become formalised that things go messy. The Hutu and Tutsi divide which caused so much pain, grief, suffering and death in Rwanda – and Burundi as well – was basically an invention of colonial Belgian administration: when the Belgians brought in identity cards in 1931 for exact reasons that i am unsure of, they decided to split the population into different groups: Tutsi's (or those that owned more than 10 cows) and Hutu's. The seeds were sown. And In neighbouring Burundi - once part of the same Belgian colonial system and with a similar ethnic breakdown, over 200,000 Hutu's died in a 1972 genocide and civil war between Tutsi's and Hutu's in Burundi has been on and off for over 60years.
I am too depressed to write too much about the Rwandan genocide or it's memorial here: Besides, there are plenty of other much better sources of information out there. But I feel that I have to comment a little on the National Genocide Memorial in Kigali. If you ignore the complete lack of signposting from anywhere in town and even nearby, it was very well done. In basic terms, in under 100 days (it was that quick) over 1million people were dead, and millions more displaced. The UN commander in Rwanda was denied a mandate to intervene and had no force to speak of and the French force that did arrive at one point are horribly implicated in many atrocities, at least as accomplices. And the propaganda machine was at its most horrifically efficient: what most observers note as the single most horrific aspect of the whole horrible episode was the fervor in which ordinary Rwandans – men women and children – seemed to happily hack up and kill other Rwandans, often former neighbors, friends or even family members.
All i will do here is just mention a couple of 'small' snippets that particularly affected me. I think that one small paragraph and photo on a side wall was the single most devastating memory to me. It described a Christian priest who ordered the bulldozing of a church with 2000 people inside. He destroyed his own church and massacred his own congregation out of some perverse 'tribal' loyalty. In the children's gallery, large pictures of children were notated with how they died: two siblings of 2years and 6months ere killed when a grenade was thrown into their bathroom. And outside amongst the mass graves – this is not just a memorial site – there was a black wall, maybe 100metres long. A section was filled with small type of the names of dead Rwandans. The rest of it was eerily blank: so many of the bodies remain unidentified. Other people might be more moved by some of the heroic personal tales , or the room of skulls, or personal items and clothing found in mass graves. Everybody is different. But everybody agrees that it was a horrific episode of the very worst of human kind.
That evening I did pretty much nothing at all, except sadly sit with images and thoughts constantly playing on my mind, getting more and more depressed with how, well, everything, human nature can be sometimes.
We must not forget. And we must not allow such atrocities to take place again. And that means anywhere in the world, and not just the areas which happen to be resource rich and thus the Western world actually cares about.