new articles Uncategorized

Eleven years after the conflict, which claimed an untold numbers of lives, it seems that it is only now seeping into the western consciousness the scale of the human genocide that occurred in this region with the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s airplane, and the death of Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira.

Writing for the Irish Times a year after he first reported on the conflict, Ed O’Loughlin, states that the unrest between the Hutu majority and the wealthier Tutsi minority runs deep and that massacres occurred here back in 1959, 1961, 1963 and 1972. In many ways O’Loughlin’s report sounds like a class struggle between rich and poor, uneducated and educated, and this kind of struggle has been replicated in many other arenas and trouble spots around the world.
Compared to other conflicts the Rwandan genocide didn’t seem to gain the recognition it perhaps deserved from the world press. Perhaps this was because it wasn’t a war about precious resources like oil, which we are currently witnessing with the present Gulf conflict. In casting my mind back I do not remember hearing an outcry about the scale of the killing in Rwanda, until after the event. With the Bosnian conflict however, I do remember hearing about mass killings, but there was also a feeling of helplessness, not knowing how to contribute to help stop the madness. One wonders if this was the situation for Germans on the ground during World War 11; a feeling of helplessness and apathy to what was going around them, a feeling that no one person could take on the Nazi state and come out alive. It’s also possible that Rwanda didn’t capture the international press interest it deserved because no superpower was involved, and the conflict was confined to a land-locked region in Africa that affected only countries like Rwanda, Burundi and neighbouring Tanzania. Some of the best reporting that has emerged from this conflict has appeared in books about the subject.
Within Rwanda itself, the people tended to tune into “FM106 Radio Mille Collines,” or “Radio of a Thousand Hills.” (Temple-Raston, Dina, 2005, Prologue). This radio station of the people had replaced Radio Rwanda as the preferred choice of news. It was the first station to broadcast the news of the assassination of Habyarimana and it accused the Tutsis of killing the Hutu President upon his return from Tanzania where he had signed the “latest iteration of the Arusha Accords.” The “government-backed Rwandan army” laid the blame for the killing at the door of the “Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).” The RPF in turn blamed “extremists” in the Rwandan army. A new band of men, known as “Interhamwe” were appearing on the streets of Kigali, and their presence was frightening to locals. Habyarimana’s Presidential Guard initiated a killing spree hours after the plane was brought down, killing the Prime Minister and a number of government ministers. In speaking about the numbers who died, Temple-Raston (pg10) says “historians often make comparisons: 43,000 dead in the London Blitz, 100,000 dead in Tokyo in 1945, 200,000 perished in Nagasaki and Hiroshima – one in ten dead in Rwanda.”
The reporting of Fergal Keane has also concentrated on this conflict in the shape of books. In ‘Letter to Daniel’, and in stories like ‘Nyarubuye’ (Keane 1996, pp.73-93) Keane brings us the story of what happened between the Tutsis and Hutus.
In Arusha, Tanzania, the trial is currently taking place of war criminals indicted for Rwandan war crimes. In speaking to Leslie Laskow – a dutch expert and spokesperson for Human Rights Watch – on Griff FM last year in relation to the Darfur crisis in Sudan, she agreed that the war crimes tribunal in Arusha was a good thing, but warned of complacency by the superpowers like the United States.
The Courier Mail of Queensland in writing a review about the film “Hotel Rwanda” states that “most of the world ignored the Rwandan conflict of the 1990’s, which resulted in widespread genocide over 100 days that left about a million people dead.” (Partridge, Des, 2005). The BBC monitoring media notes that “radio broadcasts incited nationalists to take up arms,” in Rwanda. The New York Times notes that Bill Clinton stated that “not entering into the Rwandan conflict earlier was one of the greatest mistakes of his Presidency.” (Johnson, Alexandra,Brooklyn, April 14, 2004). In “My Life” Bill Clinton seems to acknowledge this fact when he stated that the “United States and the international community had not acted quickly enough to stop the genocide or to prevent the refugee camps from becoming havens for the killers,” and when he pledged to support the war crimes tribunal in Arusha. (Clinton, Bill, 2005, pg 781-2).
In a report in the Economist in 1995, even Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the United Nations secretary-general, warned that nobody would help should the fighting break out again. The American administration were loathe to use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to the Rwandan conflict, perhaps because they didn’t want to offend Israeli sentiments. The very word ‘genocide’ conjures up images of the widespread slaughter of Jews throughout Germany and her occupied territories during World War 11. The Economist report also noted the effect of the conflict on neighbouring countries like Uganda and eastern Zaire, and notes further that “if nothing is done, there is grave risk of fresh killings that could force the world to redraw boundaries and accept ethnic division, either voluntary or–as in the Indian subcontinent in 1947–through rivers of blood.”
Reports from press agencies like the Deutsche Presse-Agentur also warn of the conflict spreading to “neighbouring states.” (Kahl, Hubert, 15th September 1995).
Writing From an Afro-American perspective in the Los Angeles Times, Constance Hilliard puts forward the views that “The Rwandan conflict, though gruesome and tragic, is not a human aberration. Fate seems to provide every nation, every society, every ethnicity with its own periodic turn to rise above the brutal, acquisitive aggression so common to the history of humankind. It is a test in which a consummate temptation–the resource war–dangles within easy grasp. As Rwanda has shown, the goal of this particular form of human aggression is to expropriate land and other resources in order to improve one’s living standard at the expense of a technologically or militarily less advanced neighbor.
