The Struggle for Rwanda*

Dr. James Haney

"You cannot talk about Rwanda," says Dr. Leonard Madu, "without talking about Burundi."
Dr. Madu is an international lawyer and editor of a human rights journal published in Tennessee.  He is also chairman of Clergy and Laity Concerned.
The history of the two countries are intimately related.  In Rwanda, the Bahutu (Hutu) are Bantu speaking agriculturists.  They are culturally similar to other Bantu speaking populations in the adjoining state of Burundi.  The tall Batutsi (Watutsi:Tutsi) are cattle herders, warriors and rulers of Ethiopian origin.  They entered the country some four centuries ago and established control over the local Bativa and Bahutu groups.
The Bahutus and Watusis have played a significant role in the history of Rwanda and Burundi.  In both countries the Bahutus are in the majority.  The ratio of Bahutus to Watusis is about 85 to 15, says Madu.  While they represent two different ethnic groups, they speak the same language.
They were former German colonies that came to Belgium in 1918 after the defeat of Germany in World War 1. In 1962 they became independent.
"Like all colonial masters," says Madu, "the Belgians played the African game of divide and conquer."  The Belgians favored the Watutsi, or majority group, using them as a counter balance against the much larger Bahutu populations.
In 1959, before independence, the Bahutus rebelled in Rwanda.  They k;killed a large number of Watutsis and took power by force.  In Burundi, the Belgians handed over their power to the Watutsis, who stayed in power after independence.
Since independence there has been constant conflict between the two countries.  In 1972, more-than half a million Bahutus were slaughtered in Burundi by the Watutsis.
"When the Hutus rose in rebellion, the president of Burundi sent his army into the field to kill as many Hutus as possible," says Madu.  In fact, "the cream of the Hutu intellectual elite was eliminated.  This caused more than a half million Hutu residents to flee in to Tanzania."
In Rwanda the Bahutus kept power until the 1990 Watutsi rebellion.  "What has been happening in both countries," notes Madu, "is that in 1966 the ruler of Burundi was overthrown by his son when he was out of the country.  The son made himself king.  He appointed a prime minister, who in turn overthrew him when the son was out of the country.  The prime minister declared himself president and invited the ruler he had overthrown back into the country.  He guaranteed his personal safety.  When the son-king returned, he was killed.  This sent the Watutsis on a rampage, slaughtering Hutus as usual," says Madu.
Events came to a head in June, 1993, when the Bahutus gained control of the government in Burundi for the first time.  This was done through a free and fair election sponsored by the United Nations.  In October, 1993, the president was overthrown. "He was in his palace," related Madu, "when the Tutsi army attacked.  They captured him and and took him to the barracks.  They removed his watch, emptied his pockets, and stabbed him to death.
Before he was killed, he is reported to have warned his killers, "Look, you had better be careful about what you are about to do.  This is very, very dangerous."
This happened on a Wednesday, added Madu.  "Early Thursday morning the Hutus went on a rampage killing  Tutsis all over."
This was the first time in Burundian history that the Watutsis  had been on the receiving end.  More than 100,000 were killed.   One of the Bahutu elite succeed to the presidency.
"When this coup was going on, thousands of Hutus fled to Rwanda, where they were in the majority.  The more Hutus entered Rwanda, the more tension started to build in the Rwanda government," says Madu.
In 1990, a group of Watutsis invaded Rwanda from Uganda, a neighboring country.
"The funny thing about this," says Madu, "is that this particular group of Tutsis were members of the Ugandian Army.  The president of Uganda, who himself  had overthrown the military government in Uganda, had used these Tutsis as part of his army." He promised them that once he became president of Uganda, he would help then regain power in Rwanda.
The first commander of the Watutsi army was also a commander of the Ugandian Army, says Madu.  The current commander of the Watutsi rebel army in Rwanda was also Chief of the Ugandian Military Intelligence.  Uganda, in reality, is the chief supplier of arms to the Watutsi army.
"What an irony," remarks Madu, "to destabilize Rwanda when Uganda itself is just recovering."
In 1990, the Watutsi rebels, with the aid of the Ugandian military, invaded Rwanda.  In 1993, the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity arranged a cease-fire.  On his return from Tanzanie, where peace talks were held, the president of Rwanda's plane was shot down by rebels.  The Belgians claimed that the plane was shot down by the Bahutu presidential guards who did not want Watutsis in the new government.
"The Belgians supported the Tutsi to begin with," adds Madu.
At any rate, this was the pretext for hardliners in the Bahutu government in Rwanda to go on the attack against the Watutsi minority.  More than 200,000 people were slaughtered.
These atrocities being committed in Africa, Europe and Asia have raised little protest from the world community, says Madu.
"I think the international community should intervene in such places as Burundi and Rwanda where hundreds of thousands of persons are being slaughtered for political and social reasons.  This should be done in all of the troubled spots throughout the globe."
The problem, continues Madu, is that events in Africa hit the headlines for a week or two and then they disappear.
"Thousands are being killed.  If these events were happening in Europe, the West Bank or Gaza, they would be on television all of the time.  Events in Africa are used to sell television time and once you don't hear about it,  they go."
In fact, "The same atrocities being committed in Rwanda are happening in Sudan, even more so. Thousands are being slaughtered in Sudan daily, more than in Bosnia, where 200,000 have been slaughtered in the last two years.  In Rwanda, 200,000 were killed in three weeks.  In Angolia, thousands are being slaughtered every day."
Madu believes that the end of the Cold War caused Africa to be politically marginalized.
"It is no longer strategically important between the East and West.
"Too, there is the racial aspect to the punishment of those who would participate in the killings and genocide," says Madu.
"Recently," continues Madu, "the Secretary General of the United Nations noted that we need to find those Hutu leaders who are responsible for this genocide and try them for crimes against humanity."
Madu says that he is not opposed to that.  But, he is concerned for certain reasons.
First, why use Africa as an example of a place to try people for crimes.against humanity?
"I think the policy should be even handed.  For example, there is a place called Estama where almost half of the population has been slaughtered by the Indonesian army.  These people should also be found and tried for crimes against humanity.
In Syria, the government led a defensive movement against a town where over 100,000 people were killed in a few days in 1980 and 1982.  The atrocities in Bosnia have been talked about, but the U.N. has done nothing about it, says Madu.
Second, the charge of crime against humanity should be applied world wide, not using Rwanda as an example.
"If Hutu leaders responsible for the Rwanda atrocities are to be brought to book, those Tutsi in Burundi who are responsible for more than half a million Hutu deaths in 1972 should also be brought to trail.  There are other places.  Let's have a world trial of crimes against humanity," concludes Madu.
Dr. James Haney, Writer
*As Seen in the "Taking Time to Comment" Column of the Metropolitan Times,
 Nashville, Tennessee
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