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First came the Germans: a result of the Berlin Conference of 1885 at which European imperial powers carved up Africa among themselves. Until 4 May 1894, Rwanda had been a mountain kingdom of many hills and lush valleys. It was a Garden of Eden to many.

Part of Rwanda's pre-history is worth noting for it gave Rwandans a mind set that survived to its great detriment a century later. As a kingdom in pre-colonial times, Rwanda had engaged in wars of both survival and conquest, ordinary stuff. What was rather unique, was their relationship to the king, Mwami. The king was not just ruler. He was also owner, and close to a god-like figure. Obedience to Mwami was so ingrained it was automatic. Respect for authority, in modern terms, figured prominently on both sides of the genocide, killer and victim alike. [That a genocidal oligarchy would take advantage of this social tradition is perhaps the most obscene feature of the Rwandan genocide.] This is also a most compelling reason to develop an Internal Locus of Control to go with the necessary socializing External Locus of Control.

  • Innocent peasants killed as they were told to.
  • Victims often obeyed their killers to their last breath.
  • Guilty executioners eagerly embraced their master's ideology of genocide and taught others to kill as they killed.
  • The ring leaders were Extremists of the first rank. They manipulated an all-too-obedient populace of killers and victims.

The real pre-colonial history is shrouded in mystery and comes down to us mainly via myth and poetry. For example, one myth told of the king testing his sons, Gatwa, Gahutu, and Gatutsi. The test was simply to observe what each did when entrusted with a churn of milk. Gatwa quenched his thirst; Gahutu spilled his milk; Gatutsi conserved his. The king appointed Gatutsi as commander of men. But there were no ethnic problems of note before colonial times. All three groups intermingled, shared the same land, the same language, the same religion. Tutsi and Hutu intermarried. Governance was feudal, but highly refined and orderly, amazing to Europeans. There is, moreover, no evidence of animosity between the Tutsi and Hutu until after the Belgians took over in the 20th Century.

John Haning Speke, the British explorer who found and named Lake Victoria observed what he considered three ethnic groups in the region. His theory, a postulate really, was that there was a superior race in this part of the world, and that it was so superior and refined, that it must have come from somewhere else. His postulate that the Tutsi were somehow related more closely to the noble European gained credence among racist European, historian and anthropologist alike. It survives to this day in some quarters, though modern anthropologists do not agree on where the Tutsi might have come from. What seems to be true is that a Tutsi kingdom ruled the Hutu and Twa, for some hundreds of years.

The Germans ruled indirectly through the king. Having a Tutsi monarchy in charge fit their sense of hierarchy in societies. The Germans helped the king subjugate areas to the north. After WWI, the League of Nations gave Belgium the mandate to govern Rwanda, using humane conditions for labor, insuring justice for inhabitants, controlling disease, promoting democracy and the freedom of religion. Belgium preferred direct rule and gradually achieved that very end, but without much concern for justice, equality, or the future.

In 1922, Belgium began limiting the kings power, deposed him in 1931, and installed one of his sons, their favorite, Mutara Rudahigwa. He became known as the "White King." Belgium also worked to establish Christianity in Rwanda. Rudahigwa converted to Christianity in 1943. In 1946, he was persuaded to dedicate the whole of Rwanda to Christ. The Catholic Church thus became a prominent institution.

Meanwhile in 1933, the Belgians had conducted a census that labeled every Rwandan as either Twa, Hutu or Tutsi. In a large number of cases, the decision of which label to use was simply arbitrary. This point too was to boomerang later against the populace, not only by dividing people and pitting them against each other, but to identify a specific group for genocidal targeting. The divide between the governors and subjects grew from that time forward. Bigots and racists alike now had someone to pick on. Fertile seeds for a later genocidal oligarchy were in place and sprouting, fertilized by Rwandan respect for authority. Tension between Hutu and the ruling Tutsi increased. Bitterness over subjugation made it easy for Hutu in the North to believe government propaganda that the Tutsi were oppressive invaders. This ideology became basic to the genocide. Hutu Power was coming of age.

