My friends, based on my past writings, I am sure that you know me to some extent. By now, you all realize my particular viewpoints about life (values, beliefs, religion, etc.). I find that my view of the world is like a puzzle that, but that it is never finished. I am always learning and with new information comes a new perspective of the world. Right now though, I want to take a moment to mention my feelings about my recent experience in Rwanda. It is something that has created a real impact on my soul and has affected me deeply.
Though I had never been to Rwanda before, never touched my feet on the soil of that land, as soon as I entered that airspace my body felt the difference almost immediately. My whole demeanor shifted as I flew over this sacred land. My dear followers, I could not stop shivering – the power of the spirits surrounded me in the airplane that day.
I could feel the presence of those souls that had lost their lives in the horrible conflict here. I could feel the sadness, the cries, the grief and suffering. I could sense the many tears from the precious innocent lives that were lost. Here, in this amazingly beautiful country of grassland and rolling hills, my physical body deeply felt the atrocity of one of the worst genocides in human history. In 1994, more than a million cherished lives were taken away by one of the most inhumane and cowardly acts that one culture can inflict upon another.
My great friends, this is not television anymore. You are not reading about this in a newspaper or learning about it from a movie, I am here to tell you about my real experience here in Rwanda. I promise you that my entire body and soul were overtaken by the spirit of all of those victimized souls lost as soon as I entered into Rwandan airspace with our tiny plane.
As soon as I crossed the mountains and entered into Rwanda, the tears started rolling down my face – a few at first and then uncontrollably, as I observed every yard of the space below. My mind was going a thousand of miles a minute as I was trying to comprehend what my body was experiencing. That overwhelming presence of spirits moved me tremendously as I tried to come to terms with the magnitude of energy that was sent to me by those souls.
I could feel the children crying, the tears of the elderly. I started to see the people being butchered by blood-thirsty cowards trying to eliminate an entire race. What I was experiencing was more than just thoughts and more than just a physical feeling. Like I said, my entire being and the energy in the airplane were taken over by these poor souls. For a brief moment in time, they helped me to feel some of their pain as I entered into their sacred ground.
**Please see Laurie’s description at the end of my journal entry for a broader history and scope of the entire crisis.
I was grateful that this was a short flight and that I was able to land soon. The sensations that I was experiencing were now driving a need to actually set foot on this sacred place. As I exited my plane after touching ground, the shivering continued as I tried to carry on with my normal activities (securing the plane, clearing customs, etc.). I found it difficult to concentrate on those things when my body was still experience the magnitude of the situation.
To my surprise, Rwanda seems to have turned things around quite a bit. Before coming here, I would have thought that this country was still at its worst, however, that is not the case anymore. I start to find great people and can already see that Kigali is being re-constructed at a fast pace. The country seems to be flourishing like a blooming flower in springtime. There are new houses all around, beautiful roads, a nice airport and most importantly, warm, friendly people that greet me everywhere. It comforted me to know that the country is now regenerating itslef.
This changed my outlook for the next few days, as my mind and body had already been prepared for the worst. Though I have to mention that no matter what happened during my stay, I could not shake the presence of all of those souls that first surrounded me in the plane. At least I was comforted by the fact that the energy that I felt meant that those souls had moved on to a better place.
I am constantly amazed by the strength of human beings. My dear friends, I don’t know how some people manage to do it sometimes. Over and over I have seen in my life that out of some of the worst circumstances, most survivors are able to rise above calamity and evolve in life and eventually find some sort of peace. I can see that the great people of Rwanda are a strong people. Otherwise, I would have seen disaster upon arrival. But based on what I have seen here so far, this nation has a vision for its future, is making drastic changes for the better and is not dwelling on their past misery. Instead, all I can is a society that is turning its life around and moving, building a future and learning from a very hard and brutal past. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people here.
You all know by now that I tend to value the stories that I hear from local people. I tend to believe much more of what the citizens of a country tell me than what the dysfunctional governments of the world report. Over 90% of the people that I speak with in most countries report that their government is destroying their lives, their countries, economy, futures, progress in life, etc. Most report that they notice politicians becoming power-hungry, dishonest, liers, thieves, etc. – the list could go on. Folks, some of you that are reading this may not agree with my assessment, but I can’t be dishonest my experiences. This has been a hard lesson to learn for me, but this is what I hear from local citizens over and over again.
