Looking back at the Rwanda genocide some 20 years later
Genocide in Rwanda (1994): From April until mid-July, between 500,000 and a million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsis, were killed in Rwanda. It was killing on a devastating scale, scope, and speed. Photograph: (Others)
It's been more than 20 years and memories are a little hazy but I still recall flying into Kigali Airport on a special UN-chartered flight that was taking Indian Army peacekeepers to the Central African Republic of Rwanda. This was some months after the genocide. I, along with my cameraman, was on assignment for NDTV's The World This Week programme.
Over one week, we travelled the length and breadth of Rwanda usually by helicopter, visiting some of those sites notorious for the massacre of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutus.
images flash before me of a woman raped and her skull broken...a baby... the skeletons of so many children
Memories of our visit to the Ntarama Church, a couple of hours flying time from the capital Kigali, still remain. As we walked through the grounds, we saw skeletons lying all around, some with scraps of clothing still on them. Till date, images flash before me of a woman raped and her skull broken...a baby... the skeletons of so many children.
The Rwandan army officer accompanying us regretted the display but as he explained, "It makes me sick but we cannot afford to forget what happened".
It was worse inside the church: Broken pews, shattered skulls, bodies of men women and children on the floor. None was spared and if you were a Hutu supporting the Tutsis, there was no escaping the Hutu Interahamwe militia.
I met an Indian doing business in Rwanda, operating from what used to be a plush Kigali suburb. He was married to a Tutsi woman. As the madness around him exploded, the businessman had hidden his wife in a specially built loft in his home. It didn't help. The Hutu mobs descended on his home, found his wife and took her away but spared him. He never saw her again.
A Keralite who served as a manager in a small factory, manufacturing soaps and detergents, brought a different view about the Hutus. Despite the mass killings, he described the Hutus as "a better, more sincere people than Tutsis". Tutsis, he claimed, had a superiority complex because they were generally better educated, well-represented in government and looked down on Hutus who formed the working class.
Since those days Rwanda has had over two decades of peace under General Paul Kagame, who led a predominantly Tutsi guerrilla army to victory and ended the slaughter. Kagame appears to have avoided the kind of mass reprisals against the Hutus and some effort has gone into reconciliation programmes. However, whether these have actually overcome old suspicions and tribal animosities is not clear.
Kagame may have succumbed to another weakness: the inability of so many African leaders to accept that power and position are not forever. Has Kagame built up the second rung of leadership within his party; is that leadership inclusive; how democratic is he in his functioning? The answers to these questions could provide clues Rwanda's political future and long term stability.