Twenty Years Ago Today: Genocide, Day Two

Paul Kagame's RPF stood against the genocide - but they were only present in a small part of the country Twenty years ago today, roadblocks were already in place throughout Rwanda, put there the day before by the army and the Interahamwe militia groups. The army and the militia were Hutu. The people they were looking for were Tutsi, and they were looking for them with guns and machetes, going house to house to find anyone who hadn't yet fled or been caught.

But this wasn't the case throughout the whole of the nation. There was a swathe of the country in the north still held by Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front - the rebel Tutsi army that had been holding to a ceasefire before the death of the Hutu president sparked off the killings. There were no massacres in RPF territory, nor were the bulk of the RPF in any immediate danger - save for the 600 men trapped in the capital, Kigali. They'd been stationed there as part of the ongoing peace process. But now they were surrounded, their situation growing more desperate by the hour.

Romeo Dallaire's UN force stood against the genocide - but they were undermanned and underequipped.

For the only Tutsi army able to fight back, there was no choice: they had to respond. Kagame launched an offensive to rescue his troops and end the killings. But there was little hope that they could end the slaughter quickly. They hadn't been able to take the country when they were fighting before. Millions of Tutsis were still defenceless, no matter what the RPF did.

There wasn't much hope of rescue by the UN, either. The general in charge of the UN mission in Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire, sent a report to the UN detailing how the genocide was happening, and how it was being orchestrated by the civil government against its own people. But Dallaire was able to do little to stop the killing. He had only 2,500 troops at his command, equipped and trained to help a nation struggle towards peace - not to stop that nation from turning on itself.

The genocide was not unopposed - but it made little difference. The slaughter went on.

 

 

Twenty Years Ago Today: The Nightmare Begins

Juvenal Habyarimana, third president of Rwanda. Twenty years ago today, an airplane fell to earth in Rwanda. But this was not just any airplane. This one carried the presidents of two nations. Both of them were killed, though it was the death of Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda which sent his nation into hell. Nor was it an accident: witnesses reported seeing missiles flying towards the plane. Something terrible was about to happen.

Rwanda was divided between two main ethnic groups, the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis. This had been the case ever since independence from their Belgian colonial masters, though there's some doubt as to whether the two groups had existed beforehand. The Belgians may have simply segregated the population according to those they were willing to trust as overseers (Tutsis) and those they were not (Hutus). Or they may have co-opted existing ethnic divisions to enforce their own ideas of racial purity. It's hard to tell, when the only records were made by a bunch of racist colonists whose main interest was screwing as much money out of the country as possible.

Habyarimana led a coalition of Hutu groups and was increasingly seen as too moderate, while a fragile ceasefire was holding between his government and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by the Tutsi leader, Paul Kagame. The Rwandan president was returning from a conference to discuss ways to quell the ethnic tensions across the region, doing his best to resolve the conflicts that had dogged his country and those around it.

All hopes for peace died with Habyarimana. The missiles that killed him were alleged to have been fired by Kagame's forces (though later analysis showed that this was unlikely). Within only a few hours, Hutus were responding to the terrible news with a terrible vengeance. Explosions were heard in the capital, Kigali. Radio stations were issuing cries of hatred against the Tutsis. Machetes were being sharpened.

The genocide had begun.