Long before Africa was reached by European colonial expansion, long before there were frontiers, rights,obligations and classifications. The continent was naturally split into the upper-Saharan region, the sub-Saharan region and the Horn of Africa. The African people characterized themselves as wandering or resident tribes. Whether the resident tribes where divided again into cattle herders and fishermen or farmers. In the entire history of the human being there’s no living together without some kind of hierarchy. Thus there were kings, tribe chiefs, men who took the responsibility for the survival of the group, men who had to lead their people where the water and the food was.
On the one hand European historian and western publicity will always try to resume the holocaust of 1994 into a ethnical conflict: two unequal groups starting a civil war because of insolvable power disequilibrium problems is still a good explanation for the genocide, which is supposed to have its seeds in the tribalism of the African people! At the other hand saying that the ethnical categorization, instituted by the European conquerers was the beginning of the power disequilibrium and only cause of the genocide is wrong to.
Long before the European Man came to the highlands of Rwanda and Burundi the were three prevailing groups with different backgrounds:
the hutu (or bahutu), 90%
the tustsi (or batutsi), 10%
and the twa (batwa), 1%
The origins of this three groups are not clearly defined. Up to now there’s is nothing that can prove scientifically that this three groups are from different ancestries! There are theories that say that the Hutus are progenies from the Bantu whether the Tutsis are progenies from the Hamites, who immigrate during the seventeen century from Ethiopia. But to me all this explanations are attempts to impose a “social structure” on Rwanda…
The Tutsis and the Hutus lived on the same geografical area, spoke the same language, had the same religion, the same habits and shared the same visions!!!
The hierachy was clear. While Tutsifamilies were cattle and arms herders, mostly descendent from the royal family, hence they were socially more respected. The Hutus, who mostly were simple farmers and fishermen lived a less privileged life.
Descriptions on how to recognize the differences between a Tutsi and a Hutu, saying something like that:
Tutsis are taller and lighter-skinned with longer noses
Hutus are shorter and darker skinned with broad, flat noses
Hutu and Tutsi
… are just inexcusably nonscientific statements and absolutely wrong! Even though there some Rwandan people who adopted this thoughts (which is normal, when your told over decades and generations, that there are differences between you and your slightly different looking neighbor because it happens that he is less tall…), it’s absolutely non-sense. Ever since Tutsis and Hutus lived together there were intermarriages and there was a time Hutus could “upgrade” to a Tutsi by doing something really honorable…
When the Germans arrived 1894 Tutsi King Rwabuguri was reigning.
The colonial masters tried so much to impose a clear defined social order in this country to strengthen their own control. (…)They ruled through the Tutsi king and brought formerly independent Hutu areas under the central administration.
Rwanda’s northern and western borders were basically decided among the colonial powers in 1910. The borders with Tanzania and Burundi began as internal administrative divisions in German East Africa.
Before their departure in 1916 the Germans had suppressed a rebellion and established coffee as a cash crop.
After World War One Rwanda fell under Belgian control. The Belgians continued to rule through the Tutsi king, though in the 1920s they deposed a king who obstructed their plans, and chose their own candidate to replace him, ignoring the line of succession.
Early in its mandate, the Belgian Government declared: “The government should endeavour to maintain and consolidate traditional cadres composed of the Tutsi ruling class, because of its important qualities, its undeniable intellectual superiority and its ruling potential.” Belgium educated only male Tutsi. (Frank Smyth, The Australian 10.6.94)
In the 1930s Belgium instituted apartheid-like identity cards, which marked the bearer as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa. Their efforts to establish a racial basis for the Hutu-Tutsi division through qualities such as skin colour, nose and head size came to nothing: they fell back on the reality of economic division and defined a Tutsi as owner of ten or more cattle. However the division was now rigidly enforced: it was no longer possible to rise from the status of Hutu to Tutsi.
After the Second World War the Belgians continued to run the economy to their own advantage. Goods were exported via Belgian colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, although the route to Indian Ocean ports was far shorter and made much more sense in terms of future economic development. But neither Belgium nor other Western nations planned to develop Rwanda.
