Fifteen years ago yesterday the plane carrying Presidents
Habyarimana and Ntaryamira of Rwanda and Burundi was
shot down as it approached Kigali airport. Prime Minister
Uwilingiyimana, next in line for presidency of Rwanda,
was killed along with ten Belgium peacekeepers. I believe
these last two actions were taken 15 years ago today.
The west decided to withdraw forces, paving the way for
the genocide. Over the next 90 days between 500,000 and
1,000,000 people were murdered. That's between 5% and 10%
of the country.
Today is a National Holiday in Rwanda. In fact the entire
week is a Week of Mourning. There will be ceremonies
throughout the country. I hope to go to one at the main
football stadium today, though I'm not sure what will be
open, especially in terms of public transport.
I remember reading about violence in Rwanda back in '94,
but remember thinking of it as `normal African internal
struggles'. I don't know if it was my apathy or if the media
dropped the ball or both.
Recently while waiting in a line on campus a student asked
me what I thought of Rwanda. He thought the west only knew
Rwanda through the genocide and asked whether my views had
changed after living here. I told him it was hard for me to
give an assessment because I had no base point. People here
seldom talk about it, and I'm certainly reluctant to bring
it up. My total conversations with people here about it might
come to 20 minutes after 3 months here. So I don't know
`what part' or Rwanda and Rwandans the genocide comprises.
Recently I was meeting some people and there was a person
with them. It is customary here to shake hand with whomever
you meet, even if they are meeting one of the five people
you are with. We shook hands, but I don't think we spoke.
This person was Damas Gisimba, one of the Heroes of the
Genocide. He hid 400 people at the Gisimba orphanage in
the Nyamirambo neighborhood of Kigali, just a few kilometers
Google or youtube Gismba and heroes of the genocide. Whether
it be text or video be prepared for some uplifting but disturbing