Feature History – Rwandan Genocide (1/2)
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Over the course of a mere 100 days, the small country of Rwanda got to experience just about every single war crime possible, 1,000 times. And when talking about African atrocities, we tend to get to hear so much about these tragedies, but never so much why they happened. I’m sure you’d like to know why. And maybe asking why I’m still talking about why. Well I say, let’s get “why-te” into it. Rwanda was a kingdom set in a green, fertle land of many, many hills. It existed since… well actually, that’s a tough question. The history of Rwanda is so obscure and so undefined that even the origin of its two ethnicities, the Hutu and the Tutsi, is unclear. I’m gonna offer you a theory, but feel free to disagree. The Hutu and Tutsi are not really two distinct ethnic groups. They are very similar genetically, culturally, linguistically, and “etceteraly,” Tutsi simple meant ‘noble,’ and Hutu ‘peasant.’ It was a kingdom, after all. The minority Tutsi held the lands and owned the cattle, and the majority Hutu would work it. Their differences came from lifestyle, even the physical differences. Taller stature and fairer skin is a luxury that comes with an easier life. In the 1890s, the German Empire would claim Rwanda as part of the German East Africa. They believed that Tutsi and Hutu to be races, and Tutsi the clearly superior one. Given this, the Germans enforced rule through the Tutsi. The king, Mwami, was a mere puppet of colonial officials. Rwanda was given to Belgium after WWI and incorporated into Rwanda-Urundi. And under the Belgians, the race rhetoric was turned up to eleven. Skulls, noses, height, and all things measured, compared, and recorded to tell Tutsi from Hutu. Once a conclusion was made, the ethnicity was printed onto an identity card. Not too dissimilar from Nazi Germany. The Hutu were pushed into forced labor to harvest coffee for the Belgians. The brutal and all-too-fatal work was overseen by the Tutsi enforcers. And for this, they were rewarded their privilege status. The Tutsi were preferred in education, housing, and work, and segregation was present in all these things. The second world war would see a shift.The United Nations took over control of the colony, and the Belgians were now under instruction to prepare it for independence and majority rule. Majority rule would mean Hutu rule. And so the Belgians suddenly switched their favor to the Hutu. Southern promotions of emancipation, equality, and democracy left the Tutsi and the Hutu in a tense standoff. The Tutsi feared reprisal, and the Hutu wanted it. In the 1950s, an independent Rwanda was inevitable. But what kind of Rwanda would this be? Hutu and Tutsi political parties formed, such as Parmehutu and UNAR. One offering a Hutu-dominated republic, and the other, the existing Tutsi monarchy. Rwanda was ready to explode, and when rumor spread that Tutsi were killing Hutu, it did. Novemer 1959 saw the Hutu break out in riot, arson, and looting. The Tutsi were quickly victimized, and the Mwami proposed a counter-attack. A Belgium military intervention was almost immediate, however. The Mwami’s plans were ceased as the Belgian took back control. The Belgians decided to mediate elections and a referendum for 1961. A vote that would decide Rwanda’s future. The Hutu voted overwhelmingly for their republic, so given this and the ongoing anti-Tutsi violence, the Mwami and over 300,000 Tutsi entered exile. Rwanda-Urundi broke apart into Rwanda and Burundi in ’62. And the Tutsi refugees found themselves in Burundi or up north in Uganda. Those in Uganda fought several skirmishes with the new Rwandan armed forces, the FAR. It’s- it’s a French acronym, okay? With this excuse, Tutsi discrimination was quickly ushered into the republic under the guise of cracking down on rebel activity. Burundi was a stark contrast to Rwanda. Burundi saw a Tutsi military government ruling over Hutu majority. And in ’72, their country strife dissolved into a genocide that killed 200,000 mostly educated and political Hutu. Hutu feared Tutsi and Tutsi feared Hutu, and as we all know from Yoda, fear leads to anger, anger leads to etcetera. ’73 saw a general, Juvénal Habyarimana, seize power in Rwanda. Under him, all political activity was banned. Rwanda was a one-party state. Surprisingly, being the Hutu he was, he made a small effort to reconcile Tutsi and Hutu. His attempts were met with outcry. The Burundi genocide was in fresh memory, so no reform was to happen under the moderate president. And Rwanda was no home for the Tutsi. That didn’t stop Tutsi men like Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame trying to change that. They belonged to the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity inside Uganda. They participated in the Uganda Bush War in the 1980s, and found themselves in high positions after their victory. The life of a refugee was not for the Tutsi, however. The Rwandese Alliance for National Unity reformed into the militaristic Rwandan Political Front. It was a veteran force armed and poised for an invasion into Rwanda to finally repatriot the Tutsi with their home. A home any of these refugees weren’t born in. October 1st, 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda. Crossing the border, the rebels had caught the superior FAR off-guard and pushed far in a few days. But this only lasted a few days. Commander Rwigyema was soon killed. How he died was unclear, but fact was, he was dead. Kagame had been studying in the U.S. but quickly dropped his course to fight the war, as you do. On top of this last, hundreds of French troops arrived in Rwanda to protect French nationals. Except that was just the cover. Rwanda, being a Belgian colony, was a member of the French-speaking world. Uganda, though, was a former British colony, and so the French who wished to protect its francaphonie societies from seemingly foreign threats. Kagame arrived to see the RPF near destroyed. The less than 2,000 troops that remained, he’d bring into the mountains. He had them being nursed back to strength, as Kagame sought out funding for his guerrilla war. It was only with the new year an offensive resumed. A much slower, more guerrilla offensive. With both FAR and French, though, President Habyarimana’s position seemed secure. The French would threaten withdrawal, however. Pressure was put on Habyarimana for political freedoms and equality in his country. The president would make token concessions, allowing opposition… that held no power. The one opposition that did hold power was his own wife, Agathe Habyarimana. She was a Hutu hardliner, and around her formed the Akazu clique. A secret group of powerful radicals. They spread propaganda against the Tutsi, encouraging discrimination and violence. And in return, the Tutsi would turn to the RPF more and more. The people would face a breaking point in 1992. With a dire need of reform and a state of civil war, Habyarimana would once again announce a one-party cabinet. The capital, Kigali, would break out in protest. He’d give in and finally allow a multiparty cabinet. And to remedy the unrest, agreed to negotiate with the RPF for the first time. July, ’92 saw a ceasefire and the beginning of peace. The negotiations would not be between the FAR and the RPF, but instead between Kagame, Habyarimana, and the Akazu. Kagame only looked to appease international onlookers as to not appear a relentless rebel. The Akazu thought differently. They rejected any peace. And the president was just making sure he kept his job. Nobody cared about peace. Throughout the negotiations, Habyarimana developed a fear of the Akazu. His wife and her affiliates, such as Theoneste Bagosora, had become very powerful and very threatening. He tried to purge their influence, but this only evolved their fury against Tutsi to include immoderates and anyone against them. Bagosora encouraged self-defense militias across Rwanda, spawning the loosely-organized Interahamwe. Agathe would create the Thousand Hills free radio station, a source of nothing but Hutu power and anti-Tutsi rhetoric. February ’93 saw a killing spree break out. The Akazu to blame, and Kagame’s RPF responding by leaving the peace talks and reopening the offensive. Originally, this wasn’t supposed to be a two-parter, but now it is. And I promise the actual genocide will be in the next part, not too far away. I’d like to thank the patrons and also thank the Great Courses Plus, because without donations and sponsors, I couldn’t do these more contentious topics like genocides. If you enjoy the content I put out and you can’t or won’t donate, give the sponsorship a check, at least. Who knows, you might like it. Ta-ta, now.