I have been deeply touched by the stories that I have heard here in Rwanda. I have witnessed with my own eyes, the depths of their sorrow. I have learned from many of them so far that it is impossible to meet someone in this country that has not been affected by the genocide either directly or indirectly. To be here and learn about the magnitude of suffering that these wonderful people have endured has opened my eyes for a lifetime and I have learned things here that you absolutely cannot learn simply through reading a book or watching a movie.
Being present, feeling the air around you, watching people’s eyes change as they tell you their own horrific story… it really makes you wonder sometimes about those evil people that still walk among us. We share the planet with these same people who have manage to educate the entire world on just how much damage can be done by cowards who only want material things. It is horrifying to me that small groups of people are actually able to destabilize our entire planet and commit horrible, inhumane acts because of their own greed and selfishness. They are driven by their need for more power and control.
I just cannot understand, my friends, how one evil person or group can be so calculating and confident in their violent and horrendous actions. It is beyond me how more than one million people could be put to death, shot, butchered, maimed in a period of less than three months times – all while the world just sat by and watched.
So many lives were destroyed; every person in this nation was forced to be terrified. No one seemed to know who was next. Not only were people shot and killed, but those that survived often had to flee to other countries for safety. Neighbors, friends and family members were forced to kill each other. But no one could determine exactly who the enemies were. Please take time to look at Laurie’s description below to learn more about the horrible history that these beautiful people have endured. This frightening part of history will affect our entire planet on some level for years and centuries to come.
I am sure that we all have our own perceptions of who is the guilty party in circumstances like this, but to me, anyone or anything that has contributed to this genocide is equally to blame for this atrocity. Planting a bad see or allowing a bad seed to grow are equivalent in in my mind. It is unfortunate that some of our European neighbors (again, see below for Rwanda’s history) were party to the manufacturing of this genocide. Whether it was directly or indirectly allowing the persistance of conditions that created this situation or allowing a madman to rule politically, there is no excuse.
Further, I know that many countries often claim ignorance to such situations. My friends, please know that based upon my experiences and travels, bureacracies as large as governmental entities know things. They must. They maintain their finger on the pulse of all major events around the world. Unfortunately, not only do some of them know about these situations, but some perpetuate them or encourage them to get worse in order to benefit from them. There are many ‘diplomatic’ reasons for such games.
Again and again, and at the bottom of it all, it all boils down to the same goals: selfishness, greed, power, control, etc. It remains shocking to me that the leaders of our free world participate in and allow these things to happen, yet turn around when its over and claim that they have didn’t know anything about it and have done nothing wrong. Shame on our leaders for their dirty games.
I am ashamed for these leaders and for the citizens of these ‘first world’ countries who have no idea the kinds of games that their governments are playing. Make no mistake: this genocide should have never happened and would have never happened were it not for the direct or indirect consent of our world leaders. Whether closing their eyes and turning their heads, or directly benefitting from situations like this, they too are guilty. Whether they could imagine the consequences of their actions/inactions or not, they too must share some of the blame. Millions of innocent people have been victimized by this genocide, whether they were the actual perpetrators or the merely the target of these atrocities.
Again my dear friends, I tend to listen to the stories that I hear coming out of the mouths of local people rather than political figureheads who are trying to maintain their power and control. Please read our historical description below so that you can learn more about how our European counterparts were a part of this world-changing event in history.
Now that I’ve said my peace, let me share with you another part of my experience. To keep it short, there have been two times in my lifetime that I have visted sites of genocide: from the butchering done by Hitler in Germany and here in Rwanda. Coming to this country (especially after the emotional experience that had upon entering) and not visiting one of the genocide sites would be like walking up to a fountain for a drink of water and then not taking a drink.