Repression and revolt
Hutu resistance was brutally suppressed. Amputations and other mutilation were standard punishments decreed by the the Belgians authorities, and administered by Tutsis. By the 1940s thousands of Hutus had fled to Uganda. But in the 1950s a powerful Hutu opposition movement grew out of a land crisis, caused primarily by the spread of coffee as a cash crop and the King’s cancellation of the traditional custom of exchanging labour for land that had given Hutus a small chance of land acquisition.
The Belgian authorities were meanwhile becoming concerned at the rise of radical nationalist sentiments amoung the Tutsi urban middle class.
A rebellion of Hutu farmworkers broke out the late 1950s. The colonialists decided to come to terms with it by granting independence in 1961, and allowed free elections.
The elections were won by the Party for Hutu Emancipation.
The nation of Burundi separated from Rwanda in 1962 and remained under Tutsi control.
In 1973 General Juvenal Habyarimana seized power and became President and set up a highly centralised, authoritarian regime.
He formed the MRND, which was to become the only legal political party. It created cooperative groups in the countryside run by MRND loyalists. It coopted the Catholic Church and tightly controlled the tiny trade union movement.
At the same time the racist policies of the past were intensified: Tutsis were banned from the armed forces and marriage between Tutsis and Hutus was forbidden.
Despite these policies growing numbers of Hutus actively opposed the regime.
The free market cripples Rwanda
The proportion of Rwanda’s labour force involved in agriculture was the highest in the world. In 1994 Agriculture employed 93% of the labour force (compared to 94% in 1965). Industry contributed only about 20% of Gross Domestic Product and this was largely limited to processing agricultural goods.
Dependence on inefficient agriculture left Rwanda prey to drought in 1989. Environmental damage also played its part. Originally well wooded, less than 3% of Rwanda is now forest. Erosion is rampant and is wiping out both natural vegetation as well as food and cash crops, despite tree-planting programs. In these conditions disease and famine spread.
Thanks to its colonial heritage Rwanda relied on coffee exports for anywhere between 60% and 85% of its foreign earnings. But in 1989 world coffee prices collapsed after the International Coffee Organisation suspended export quotas, allowing market forces free play. coffee price collapse
The result was a foreign debt of $90 per person, in a nation where total wealth per person was only $320. Calorie consumption was only 81% of the required intake. Under 10% of children reached secondary school and one in five babies were dying before the age of one.
In 1990 the desperate Habyarimana Government adopted the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programme in return for credit and foreign aid. Massive cutbacks in the already meagre public spending followed.
The regime prepared for resistance by stepping up the repression of political opponents, whether Hutu or Tutsi. But it also embarked on a huge new campaign to scapegoat Tutsis for the economic crisis. Government radio relentlessly spread hate propaganda, and in the background the regime began to organise militia death squads.
This is how Rwandan local radio incited the Hutus to violence (an act against international law):
‘You have to kill the Tutsis, they’re cockroaches.’
‘All those who are listening, rise so we can fight for our Rwanda. Fight with the weapons you have at your disposal: those who have arrows, with arrows, those who have spears, with spears. We must all fight.’
‘We must all fight the Tutsis. We must finish with them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country. There must be no refuge for them.’
‘They must be exterminated. There is no other way.’
It is against the backdrop of this economic crisis that the genocide of Tutis took place!!! (…)
The United Nations is often condemned for its role during the genocide. Usually the UN is accused of a cowardly reluctance to act forcefully enough to prevent the killings. In truth the United Nations was complicit in key stages of a monumental crime against humanity. The accusation of cowardice comes because UN troops were withdrawn from the country just as the massacres were beginning, and a later contingent of French forces, mandated by the UN to intervene, arrived in Rwanda only as the slaughter was tailing off.
