This week we have a takeover by three University of Huddersfield students who recently interviewed other students from Rwanda, Syria and Nigeria about their experiences of war, displacement and genocide. All those interviewed currently live in Huddersfield.
“… the problem is leadership. If the leadership want to unite the people, they can unite them; but if they want to separate them, if they are like a father in the family: if the father and the mother they decide to divide the children, it can be in that way …”Edvine
“Between April and July 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Most of the dead were Tutsis, and most of the perpetrators were Hutus.”
This was started by Hutu nationalists in Kigali (the capital), and it spread through the country, people were encouraged to ‘take up arms against their neighbours’. By the early 90s, Rwanda had one of the highest population densities in Africa, with 85% Hutu and the rest Tutsi and Twa. During Rwanda’s colonial period (1918-1962), the ruling Belgians favoured the minority Tutsis over the Hutus. This created a legacy of tension that exploded into violence even before Rwanda gained its independence.
Following a Hutu revolution in 1959, around 330,000 Tutsis fled the country, which meant only a small number were left in Rwanda. In 1961 the Hutus had declared the country a republic, after a UN referendum Belgium officially gave Rwanda independence in 1962. However, ethnically-motivated violence continued and in 1973 a military group put Major General Juvenal Habyarimana (a moderate Hutu) in power. He was the sole leader of the government for the next 20 years, leading the National Revolutionary Movement for Development. In 1983, he was the sole candidate in the running.
In the 90s the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), made up mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda. Habyarimana said Tutsi residents were RPF accomplices, he arrested hundreds. The government officials directed massacres of the Tutsi, where hundreds died. In ‘92 there were negotiations between the Hutu government and the Tutsi RPF and in ‘93 Habyarimana signed an agreement to create a transition government. However, this agreement deeply angered extremists.
In ‘94 a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s president was shot down over the capital. Within hours, members of Rwandan armed forces and Hutu militia groups began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This violence created a ‘political vacuum’, and the genocide killed moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers. Many others were killed, with officials rewarding killers with food and money.
Radio stations began to call on citizens of Rwanda to murder their neighbours. Within three months, over 800,000 people had been slaughtered.
In April ‘94 most of the UN peacekeeping operations were withdrawn and the genocide continued until July ‘94. After the genocide, high ranking people were indicted, this was difficult because whereabouts of suspects were not known. In 2008, senior officials were convicted for organising the genocide.
Interview with Edvine
“… I’ve got double nationality, I’m from Burundi and then originally from Rwanda. The genocide that is recognised by the international community was the one that happened in 1994.”
“Obviously that is not when the genocide is starting … genocide is starting before that.”
“The one that happened before the 1994 genocide … I would say in 1959, by 1960, 1961, some of it was still fresh, some of the Tutsis who were refugees tried to come back fighting, they used to call them ‘Iyenzi’, they fight … but they didn’t win the war, because Belgium was there and France to support the Hutu government majority.”
“The Tutsi, the king was a Tutsi, the Tutsi was in power … the king had an issue with Belgium … they tried to change regime and they helped the Hutu to became in power. That is what happened. The Hutu became in power, then they get rid of king and they started targeting Tutsis wherever they are … it happened in 1959, 1960 burn housing, Tutsis’ housing, or most of the Tutsis, some of them stayed there. So let’s go 1990. You can ask me why genocide happed in 1960, 1959 … for it’s not recognised as genocide because they have got people cover. France was there, Belgium was supporting them, and the government, the Hutu, they kill people. There is no evidence who can show that the people were killed. No-one. The journalists who was there, the French, the Belgian, nothing, they can’t show anything.”
“Hutu population was 86% and Tutsi 13% of the population and the Tua 1% of the population … Tua is t-u-a yeah, they are pygmy, some people use pygmy, pygmy … so…it was a struggle, all those people who leave Rwanda from 1959 of different countries for almost thirty years.”
“They’ve been passed through many struggles … somehow those who were in Uganda, they started, not only those ones, all of them, those who were born abroad and those ones who flee the country when they were young, four years old, five years old, at that time they were grown up they decide to see how they can go back home, and to take their families back home. That was in 1990.”
“In 1959, by 1960, 1961 some of it was still fresh … it’s obvious that France had hand on the genocide in Rwanda which is no more even President err Macron went over to Rwanda and he apologised. Surprisingly for some country apologies is accepted, no punishment, no justice, just “we are sorry” and then when they said “sorry” everybody, everybody applauds, “good, good, good, good, good”. It’s enough.”
“You can be killed. So far they kill people the way they want. So you can negotiate the way you can die. Is like you if they say “you are going to die we are going to throw you into the fire, we are going to cut you with machete, we are going to shoot you, which one are you prefer?” And if they propose you money, so it’s up to you to choose. Sometimes you feel about your children, you start to think about your children, because you say “for me you can do whatever you want, but for my children at least, gun” and you pay.”
“The supporters of Hutu in 1960, 1959.”
“Back in 1990 … so they started fighting, the war was there, so quickly, international community, UN, they said that we need negotiation between the two parties, but before the attack, before those refugees tried to go back to their own country there was a letter given that Tutsis need to come back into their country, for the government, the Hutu…”
“For our situation is different. If it was other countries where people they speak different languages, different culture, or in Rwanda everybody speaks one language. They don’t have “you live there” is they’ve got their own estate, Tutsis there they have called it. They’re all together now, they live together, they’re neighbours, they marry together they speak same language, they’ve got the same country.”
“Since the new government, the Twa, they are dead, they are okay … they go right with other people. But before it wasn’t like that … All the problem is leadership. If the leadership want to unite the people, they can unite them; but if they want to separate them, if they are like a father in the family: if the father and the mother they decide to divide the children, it can be in that way.”
Interviewer : Umahi Uchenna
Interviewee : Edvine
Edited by : Holocaust Centre North
Image credit : Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos