The people of Rwanda are this week commemorating 20years since the 1994 genocide that saw approximately 800,000 citizens of that country die in just 100 days.
The number itself is hard to grasp–800,000, but when put into the time span of just over three months, the horror of what happens puts hits you anew. The fighting broke out due to embittered relations between the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsis. One could say that the resentment had been festering for a long time such that when it broke out what it really amounted to was ethnic cleansing that on a large part targeted Tutsis along with any of their sympathizers.
This is extremely troubling especially considering similar situations in countries around the world today because:
- Interviewees who were caught in the wave of violence back then admit that it took them by surprise even if they had been aware of the situation. This is because:
- No one ever really believes that can happen to them. Yet neighbors turned against neighbors–friends killed friends, raped their wives, stabbed their children. So is this complacency or delusion?
- Even if your rationale seems perfectly okay at the time, telling yourself that you are different from the rest, ‘special’, indeed in the same way the Hutus, the Nazis, and modern day terrorists do; that rationale washes away years on as you look back because you realize that you aren’t special at all. You are just human like they were.
- As back then there exist today those with weak spirits or minds who just do things because an extremist elite tells them it is the right thing to do. Killing, raping, pillaging, asserting your rights: conforming to these ideals held by few, is this how it begins? Flashing back to post-election violence in Kenya, was it not the same?
- Finally we have to consider the state of human beings. Are we universally gullible or is there a missing factor in our national makeup? Material or spiritual?
I was barely a year old when this happened so most of what I know I learned from my mother, old newspaper clippings, movies, documentaries and school. Sometimes it is still very hard for me to grasp the depths that can drive people to committing murder on such a large and monstrous scale, and if I feel this way, what about the people who actually went through it?
The images above are courtesy of The Washington Post whereby Michael S. Williamson, a Post photographer who covered the genocide relates the stories behind each one of them.
After listening to accounts, interviews, watching documentaries and reading articles on the genocide, one cannot help but wonder whether fighting or confrontation is worth it if leads to this? And knowing that such things are still happening around the world, wars and rumors of war, in countries as near as Congo and Burundi; how do we begin to put it eloquently to people that death is not the answer? That differences should not be a cause for battle but rather unification? Or is this just an impossible pipe dream?
Weigh in and until the next piece,