The real problem however is that these French troops were aiding the Rwandan army and its Hutu militia allies, the very forces butchering Rwanda’s minority Tutsi population. France had been arming, training and funding the Habyarimana regime in Rwanda for years, years during which the Tutsi minority had already been subjected to ferocious persecution. The UN and great powers behind it must have known this very well before they endorsed the French intervention.
In 1994 the Rwandan regime was rapidly crumbling before a rebel army – the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) – which, as it advanced, was putting a stop to the genocide in one region of the country after another. The speed of the rebels’ advance meant life or death for tens of thousands of Tutsis. France intervened to create ‘safe havens’, supposedly to protect the lives of civilians from the majority Hutu group from Tutsi revenge. In reality they were attempting to slow the rebels’ advance and protecting the remains of the Rwandan regime from them.
As it turned out the French could not save the regime but did save the organisers of the genocide from capture. The ‘safe havens’ became a base from which these people engineered the flight of almost two million Hutus into neighbouring countries, where they have since languished in disease-ridden squalor under the control of the soldiers and militias of the fallen Government.
These refugee camps then served as a springboard for armed incursions into Rwanda in which great numbers of Tutsis and anti-racist Hutus have died or been mutilated.
There are remarkable parallels between the atrocities in Rwanda and East Timor: in the genocides themselves, planned at governmental level and carried out by an army and government-organised militias, and in the role played by USA and other western powers in arming these murderous regimes. And just as Australia was at the forefront in supplying and training Indonesia’s military and in pushing the diplomatic cause of Suharto and Habibie worldwide, France acted as benefactor and international champion for the bestial regime in Rwanda.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front
Just as an economic crisis was breaking in the late 1980s the Habyarimana Government faced a new armed threat. In neighbouring Uganda the National Resistance Army led by Yoweri Museveni had taken power in 1986. Many Tutsis, refugees from persecution in the early 1960s, had fought with the rebels. They now formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Although led by Tutsis the RPF was 40% Hutu in composition.
In September 1990 it conquered territory in the north of the country and quickly gained support from Hutu farmers.
France arms and trains the killers
Habyarimana would soon have fallen to the the well armed and trained RPF but for French military intervention. In October 1990 French forces seized Rwanda’s international airport and turned the tide against the rebels.
The battle with the RPF was used as a pretext to arrest up to 8,000 people in the capital Kigali, mostly Tutsis, and to launch pogroms in the countryside.
“There were beatings, rapes and murders. Rwandan intelligence distributed Kalashnikovs to municipal authorities in selected villages. They gathered with ruling party militants, most of whom carried staves, clubs and machetes… they went from field to field in search of Tutsis, killing thousands… “Civilians were killed, as in any war” said Colonel Bernard Cussac, France’s ranking military commander in Kigali.” (Frank Smyth, The Australian 10.6.94)
French arms and military advisors poured into the country. In the following two years the Rwandan army grew from 5,000 to 30,000.
The BBC’s Panorama program said that the Rwandan Government ‘thanked France for help which was “invaluable in combat situations” and recommended 15 French soldiers for medals after one engagement in 1991.’ (Reuters World Service 21.8.95)
In 1992 Lieutenant Colonel Chollet, commander of the French forces in Rwanda, became President Habyarimana’s defacto army chief of staff. In February 1993 French forces again beat back an RPF attack.
Cutting across all this were pressure from Belgium and from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) for Rwanda to agree to a power sharing deal with the RPF. The OAU wanted to assert its own tattered authority and to prevent the conflict destabilising central Africa.
Under this pressure Habyarimana allowed the reintroduction multi-party politics in June 1991, and brought moderate Hutu opponents into his Cabinet in 1992.
This seems to have hardened sections of the ruling elite around a violently racist solution to the crisis. They now stepped up the organisation of the Hutu militias.
