have you heard of the Rwandan Genocide?

Categories Curiously Serious


I want you to imagine San Francisco. A very full city, I would say. A little over 800,000 people residing there. Men, women, children. Rich and poor. Young and old. Now imagine that the entire city was wiped out in a mass murdering. Within 100 days. 100 days. That’s about 3 months. 3 months ago seems like a blink of an eye from right now. Can you imagine it?

From April-June of 1994 (yes, 1994. Most of us were alive and very much kicking by this year), over 800,000 Rwandans were violently slaughtered. The last 3 days, I have shed tears and been absolutely astounded at the fact that such a horrible event happened when I was 6 years old. Have you even heard of this genocide? Or do you know any facts about it? I didn’t. So I have spent days reading, watching videos, and flicking through pictures. Horrific. And it would be easy to excuse away the learning because it is hard to stomach. Yes, it is hard to stomach the hatred that led to such terror, but if we turn our eyes and ears away from history, we won’t learn from it, and we will make similar mistakes. So let’s take a few minutes to reflect on what happened (don’t read if you are very, very young). This is in no way a detailed account. If you want to contribute any pertinent information, I would love you to comment. I’m not a historian, I’m a learner.

Rwanda is a small country (about the size of Maryland in the US) that is located in central Africa. In the 90s, there were two primary people groups. The Hutus (comprised about 85%) and the Tutsis (comprised most of the rest). These two groups were defined by their class and clan and had existed for decades with several distinct qualities. The Hutu population had historically been peasants (meaning little income to contribute), while the Tutsis had been cattle farmers (meaning they brought in the money). This difference automatically differentiated the two people groups and created racial supremacy from the start.

Belgium took control of Rwanda and showed favour to the Tutsis from the start. Imagine how you would feel if you were in a school classroom and the teacher favoured one half of the class and you weren’t included as a favourite. Resentment for both the teacher and the favoured group would arise. And this was the case with the Hutus. Resentment toward the favoured Tutsi population grew. And as the Tutsis were given privilege in politics, education, business, etc, the Hutus simmering hatred toward them kindled.

1959 – The Belgians organized elections. Tutsis would have been suspected to have won, but Hutus won the elections. The oppressed had suddenly become the oppressor. And they took advantage of this newly found power. A revolution began. Over 300,000 Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries. And within these neighbouring countries, the ousted Tutsis formed the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front). These rebels to the Hutu-led Rwandan government planned to attack and force the Rwandan government to allow them back into their country that they had fled.

Can you sense the growing tension?

1962 – Belgium gave Rwanda its independence and Hutus came to power. The second elected president was Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu).

1964 – Juvenal Habyarimana (the Hutu president of Rwanda) was shot down in his plane. To this day, it is not clear who shot him down. It could have been the RPF(Tutsi Rebels) or it could have been Hutu extremists that had been itching for a fight with Tutsis, but needed Tutsis to blame for something. Whoever it was, it happened. And is sparked the genocide of 800,000 people.

What is a genocide? “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.” The Hutus deliberately killed a large group of Tutsis and Hutu moderates (the Hutus that were not extremists). It was genocide. And words can’t describe how inhumane, brutal, and unimaginable it was. Most of the killing was conducted by hand – using machetes, clubs, knives. Guns and fire were often used. Villages full of men, women, and children. Neighbour against neighbour. Family against family. Put yourself in the horrific position for even a moment. Looking out your window. Seeing them coming. Screaming. Fearing for your life and the lives of your family (women and children often sexually abused as it was a way of inserting the Hutu race into another race). I shudder. But let’s not pretend it didn’t happen. Let’s not close our eyes to their suffering.

The Hutus had planned this attack for years and simmered with hatred toward Tutsis. Propaganda and resentment was spread, so that when the time came, a Hutu army of extremists were convinced that the Tutsis were the enemy. And that the only way to relieve the problems that they would cause was to kill. So they did. For 3 months, every Hutu that saw a Tutsi was trained to murder (obviously a generalization. I’m sure there were Hutus that could not be lumped into this category, but the majority could).

The Hutus wanted power. Tutsis posed a threat to this power. So they must be killed.

The Hutus hated the Tutsi race. So they must be killed.

It was the only way. So said the Hutus.

The Hutus had control for 3 months. And in those 3 months, they murdered 800,000 to 1 million people. About the number of people living in San Francisco. The RPF then took control of the country. And the history of Rwananda continues on. There are many brewing resentments still about. Many Hutus and Tutsis abhor each other and want revenge. Both sides hate. Both sides want power.

Power and hate.

Power and hate lead to violence. That’s a lesson learned from this genocide. Sure, governments would have learned other lessons about practically dealing with genocides after having backed out of action during the fighting. Many world leaders and organizations regret that so little was done to stop the mass killings. But what can we, who aren’t government officials, learn from Rwanda?

That power and hate lead to violence. I know, it’s simplistic. And I know there is more to it. But in daily life, I want to run (not a slow jog…a sprint) away from the craving for power and hate of anyone. Because genocides begin with a love for power and hatred of people. And I never want to be part of a genocide or foster the feelings that would lead to one.

I want to live a life of humility and love. That aims to value others more than I value myself. That doesn’t seek revenge. That prizes the strength of forgiveness. That drives change through peace, intellect, and love, rather than through violence of actions or words. I want to be like Martin Luther King (Isaiah’s middle name is King because of our love for this man). I want to be like Jesus (Don’t know if naming Isaiah after Jesus would have gone well for him). I want to be characterized by love.

Let’s learn from Rwanda. Let’s love.

Is there a people group you hate? Think about the repercussions of this hate and change your mind. Or do you want another Rwanda? I know, that is an extreme statement. But again, let’s be learners and not make mistakes that were already made.

“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” – Maya Angelou

4 thoughts on “have you heard of the Rwandan Genocide?

  1. Yes, I was fairly aware of what was going on in Rwanda as a child (I was a few years older than you), and have studied some aspects of it subsequently as a result of my legal training. The legal situation was horrendous. 150,000 people were being held in prisons for potentially playing a role. They were there for years and looking likely to die in those prisons in Rwanda without ever standing trial, probably without ever even being charged. The system was unable to cope with trying them. Some people have been tried and convicted by the ICR for Rwanda, but very few people have been brought to justice of the thousands of perpetrators. It would have taken probably a couple of hundred years to try all the thousands of accused rotting in prison in Rwanda. Eventually, Rwanda began operating a system of community justice, by which people were tried by local communities, encouraged to confess and apologise and many were released. Of course, this was criticised as not meeting fair trial criteria, and it created uneasy situations in many communities, with perpetrators released to live alongside surviving victims.

    The Darfur genocide in Sudan was even more overlooked – it took quite some time for it to really be reported in the media, and many people still don’t know anything about it. & that started 2003 – pretty recent. As you say, we need to learn from these things. But instead so often these horrendous events actually go largely unnoticed, or quickly forgotten, by the rest of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *