3. The Regional and Rwandan Consequences of the Genocide
Upon the completion of the genocide and war, Rwanda—which was already horribly
‘under-developed’ (eg infrastructure and resource poor)—was not left with much, though
it had little to begin with. Nearly a million people were killed, over a million people fled for
fear of revenge and retribution from the incoming Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
Schools, churches, roads, and hospitals were shells of their former selves.
The international community felt guilt that it did not do enough to prevent the genocide.
Aid, development, humanitarian and rights organizations felt like they had let the people
of Rwanda down and they had. Rwandans were traumatized, displaced and treated
without dignity or humanity. When the RPF took the country over, they had nothing.
Immediately the repercussions of the genocide were felt throughout the region and
globe. The million displaced from Rwanda mostly wound up in the Eastern Congo where
they were put in camps in record numbers by organizations and bodies like the UNHCR
that were unable to handle them. Disease and more fighting broke out in these camps.
Hutu and Tutsi groups in the camps—many who had just fought in Rwanda—sparred in
the camps, making that region unstable. Peacekeepers could do nothing. At the same
time, the dictatorship in the Congo was on the edge of falling to a group of rebels from
the east—where Rwanda is located.
Since the Burundian president had been killed in the same plane as the Rwandan, a
power struggle re-ignited in Burundi. In Tanzania, the refugee camps were over-run by
both Burundians and Rwandans fighting for the same few resources. And in Uganda, the
president was now closely aligned with the RPF—which had entered Rwanda through
Uganda—thus marginalizing the Hutu’s that were fleeing throughout the region.
Immediately, to facilitate justice, tolerance and cooperation, the RPF set up a strong
security infrastructure. Large amounts of international funding and technical assistance
came for this. Again, the international aid came with few political strings attached—an
approach that had directly contributed to the environment for genocide in the first place.
Another consequence of the genocide was the RPF inviting Rwandans in exile to ‘return
home’ and help re-build their country. This meant bringing Tutsi’s from all over the world
back into Rwanda to engage in civil society but many of these exiles had never set foot
in their ancestral home. The consequence of this was a divisive land-grab in Rwanda.
Lands abandoned by new Hutu refugees were claimed by old Tutsi refugees—which
would eventually lead to further animosity between the ethnicities. This is still a spark for
tension in contemporary Rwanda when Hutu exiles return to Rwanda.
As the security apparatus strengthened in Rwanda, the RPF built its governing
confidence and began to seek out perpetrators of the genocide through force or other
means. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set-up in Arusha to try
perpetrators. The RPA hunted down perpetrators in the Congo, feeding the ongoing
conflict there. The conflict in the Congo went beyond the Tutsi-led RPA hunts. The
general instability of the region in the late 1990’s led to a drawn out war over minerals
and resources of eastern Congo—often considered the first world war of Africa. About a
dozen countries were said to have troops exploiting people, land and killing one another
in the eastern Congo at any one time between 1994-2003. Some estimates say over 4
million people lost their lives related—directly or indirectly—to the conflict there. Included
were many Rwandan refugees and rebel groups. Often international business
corporations paid government armies or rebel groups to extract valuable resources no
matter the human costs. The coltan in your cell phone probably comes from the eastern
Congo. The war there finally came to an end with a peace treaty in 2003.i
Stepping back to the post-genocide years: The education system which had divided
Hutu and Tutsi children was in shambles and the governing RPF decided that the
learning of Rwandan history was unnecessary when the new textbooks were being
written. Still, today, Rwandan children know more about the American and French
Revolution than the Rwandan one. Countless children had been orphaned and infinite
numbers of women had been raped—as a tool of genocide and ethnic cleansing—many
being left HIV+. The hospitals were in complete disarray with little equipment or qualified
personnel. There was no justice system and very few living, trained lawyers.
After the genocide, RPF was given a unique chance to ‘re-interpret’ Rwandan history
and to revise ethnic identity in Rwanda. They immediately instilled the idea that ‘we are
all Rwandans—no longer are we Hutu’s and Tutsi’s’ -- later to be written into the
constitution. Language became an issue for the first time in Rwandan history, as so
many of the exiles had come in from countries where they had to learn English, French,
or Swahili. The RPF decided to make kinyaRwandan the language of government again,
but it meant learning it for the first time for many returning exiles. It also meant that
English would be the colonizing language of choice, and not French.
The new government re-invented, or re-interpreted, language, education and ideology in
Rwanda. They call(ed) the war one for ‘liberation,’ while Hutu’s call(ed) it a civil war—
after all, a war for liberation would be an acknowledgement that liberation was needed.
As one might imagine, this kind of change in the public life of Rwanda would have
repercussions on reconciliation through tolerance, cooperation and justice.
The major ‘re-interpretation’ of promoting the idea that everyone is a Rwandan and no
longer Hutu or Tutsi was an attempt to eliminate the idea of ethnic difference in Rwanda.
But this is clearly problematic. How do you eliminate whole ethnic groups through
language? Difference—whether real or imaginary, whether given by colonizers or
promoted by the ethnic groups themselves—cannot simply disappear. Imagine the child
who returns home from school where they are told everyone is a Rwandan and she is
neither Hutu or Tutsi, but the father greets her at home and says ‘I hope you did not
have to be in class with those Hutu’s who killed your mother during the genocide!’ What
is the child to do? This issue will be confronted in Section 4 and in the discussion of the
Constitution and democratic principles.
Looking forward, it is important to remember how little Rwanda had to build from at
independence and at the end of the genocide and civil war. While there are countless
problems that emerged regionally and internally due to the genocide, it is important to
remember that this gave the new Rwandan government and people an opportunity to
‘create’ the perfect Rwandan citizen—or at least imagine what that citizen would be like
in accordance to democratic, peace-building values of justice, tolerance and
• How did the Rwandan genocide impact the region around Rwanda? Likewise, how
did the region around Rwanda help exacerbate the genocide?
• How might you look at Rwanda and its post-conflict context and compare it to that
of Palestine and the Middle Eastern/Near Eastern context?
• What responsibility should international bodies and organizations have in
preventing and/or intervening in conflicts in sovereign/autonomous regions of the
world? What responsibility do they have after conflict or crisis?
• If you were the new governing power in Rwanda after the genocide what would
you do to promote unity and reconciliation? Immediately after the conflict? 10
years down the line?
Though currently in the DRC, we are seeing a rebellion led by a Tutsi commander against local military
and para-military. He says he is trying to protect the Tutsi way of life in the Congo. Many eyewitness
accounts have seen RPA soldiers cross the border to help out. This is 2008.