It is not a very pleasant experience, but sometimes my friends, we must experience these things for ourselves in order to bare witness to these earth-shattering and devestating parts of our history. Though you may not want to visit these sights every day, and these acts of history may not affect your daily lives, visiting them is a way to show respect for and honor the dead who have lost their lives in such inhumane acts.
Visiting these places will open your eyes for a lifetime and leaves scars on your soul forever. Witnessing firsthand the bloodstains and the clothing, the photographs of the dead, the very tools were used to kill people… Seeing with your own eyes the human skulls the bones of children… my heart is getting weaker as I write this and remember my visit. All I can say is that I hope that the world will never let something this horrible happen again.
Yet my friends, history has shown us that this is allowed to happen over and over again. From our own Yugoslavia, to Armenia, to Germany, which I mentioned before… these events all happened while the world was turning a blind eye. In fact, these events are still going on today in places like Sudan, the Middle East, etc.
And for what? Our differences? Our skin color? Our language? Our ancestors? Or is it because we are taught to fear one another and all that is unknown. Could it possibly be that a few select people want more power and control? Or that some countries benefit from teaching us to despise each other? These are questions that we all must personally consider before we choose to take sides in these types of events.
Back to my mission work.
After arriving in the downtown area, I managed to find a clean, cozy hotel with great scenery and more friendly staff. I can already see that there are several tourists here. I guess that sometimes we humans tend to be attracted to extremes in life. Many people have a need to visit here to learn more about the genocide. The other reason that they visit, I’m told, is that this country is known for catering to those who want to take a safari and track rare mountain gorillas up in the Parc National des Volcanos.
After settling in I went for a short walk (which I like to do as soon as possible so that I can learn my surroundings), I can already notice that things here are still tense. The police and military are in every corner of the city: on every block, every street there is a strong presence of security. As it is getting dark, I see people catching the mini-buses to the outskirts of town as their workday ends and they travel home. I make sure to check my comfort level with the crowd. Over time, I have learned to be more cautious around large groups of people like this. So far in Africa though, I have been very lucky in that I have not had much trouble with things like pickpocketing or getting approached by a intimidating group of troublemakers.
During the times in my travels when I have felt uncomfortable, I have been able to divert hazardous situations by asserting my presence and making it known that I will not tolerate suspicious activity. Although many times, I must admit that I myself have tempted my own fate. I have taken buses to the shady part of town by mistake, or have placed myself in unsecure situations on accident, etc. At least in the cases where I have been taken advantage of, I have partially been to blame, as I trusted people who should not have been trusted.
After my short evening walk and talking to the local people, I have no idea how my mission work will be acknowledged here. All I can do since I am here is to try and get our message across in any way that it will be accepted. After a good nights sleep and a crappy, overpriced breakfast, I begin my attempt to get our cause covered by the media and acknowledged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I get off to a late start due to trying to chase down the taxi driver that had agreed to a reasonable price the night before. Because of that, I was running like crazy all day, trying to make it as productive as possible with such a late schedule. I want to thank all of the media people who were willing to cover our story. As many of you know, sometimes governments censor their media and that has been the case here in the past. As recent as fall 2010 (when elections were being held) two major newspapers were suspended for six months and were not allowed to cover the story. Remember also that some journalist choose to self-censor, rather than risk persecution from their government.
So thank you to the team at Umwezi newspaper. It was so nice that several of them participated in the interview – Jeremie Bimenyimana, Jean-Claude Afrika, Mr. Rene Anthere Rwanyange and Ms. Carine Kayitesi. Thank you to Mr. Pascal Niyonsaba and Viateur Bzimana, with the newspaper La Nouvelle Releve. Both of them were very professional, friendly and willing to help also.
Mr. Patrick Kambale was an excellent freelance journalist who was willing to share our story with many other newspaper corporations, even though he primarily works as a journalist for Gasabo newspaper. Thank you to Mr. Robert Bond with Iwacu Africa newspaper; to Mr. Asiimwe R. Bosco and Mr. James Munyaneza with the New Times; Mr. Muganwa Gonzaga with The Independent; and Mr. Kayumba Casimiry with the newspaper Rushyashya. Mr. Casimiry had great character and did a good interview to try and get decent coverage for our cause in his country.