In the process of accomplishing its goal, this type of warfare characteristically dehumanizes its victims while conveniently depopulating their lands as well. The Rwandans, Tutsi and Hutus alike, have certainly flunked the test.
But how smug ought we Americans be, in the guise of humanitarian concerns, as we gawk at the human tragedies of the Rwandans? Let’s not forget that when 17th century Europe began to suffer its own population pressures, more than 70 million victims fled Europe’s class-induced structural scarcities, religious and cultural intolerance and inequitable land distribution policies. In seeking refuge in the Americas, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, these Europeans launched their own resource wars, aimed at removing the native peoples from the most productive agricultural lands. Of course, in past centuries, no global news network existed to capture the anguish of the victims. But the standard of living enjoyed by Americans today is at least as much a result of pre-20th century resource war expropriations from native peoples and the profitability of slavery as it is a consequence of the cultural factor we prefer to acknowledge–Yankee industriousness.
Seen in another way, if today’s 210 million United States citizens of European origin were forced back into an already densely packed motherland, the specter of an even bigger Rwanda could not be far off. After all, Europe represents a continent whose periodically erupting paroxysms of resentment have already initiated two world wars in this century and the Holocaust.
Rwanda may offer us vital ecological lessons as well. In many ways, American society, wealthy as it is, may not be immune to the ravishes of economic downturn and ecological impacts. The per capita income of the average American in our technologically advanced nation need not sink to $ 700 a year, as is currently the case in that African state, for us to see the Rwandaization of American politics. The growth of Aryan militias in America’s heartland, the Oklahoma City bombing, the black church fires ought to remind us that political resentments are fueled by expectations rather than absolute degrees of diminution in living standards.
In Rwanda, we so clearly have seen how each ethnicity despises and blames the other for the population’s diminishing standard of living, while the real culprit lies elsewhere. That Central African nation represents an ecologically ravished region, with one of the highest rural population densities in the world.
Even so. America is not to blame for Rwanda’s current troubles. Nor is our nation’s history more predatory than anybody else’s, be they European, African or Asian. But we do need to approach African refugee problems with a humility borne of a historical realism and perspective that I find sadly lacking in the current discourse. America’s humanitarian “busyness” vis-a-vis the suffering of “the African other” occasionally strikes me as a convenient escape from national introspection and the evasion of a reality even more painful than the visual images of suffering African refugees. By this, I mean that the prosperity and bountifulness that allows the U.S. administration to offer humanitarian aid to the Rwandans has itself come at an enormous domestic and historic cost.
Acknowledging the sometimes harsh realities of our own history should not be cause for self-flagellation and blame. Rather, it should lead us to transcend some of the emotional distance engendered by our preoccupations with do-goodism in Africa. In so doing, we just might succeed in accessing the deeper humanity that bonds us like resin to the rest of the world, victims and victimizers, Rwanda’s historically privileged Tutsi and victimized Hutu alike.” (Hilliard, Constance, 1997).
Other Treatments.
From a photographic viewpoint the horrors of the war within Rwanda were captured by James Nachtwey and Gilles Peress of the Magnum Photograph Agency. (Adams, Tim, 1999).
According to the Xinhua News Agency, Patrick Mazimpaka, the Rwandan Presidential Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, puts forward the view that the media can “play a leading role in solving conflict. He went on to say “that the media is an important tool with which to chart the course of conflict.” (Mazimpaka, Patrick, 2002).
Citing the role of women in helping to forge peace, Sarah Hagedorn states that “in the September 2003 parliamentary elections, Rwandan women won 49 percent of the seats in legislature. (Hagedorn, Sarah, 2004).
Writing in Justice on the Grass, Dina Temple-Raston, notes how three journalists were found guilty of inciting hatred and genocide and crimes against humanity. Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza and Hassan Ngeze were found guily of manipulating messages on Radio Mille Colline, and Ngeze had been equally responsible for his editorial rants in Kangura – a publication which “advocated” killing. (Temple-Raston, 2005, pg236). Organisations like Amnesty International welcomed the verdict. Amnesty maintains a close watch on Rwanda, and as late as 1997, was putting out reports that large numbers were still being killed whilst the world ignored their plight. (Amnesty International website, 25th September 1997). The organisation was also to the fore in pointing out the mass killings that occurred in Rwanda. In a report put out on the 20th of October 1994 they issued the following headline: Quote:
Reports of killings and abductions by the Rwandese Patriotic Army, April – August 1994
There can be little doubt that the mainstream press, including TV and radio stations ignored what was happening in Rwanda. One organisation that did report on the affair however is the BBC. It’s reporter Fergal Keane won an Amnesty television prize for his investigation into the killings at Nyarabuye – Journey into Darkness. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/biographies/biogs/news/fergalkeane.shtml)
In reviewing the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ after most of the above was written, it seems obvious that this movie sums up what the Rwandan War was all about. The courage of Paul Rusesabagina in saving both Hutus and Tutsis from the revenge of the Interhamwe shows that one man can make a difference. This film seemed to catch everything – neighbours “denouncing” each other, the love between Paul and his wife, the plight of the children caught up in war, the flight by westerners including some journalists and priests out of the danger zones, the menace of the Interhamwe, the inaction of the UN, and the “triumph of good over evil.” (Hotel Rwanda, 2004).

