Rwanda's latest ethnic cleansing.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
April 7 2004 6:18 PM

Rwanda's Latest Ethnic Cleansing

True reconciliation is impossible until everyone's suffering is recognized.

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For outsiders, the constant struggle is to figure out how much slack the RPF deserves. What happened in Rwanda was horrific beyond description, and what the government is trying to achieve—getting people who once killed each other to live side by side—is an absurdly difficult task.

Rwanda is a reserved nation, and it usually takes a long time to get people to talk about 1994. But it is much easier to talk when your version of history is the official one. That is, it is much easier to talk if you are Tutsi. By any estimate, hundreds of thousands of Hutus were victims of the genocide, but the most their family members are allowed to say is the phrase you hear from them over and over: "We suffered greatly."

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Two weeks ago, a perfect example of the deep cleavages that continue to divide Rwanda emerged after France released a report linking current President Paul Kagame to the downing of the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. (Who brought down the plane will always be the "who shot JFK" question of the genocide.) The RPF denounced the report and called for an inquiry into the French role in the genocide. My Hutu driver, on the other hand, declared, "Kagame shot down the plane? Yeah. Everybody knows that."

But even if "everybody knows that" (in other words, that's what most Hutus think), you'll never hear them say it in public. For the most part, they're keeping their version of the story to themselves.

And for many Hutus, the feeling that pervades the country today is one of exclusion—the national month of mourning is for Tutsis. The memorial sites are for Tutsis. The businesses are for Tutsis. The government is for Tutsis. Between 500,000 and 1 million people died in Rwanda 10 years ago. Most were Tutsis who were killed in a vicious act of genocide, and that cannot be forgotten. But the innocent Hutus who died cannot be forgotten, either.

And no matter how enlightened the government's rhetoric, it seems unlikely that there can be a real, lasting conversation about "unity and reconciliation" when 80 percent of the population feels they are not part of the discussion.

Michael J. Kavanagh spent the first half of 2004 reporting on Rwanda through a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism.