Remembrance Day: “No Secret: the Rwandan Genocide”

“Revenge is barren of itself;  itself is the dreadful food it feeds on;  its delight is murder, and its satiety, despair.”

(Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller)


Paul Hartal

(Canadian painter and poet, born 1936, Hungary)

“No Secret:  the Rwandan Genocide”


A remote source of The Nile,

the Kagera River originates in Burundi.

On its way to Lake Victoria it flows

into a steep gorge along the natural border

between Rwanda and Tanzania.

Before entering the ravine,

the river cascades in a small waterfall

that swells in the rainy season.


As the Kagera sweeps down from

the highlands it carries within its currents

vast clusters of uprooted trees embedded

in gigantic dollops of elephant grass.

In the spring and summer of 1994

it was still much the same.

However, this time also thousands

of human corpses floated on the river.


Rwanda and Burundi

are two tiny African countries,

each with a territory somewhat smaller

than Belgium. Most of the population

belong to Hutu tribes,

who are traditionally crop growers.


But beginning in the 1300s

warrior herdsmen

from the highlands of Ethiopia

migrated to the region.

They originally spoke Somali or Oromo,

but in adopting the local Bantu language

and settling among the Hutus,

they became known as Tutsis.


The German colonists favoured

the Ethiopian look of the Tutsi minority.

They employed them as overseers

in the administration of Ruanda-Urundi,

as the colony was called then.


Then during the First World War Belgium

took over governing the territory

but continued to support the Tutsis

as the ruling class.


In 1919 Brussels received a mandate

from the League of Nations to administer

the colony. The Belgian colonists divided

Tutsis and Hutus on the basis

of cattle ownership, church documents,

physical measurements

and physiognomic appearance.


Basically, they had designated

the wealthy and tall as Tutsis,

and classified those poorer

and shorter as Hutus.

The Tutsis got used fast

to their privileged status

as Rwandan aristocrats.

They worshipped their king

as a god-like ruler and treated

the Hutus with disdain as peasants.


But the aristocratic Tutsi monarchy

came to an end in 1959

when Belgium allowed holding

universal elections.

King Kigeli V of Ruanda-Urundi

was forced to go to exile

and the majority Hutus

assumed control of the government.


These were turbulent times

that deteriorated into wide spread

communal violence.

In 1962 two independent countries

emerged from the former colony,

Rwanda and Burundi.

But the transition from colony

to independence was not

a peaceful one.


At the time that Rwanda

became independent,

Hutus comprised more than 80 percent

of the country’s seven million people.

Nevertheless, the Tutsi minority

was reluctant to give up

its privileged ruling status.


Consequently, Hutus and Tutsis

were at each other’s throat

in the power struggle

for governing the country.

In Rwanda hundreds of Tutsis

were killed while thousands of others

fled to neighbouring Burundi and Uganda.


In the aftermath of the atrocities,

President Grégoire Kayibanda

made the Hutus the governing majority

of the nation. Yet the leaders

of the new regime did not choose

a policy of national reconciliation.

Instead, they opted for oppression

and discrimination.


They blamed the problems of Rwanda

on the Tutsis. In the 1970s

the Hutu-led military

continued to murder Tutsis in Rwanda.

They excluded the Tutsis

from the governmental administration,

the armed forces, even from schools

and universities.


Yet meanwhile Tutsis had their share

in violent ethnic cleansing as well.

In 1972, in response to a Hutu rebellion,

the Tutsi controlled army

in the Republic of Burundi

killed over 100,000 Hutus.


Similarly to Rwanda, over 80 percent

of the population in Burundi

consists of Hutu tribes.


Harking back on the shame and humiliation

of the past, the Hutu leadership in Rwanda

intensified their hateful propaganda,

inflaming bitterness and hostility

against the tall, aristocratic Tutsi.


They claimed that the Tutsis

intended to restore a feudal system

to enslave the Hutu population.

They recruited writers and teachers

to travel the country to raise Hutu pride

and to create a pan-Hutu consciousness.

They sowed the seeds of spite,

unfurled the propaganda of hate

and prepared the hurricane of genocide.


However, in the neighbouring countries

the Tutsi refugee Diaspora organized

militia forces to overthrow

the Hutu regime in Rwanda.

In 1990 civil war broke out

as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)

of the Tutsi minority

invaded the country from Uganda.


