Just about everyone knows that Rwanda suffered a horrible genocide in 1994. This is what brought Dassault Systemes to Rwanda, 13 years ago, in 2006 – to help rebuild Rwanda and uplift the people. When we went to Rwanda in 2019, it marked the 25 year anniversary of the genocide, and we saw “kwibuka25” signs everywhere we went, which means “remember25.” As the famous saying goes, ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ And H.E. President Kagame is determined to make sure another genocide will never happen again.
There were formerly two main ethnic groups in Rwanda – the Tutsi and Hutu. The Tutsi were generally favored by the European colonizers, and as a result tended to be better educated. They were looked upon as elite, and the colonizers helped to propagate the myth that the Tutsi were the superior ethnicity, which of course created ill-will and division. The Tutsi and Hutu had been fighting for centuries though, long before the Europeans magnified their differences. Burundi is just to the south of Rwanda, and they too had civil wars. In 1993, the Tutsi killed approximately 100,000 Hutu in Burundi. Some believe the Rwanda genocide was partially in retaliation to the Burundi mass killing.
The Rwanda Patriotic Force (RPF) was a Tutsi-led militia that was founded in Uganda by General Fred Rwigyema and was later led by General Paul Kagame. This was the rebel force that acted against the Rwandan government before and during the genocide. H.E. Paul Kagame would go on to become the president of Rwanda six years later, and is still president today.
A brave Canadian Lieutenant-General, Romeo Dallaire, who at the time was Major-General in charge of UNAMIR, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, was on a peace-keeping mission in Kigali, Rwanda. Eight months before the genocide, the UN had helped negotiate peace accords, called the Arusha Accords, between the predominantly Hutu Rwanda government and the predominantly Tutsi RPF, which would give some Tutsi positions of power within the Hutu-dominated government. The UNAMIR was there to supervise the implementation of these peace accords. Romeo Dallaire’s journey was documented in the book, “Shake Hands with the Devil.”
Extremist Hutu were outraged by this, and on the evening of April 6, 1994, both the President of Rwanda and the President of Burundi died when their plane was shot down as it was coming into Kigali airspace. The announcement was that the Tutsi had shot the plane down, which further infuriated the Hutu. Some believe it was the Hutu government trying to start the genocide, and that they blamed it on Tutsi. Others think it was the RPF, but that has been vehemently denied. To this day, it’s not clear who was behind the plane’s downing, which signaled the start of the 100 day genocide against the Tutsi.
I visited several memorials while in Rwanda. They all affected me, but the one that has haunted me the most was the Nyamata Memorial. It was formerly a church, and thousands of people locked themselves inside the brick walls and steel doors, thinking they were safe, but the militia used grenades to blow open the front door and shot through holes in the brick walls. There were no survivors.
Without any assistance from the UN or any other countries, the RPF, led by General Paul Kagame, stopped the genocide. He became Vice President and Minister of Defence from 1994-2000, and was voted President in 2000, and has been President ever since. The RPF became the political party of H.E. President Paul Kagame, and a new name was given to the army – the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), and today it is called the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF).
The Rwanda constitution was amended, allowing H.E. Paul Kagame to be President until 2034 if he chooses to continue to run the country until then. He’s already been President 19 years, and has received more than 90 percent of the vote in each election, and will likely carry on for another 15 years. A law was passed in Rwanda, making it illegal to identify as Tutsi or Hutu – everyone in Rwanda today is simply “Rwandan.”