The United Nation’s human rights investigator for Rwanda, Rene Degni-Segui, later recounted
“a radio and television campaign inciting violence, distribution of arms to civilians and militias at year-end, military training of militias between November 1993 and March 1994 and lists of opposition leaders to execute… Mr Degni-Segui laid responsibility on high-ranking political officials, including “certain ministers” of the interim government, the presidential guard, the armed forces and paramilitary police as well as certain local authorities.” (The Age 2.7.94)
French forces superintended the organisation of the militias, known as the Interahamwe. Janvier Africa, son of a Rwandan diplomat, and a former Interahamwe member, described French involvement:
“We had two French military who helped train the Interahamwe. A lot of other Interahamwe were sent for training in Egypt. The French military taught us how to catch people and tie them. It was at the Affichier Central base in the centre of Kigali. It’s where people were tortured. That’s where the French military office was… The French also went with us Interahamwe to Mount Kigali, where they gave us training with guns. We didn’t know how to use the arms which had been brought from France so the French military were obliged to show us.” (Quoted in The Age, 23.6.94 p12)
Amnesty International has made similar allegations against the French government (Financial Times 12.7.94).
In early April 1994 Habyarimana signed the Arusha peace accord accord with the RPF, at which he was suspected by his supporters of agreeing to share power with Tutsis – the former ruling minority group of Rwanda and Burundi. Returning from Arusha on 6 April he was killed when his plane was shot down, almost certainly the work of his own Presidential Guard. Less than 30 minutes later – even before his death was announced – the massacres began.
The Presidential Guard began picking off opposition politicians, civil rights activists, and moderate Hutus, including the new Prime Minister Agatha Uwillingiymana. Then the army and Interahamwe were unleashed on the Tutsi population.
“As I travelled from one refugee camp to another I heard numerous stories of Government soldiers in Rwanda giving people a choice: they could either buy a bullet, which would be used to kill them instantly, or be hacked to death by a machete. All paid the price…
The Kagera has become a river of blood… at one point 87 bodies flowed past in an hour… One of the bodies arrived still dressed in a business suit. One was a priest, another a woman with the body of her child still wrapped tightly around her back. With so many bodies reaching Uganda one can only imagine what the killing fields must look like inside Rwanda, where half a million are believed to have been slaughtered.” (Glenn Daniel, The Australian 10.6.94)
The only force resisting the genocide was the RPF. How quickly it could advance each day against the collapsing Rwandan army meant life or death for tens of thousands of Tutsis.
How did the Western powers respond to the genocide? The BBC’s Panorama program recounted how on 8 April, the second night of the slaughter, three plane loads of French troops arrived in Kigali. Colonel Luc Marchal, a UN commander in Rwanda, told Panorama: “Two of those three planes were carrying personnel and one was for carrying ammunition… to the Rwandan army.” (The Age 21.8.95)
What of the UN?
As soon as the scale of the massacres became clear the UN withdrew most of its 2,500 troops in the country. But the UN did not simply abandon the Rwanda. Amid a confusion of conflicting motives, the driving force of UN policy was French concern that their allies were losing the civil war, and that if action was not taken the RPF would soon smash the old regime altogether and capture its leadership.
In June the UN sanctioned the intervention of 5,500 French troops in Rwanda. But two Belgian newspapers said French troops were already in Rwanda without waiting for UN permission. In Washington the State Department said the Secretary of State, Mr Warren Christopher, had informed his French counterpart, Mr Alain Juppe, that the US supported France’s military initiative.
The force was opposed not just by the RPF, who of course knew what to expect from it, but also by leading anti-racist Hutus opposed to the Rwandan Government:
“A moderate Hutu leader, who has been designated as Rwandas future Prime Minister, said yesterday he, too opposed French intervention in his country… Mr Faustin Twagiramunga of the Democratic Republic Movement party said at the UN: ‘I appreciate France’s being an economic and military power in the world. But there is a certain suspicion [of France’s offer]’”. (The Australian 22.6.94)
The French were soon engaged against the rebels. In June the capital, Kigali, was about to fall to the RPF. French troops were ordered to halt the RPF’s advance. Parachutists and Foreign Legionnaires were told “to fight any attempt to penetrate the [French] security zone in the south west.” (Guardian Weekly, 10.7.94)
The refugee crisis
As RPF forces swept through Rwanda in June, France, with endorsement from the UN Security Council, launched Operation Turquoise, setting up ‘safe havens’ protected by French troops along the border with Zaire. Allegedly to protect refugees, the havens were in fact designed to save the organisers of the genocide from the RPF.
