Ramblings of a young dissatisfied African
A very ugly scar on humanity’s collective conscience and a pointer to the hardness of our hearts as members of the 21st century human family is the message I glean from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. When I consider the events leading to this event and the events that transpired after it, I cannot help but feel shame as a citizen of the globe. I am utterly disgusted at the apathy we exhibit when horrible things transpire in the globe in some far away land distant from our geographical location. Even more appalling is the International Relations paradigm that we as a Globe via the International Civil Service organizations have chosen to dictate our international security policy. Decisions are made largely based on national interests—meaning that if the costs of engaging in a conflict does not outweigh its benefits to our national interests, then we will not reach out a helping hand to a person or a nation in need. This is what the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the recent intervention in Libya that saw the murder of the Libyan dictator seems to suggest. This notwithstanding, I make a choice to remain an optimist in the human material and its potential for unselfish good.
When one considers what transpired in Rwanda one cannot help but be ashamed at all the actors involved whose action or inaction made the genocide possible namely—the Hutu’s who initiated the bloodbath, the Tutsi’s who retaliated, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), UN Secretary General, Head of UN Peacekeeping operations Kofi Annan, and finally the American and British administrations at the time.
Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the Genocide. The genocide was between two tribal peoples at odds with each other. The President was a Hutu. The current President Paul Kagame was at that time the rebel commander of the Tutsi peoples. The UNAMIR was in Rwanda to help bring peace between the government and the rebels. It is important to note that many of the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were simply law abiding citizens and did not belong to the President’s guard who allegedly committed the atrocities or the Rebels who fight back. As the old proverb says, when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. It seems from many of the accounts gathered that many of the causalities in this senseless war fell in the category of the grass.
The beginning of the stain of conscience
Before the conflict, the UNAMIR force commander received a tip-off from a man who explained that the Hutu’s had planned an impending attack on the Tutsis. For this reason, there had been deliberate Arms cashes stashed or hidden in strategic locations within Rwanda ready to be distributed for the purpose of cleansing the land of the Tutsis. The informant on condition of being protected by the UN went ahead to show the UNAMIR where the weapons were being stashed in preparation for the genocide. One of the sites was the ruling political party’s headquarters. Roméo Dallaire the UNAMIR force commander sent out a fact finding mission to see if the information supplied by the informant was true. The team returned with an affirmative answer confirming the assertions of the informant.
Shame on the United Nations
The UN has admitted its failure in the Rwandan Genocide. Till today Mr. Kofi Annan is a man many deeply respect for many reasons. In many respects he has been and continues to be a role model—one that many young Africans look up to and will continue to do so for a long time to come. Additionally many have great respect for the UN and all the international civil servants that fill its ranks. The UN played an important role in decolonizing the world and for that and many of its other positive achievements I am grateful. But this paragraph chronicles a segment of Kofi Annan’s career that he himself has admitted not being proud of. According to the testimony of Force Commander Roméo Dallaire (available on YouTube and elsewhere), after he learned of the planned ethnic cleansing and the weapons stashes that were to be utilized in carrying it out, he sent a cable to his then superior in charge of UN Peacekeeping operations Mr. Kofi Annan explaining the impending genocide and informing Mr. Annan that the UNAMIR was about to launch a preemptive operation to confiscate the weapons. This would deprive the specific Hutus in question from having any weapons for their planned attack. Even if the planned attack transpired, the number of casualties would have been greatly minimized with little or no weapons at the disposal of the Hutus. Hours later, Mr. Annan responded with an instruction for the UNAMIR to stand down and not get involved. The consequence is that a conservative estimate of about a million souls perished in the ensuing genocide. What a sad day for Africa and the World! The interesting thing is oddly enough, neither Mr. Annan nor the Secretary General at the time; Boutros Boutros Ghali conveyed Dallaire’s cable to the UN Security Council. Even after the UN Security Council learnt of the problem, they also did nothing to stop it. A decade after the incident Mr. Annan conceded that he could have and should have done something!
Shame on the international community
After this preventable genocide had begun, the international community was drawn into the situation because it was in the mass media domain and some developed nations had their nationals working in international agencies in Rwanda. While members of the UN General Assembly favored UN intervention, the United States of America and Britain said a BIG FAT NO! Why? Only GOD knows what the true reason was but one can speculate that the Rwandan folks who were subject to the atrocities had no resources to be used as a bargaining chip for intervention. How do we place the value of a million lives below so-called national interests? Did the globe not learn enough from the scourge of the Great Wars at the turn of the century? How can we be so un-empathetic standing by whiles loads of our fellow humans die? Where is our collective conscience? Do we still have one? A careful study of the recent intervention in Libya under the guise of R2P (actually mis-applied R2P in my opinion) shows that the world or at least its current leadership has learnt nothing from its greedy and immoral-istic ways. We seemed to have learnt nothing from our past. Life is no longer held sacred hence the use of inhumane phrases like collateral damage with regards to human death tolls on battle fields. Some claim that the Monica Lewinsky debacle was the great blemish on Clinton’s administration but Rwanda was an even greater blemish. Ironically after the immense bloodshed, President Clinton flew into Rwanda to offer his condolences. Could there be any greater hypocrisy?
The day the massacre started, a thousand European Special Forces flew in to evacuate European civilians. One would have thought these folks would have stayed to help the locals but NOPE, they just came in for their citizens…the indigenes could fend for themselves. The Washington post reported that foreign expats watched while their Rwandan colleagues who worked with them in the same relief agencies were executed. How do we justify such intervention? 3 days after the start of the conflict, the US Ambassador and about 250 Americans were also evacuated leaving the silly Africans to their fate.
Here is a probable justification for the UN and International community not getting involved. For those of you that might remember, the US marines had just suffered an embarrassing defeat in Mogadishu months prior to this incident with the Blackhawk down incident. Thus they were not willing to sacrifice their soldiers once more to stop this genocide. While such a justification may have some merit, it is senseless, impregnate with pride and devoid of empathy. Rwanda is not Mogadishu and the entire genocide could have ended before it even started if the UN had mandated the troops to confiscate the weapons before the militia and army was armed.
Shame on the African Perpetrators
Africa is my home and I love her with all her challenges. She gave birth to me and has nurtured me to date and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful for all the brothers and sisters I have across the continent and in the Diaspora. That notwithstanding, I have a challenge with how im-prudent we sometimes tend to be as reflected in the many senseless conflicts around the continent which thankfully have been declining in the last couple of decade. We are one people and it is high time to grow up as a people and forge a future based on mutual trust, respect, love, morality and responsibility toward each other and toward our Creator.
We as a people have a choice. The choice is to remain in the gloomy past of hurts, disappointments and bitterness or to move into a bright and prosperous future founded on forgiveness, reconciliation and a united ethos. Whatever decision we take, we will be held accountable by generations unborn. As for my Rwandan brothers, here is a wise saying worthy of thought. “A merely fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished” by Friedrich von Schiller (German Poet, Dramatist, Philosopher and Historian. 1759-1805).