Twenty Years Ago Today: Kigali in the Firing Line

rpf_buergerkrieg_ruanda_1994Twenty years ago today, RPF troops were consolidating their gains around the Rwandan capital of Kigali, even as killings of civilians outside their territory went on. The capital was not so very far from the territory in which the RPF was contained before the genocide began, and 600 of their soldiers had been trapped there in their barracks - but now they were breaking out and linking up with their comrades as key positions around the edge of the city were taken. The government, meanwhile, were busy fleeing to Gitarama, understanding that it was hopeless to try and defend the capital. Even as the government fled, the killings of Tutsi civilians continued, and would only end when the RPF established themselves there. It would not be long before Kigali fell - but taking the whole nation would not be so easy. It would be July before the RPF was in control of the country and the genocide could be said to be over. Rwanda may be one of the smallest nations in Africa, but it still took time to conquer.

Even so, it begs the question: how did the instigators of the genocide think they could get away with it? Did they think the RPF could be easily beaten back? Did they want to exterminate the bulk of the Tutsis so that they would always be a tiny minority, even if the RPF took the country? Did they simply ignore the threat from the RPF? They certainly spent some time planning to neutralise the UN forces in the country, and provoke nations like Belgium into withdrawing their forces - why didn't they take the same kind of trouble with the RPF?

As much as their actions were brutal beyond imagining, the Hutu leadership were not fools. They ran rings around the UN without too much trouble. The genocide itself was not a random, unplanned free-for-all of violence. There was a tactical and political approach to it that ensured that every member of the Hutu community would be implicated and unwilling to oppose it. Areas were sealed off with roadblocks first, and Hutus were sent in to search for Tutsis to kill. Rwanda had a tradition of obedience to authority, and most acquiesced. If they didn't, then they too would be killed. It was diabolical but effective: until the RPF stormed through an area, local opposition to the genocide was all but impossible. And it was also swift: despite using only guns, grenades, machetes and clubs, the rate of killing was higher even than during the Nazi holocaust. This was not an act of brutal stupidity. This was the application of intelligence to brutality. So why did this intelligence fail when assessing the force that would end the genocide?

Maybe the Hutu leaders really didn't think that the RPF would be able to stop them. Maybe their arrogance went so far as to assume that the RPF would be brushed aside if they made any attempt at rescue. I can't find any sources that really explain how on earth they thought they could get away with the genocide. They don't seem stupid enough to commit such a crime when there was an army already within their territory that could do nothing else but oppose them. But maybe, just maybe, they were blinded by their hatred - and maybe we can hope that all those who hate will be just as blind to the cause of their downfall.