‘”The RPF is going to be very surprised,” declared Colonel Jacques Rosier, southern commander of the operation. “We won’t call this Dien Bien Phu, we’ll call it Austerlitz.”‘ (Reuters World Service 4.7.94. Dien Bien Phu was the scene of France’s final military humiliation in Vietnam in 1954. Austerlitz was the scene of a French victory in the Napoleonic Wars.)
As the RPF closed in on Gisenyi,the last major town under the old Government’s control,
“French forces said they would give the Hutu politicians, blamed for the massacres, refuge in their safety zones if they fled there… Brigadier-General Jean-Claude Lafourcade, head of France’s Operation Turquoise, told a news briefing in the Zairean town of Goma where the French are headquartered: ‘If they (Rwandan Government) flee to out areas of operation, we would allow them in as mere refugees.’” (Buchizya Mseteka, Reuters World Service 11.7.94)
The leaders of the Hutu army and militias fled to these ‘safe havens’ with trucks, heavy weapons, and radio transmitters. They used the havens as bases for propaganda aimed at panicking ordinary Hutus into flight from Rwanda into Zaire.
“Both the guilty and the innocent have fled Rwanda, driven by terror. The mass hysteria has been generated by the propaganda spewing from the Hutu extremist-controlled radio stations in the French “humanitarian zones” and neighbouring Zaire. In the wake of the wholesale slaughter of Tutsi by Hutu militia, many feared a similar fate at the hands of the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front. In truth, there is little evidence of reprisal killings, other than random acts of violence by individuals.” (David Dorward, The Age 23.7.94 p.17)
There were also reports of soldiers from the defeated government forcing people at gunpoint to cross the border into Zaire. Between one and two million Hutus became refugees.
How did French forces, and their friends in the toppled Rwandan Government, assist these fleeing Hutu civilians in the safe havens?
“’We have no water, no toilets. We are suffering here. No food. The Government has brought us nothing. Nobody is helping us,’ said Jean-de-Dieu Hariman, a refugee from the capital Kigali who trekked westwards, driven by the rapidly advancing front…
Family Minster Pauline Nyiramasuhko, speaking in the luxurious and well-guarded confines of the Meridian Hotel, said an estimated 500,000 Hutu refugees had flooded into the Gisenyi district… the ministers insist that having fled from the capital and the town of Gitarama they will stay with their people in Gisenyi.” (Guy Dinmore, Reuters World Service, 11.7.94)
The militias were intending to use the refugees to reassert their control and used them as bargaining chips, a recruiting ground, and a springboard from which to destabilise the new RPF government in Rwanda.
The refugees soon began to die from dehydration and cholera: the international aid effort did not supply anywhere near the support needed even to maintain lives. Meanwhile the militias commandeered food supplies and began launching incursions into Rwanda.
In the aftermath of the genocide the UN continued to support French interventions on behalf of the killers. In late 1994 a draft UN resolution set up an international tribunal to prosecute war crimes in Rwanda. But it accepted a French amendment to treat the new RPF Government and the murderous ex-Government of Rwanda as equally guilty parties in the massacres:
“Several human rights groups and international organisations believe that France is behind efforts to hinder prosecution of Rwanda’s former leaders.
‘The French Government wants to encourage the perception that there have been two genocides in Rwanda: one organised the the Hutus against the Tutsis, and a second one now organised by the RPF,’ said Sharon Cortoux, of Survie, a French group that monitors France’s African policies.