Clinton, Bill, 2005. My Life, London, Arrow Books.
Keane, Fergal, 1996. Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey, London, Penguin Books.

Temple-Raston, Dina, 2005. Justice On the Grass – Three Rwandan Journalists, their Trial for War crimes, and a Nation’s Quest for Redemption. New York. Free Press – a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Hotel Rwanda, Miracle Pictures, A film by Terry George & Kier Pearson. 2004.

Adams, Tim, 1999. Guardian Newspaper. Arts: PHOTOGRAPHY: Don’t mention the war;Magnum used to depict conflict. Now its internal divisions reflect the mixed-up world it seeks to capture. 12th December 1999, Observer Review Pages; Pg. 9. {Accessed Lexis-Nexis 29/12/05}.
BBC Worldwide Monitoring, Uganda: Mega FM promotes peace in Ugandan conflict, The Monitor Web Site, Kampala, 30th November 2004. {Accessed on Lexis-Nexis 29/12/05}
Hagedorn, Sarah, 2004. Nieman Reports, African Stories in Need of Reporters. Fall2004, Vol. 58 Issue 3, p54-54, 1p {Accessed on Business Source Premier 29/12/05}.
Hilliard, Constance, 1997. The Los Angeles Times. Perspective on Ethnic Strife:Tying our past to Rwanda’s present:The African conflict is not aberrant, but an example of consummate human temptation – the resource war. 9th February, 1997. Home edition. Opinion; Part M; Page 5; Op Ed Desk. {Accessed Lexis-Nexis 29/12/05}.
Johnson, Alexandra, 2004. Spotlight on Iraq, Genocide in Africa. The New York Times, 17th April,2004. Section A; Column 6; Editorial Desk; Pg. 14
Kahl, Hubert, 1995. Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Rwanda conflict threatens to engulf Central Africa, International News, 15th September 1995. {Accessed on Lexis-Nexis 29/12/05}
Mazimpaka, Patrick, 2002. Xinhua News Agency (http://www.comtexnews.com) Media urged to play leading role in solving conflict –Rwandan official, 28th May 2002. {Accessed on Infotrac, 29/12/05}
O’Loughlin, Ed, 1995. One year later, when will the killing stop? The Irish Times, April 6th 1995, World News, pg10. {Accessed on www.lexis-nexis 28/12/05}.
Partridge, Des, 2005. Heroism on the House, Courier Mail, Queensland, Australia, 26th February, 2005. {Accessed on Lexis-Nexis 29/ 12/05}
Tutsis and Hutus: more blood to come, The Economist, 22nd July, 1995, U.S. Edition, World Politics and Current Affairs; INTERNATIONAL; Pg. 41 {Accessed on Lexis-Nexis 29/12/05}