BENEDICT TEMBO, Kigali
I HAD heard about the genocide in which one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda.
But these were just figures like the victims of the holocaust, a genocide during World War II in which Germany’s ruthless leader Adolf Hitler’s Nazi systematically murdered close to six million European Jews that I had read about.
My recent trip to Rwanda’s capital Kigali has helped me to appreciate not only the reality of the genocide but also the context in which this heinous and horrendous crime was committed in recent history.
The role of the international community, including the United Nations, has become clearer.
My appreciation of the Rwanda genocide started two days into my stay in Kigali when I attended the inauguration of the Campaign Against Genocide Museum inside the Rwanda Parliament buildings by President Paul Kagame on December 13 this year.
The museum holds a special place in the history of Rwandan politics because it was a fort for the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) when it was attacked by Juvenal Habyarimana’s government forces in 1993.
The unexpected attack began on December 29, 1993, according to an eye witness, Tito Rutaremara, who was part of the RPF delegation to Kigali.
The RPF delegation had been in Kigali with its protection unit (three brigade) from October 28, 1993 to usher in a broad-based transitional government (BBTG) and a transitional parliament in line with the Arusha Peace Agreement brokered by the Tanzanian government.
According to Dr Rutaremara, instead of implementing the Arusha Peace Agreement, the successor of the N’sele ceasefire agreement signed in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), the Habryarimana regime opened fire on the RPF delegation which was holed-up in the annex building at parliament.
The building was attacked from four fronts but none of the RPF members was killed – signaling the near end of the Habyarimana regime.
As a guerilla movement at the time, the RPF was poorly equipped but still managed to fend off the attacks from government troops.
Hell broke loose immediately after the death of President Habyarimana who was killed in a plane crash along with his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira on the evening of April 6, 1994.
Dr Ruteramara said President Habyarimana was killed because not everybody in his government was in agreement with him and were opposed to the Arusha Agreement.
The museum documents the RPF’s struggle for the liberation of Rwanda from bad governance under President Habryarimana.
Genocide was escalated following the demise of President Habyarimana as government forces in Kigali went on rampage killing prominent Tutsi politicians as well as their families, including Hutu opposition politicians.
RTLM Radio accused the RPF and Belgian peace-keepers of shooting down the plane which was carrying President Habyarimana.
The massive killings were carried out between April 6 and July 17, 1994.
In view of this, Rwandans observe the 100 days of genocide annually between April and July, to remember over one million people who were killed during the genocide.
According to information in the museum, for more than 30 years, Rwandan refugees living in exile wished to return home.
There were about two million refugees in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo).
It was estimated that two-thirds of the population of Rwanda was displaced – out of fear or guilt, confusion or hostage.
But their efforts to negotiate a peaceful return were frustrated by the government’s refusal and insistence that there was no space for more people in the country.
This led to the liberation struggle launched by the RPF on October 1, 1990.
After the war started in 1990, the RPF accepted to negotiate with the government of Rwanda instead of continuing the fight and this culminated into the N’sele Ceasefire agreement which later evolved into the Arusha Agreement.
Failure by the Habyarimana-led government to honour the Arusha agreement and the genocide led to a full scale civil war.
The Campaign Against Genocide museum trails the armed struggle, the capture of Kigali and rescue of civilians.
Atop the five-storey museum is a statue of a heavy machine gun being operated by two RPF soldiers.
The machine gun was critical in containing and preventing attempts by the government forces.
The museum, which has several rooms also has a sickbay where injured RPF soldiers were treated.
It is one of the latest buildings in Kigali which showcases the battle against injustice.
In the past, the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, built in 1999 but inaugurated in 2004, was the must-see in the capital city as it is the repository of the genocide history.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre is a museum and burial ground for 250,000 people.
There are about 200 genocide memorial centres around Rwanda as each district has places where genocide victims were buried.
The inauguration of the Campaign Against Genocide Museum was part of the commemorations lined up by the RPF to mark their 30 years anniversary.
Other activities to symbolise the establishment of the rule of law included the 30th RPF-Inkotanyi international congress held back-to-back with the national congress at its headquarters based at the party’s conference centre at Rusororo, Gasabo on the outskirts of Kigali.
The international conference focused on three main thematic areas: Liberation, Transformation and Self-Reliance.
The expected outcomes of the international conference whose theme was “Liberation and Transformation: Realising a dignified and prosperous Africa, was increased awareness of RPF ideology and its adaptation over time that drives Rwanda’s journey.
The conference also sought to increase solidarity around the common fate that Africans share and RPF-Inkotanyi’s commitment to contributing to Africa’s transformation.
The RPF wants the new generation of Rwandans and Africans to be inspired and motivated by African liberations efforts to transform and commit to reinforcing the legacy of liberation.
The conference served as a reflection on Rwanda’s and Africa’s liberation journey, advocated for renewed urgency in accelerating Africa’s socio-economic transformation and liberation and passed on the mission of liberation to young people.
At the time I was leaving Kigali, I appreciated how the international community, especially the UN which had a mission there failed Rwanda in its hour of need.
On January 11, 1994, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire requested for reinforcement from the UN headquarters.
However, then UN under-secretary general Koffi Annan said no reconnaissance or other action, including response to request or other action should be taken to UNAMIR until further guidance is received from headquarters.
Rwandans feel that the world withdrew and watched as millions slaughtered.
Although the genocide took place in 1994, events leading to it started far back and was promoted by the colonial master, Belgium, who presented the Tutsi as an alien race and used physical features as a way to differentiate from ‘indigenous’ Hutu.
Adding ‘race’ to Rwandan identity cards in 1930s, the Belgians counted 15 percent as being Tutsi, 84 percent as Hutu and one percent as Twa.
Ethnic identity began to determine Rwandans and culminated into the 1994 genocide which the RPF stopped through the armed struggle.
On December 13, the government of Rwanda released a report by Washington, DC law firm Cunningham Levy Muse LLP documenting the role and knowledge of French officials in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The report, which has been shared with the French government, is part of wider efforts by Rwanda, announced in November last year, to thoroughly investigate the responsibility of French officials in respect of the genocide.