The historical event is straightforward and easily summarized. The plane carrying Hutu Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on April 6, 1994, on approach to the Kigali airport. Their assassination sparked the Rwandan genocide, which lasted for 100 days. Up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives. In the initial bloodshed a majority of the dead were Tutsi.
A French judge has since blamed current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, for orchestrating the rocket attack. Others still hold to the theory that it was members of Habyarimana's inner circle who ordered his assassination.
In 1994, Kagame was leader of the Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was training in Uganda. Kagame led his troops into Kigali in July, the Hutu government fell, and over 2 million Hutus fled into neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Among the refugees were members of the Interahamwe, and their presence in Congo has resulted in continuing bloodshed. This tension is exploited by multi-national interest in the wealth of Congo.
As Australian journalist Helen Thomas and I prepared for our visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we discussed the importance of revisiting the events of the Rwandan genocide. Before journeying to the genocide memorials depicted here, we huddled together on a bed in a small room at the Gorilla Hotel in Kigali to watch a bootleg copy of the PBS Frontline Series: "The Ghosts of Rwanda". Having seen the program, I wanted Helen to be prepared for what we were about to witness. She was shaken as the program unfolded. I fell asleep and later wondered what she must think about my apparent callousness.
The question we kept asking one another was: "What is the responsibility of the journalist? " The journalist's job is to convey information. We knew we had a duty to report the "who," "what," "where," "when," and "why," but also realized that we must become a voice for the voiceless. What we would bear witness to in Rwanda happened fifteen years ago, but its impact was seemingly endless.
The best we could do would be to describe the horror without assigning blame, responsibility, or guilt. In the case of the Rwandan genocide and the ongoing of war in Congo, we could remind our readers and listeners that the relentless bloodshed in Congo is the immediate legacy of the genocidal history of the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
As storytellers first and foremost, Helen and I knew that we must leave analysis to the scholars, and assignment of punishment to the international courts and tribunals.
The public would have added responsibility to not believe every word that we write. Morality cannot and must not be spoon-fed.
The images in this report are atrocious and in some cases obscene. But, they speak the truth of what happened during 100 days in 1994, and how the repercussions of those events of fifteen years ago have led to the deaths of six million or more in Congo.
Incredibly, just as happened in the years following the Holocaust, there are some who say that genocide never took place. Most Americans cannot visit the memorials depicted in this article. It is reason enough to show the photos.
In the United States, if a rapist or child molester is released from prison, the perpetrator is hounded from civil society, driven from neighborhoods and ostracized forever. Every American has access to databases that indicate the residence of every known child abuser and criminal.
Imagine having the world community tell you that you must live side by side with individuals who murdered millions, including your loved ones. To say "we are all Rwandans now," is a public relations attempt to mask the undercurrent of rage and despair that still permeates Rwandan society. This is a lie and the world press continues to paint Rwanda as a miraculous post-genocidal society that has somehow risen from the ashes of recent atrocities. Our collective guilt has given Rwanda a free pass.
Ask the Hutus in Ruhengeri how they feel about millions in foreign aid going first to Tutsi President Paul Kagame's vision for his modern city of Kigali. Ask the poor who are being moved from the outskirts of Kigali to an already overburdened countryside so that modern high rises and apartment buildings can replace their wooden shacks. How they will feed their families?
Ask the Tutsi survivors of 1994 if they still feel hunted and afraid if they live close to the Congolese border, or even in the Hutu community of Ruhengeri.
Ask the Hutu survivors in Rwanda and Congo about the retaliations forced upon them and their families by Kagame's victorious RPF in 1994 and 1996.
Ask the Congolese Tutsi, known locally as Banyamulenge Tutsi, and other villagers of Kivu province how they feel about the FDLR remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe--acting in collusion with Mai Mai, and with tacit approval and support of the Kabila government-- murdering raping, burning, and pillaging.
The same accusations have been made against Tutsi Bosco Ntaganda by an international war crimes tribunal. Yet, Rwanda, the United States, the United Nations and the Kabila government of Congo have put him in charge of troops in eastern Congo.
Any political discussion of these worries is done quietly and never in public in Rwanda. The feeling is that the government has eyes and ears everywhere and that "nothing happens without Kigali knowing about it." The same is true in Congo. Discussions in public are whispered, cell phones are turned off, and even hotel rooms feel unsafe.
The fingers of blame point in all directions.
When the world lost Alison Des Forges, senior advisor to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, who tragically died in the recent crash of Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on February 12, 2009, a moral compass was also lost. Her book "Leave None to Tell the Story" was a meticulous documentation of the genocide, and she didn't hesitate to criticize the government of President Paul Kagame when it violated Rwandans' rights. As a result, des Forges was banned from Rwanda.
Read Canadian UNAMIR commander Romeo Dallaire's book Shake Hands With the Devil and learn how the United States and the United Nations betrayed Rwanda.
Look at the photographs here and ask yourself who is really to blame. Please follow the suggested links in the text-- documents that will only lead to more questions if you are vigilant and seek the elusive truth.
Also take the time to listen to Helen Thomas's report from the ABC Australian network. It is an excellent example of what Congo endures post genocide.
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