July 14, 2004

Day 100

Ten years ago today: Faustin Twagiramungu, a moderate Hutu, returned to Rwanda, and the RPF declared him to be the country's prime minister.
The struggle for power in Rwanda was, in effect, now over.


Cholera soon struck the hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees in Zaire, killing many.

U.S. soldiers did not arrive to help in Kigali until July 27. President Clinton visited Rwanda in March 1998.

France's Operation Turquoise ended on August 22.

In Zaire (now Congo), Interahamwe in the refugee camps re-armed and organized. They would later kill up to 15,000 Zairean Tutsi in that country and contribute to Congo's civil war.

In 1995, the new Rwandan government and RPF forces decided to forcibly close internal refugee camps harboring Hutu. On April 22, 1995, thousands of Hutu were massacred at Kibeho camp.

Inshuti is a website which presents a Hutu point of view of these and other events in Rwanda.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda continues its trials in Arusha, Tanzania.

The most widely accepted number of deaths in the 1994 genocide and war in Rwanda is 800,000. Recent Rwandan government estimates have placed the total closer to one million.

Personal note:

The "100 Days" is a somewhat arbitrary period, but it is the most commonly cited approximate time period for the catastrophe known as the Rwandan genocide.

When I started this project, I wondered if the experience of digesting the Rwandan genocide and civil war in "real time" chunks (at least, day by day) over the same period of time that it unfolded, would provide some sort of added insight.

It's been a long three months, but it seemed to go by fast, until I sat there the other night and tried to remember everything I'd written down since April 6 and all the various emotional reactions I had. I would have to say that the single thing that affected me the most emotionally was what occurred at Benebekira convent on Day 25. But there were many other things I learned that will stand out in my mind about what happened in Rwanda.

I come away from this project feeling absolutely convinced that the Rwandan genocide must be taught in schools and colleges alongside the Holocaust. Why? Because, not the least, studying Rwanda made me understand the Holocaust better. I gained insights on the Holocaust that I never had before, and I've read a lot about the Holocaust. I was also surprised to see that there were many parallels in Rwanda to things that happened during the Holocaust. Yes, there were Rwandan death camps, such as the Church of Sainte Famille in Kigali, that operated the same way, but without the high-tech machinery of destruction. Yes, there was resistance as in the Warsaw Ghetto, at Bisesero.

But my point is that Rwanda's experience is unique in its own right, and it too stands alone in its own terrible way. You do not need to look at it through the familiar lens of the Nazi atrocities, but let's try that for the sake of added insight. Imagine a Jewish Holocaust where the world did not intervene at all. Imagine what it would have been like if the Jews of the death camps had been told by their liberators to go peacefully back to work in regular jobs at Auschwitz, alongside the very guards who had starved, abused and murdered them. Imagine what it would have been like if the Nazis had been allowed to escape and cause new wars and atrocities in Romania or the Ukraine. Imagine what it would have been like if ordinary Germans were massacred in reprisal by those who took over after their leaders fled. But this is reality today in Rwanda and East Africa, where the Rwandan genocide was also an episode in the general instability of the region.

Nevertheless, whatever its backdrop, there is no question that what happened in Rwanda was a significant event in human history - even more so because of society's response to it. This time, there was no heroic happy ending, no feel-good narrative. How do human beings carry on after this? How do you make up for the ultimate failure of the noble slogan "Never again"? This is the great unanswered question and that's what prompted me to begin this modest project.

They say the winners write the history. In Rwanda, mankind did not win. I must be honest and say that I found very little reason over the past 100 days to feel like there were any good guys in this story, although the very few ones who were, were exceptionally heroic. The question for me is, Are they enough? I don't know. They aren't enough for a rip-roaring feel-good, Western-moralists-to-the-rescue narrative, that's for certain. Are they enough to speak for mankind on a day of Last Judgment? Even that, I don't know.

As for Darfur, the crisis in the Sudan which has alarmed those who know what happened in Rwanda, the only reason people don't really care is because they don't know these people. Take a look at their faces.

Thank you for reading. Although this blog is now finished, Rwanda and its people will forever be real to me. I hope they will be real to you too.