In 1957, a Hutu group published a manifesto challenging the Tutsi governance. When the Tutsi king, Rudahigwa, died in 1959 under suspicious circumstances, an extremist group of Hutu arose, violently opposing moderate governance. Belgium imposed military rule in response and set about establishing a more representative government. The new king was forced into exile along with many thousands of Tutsi. Under UN supervision, Gregoire Kayibanda won the election (questionable circumstances) and the monarchy was abolished. He was supported strongly by Belgium during his rule. This period also saw the first attempts by those hoping to regain power from the Diaspora. It failed. But Kayibanda was accused of genocide, so violent was his response. In fact, his response became a prologue for the 1994 genocide. Kayibanda's regime was certainly racist, bigoted, and despotic. Nevertheless, Kayibanda is recognized today as the founding father of Hutu nationalism. He also had strong links with the Catholic Church, whose blind support for the Rwandan government continued right into the 1994 genocide.

Through the Catholic Church, the door was opened for French influence. Catholic schools teaching in French, gradually established French as a second national language. Moreover, the education provided was the best available in this backward nation. French influence soared to the point that France eventually replaced Belgium as a national sponsor.

Kayibanda was ousted in a bloodless coup by Juvenal Habyarimana in 1973. Habyarimana signed a military cooperation and training agreement with France in 1975. France was now an actor and ally. Meanwhile, Tutsis and moderate Hutus were regouping in Uganda, drawing volunteers from all over the diaspora. They became the feared RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), though they were less violent toward the common peasant than was the government itself. The RPF became a factor to be reckoned with in 1990-1991. A civil war began, and that made the government all the more nervous. One response was to found a Hate Radio promulgating hatred of the Tutsi.

  • Tutsi are blood and power thirsty. They want to impose their hegemony on the Rwandan people by cannon and sword.
  • Ever since the social revolution of 1959, not one day has passed that the Tutsi have let go of the idea of reconquering power in Rwanda and exterminating the intellectuals and dominating the Hutu agriculturists.
  • Tutsi use two means against Hutu: money and Tutsi women.
  • Tutsi sold their wives and daughters to the Hutu authorities. Tutsis tried to marry their wives to Hutu elite in order to have spies in the inner circle.
  • Tutsis did everything they could to erase the Hutu consciousness to the point that any Hutu that noticed the diabolical actions of the Tutsi was fired from his job without warning and thrown into jail.
  • Hutus must know that the Tutsi wife wherever she may be is serving the Tutsi ethnic group. In consequence, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor: a) Acquires a Tutsi wife, b) Acquires a Tutsi concubine, or c) Acquires a Tutsi secretary protg.
  • All Hutus must know that all Tutsis are dishonest in business. Their only goal is ethnic superiority.
  • The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) must be exclusively Hutu. The war in 1990 teaches us this lesson.
  • No military man (i.e., FAR soldier) may marry a Tutsi woman.
  • The Hutu must stop taking pity on the Tutsi.

Foreign diplomates in Kigali did not see through the diaboical ruse -- anti-Tutsi propaganda that appealed to the unemployed, the drifters, malcontents, street gangs, thugs, and especially the uneducated peasants. Educated people are not in a good position to understand their opposites, nor do they tend to be empathetic. So it should not be surprising that both the French and American ambassadors were emphatically against taking action against the Hate Radio. After all, free speech is free speech is it not? [ A moral here is that ambassadors good at reading the local tea leaves are vital for the future of international peace. America at least too often treats diplomatic positions more as plumbs than as instruments for moving forward.] The forgoing was not a universal condition in Rwanda. Many in the several NGOs understood clearly. The Belgian ambassador did in fact realize the seriousness of Hate Radio and advised Brussels of the possible consequences.

