Rwanda Genocide: The Lasting Consequences of Armed Violence

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 15 Apr 2024

René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

10 Apr  2024 – On 7 April 2024, Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, lit the memorial flame of the monument to the victims of the 1994 genocide during which some 800,000 persons, mostly ethnic Tutsi, were killed. Paul Kagame in 1994 was the head of a Tutsi-led militia, the Rwanda Patriotic Front which put an end to the massacres in Rwanda.  Many of the Hutu-led governmental forces of 1994 fled to what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there were already established Hutu communities. Ethnic-tribal frontiers do not follow the same frontiers as those created by the colonial powers.

During the colonial period and also since independence, when speaking of Rwandan politics, politics was described as a struggle between Tutsi and Hutu.  However, the conflictual cleavages were more complicated. There were a good number of “mixed marriages” between Tutsi and Hutu. Never the less, in times of tension, political leaders played upon the Hutu-Tutsi divide.

In 1994, as soon as Kagame’s forces took control of the capital Kigali, he declared himself president and has held power since.  His emphasis has been on economic stability, the development of tourism and the creation of an effective civil service.  Because of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has received a good deal of foreign aid and support.  However, some 70 percent of the population are still in the rural areas and farm small plots of land.

The entry of Hutu militias into the Democratic Republic of Congo when defeated in Rwanda added to an already complicated situation in the administrative provinces of North and South Kivu.  In mid-1994, more than one million Rwandan Hutu refugees poured into the Kivus.  Many of these Hutu were still armed; among them were the “genocidaire” who a couple of months earlier were killing Tutsi and moderate Hutu.  The “genocidaire” continued to kill Tutsi living in the Congo, many of whom had migrated there in the 18th century.

The people in eastern Congo have lived together for several centuries and had developed techniques of conflict resolution especially between the two chief agricultural lifestyles – that of agriculture and that of cattle herding. The Hutu were farmers and the Tutsi cattle raisers. However, a desire of others to control the wealth of the area – rich in gold, tin, and tropical timber – overburdened the local techniques of conflict resolution and opened the door to new negative forces interested only in making money and gaining political power.  The inability to deal with land tenure and land use issues, the lack of social services and socio-economic development created the conditions which led to multiple forms of violence. Land tenure issues have always been complex.

Land is often thought of as belonging to the ethnic community and is given to clans or  to individuals for their use, sometimes for a given period, sometimes for several lifetimes if the land is cultivated.  The rules of land tenure often differ from one ethnic group to another even a small distance apart. Traditionally clan chiefs would be called upon to settle land disputes.  However, with the large displacement of people, land disputes have become more frequent, and clan chiefs have often disappeared or lost their function as judges.

Into this disorder, in 1999, the United Nations sent peacekeepers without there being peace to keep.  The MONUSCO was the largest of the UN peacekeeping forces, currently some 2000 military, 180 police, and 400 civilian administrators.

The States which have provided the bulk of the UN forces in the Congo – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal – have other worries and few cultural affinities.  Thus, these States have made no large effort to call world attention to the eastern Congo and to the very difficult situation the soldiers face. UN troops are not trained to deal with complex cultural issues – especially land tenure and land use issues which are the chief causes of the conflicts.

Thus, there is a popular frustration at the ineffectiveness. The troops are popularly called “tourists” who only watch what is going on.  Despite the UN troops, there have been large-scale occurrences of violation of human rights and humanitarian law by all the many parties in the conflict with massive displacement of population, plundering of villages, systematic rape of women, summary executions and the use of child soldiers. Thus, the newly elected President, Felix Tshisekedi has asked the UN to remove all its troops by the end of 2024.  Troops are currently being removed.

One of some 200 armed groups in eastern Congo, the M23, is said to be backed by Rwanda, although the Rwanda government denies this. Today, there is a security vacuum, and the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo will have difficulty to create stable socioeconomic structures.  Thus the 1994 genocide is a stark reminder that violence has long range consequences.

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René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Apr 2024.

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