Posted by NYCO at 01:25 PM | Comments (4)

July 13, 2004

Day 99

Ten years ago today: The RPF captured the eastern town of Ruhengeri. Almost two million Rwandan Hutu were on the move, fleeing into Zaire, or to the French-protected "security zone" in the southwest of the country. French radio reported that some of these civilians and soldiers traveling with them were shelled by the RPF.

The RPF promised to call a ceasefire when Faustin Twagiramungu, a moderate Hutu who had been named acting prime minister in the Arusha accords the previous year, arrived in the country.

The 50 armored personnel carriers leased by UNAMIR from the U.S. finally arrived in Uganda after two months of waiting. They were missing mounted weapons or radio equipment. The UN had expected them to arrive in working order.

This week:

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was arrested during a protest to demand U.S. action to prevent genocide in Darfur.

Posted by NYCO at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2004

Day 98

Ten years ago today: The RPF advanced on Gisenyi, where the remains of the Rwandan government were located. Millions of Hutu refugees began streaming into the Goma area of Zaire, in even larger numbers than those who had fled to Tanzania at the end of April.

The French announced they planned to withdraw from Rwanda by July 31, and told the UN they would provide information on Rwandans suspected of being behind the genocide.

Bodies were once again sighted in the Kagera River between Rwanda and Tanzania, causing speculation that mass killings were still occurring inside the country.

Posted by NYCO at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2004

Day 97

Ten years ago today: Fleeing the advancing RPF, the last trackers and caretakers still working at the gorilla research center founded by Dian Fossey left the country, leaving the center abandoned.

French Premier Edouard Balladur defended France's Rwandan intervention in an appearance before the U.N. Security Council, denying there were any ulterior motives besides humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, support among the French people for the mission was deteriorating.

In Tanzania, international aid workers told the visiting UN high commissioner for refugees that they wanted something done about the presence of Hutu militia killers who were receiving assistance in the camps. The workers told the UN official that helping the killers was "morally repugnant."

Rwandan educator minister Andre Rwamabuka said,

You can kill, and kill and kill forever, but there will always be Hutus and Tutsis. We are condemned to live together.

Posted by NYCO at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2004

Day 96

Ten years ago today: RTLM radio was still transmitting from the town of Gisenyi, where the Rwandan government was cornered. Eight announcers were still working, both in Kinyarwanda and in French. Emmanual Rucogoza, one of the announcers, told French radio,

It is because this radio tells the truth, and the truth hurts. We are simply supporting the government's policy and we are very popular. We are now counting on a general mobilization of the people.

It was announced that 2,000 new UNAMIR soldiers were soon to replace French forces in Rwanda.

In Kigali, the RPF opened up the refugees camps and allowed the residents to return home, according to the Associated Press.

Before the midwinter sun was well up, people were pouring into the streets. Small children with adult-sized bundles on their heads stopped to wave at soldiers, then pattered past blasted and gutted shops after their parents... A few blocks away, girls were singing and laughing, hugging the teen-age Tutsi rebels in sneakers and mismatched fatigues they called the saviors of the Central African nation.

Jon Matese walked to the back of his home and pointed to the churned clay floor where his brother and perhaps dozens of Tutsi neighbors had been buried by a Hutu death squad. Flies buzzed in the rotten air, some settling on two shattered legs jutting from the clay. The floor was stained black with blood. "Can a man live after this?" he asked in tears.

Posted by NYCO at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2004

Day 95

Ten years ago today: The remains of the Rwandan government huddled in the town of Gisenyi, awaiting capture by the RPF. A top officer in the Rwandan army, Leonidas Rusatira, released a statement denouncing the government:

The difference between the government's position and ours [army officers] is that we denounce and officially condemn the genocide and all the other crimes which have been carried out in this country. There have been enough dead, enough destruction, enough damage, both human and material. The war must end so that we can rebuild the country.

The RPF announced that a "true national radio station" would soon begin broadcasting in place of RTLM, "with programs geared towards peace and national reconciliation."

