Taking Lessons From Rwanda [opinion]

“The passage of time should not obscure the fact.”

This quote is from a speech delivered by Rwandan President Paul Kagame during a ceremony held at Kigali Stadium commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. From April to July 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the East-Central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s president Cyprien N. Taryamira was shot down over Kigali, leaving no survivors. (It has never been conclusively determined who the culprits were. Some blame Hutu extremists, while others blame leaders of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).) Within an hour after the plane crash, the Presidential Guard together with members of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and Hutu militia groups, known as the Interahamwe, “those who attack together,” and Impuzamugambi, “those who have the same goal,” began the genocide in the capital Kigali, which spread throughout the country with staggering speed and brutality. Ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu-led government to take up arms against their neighbors. By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive in early July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead and many more were displaced from their homes. The RPF victory created two million more refugees who fled (mainly Hutus) Rwanda, exacerbating what had already become a full-blown humanitarian crisis. The 100 days of slaughter, pain and memories is still felt even after 20 years. The atrocities and the crimes committed have not only left a scar on Rwanda but also on the whole continent.

Despite the fact that the genocide was directly committed by a certain group or individuals, there are many who have to take the blame. The inaction by the international community prompted the death of innocent women and children. The outside world sat idle while blood was shed on the streets of Kigali.

Both regional and international bodies have failed to stop and prevent the atrocities from happening. The western powers including the United States, who have had a large military presence on African soil, did nothing.

The point that I would like make is that the world should be ready to prevent similar horrors in the future. The world has witnessed the worst form of violence in Rwanda and the ongoing situation in Africa, particularly in Central African Republic (CAR,) is heading to another horrific genocide. The fight, which started after the removal of Franccedilois Bozizeacute by a coup and his replacement with rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Seleka (Muslim militia) alliance in the country, has very quickly turned into pandemonium. Hardened fighters who are mainly foreign mercenaries from Chad and the Sudan are massacring the population indiscriminately. The new Djotodia administration could not stop what it said was rape, pillage and killings on a massive scale as well as the formation of predominantly Christian militias, known as anti-balaka (“anti – machete”) in the local Sonogo language, that have carried out their own atrocities against the country’s Muslim population. A wide range of killings and counter killings by armed militias has left the country in a humanitarian crisis.

The new elected interim president Catherine Samba-Panza has called on the international community to intervene and act decisively to stop the bloodshed. However, the President’s call seems to have been given the cold shoulder by the international community. Since the crisis began the African Union has made some efforts by deploying peacekeeping forces with limited resources. However, still, international bodies like the UN and western powers did little and are replicating what they did in the Rwandan genocide.

So here is the question. Has the world taken lessons from the Rwandan genocide? The answer is pretty blurred. But the government, backed by the 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union peacekeepers – has been unable to halt attacks by anti-balaka militias on Muslims, thousands of whom have fled to neighboring countries or sought shelter in camps. Despite all efforts, the huge challenge ahead would be the lack of resources and poor conflict management capabilities.

The reluctance by the UN and western powers on CAR is paving the way for another round of genocide in the continent and it still remains unknown as to how many people should die for them to intervene?

At this current political scene, western powers focused on Ukraine’s crisis and the Iran nuclear talks. As a result it seems that they do not have much time to think about CAR no matter how many people suffer. But, the crisis has gone far beyond a political game. Rather it has become a moral duty and a 21st century civilization test.

Despite the fact that the situation is deteriorating, the decisive action by the powerful nations is looming. The only and maybe viable alternative to intervene ought to be Africans themselves. Albeit the mission is no more complex and difficult to deal with, Africans must stand side-by-side to solve their problems. Similar to what the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is doing in Somalia, neighboring countries have to take the lead in bringing peace in CAR before it is too late.

The AU and other regional bodies must work hard to prevent such kinds of problems. Important factors like good governance, poverty and conflict management need special attention. The continental organization has to work assiduously in enhancing its capability both diplomatically and militarily. The Rwandan 1994 catastrophe is enough to take lessons from and prevent future similar tragedies.

Pan-Africanism can only be realized when Africans solve their own problems by themselves. Other than exacerbating problems by meddling in internal matters, outside interventions no longer bring peace. Even though the passages of time never obscure the fact, we must act before time passes. Ed.’s Note: Tewodros Yilma is a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. He has is LLM Student in International Economic Law at the University of South Africa. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at

Source : The Reporter

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