Thank you to Mr. Gratien Hakorimana, an editor from TV-Rwanda. He was an excellent gentleman to work with and was very dedicated about getting our interview onto national television.
The folks at City Radio 88.3 FM were awesome. They offered me a live interview that lasted close to an hour and thirty minutes. We were able to cover a lot in that amount of time and Mr. Oswald Muteyeyezu and Mr. Ramesh Nkusi were great talk show hosts to work with. Both of them quickly became my friends. Thank you to their boss, Mr. Kelvin A. Katuramu who actually authorized and arranged our interview. My colleague Mr. Gonzaga, with Radio Flash 89.2FM was also excellent. He too invited me to do a live interview on his program, which I enjoyed very much due to his significant knowledge about the Balkans. Finally, thank you to all of the amazing listeners, the people of Rwanda, who called the interviews directly to chat and who sent a ton of SMS and Facebook comments.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, things were well organized and it was great to work with them during my scheduled appointment. Ms. Mary Baine, Permanent Secretary graciously met with me and I was able to hand deliver Vlora Citaku’s letter. I can tell that they take things very seriously, as I have seen in other countries like Botswana, etc. She brought along with her the Director of the European Division of the Ministry to hear our case and formalize our meeting.
Ms. Baine shared with me that she would present the information to her higher chain of command and that her government will be following up on the issue. I was comforted by her mention that Kosovo had not been forgotten and that her country was following our progress very closely. I feel very accomplished as far as getting our message out to this country. Let’s hope that this country will recognize our independence soon so that we can work towards stronger relations with this beautiful nation.
During my last day in Rwanda, I reflect upon the enormity of the history and struggles of this country’s past. I also make sure to remember the incredible progress that they have made to repair things and move towards a brighter future. Sometimes, I wish that I did not have to learn about all of these things in life, but I’m sure that there is a purpose for everything that we do.
I wish that I could say I progressed to the next country in a timely manner. However, Uganda’s civil aviation authority is being difficult in giving me an authorization to fly into their country. As always though, I am sure that I can try to work around this and get through this slight interruption in my agenda.
I want to especially Mr. Dennis J.E. Bryen and our friends at the TPSC maintenance shop in Kakira Uganda. Mr. Bryen was able to pull some strings for me and get me a permit from those civil aviation bureaucrats whose only aim seems to be to lives like mine miserable. One last thing that I do have to mention about Rwanda: I was forced to pay 6USD per liter for AVGAS, which is the highest that I’ve had to pay during my entire trip so far (so I am definitely looking forward to moving on to another country after paying all of those fees).
As I leave Rwanda and fly over more of the country, my eyes fill with tears again as I look down at this sacred ground.
**Based on further research found by Laurie (our English translator, fact finder, editor and transcriber of all of my handwritten journal entries), here is a brief history of the situation in Rwanda:
Rwanda was originally settled by three main groups: the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa populations. Historically, the Tutsi ruled through Kings prior to and after they were colonized by both Germany and Belgium. Everyone lived together fairly peacefully, though Tutsi’s were considered to be of higher class and some Hutu were forced laborers. Occasionally, wealthy Hutu’s would even be granted honorary status as a Tutsi.
After Belgium took over, the King was allowed to maintain control of the region. The Belgian authorities (believing the two parties to be of different descents) enacted a policy requiring tribal identification cards to be handed out. This policy officially separated the two groups as Belgium continued to further Tutsi progress by allowing them more access to wealth and education, thus creating a deeper divide between the two parties and the continuation and deepening of a social class or caste system.
In 1959, the Tutsi King died, which allowed for Hutu revolt and a situation labeled the Rwandan Revolution or The Wind of Destruction. During that time, Belgium gave up their support of Tutsi control (likely because they noticed Hutu forces gaining ground) and began supporting the Hutu party. A decade of ethnic violence began and government and Hutu forces killed an estimated 20,000-100,000 Tutsi’s. The Tutsi’s accused Belgians of being complicit in the Hutu-led violence and tensions on both sides rose from there. The tribal identification cards enacted by Belgian authorities were often used during this time to separate out which tribe was which. Again, Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were very similar culturally, linguistically, etc. and separations seemed to be based more on class than culture, as studies have shown that there is no major genetic differences in the within the two.