This week:

Eliezer Niyitegeka, former Rwandan information minister, has lost his appeal to his conviction for his role in two atrocities.

A wildfire is burning in Rwanda's Kagera National Park.

Posted by NYCO at 03:41 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Day 94

Ten years ago today: The RPF agreed to a "no-fighting" buffer zone between them and the Rwandan government forces.

Although many Hutu and Tutsi refugees were returning to their homes, the Red Cross estimated there were 1.8 million Rwandans, or about 25% of the pre-war population, still on the run. Two million Rwandans had disappeared and were unaccounted for. Of those, aid agencies estimated that perhaps one million had been killed.

The New York Times noted,

About 90 per cent of Kigali's 350,000 residents either have fled or are dead, buried in mass graves, trenches in the backyards of houses or simply rotting to the bone in the fecal sludge of pit latrines. The survivors are holed up in a few refugee camps, or hiding in the hills, while only soldiers and wild dogs fattened on human corpses move through blocks of empty houses.

Posted by NYCO at 03:09 PM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

Day 93

Ten years ago today: Immaculee Ilibagiza emerged from the tiny room where she had been hiding with other Tutsi women since April 11.

UNAMIR Gen. Romeo Dallaire met with the leaders of the French Operation Turquoise in Zaire.

Faustin Twagiramungu, the RPF's prime minister-designate, announced he would return to Rwanda to begin forming a new government. A UN envoy told the RPF that an all-Tutsi government "would not be viable."

No fighting between RPF and government forces occurred inside Rwanda on this day.

Posted by NYCO at 03:36 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

Day 92

Ten years ago today: The town of Gikongoro was filled with Hutu refugees, who were estimated by relief agencies to be getting only one-third of the food they needed to survive. An estimated 400,000 Hutu had fled to southern Rwanda by this day, with some camps protected by French soldiers.

Two French journalists were wounded when the RPF opened fire on their car.

The RPF announced it would soon form a "government of national unity."

RTLM was still broadcasting anti-Tutsi propaganda as the international community debated their authority to jam its transmissions.

In the village of Ruganda, the New York Times reported, sympathetic Hutu families were still hiding Tutsi from officials.

Despite the ferocity of the propaganda and the violence, bonds of loyalty and friendship have survived among Hutu and Tutsi. Here in Ruganda, one Hutu family has been harboring Tutsi since April -- 30 at first, now 8, mostly children whose parents were killed. "I had no problems with Tutsi; they were my neighbors, and I am a Christian," said Anne-Marie Mukarukaka, 31, a court stenographer. Other Hutu in Ruganda know that Tutsi are hiding in Mrs. Mukarukaka's house, but they have not betrayed them. Mrs. Mukarukaka has even informed the village authorities, who are all Hutu. For these villagers, being a Hutu or a Tutsi never really mattered.

This week:

South Africa's defense minister, on a Rwandan visit, criticizes the UN and the French for not having acted to prevent genocide.

U.S. lawmakers have returned from a trip to Darfur and are demanding action.

Posted by NYCO at 03:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2004

Day 91

Ten years ago today: When asked U.S. opinion on the French's apparent about-face on the mandate of Operation Turquoise, a State Department spokeswoman said,

Since we don't have an in-country presence, I'm not sure that we would be in a position to evaluate or make a judgment on every action or activity that has taken place.

Chris McGreal of the Guardian filed a report on the aftermath of massacres in Kibuye:

The citizens of Kibuye, neat and clean in their Sunday best, squeezed on to the pews of their only church. Their voices rose in unison to praise life and humanity. Only the smell of death was between them and their God. As the congregation filed in, the stench drew glances at the newly turned earth, rare acknowledgments of a terrible crime. Some had tried to scrub the church clean, but the smell filtered in from the grave at the door and the blood that worked its way deep into the stone crevices. It lingered as a reminder of the extermination of a section of Kibuye's population that, if the townspeople are to be believed, never occurred... The woman who said it was all a lie refused to look at a foot protruding from the earth, the skull on the bank or the dried blood on the church walls. She denied there was an unusual smell. Everything is normal. Nothing happened here.

Posted by NYCO at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)
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