This is the fourth in a series of posts on a trip, organized by Episcopal Migration Ministries, to explore refugee issues (see here, here, and here) in East Africa.
On Friday, March 6, our pilgrimage group visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. There are memorials for those killed in the 1994 genocide scattered throughout Rwanda. As one would expect for the capital city, this memorial is perhaps the most sophisticated of them all. Many of the memorials are dignified mass graves, with no other facilities. In Kigali, there is a museum which explains the history of Rwanda before the genocide, the events of the genocide itself, and subsequent efforts to seek long-term reconciliation and peace. It’s hard to know how to put such horror — on a scale that is unimaginable — into words.
For those who may not be familiar with events, here is the most basic overview, as presented at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Rwanda, like most other nations in Africa, historically comprised several tribal/ethnic groups. In Rwanda, the two largest groups were the Hutu and the Tutsi. Well through the 19th century, these groups lived together without mutual animosity. People moved freely from Hutu to Tutsi and from Tutsi to Hutu. Families could have included both Tutsi and Hutu. In the early years of the 20th century, colonial powers created conditions such that the groups would be exclusive of one another. The colonial rulers, to reinforce their own power, put enmity between the local people.
The Tutsi had served as the ruling people of the Hutu, especially in the leadership structures put in place by colonial powers, but the Hutu were the majority. When Rwanda became nominally democratic, the Hutu gained power. Reinforced by Hamitic theology from the church, an ideology of inequality gained ascendancy. Conditions were ripe for violence, and indeed inter-tribal conflict grew throughout the 20th century. Hutu leaders began to plot the extermination of the Tutsi, with the disturbingly familiar notion that “purity” would improve conditions. National leaders deployed propaganda extensively, often with the full support of the church.
Genocide requires several ingredients: collective fear on a massive scale, an identified scapegoat people, the dehumanization of those people, and leaders with a malevolent and contagious vision. Everything was in place in Rwanda by the early 90s.
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