Officially, Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962 (which is when Rwanda and Burundi became two different countries). Remember that I mentioned in the Burundi description that ethnic violence happened there as well. From 1962 until 1993, an estimated 250,000 people died in Burundi as a result of ethnic conflict.
During this time, an estimated 200,000 Tutsi’s fled as refugees, mostly to Zaire and Uganda. Violence continued as exiled Tutsi’s attacked from outside of Rwandan borders and Hutu’s retaliated. Part of this was also caused by the fact that once Tutsi’s left the country, they were not allowed to return. The excuse was the Rwanda was becoming overpopulated. Note that Rwanda is a country with the approximate size of Haiti and there are currently an estimated 408 inhabitants per square kilometer.
After that period, there were a few brief years of less violence and more economic prosperity, even though there was still significant discrimination. The population began to increase leading to a competition for land. As a result, the minority Twa population were forced out of the forests and forced to rely on begging for survival.
In 1973, there was a military coup, claiming that the current government was too corrupt, ineffective and violent. Juvenal Habyarimana (Hutu) gained leadership after many top ranking government officials died. At the same time, the economy was getting worse due to lessening coffee prices (a main export) worldwide and increasing food shortages due to weather conditions. Additionally, the French President started calling for increasing democracy in Francophone Africa. As tensions increased, Habyarima was forced to work toward reconciliation between the two parties. The Tutsi refugees were gaining strength during this time and created the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Comprised of mostly 2nd generation Tutsi’s, the group had by this time been trained by the Ugandan army and had real world experience from fighting in the Ugandan Bush War.
On October 2, 1990, the RPF began invading northern Rwanda from Uganda, which was the beginning of the Rwandan Civil War. Two days later it is rumored that the government of Rwanda staged a fake attack on Kigali in order to frighten the population into supporting the war and encouraging them to support suspected RPF sympathizers. 10,000 people were immediately arrested, leading to many deaths. After ten days, locals were directed to begin killing opposition and burning down their homes in an effort to reduce the threat of RPF. Within 48 hours, 350 people were dead.
At the same time, RPF was reorganizing outside of the borders of Rwanda and began recruiting supporters worldwide. From 91 to 94 their troops grew from 1000 to 25,000. In 1991, they launched another surprise attack, leading to a heightened climate of fear in the country. Radio stations became key messengers of propaganda from both sides.
In 1992 a cease-fire was signed, though tensions still mounted. More Tutsi massacres were reported and RFP launched another major offensive in February 03. This caused a ‘panic in Paris’ and France began to get involved in effort to quell the uprising. By this time, nearly 1.5 million Hutu civilians had left there home and and began rallying around their President, believing propaganda that the true intent of the Tutsi’s was to restore the historic feudal system and thus re-enslave them. Habyarimana began implementing genocidal programs against Tutsi’s and even sympathizing Hutu’s.
Fighting continued until 4/6/94, when Habyarimana and the Burundi President were traveling in the same airplane that was shot down. This was the catalyst for the official Rwandan Genocide, killing an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people in a three month time period. The tribal identity cards again proved useful in weeding out which people to kill. Many of the victims of this genocide were innocent civilians on both sides of the war. In some cases, Hutu civilians were forced my military personnel to murder their Tutsi neighbors. Participants were often offered incentives such as valuable goods like money and food. Some were even told that they could appropriate the land of the Tutsi’s that they killed.
During this time 10 UN workers from Belgium became targets of the rage and were shot and killed. As a result, the UN pulled out most of its troops, lowering their numbers from 2500 to 250 until the genocide was over a few months later. They then sent 6800 troops back into the country to address the situation. Meanwhile, the rest of the world continued to turn a blind eye to the deadly situation.
By July of 1994, the RPF had regrouped and began gaining ground. The government forces began withdrawing from Kigali (reportedly due to running out of ammunition), taking with it the majority of the civilian population. RPF captured the capital and other parts of the country soon follow. Approximately two million Hutus fled across the border into refugee camps. One of the largest humanitarian relief efforts mounted, but thousands still died in those camps as a result of preventable diseases like cholera and dysentery.
