Paul Hartal

No Secret: The Rwandan Genocide - Poem by Paul Hartal

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.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, October 3, 2011

Poem Edited: Sunday, October 16, 2011

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