As 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, there must continue to be an extensive look as to why the international community turned a blind eye to the systematic wholesale murder of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the space of 100 traumatic days. Twenty years on, the ghost of such ethnic cleansing continues to be relevant due to the fact that the genocide has contributed to the further destabilisation of the Great Lakes region in central Africa.

Rwanda historically has been wracked by instability between the two main ethnic groups, the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsi population, an instability exacerbated by the Belgian colonial presence. The Belgians had favoured the wealthy Tutsi minority who also comprised of the monarchy to rule the majority Hutu population which set the scene for a climate of hostility between the two ethnicities that would manifest in the attempted extermination of the Tutsis in 1994. After Rwanda gained its independence in 1962, the Hutus assumed political power and responded through nationwide reprisal massacres and discriminatory policies such as ID cards and political exclusion towards the Tutsi population who they regarded as Belgian collaborators and responsible for Hutu misfortunes in Rwandan society.

Such discrimination led to a dispersal of the Tutsi diaspora across the Great Lakes region with many choosing to settle in neighbouring DR Congo and Uganda. These exiles mobilised to form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel army who from their jungle bases in Uganda conducted a guerrilla war in the 1990s from the north which resulted in a bloody stalemate and repulsion primarily due to the Hutu government’s military support from France who repulsed the Tutsi advance to the capital Kigali.

Consequently, President Juvénal Habyarimana’s decision to sign the Arusha Accords with the RPF which would allow a power sharing deal with the Tutsis and political recognition for the RPF was heavily opposed by Hutu conservative hardliners in power such as Théoneste Bagosora who fiercely repelled the prospect of bringing Tutsi into the Rwandan political picture. During this period, the gradual stockpiling of arms such as machetes, the formation of Hutu youth paramilitary groups such as Interhamwe under the auspices of the Hutu military authorities, and the provision of racial hatred and propaganda by radio stations such as RTLM (Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines) created an atmosphere that a cycle of violence was about to strike the small Central African nation.

On the 6 April 1994, under mysterious circumstances, President Habyarimana was assassinated when his plane carrying him and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down in the capital Kigali. Despite the potential assailants being either Hutu political hardliners or the Tutsi RPF, the events set in motion 100 days of wholesale murder where the Hutus sealed the country’s borders, established roadblocks and began the extermination of the Tutsi ‘cockroaches’. The elite Presidential Guard, Hutu military and the Interhamwe all collaborated in locating all Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus who did not favour the massacre and slaughtering them in the most despicable of circumstances.

Nationwide stories of the Tutsi population sheltering in churches and public buildings in anticipation of machete-wielding thugs became the norm as such public places became the site of mass killings all under the eye of the UN whose policy of non-engagement effectively gave the Hutu extremists a free hand in carrying out ‘their work’. The international community after the murder and mutilation of 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers responded by drastically limiting the UN president with Europeans evacuating all foreign nationals from the country as Rwanda spilled into an orgy of bloodlust, the gruesome result of years of ethnic tension between the two tribes.

The utilisation of rape as a weapon of war and genocide was also rampant with an estimated 500,000 Rwandan women raped in an effort to destabilise the Tutsi community as children born from the aftermath of rape is estimated to be in the thousands. By the time the genocide ended on July 15, 1994 with the RPF capture of the capital Kigali, the death toll was estimated to be close to a million.

The ramifications of this genocide have rippled across Central Africa which has led to the region being in perpetual proxy war. The genocide led to a mass exodus of biblical proportions as the Hutu population fearful of reprisals from the victorious RPF fled into the Democratic Republic of Congo, many of whom were the architects of the genocide who under the watchful eye of the French armed forces in Operation Turquoise secured the south-east of the country to facilitate their exodus – a key reason why the Rwandan government under President Paul Kagame shares a sour relationship with France, the previous backers of the Hutu regime.

Rwanda has utilised the presence of the Hutus in Eastern Congo to invade its vast neighbour, to track down and wipe out the Hutu extremists on the grounds of national security and to prevent incursions on the country. However, reports of human rights abuses and suppression of freedoms of speech and political expression under the Kagame regime remain a pressing issue to be addressed in a land slowly picking up the pieces from a genocide the world turned away from just 50 years following the discovery of the Holocaust.

The issue of Congo’s vast mineral wealth has formed the backdrop for two fierce proxy wars between Congo and Rwanda who have militarised the Tutsi minority in the region to hunt down the Hutu extremists operating under the FDLR, (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) as well as plunder the mineral reserves of the eastern half of the country to fuel Rwanda’s economic boom. The continuing instability in an otherwise beautiful, picturesque region of Africa shows that the phantom of 100 days of gruesome human barbarism continues to reverberate across a crucial geo-political area of the African continent.

BY: Jonas Adrian