Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

We must never forget the Rwandan genocide

After 25 years, it is still vital to remember the tactics used to foment hatred and violence

People hold candles at a night vigil at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda, on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP
People hold candles at a night vigil at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda, on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down, killing all its passengers. With blame pinned on Tutsi rebels, what followed was a campaign of slaughter. In 100 days, at least 800,000 people were killed, most of them Tutsis, by the Hutu majority. The savagery – most were dismembered with blunt machetes – defied belief. And the world, for the most part, looked on in silence.

This week, the nation commemorated the passing of 25 years since the genocide. World leaders stood beside Rwandans, many of whom had witnessed the carnage first hand. More than 2,000 joined a walk of remembrance to a vigil at Kigali’s Amahoro National Stadium, where Tutsis sought shelter in 1994. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame – himself a Tutsi – led proceedings. “What happened here will never happen again,” he said.

Events such as these alone cannot heal the wounds left by such brutality. But they are invaluable, to remember the mistakes of the past, to commemorate the dead, and to ensure that history does not repeat itself. The lessons from the Rwandan genocide are many. Hutu militias – particularly the ruling party’s youth wing, the Interahamwe – used radio broadcasts to incite violence, reading out hit lists and urging people to “weed out the cockroaches”. The parallel with modern social media, which has been used to incite violence in India, Myanmar, Libya and elsewhere, is clear. On this grim anniversary, we must remember the strategies used to foment hatred between ordinary Rwandans and make neighbour turn on neighbour. Doing so is vital to ensure we never fall prey to them again.

The UN and the broader international community did not distinguish themselves, either. After its disastrous foray into Somalia in 1993, the US was determined not to involve itself in another African conflict. UN peacekeepers and Belgian troops, both on the ground already, actually withdrew from the country. Since the conflict, Rwanda has gone through a process of reconciliation and impressive economic growth, providing a model for other post-conflict societies. But it is a fine balance that the country has struck. For Mr Kagame’s promise of peace is to remain true, it is vital that those 100 days stay firmly within memory.

Updated: April 8, 2019 06:13 PM

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