The Case of Rwanda: Lessons for Ethiopia

By: Dawit Woldegiorgis. This is article is meant for Ethiopians to remind them to learn lessons from the Rwandan genocide. Some might think that such kind of scenario will never happen in Ethiopia. But just think about it: who thought that a country called Somalia with one language, one ethnic group and one religion would so rapidly fall apart and be a failed state for two decades? Who would have thought that the former Yugoslavia would disintegrate and result in the kind of genocide and ethnic cleaning we have seen in the heart of Europe, sending many leaders to the international criminal court? Who would have thought that South Sudan, which had its independence in 2011, after decades of war, would descend to a civil war that is causing the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese? Who would have thought that Muammar Gadhafi would be overthrown in such a swift and brutal way and the country plunging into civil war and becoming the breeding ground of terrorists like ISIS, an evil that slaughtered many innocent young Ethiopian migrants?  And the list can go on.

Let me tell you a first hand story about the genocide in Rwanda just to remind you, though I know that you have read and heard about it and you may have watched the movie Hotel Rwanda.  In 1994, in the month of August I received a call from Ellen Sirleaf Johnson (current president of Liberia) who was then the UNDP Africa Bureau Chief. I was asked if I would be willing to head a UN emergency coordinating team to Rwanda. I accepted the offer.

That was just a few weeks after the genocide, the greatest mass murder since the holocaust, of close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus ended and the Rwandan Patriotic Front had just entered victoriously to Kigali. I had never been to Rwanda before. Flying over Rwanda is an incredible experience.  The scenery does not seem real. It is a beautiful country, a country of mountains as it is called in French (mille collines) and looks as if a green carpet has been plastered over the thousands of mountains with beautiful well-structured villages.  But being inside Rwanda at that time would give one a very eerie experience that one would never forget.

I had come to a country where in the last 100 days (April 6 to July 16, 1994) an estimated 800,000 to I, 000,000 Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were slaughtered; between 250,000 to 400,000 women raped (67% of these were later infected with HIV); etc. The statistics on the number of survivors, orphans, disabled people, widows etc. are staggering.   There are two major ‘ethnic’ groups in Rwanda Hutus composing of 84% and Tutsis 15% and  the rest Twas, the pygmy population who comprise around 1%.

Though the two groups are one culturally and linguistically united people, they had a very brutal past. The genocide was a culmination of accumulated hatred by the majority Hutus towards the minority Tutsis; hatred and mistrust that had its roots in the Belgian colonial era.  In 1860, a certain British officer by the name of John Hanning Speke:

 “declared that all culture and civilization had been introduced by the taller sharper featured people who he considered Caucasians from the Horn of Africa, Ethiopians” and I may add perhaps the Oromos in particular. He considered Ethiopians to be of “Caucasian origin, descendent   from the biblical King David and therefore superior race to the Negros.” Of course this is not substantiated neither by history nor by science and therefore considered either oral history or just a legend. (I however don’t wish to make this subject of discussion since the intention of this article is to look into the genocide and the lessons that can be learnt). Such a contorted categorization of Africans was a convenient way for Europeans to divide and rule, in this case, by creating the illusion that Tutsi blood was more like them than was the Hutus. We see the same pattern in South Africa apartheid system where the whites were classified as first class citizens and the coloreds (half casts) who were to be the closest to the whites and therefore treated better as second class and the Indians who, though they are black, have sharper features third class and the   black Africans came last in the ladder of categorization of South Africans and rights and privileges distributed in that order.

In Rwanda this categorization resulted in the complete marginalization of the majority during the colonial period.  By the end of the Belgian presence in Rwanda in 1959, “forty three chiefs out of forty five were Tutsis as well as 549 sub-chiefs out of 559” in a country where peoples’ lives and land holding system were controlled by chiefs.  The result was a political and economic monopoly by the minority ethnic group. The college enrollments for example was:

By: Dawit Woldegiorgis.

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