Heart of Darkness RE-EXAMINING RWANDA

April 21, 1996|By Chrysologue Gakuba

TWO YEARS AGO, on April 6, 1994, the Falcon 50 executive jet, a gift from President Francois Mitterrand of France, was downed with the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi aboard. Neither survived. They had just left a conference in Tanzania. Almost immediately the massacres of unarmed civilians, most of them Tutsi, began in Rwanda. When the carnage ended, more than 1 million people had been killed.

Two years after this tragic event, we must re-examine it and see what we have learned.

Gerard Prunier, a French researcher on East Africa and author of "The Rwanda Crisis, History of a Genocide," writes:

"Understanding why they died is the best and most fitting memorial we can raise for the victims. Letting their death go unrecorded, or distorted by propaganda, or misunderstood through simplified cliches, would in fact bring the last touch to the killers' work in completing the victims'dehumanization. Man is largely a social construct and to deny a man the social meaning of his death is to kill him twice, first in the flesh, then in the spirit."

I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, born and raised in Rwanda. I have lived in Baltimore for the last 26 years, practicing cardiology, a profession I love and need, for as a Tutsi, my family was not spared. In addition to my beloved mother, I lost two brothers, a sister and an aunt. All in all, I am bereaved because of the killing of 26 close relatives in the vicious genocidal war in Rwanda.

As a youngster in the 1950s, I heard many times a saying among Rwandans: "God spends the day elsewhere, but He spends the night in Rwanda."

I grew up during what I would call the enlightened age of colonial Belgian rule. From 1950 to 1960, the Belgians tried to make Africans excel educationally. The first universities were opened in the Congo, of which we in Ruanda-Urundi, which in 1962 became two separate nations, Rwanda and Burundi, were an administrative part. Excellent prep schools, called Colleges or Athenees, were opened in Bujumbura and elsewhere in the countries. They were multi-racial. The teaching was as good as in Belgium.

Mr. Prunier and another author, Alain Destexhe, characterize the killing of nearly a million Tutsi as genocide, a term that was apparently coined by a Polish-born author, Raphael Lumkin, in his book "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe." Intent separates genocide from mass murder. Genocide is the desire to eliminate a chosen group of people. In the past, this was done for racial or religious reasons; in the future this may be done for political reasons.

Mr. Destexhe, in his book, "Rwanda and the Genocide in the Twentieth Century," writes:

"It must be made quite clear that using Auschwitz as a measuring stick when making comparisons with other situations risks trivializing and minimizing the real nature of the genocide perpetrated against the Jews. Yet the extermination of the Jews is in fact the only precedent which can be evoked to understand the crime committed against the Tutsi in Rwanda for both Jews and Tutsi were targeted as victims because, and only because, they had the misfortune to be born Jews or Tutsi."

According to Mr. Destexhe, there have been three genocides in this century: the killing of the Armenians in 1915 by the Turks (300,000 survived out of a population of 1.2 million to 2 million); the killing of the Jews by the Nazis; and the killing of Tutsi by the Hutu. He says genocide is carried out in four stages:

Identification of the victims. In the case of the Jews, wearing the yellow star; in the case of the Tutsi, carrying an ID card;

Depriving the victims of their property.

Mass internment, prison camps; and

Extermination.

It took several years for the Nazis to complete all four phases -- the Hutu did it in a matter of weeks.

It is imperative to examine the basis for the Hutu racist ideology in order to document their guilt. It is undeniable that the Hutu extremists around President Juvenal Habyarimana planned and carried out genocide against the Tutsi. However, the basis for their philosophy was laid out by the Belgian colonial administration with the help of the missionary hierarchy. They are the ones who infected the Rwanda nation with a deadly virus of hate which subsequently took on a life of its own.

Before the Europeans arrived, Hutu and Tutsi lived side by side, without animosity between the two groups. Rwanda was a nation ruled by powerful Tutsi kings, but some functions were assigned to Hutu chiefs. Admittedly, there were feuds between major Tutsi clans, e.g., fighting for power, but there was no history of killings aimed at one ethnic group or another.

Basil Davidson, a leading British historian of Africa, was quoted in Time, May 16, 1994, as saying, "The [Rwandans] were a reasonably contented rural society. There was no hatred between the two groups. That came only with the colonial system."

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