Then on April 6,1994, an airplane

carrying the Hutu presidents

of two African nations,

Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and

Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi,

had been shot down.

The fanatic Akazu organization

of the Hutu Power ideologists

immediately blamed the Tutsis

for the shooting down of the plane.


They spread hate and hysteria.

By radio and word of mouth

they told Hutu civilians that it was

their patriotic duty

to “fill the half-empty graves”

with the bodies of Tutsis.

They called for the slaughter

of all Tutsis, as well as of Hutus

who sympathized with the Tutsi.


They even incited Hutu wives

and husbands to murder

their own spouses.


Although throughout the centuries

both Hutus and Tutsis

unleashed violent actions

and slaughtered each other,

the tragic events of 1994 culminated

in one of the most horrible atrocities

of history.


The Rwandan radio exhorted people

to fight for Rwanda and to kill

the Tutsis like ‘cockroaches’

and sweep them from the country.

The radio inflamed the Hutus

to massacre the Tutsis,

urging them to use

every kind of weapons;

if not guns and grenades,

then arrows, spears,

machetes, knives and clubs.


And so they did.

Frenzied Hutu squads killed

Tutsi men, women, children

and babies by the thousands

in the streets, in churches,

schools and in their houses.

In the countryside the murderers

covered the dead with banana leaves

in order to screen them

from aerial photography.


In about100 days,

between April 6 and mid-July in 1994,

approximately one million people

were killed. The victims also included

Hutus who refused to participate

in the massacres or were

on friendly relations with Tutsis.


The cold blooded murderers

who perpetrated these heinous crimes

were fuelled by fanatic dedication

to a pan-nationalist identity politics.


The killers were often not strangers

but familiar faces to the victims,

neighbours and workmates,

even relatives or former friends.


The December 1993 issue

of the Hutu Kangura magazine shows

a picture of the Rwandan President

Grégoire Kayibanda next to a machete.

Adjacent to the picture appear the words:

“Tutsi: Race of God”, and then

the magazine poses the question:

“Which weapons are we going to use

to beat the cockroaches for good? ”


The genocide

that followed was no secret!

It occurred uninterrupted

by United Nations forces

that were in place

monitoring a ceasefire.


And journalists and TV cameras

from all over the world reported

the massacres.

Viewers in cities and villages

on different continents

sat in front of their television screens,

sipping coffee or eating popcorn,

and watched in shock

the horrible mass murders.


The genocide ended in July 1994

when the Tutsi rebels of the RPF

defeated the Hutu military forces

of Rwanda. Fearing retributions,

two million Hutus fled

to neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania,

Uganda and Zaire. Many of them

participated in the massacres.


Conditions in the refugee camps were

dreadful and thousands died

in epidemics of cholera and dysentery.


The international community

could have intervened in order to stop

the Rwandan genocide, but governments

lacked the political will to do that.

And, indeed,

the United Nations Security Council

accepted responsibility

for failing to prevent the massacres.


The unchecked brutality

of the perpetrators of this genocide

“made a mockery, once again,

of the pledge ‘never again’”,

said the Canadian Foreign Minister,

Lloyd Axworthy.

He was referring to the promise

made after the Holocaust.



.     .     .

Editor’s note:

Paul Hartal presents this poem to us almost like a computer printer dishing up page after page of a dense document.  There is little of the poem in his poem but perhaps that’s because the most urgent thing – if one can speak urgently of an event in time from 18 years ago – is to make history known, to tell the facts, to keep on telling the facts, of the Rwandan Genocide.


Ask yourself – honestly – do you remember very much about world events in the summer of 1994?  Because the Canadian and U.S. media’s scandal-vulture coverage after the murder of O.J. Simpson’s wife was top of the news in June and July while Rwanda’s horrific social cataclysm received far less scrutiny on TV news programmes.  Rwanda, Burundi – Hutus, Tutsis?  What countries were those?  And which people were they?  And: who are they – today?


Any reader wishing to find out more is encouraged to make a beginning by reading Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, published in 2003 by Canada’s Roméo Dallaire.  In 1993 Lieutenant-General Dallaire received the commission as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda.


Lloyd Axworthy quotation (April 15th 2000, BBC News):  “The unchecked brutality of the genocidaires made a mockery, once again, of the pledge ‘Never again’.” (‘Never again’ – this phrase is inscribed in several languages at the Dachau monument marking the Nazi Holocaust.)