You might say an undercurrent of The Happy Nomad Tour has been hitting all the genocide spots of the 20th century. First there was Cambodia, then Ukraine (though it’s usually not mentioned, arguably it’s the worst of them all), Armenia, Slovakia/Israel (representative of the holocaust), and now Rwanda.
Rwanda is a peculiar one though. In the other genocides there were actual differences among the warring groups. In Rwanda there are many tribes, but they generally lived side-by-side in peace. Belgian colonizers brought clan identity to the forefront by making it part of ID documentation starting in 1932. In some cases, a Tutsi was anyone who had more than 10 cows, a Hutu someone with less than 10 cows. What was once a relatively minor difference among the population had been brought to the forefront.
As everyone knows, divide and conquer seems to work well. With animosity between these two groups, I guess the Belgians felt it would be easier to control a nation of people at odds with each other – especially when socio-economic differences were exacerbated.
Long after the Belgians left the region, things came to a head. In 1994 the airplane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down. The next 100 days saw the Hutus kill 500,000-1 million Tutsis. It was death and destruction on an institutionalized basis, wiping out around 20% of the country in such a small amount of time.
A large component in the run up to the violence was the anti-Tutsi propaganda, being called cockroaches openly in the media. Such dehumanization can apparently allow former neighbors to commit murder, rape, and other atrocities against each other. Sadly, little was done by the West or the UN.
In the aftermath of the genocide Rwanda has committed to rebuilding and modernizing. Aid flows are substantial as Rwanda is rated one of the least corrupt countries in Africa and, perhaps, Western countries feel guilty for not stepping in to intervene when it was clear what was going on.
I visited the Kigali Memorial Center to learn more about the conflict. It’s a nice memorial but it’s hard to believe this all happened when I was 11 years old. At the end of the walk you take through the center there are bones of victims in display cases as well as some of the things that people were buried with. One of the items was a superman bed sheet. I had the same one as a kid and it’s hard to explain how much that affected me.
On the same day I went to Hotel des Mille Collines (better known by its movie/book name Hotel Rwanda). Somehow the inspirational hotel manager managed to squeeze over 1200 people in the hotel and spare countless people from certain death. Such bravery and heroism always leave me gobsmacked; I just wish the bravery and heroism were under different circumstances.
If you want to learn more about the Rwandan Genocide, there are numerous books and movies on the subject. Below are some links to learn more.