Last night I watched the Rwanda genocide movie, Shooting Dogs. Having just returned, I obviously found this film provocative as I searched for familiar images in scenes - as if I needed proof I had actually been there.
Throughout the film I found myself increasingly drawn to the emotional struggles of the American main character. Prior to departing for Rwanda, I watched Hotel Rwanda and 'tsked' at the westerners who allowed themselves to be whisked away from harm by UN Peacekeepers. My heart cringed as I saw them board the buses, snapping the last -if not only existing photo- of those about to be slaughtered by machete. Foreigners collecting souvenirs for their scrapbook to show their friends as they sit comfortably in their living rooms, boasting of their time in Rwanda. I clearly remember speaking to my mom on the phone and saying that I would not have left - that just because I was born into privilege - I would not turn my back on my Rwandese friends and colleagues.
Shooting Dogs made me revisit my convictions. Watching Joe sheepishly board the UN cargo truck - avoiding the looks of his students awaiting their fate to the Interhamwe who stood outside the fence brandishing their machetes. I found myself relating to the westerners who fled despite their full understanding as to what would happen to their colleagues, parishioners, students, or friends within minutes of their departure. My self-righteous answer to the question, would you leave - now wavers….and that is an incredibly difficult admission to make.
Since returning I have also given much consideration to, 'how did this happen?'. A question that has been asked by the world over, but still one I wrestle with. Many blame Belgium for the genocide. However, I cannot myself believe the genocide came to exist because of this one intervention.
Main stream discourse on the Rwanda genocide often neglects to acknowledge that prior to colonization, Rwandese had their own well developed hierarchical classification system. Whether you were Hutu or Tutsi was dependent on the number of cows you owned. There are different historical versions of what it means to be Hutu or Tutsi, but there seems to be some agreement that at one point the genetic origin of each tribe was different. Historians believe that Hutu's and Tutsi intermarried prior to colonization and then initiated the classification system based on economic status. I am not dismissing the role the Belgians played in fueling the genocide, but it should be more widely discussed that this classification system existed prior to colonization. The Belgians did fuel the genocide by encouraging the Hutus to fight for power on the eve of independence, initiating many decades of tribal murders in Rwanda.
Perhaps this genocide also stemmed from more than an economic classification system that the Belgians were said to have exploited. Jared Diamond in his book, Collapse, applies the Malthusian theory of development to provide an alternative explanation of the genocide. His argument is based on the theory that population increases exponentially while food production only increases arithmetically. Rwanda is a country with a very high population density. Driving through Rwanda, you can see that very little land is left unused. Diamond argues the genocide resulted from decades of mounting tension between an increasing population and decrease in available land. He sites areas in Rwanda that had the highest population density, smallest Tutsi population, but one of the highest death rates of both Hutu AND Tutsi. Hutus were killed, based on the pretense of their support for the Tutsi, by fellow Hutu most often in areas where land and food were scarce.
It is difficult to truly pinpoint what fuelled the genocide. I believe there were many factors, which when combined with economic and resource disparities, lead people to commit terrible acts fueled by propaganda and promise of riches. I am not sure that we will ever know, and by not knowing we will not be able to efficiently prevent future attempts of genocide.
As a last note - Paris Hilton is going to Rwanda to increase the world's awareness of the region....has anyone told her she is 14 years too late? Neighbouring Congo continues to have internal violence (by both military and civilian members of the population) which results in rape, mutilation, and death on mass levels. Why are we and the media not interested in the DRC? Does it take 800,000 people to loose their lives in 100 days to make the news?