‘The main purpose is to blur France’s repsonsibility in what happened. If it can succeed, then France can say: “You cannot blame us for backing the Hutu extremists; both sides are just as bad”’”.(The Age 3.11.94)
The UN-backed French intervention succeeded in allowing the organisers of the genocide to survive politically and militarily. The leaders fled to friendly countries such as Kenya, while the foot soldiers of the militia remained along the borders of Rwanda.
Thanks to this Tutsis and anti-racist Hutus in Rwanda have continued to die in large numbers from cross-border raids. According to one report only 8,000 Tutsis remained in the Kibuye region of western Rwanda by 1996, from 252,000 before 1994, and these were still being picked off:
“Throughout Rwanda survivors of the Tutsi genocide, which started on 16 April 1994, are being hunted down and murdered. They are dying in such numbers that some refuse to call this the ‘post-genocide’ period. People are attacked with nail-studded clubs, machetes, axes and grenades… One night in January last year grenades were thrown at an orphanage for Tutsi orphans of the genocide in Kamembe, Cyangugu.” (The Age 4.4.96)
The incursions have continued into the new century. 31 Rwandans, including children, have just died from a raid. (SBS News 1.1.2000)
France wanted to dominate the region. It wanted to protect economic interests in neighbouring Zaire, which, despite its ravaged economy, has great mineral wealth.
Zaire was ruled at the time by the hated dictator Mobutu. Mobutu had a personal fortune of $5 billion, about the amount of Zaire’s national debt. Wages in Zaire were a tenth of what they had at independence. Malnutrition was rife although Zaire has rich farming land, has suffered no drought and contains immense reserves of minerals, water and forests. But Mobutu was a loyal ally of the West.
France also desired to maintain its international prestige and bargaining power by controlling French-speaking Africa, a group of twenty-one nations which included Rwanda. The RPF were led by English speakers.
Earlier in 1994 the French Government, with the backing of the IMF and World Bank, imposed a devaluation of the CFA currency used by most former French African colonies. Now France feared additionally that the fall of the Rwandan government would connect with unrest in its own former colonies.
Other Western involvement
France was not alone in having backed Rwanda’s Habyarimana regime. Rwanda’s army officers were trained in Belgium and the USA. The white apartheid government in South Africa sold arms to Habyarimana, as did several countries of the old Eastern bloc.
The USA and most other western powers were not, however, committed to the Rwandan regime in the same sense as was France. In fact the USA soon moved to ally with the new RPF Government in Rwanda, welcoming the chance for a counter-weight to French influence in the region.
But neither the USA nor any other Western power saw an interest in exposing France’s complicity in the killings, far less confronting it on the ground.
France is part of the alliance of Western nations dominating the globe that form the core of the UN Security Council and dominate the decisions of the UN as a whole. Minor strategic differences, such as whether or not to back a genocidal regime in Africa, are not allowed to disturb this underlying harmony of purpose.
There is a gentleman’s agreement not to interfere too deeply with one another’s military adventures. As one report put it, the the US had ‘little choice’ but to back France’s Operation Turquoise:
“Washington had asked the [UN Security] council for similar endorsement for its operations in Iraq and Somalia and might have to do so again if a decision was made to invade Haiti, diplomats said.” (Marie Joannidis and Evelyn Leopold, The Australian 24.6.94)
The UN’s cover-up
Kofi Annan, the UN’s Secretary-General, set up an inquiry into the UN’s role during the Rwandan genocide, under the auspices of Ingvar Carlsson, a former Swedish Prime Minister. Predictably the report restrains its criticism to the inaction of the UN, e.g. in failing to follow up a telegram warning of the imminent slaughter. Allowing for this the report remains inadequate, even to an establishment journal such as The Economist:
“The Rwandans were let down most of all by the permanent members of the Security Council – and not, for once, China and Russia, but America, Britain and France. The Carlsson report critices them obliquely, but does little to examine their individual roles in the disaster, perhaps because it was unable to question closely the grandees of the Security Council. Though it had complete access to UN records and any UN official, it interviewed no British representatives and was allowed access only to American and French officials who were peripheral at the time.” (23.12.1999)