Posts Tagged ‘Genocide’

Pays des Mille Collines

October 25, 2008

“Land of a thousand hills”.  It’s easy to see where that title comes from without spending too long in Rwanda.  The road between Goma and Kigali was lined with Eucalyptus trees and takes a serpentine route over hills, mountains and between volcanoes, through villages and towns.

Kigali itself is a relatively modern city.  The streets are clean and well maintained.  I guess most cities would seem that way compared to what I’ve become used to in Kinshasa and Goma.  While eating in a café in the mall and enjoying a nice cup of coffee, I almost forgot where I was.  There were more Mzungus in that café than I’ve seen in one place since coming to Africa.  It felt weird. 

The weird feeling didn’t end with the café and shopping mall.  Since there aren’t a lot of opportunities to walk around in Goma, we spent a lot of the time walking around the city.  It wasn’t too hot or cold which made it nice to walk along the streets that were lined with jacaranda trees heavy with their purple-blue flowers just like the ones that would stick to the windshield wipers of my car back home.  While out exploring the city on foot we came across this place:

Hotel Des Mille Collines.  Hotel Rwanda.  The actual hotel that the movie was based on.  I expected there to be a large statue or something to commemorate the site, but that was it.  Just a regular hotel now.  I suppose that it might be only unusual as it served as the focal point of a movie. 

Standing there staring at the sign it was like I was transported into the movie that made me cry sad and angry tears when I first saw it.  I could hear members of the Interahamwe (translated from Kinyarwanda: “Those who stand together”) sharpening their machetes on the ground and yelling as they waved their clubs angrily in the air.  Not far away there stood a beautiful stone church that was in a state of disrepair.  Was that one of the churches where Tutsis tried to find sanctuary only to be barricaded in and killed with hand grenades that were distributed by the militias for the purpose?  A chill ran down my spine as I snapped back to reality looking at the trampled jacaranda flowers on the ground. 

Later in the day we went to the genocide memorial museum.  The museum itself was surrounded by mass graves that held the remains of some 250,000 Tutsis (and moderate Hutus that refused to participate in the killing).  The numbers are staggering.  The museum explained the history of the country and its people.  It also told about Europeans who colonized the land and categorized the people like animals in a game park.  The differences between Hutu and Tutsi were exaggerated if not created by the German and later Belgian colonizers.  The exhibits laid out matter-of-factly the events and circumstances leading up to genocide. 

The thing that angered me the most was how killing was virtually ignored by the outside world until it was over.  The UN commander in Rwanda at the time saw the situation building and requested five thousand peacekeepers with a mandate that would actually let them do their job.  He estimated that such a small number of properly trained and equipped soldiers would be able to stop the militias that were largely armed with machetes and clubs.  This request was denied and ignored.  In one case a group of UN soldiers was protecting Tutsis that had taken refuge in a school.  They were ordered to leave and only evacuate the expatriates (translated: whites).  As soon as the UN convoy left the Interahamwe militants that were standing outside came in and killed everyone.  Someone made a movie about that too. 

In the three months that the genocide lasted, somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 were killed.  Three months was how long it took the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi militia led by the current president) to break out of their camps and take control of Kigali. 

Could the genocide have been stopped if the outside world too action, if the UN wasn’t afraid to act, if the US had given the 50 or so armored personnel carriers rather than squabbling over price for months? 

“The ones that know don’t care, the ones that care don’t know.”  Maybe that was true of the outside world then. 

Signs like this were all over:

I am told it says something like: “Let’s fight together against the genocide ideology of ethnic and regional division and eradicate it.”


The effects of the Rwandan genocide didn’t end when the killing stopped there.  Millions of Hutus fled Rwanda, largely into Congo.  Hutu militias used refugee camps as bases of operation to attack Rwanda.  This and other factors led to the Congo wars the second of which was known as Africa’s World War or the Great War of Africa and was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 5.4 million people.  The current problems in eastern Congo involve a lot of the same groups. 

I think every humanitarian hopes and prays for peace and stability, for the day when we are no longer needed there.  I know I do.