Many of those that fled across the border were perpetrators of the ethnic violence attempting to flee from prosecution. Though a military tribunal was set up, it was hard to find the perpetrators once they fled to the Congo. No formal uniforms were every used and the perpetrators were loosely organized. The refugee camps soon start to become militarized and the Hutu continued attacking the Tutsi’s. On the other hand, the Tutsi’s (supplied and trained by the Congo) started a revolution in response and continued their attacks on Rwanda.
With the Tutsi’s being funded and supplied by the Congo and the Hutu having higher numbers and better supplies (funding, arms and supplies were sent from France), things continued to be difficult. Both parties continued fighting in Rwanda and the Congo, which led to the First Congo War. Due to regime change, Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The BBC reported that “the world’s largest peacekeeping force has been unable to end the fighting”.
Still fighting, the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were also largely responsible for the start of the Second Congo War (1998-2003), also called the Great War of Africa. This was the most deadly conflict that the world had seen since WWII. By 2008, more than 5.4 million people had died (many as a result of disease and starvation) and millions more were displaced.
During this time the government of Congo felt threatened by Tutsi forces and began using the Hutu’s to instigate violence. At the same time, Tutsi forces had gained control over the diamond center in the Congo and refugees in Uganda sent their own group (many of them refugees from the Rwandan crisis) to help fight as well. Eventually, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola became involved (supporting government forces) and Chad, Libya, and Sudan soon followed. Most of these countries became involved due to mutual defense treaties within the South African Development Community.
Things were out of control in the Congo and it soon became a multi-sided war. No longer was it just about the Hutu and the Tutsi populations. International businesses from first world nations began supporting government forces in exchange for business deals in the diamond industry.
Fighting spilled over into Uganda and factions were split, leading to a territorial fight over an area known as Ituri. This is important, because the two ethnicities fighting there began identifying themselves with the Hutu and/or Tutsi population. Borrowed identities and differences led to more than 50,000 additional people being killed in conflict.
In 1999 a six-sided cease-fire was signed. However, there was no disarmament to back it up, so fighting continued. In 2000, the UN was pulled in again as Ugandan and Rwandan forces were still causing conflict. A new government was put in place and the flag, anthem and constitution were changed. The government redrew local boundaries and the economy began growing little by little as a result of increased tourism. Many of the tourists came to visit the former atrocity, but many were also visited to track mountain gorillas.
In 2001, both countries agree to pull out of the DROC and a new President began to take over. Now, both countries and Zimbabwe were accused of exploiting Congolese resources, so sanctions were recommended against them. In 2002, the situation in Rwanda worsened again during the same time that they finally signed a peace deal with the Congo.
Rwanda agreed to pull out 20,000 soldiers, by rounding up ex-Rwandan soldiers and dismantling the Hutu militia. This was a difficult task, however, as those forces had never really been identified in the first place. There had never been any traditional uniform worn and no clearly organized group was responsible for the atrocities. Many of those that committed acts of violence had once been neighbors, coworkers and even friends with the Tutsi’s that they had killed.
As a result of this attempted roundup, ex-soldiers fled again, this time to Sudan, where they were welcomed with open arms. Most were welcomed into the group known as the ‘janjaweed’ (devils on horseback). Of course, we have all heard of the current crisis in Darfur, where Arab and non-Arab populations are fighting against each other.
The situation in Sudan has led to a division within that country (with Southern Sudan now being autonomous region). And, though Rwanda formed a new government in 2003 (and more elections in 2006), the country itself is still trying to recover from the enormous humanitarian crisis. On a positive note, during all of the many years of fighting, the government did discontinue the use of tribal classifications on all identification cards. For a population separated initially by class, the results have facilitated wars in four additional countries and one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind.
April 7th each year is now set aside as Genocide Memorial day and initiates an entire week of mourning for those innocent souls that lost their lives. May all of the victims of this inhumane act now rest in peace and be joined by angels who will comfort and protect them for the rest of eternity.