[A second moral is that those on the ground must be listened to. There is no evidence that Brussels, or anyone else listened. ] One official in the Belgian Intelligence service believes that the genocide could not have happened without Hate Radio.

During this time, the Rwandan government was borrowing and / or misappropriating funds to build up its army as well as to arm the many militias being armed and trained for the coming genocide. Possibly, the French ambassador was unaware of the military build up because Mitterand kept the Rwandan matter a "palace secret" with only himself and his son fully apprised. Egypt and China supplied large quantities of arms, as did South Africa. World Bank loans were misdirected for arms purchase. Much of that was simply below the Bank's horizon, after all machetes and axes are farm equipment. Nevertheless, developed-world organizations were duped -- aggravating what turned out to be an extremely serious problem.

The real power of the government was in the hands of Agatha Habyarimana, the president's wife. She led an oligarchy by deceit and intrigue behind the scenes, as a shadow government. Juvenal Habyarimana was hardly more than a figurehead by the time he was assassinated. As is often the case, others, notably Theoneste Bagosora, held the actual reins of power. Bagosora undoubtedly ordered the assassination. He led the "Crisis Committee" formed the very night of the assassination to complete a successful coup.

Theoneste Bagosora, a figure in the shadow government, ordered the execution of the moderates in the government, and led the genocide. Ultimately, it was the blind faith in French support that encouraged both Habyarimana and Bagosora toward the genocide. Although the French government was officially in denial, in the early phase of the civil war, observers on the scene reported French armed forces materially aiding Habyarimana's government against the RPF. After the coup, and as the genocide entered its third month, France intervened directly a second time, ostensibly to save French nationals. This intervention gave the extremists yet more time to continue their genocide.

Through it all, the Security Council was of such minimal help that its very functionality must be questioned in similar peace-keeping or peace restoring situations -- it failed to prevent the genocide. There were many reason: slow reaction, poor logistics, lack of historical precedence, non-appreciation of true situation, intransigence on the part of the Council members, lack of intelligence, and lack of political courage by those in decision-making positions. Nevertheless, the UN command managed to save many thousands of Rwandans targeted for killing. Romeo Dallaire and his troops did that by standing fast with moral courage. They protected targeted groups by their very bodies. The peacekeepers were not permitted to disarm the genocidaires -- the only real solution.

Against all odds it would seem, the RPF won the civil war. Poorly equipped and outnumbered, but rich in training, discipline, leadership and experience, the RPF prevailed. French meddling during 1991 - 1994 merely delayed and worsened the eventual outcome.

The final chapter is not yet written although bloodshed continued in the refugee camps, beyond RPF control. Stability has now returned, and Rwanda has, in its own way, dealt with many of the the local genocidaires. The bigwigs who were caught went on trial in Tanzania. However, true democracy does not yet exist in Rwanda. That is not to say it never will; it all depends on how soon the populace can heal its wounds and unite. That may in fact take a generation or more. Those in power also hold important keys.

As for the rest of the world, it is still largely standing by as it did during the bloodshed. The lack of NGO coordination had worsened the bloodshed. NGOs continue their good works individually, as uncoordinated as they are.

Much of the above content comes from M. L. Melvern, A People Betrayed.

Could anything like this happen elsewhere today? Read
Stanley Milgram and decide for yourself. If that is not enough, see: Philip Zimbardo.

These scientific studies, together with those of Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno and Ashutosh Varshney are compelling evidence that the barriers between jungle and civilized behavior are egg-shell thin. Natural History, Human History and Legends provide additional views on the roots of it all.

Is it any wonder that violence has been so persistent over the millennia? Since world population pressures are now often higher locally than the land can withstand, genocide can be seen as a natural extension of our genetic traits for violence that ensure species survival. However a limit is in sight. In this 21st Century, humanity as a whole will have to face the fact that there are too many people for the sustainable resources. Conflict will continue; Palestine and Iraq are high-profile cases in point. Over Population will force a response regardless of what the Nuclear Genie does.


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