1

Evariste was the nightwatchman. He and I were alone in the house in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, when the killing started. It was on the night of 6 April 1994. A plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and its neighbouring state Burundi had been shot down, and everybody on board had died. In Kigali, there was confusion. Bands of men armed with machetes, rocks and clubs were roaming the town. Beyond the foliage that enclosed our garden, Kigali shook with rocket fire and grenade explosions.

I listened to the strokes of Evariste’s broom as he swept the terrace at the back of the house. He filled his hours cleaning, making tea and listening to the radio. I was usually on the phone, talking to people elsewhere in Kigali to find out what was going on, and calling London to report.

Every hour or so, I would go out on the terrace, and we would listen to the gunfire and exchange anxious platitudes.

‘It’s terrible, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it’s terrible.’

‘It sounds as if it’s getting worse.’

I tried to open the front gate and look outside. Two soldiers patrolling the dirt road waved their rifles to tell me to get back into the house.

During the day, I was too busy to feel scared. At night, I lay in bed and wondered if I would ever get out of Kigali. Evariste slept outside. Each day started with the crack and sputter of shooting. He showed no fear.

At first – isolated in the house with the taciturn Evariste – I didn’t understand that terror lay in the quiet times, when the killers moved undisturbed around the suburbs.

 

How many men, women and children were killed in Rwanda that year? Half a million? A million? Various organisations give various estimates, but nobody can be certain; for certainty you would require teams of reliable body-counters and grave-excavators, neutral statisticians free of the political need to exaggerate or diminish the number. And the total dead would take no account of the mutilated: men minus arms, children without legs. All I know is that the killing began in earnest during the time I spent trapped in the house with Evariste. My notebook doesn’t reveal much about those days; a few phrases, a few ‘facts’ which I relayed to the BBC and which later turned out (as is sometimes the way with facts reported from places of terror and confusion) to be not quite true. I still dream about that time – the dreams usually involve pits and writhing bodies. When I first got back to London, my friends were concerned. Had I had counselling? Surely I should talk to someone? I didn’t see how this would help – a therapeutic conversation with a well-meaning person in a consulting room in London – because the only proper reaction of the therapist would be horror; there would be no way of learning to ‘deal’ with it. What I witnessed in Rwanda was genocide – a word that needs to be used carefully, but which I use as Primo Levi defined it: as the ‘monstrous modern goal of erasing entire peoples and cultures from the world’.

In Rwanda, I couldn’t stop the smallest part of it. I am only slowly beginning to understand it. At the time, I could only watch and survive.

 

Why was I there? Because freelance journalism can be an unreliable and therefore varied trade. For the past ten years, I’d worked mainly out of Africa as a reporter. Occasionally, I work for aid agencies in what they call ‘emergency countries’, where war has brought destitution, hunger and disease. I’d never visited Rwanda. During the 1980s, when I was based in Nairobi, the journalists I met said it was boring – a place where farmers farmed and the government governed. It was the most densely populated country in Africa, more than seven million people trying to live off the land in a country no bigger than Wales. Coffee was its main export. Rwandans were obedient – only the Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to perform umuganda, the obligatory unpaid communal labour that enabled the government to build a national network of roads, plant forests and construct terraces to contain soil erosion on the hillsides. Aid agencies were well disposed to Rwanda in those days. President Juvénal Habyarimana’s regime was seen as authoritarian, but efficient. Society was so constrained that there was little corruption – if money was provided for clinics, then clinics were built. The Swiss, seeing a society in Africa as disciplined as their own, gave more money to Rwanda than to any other country on the continent.

Last year, I was offered a two-month contract in Rwanda with Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund. I was to produce a newsletter which was supposed to help the dozens of aid agencies in Rwanda and Burundi work together more effectively, and to help them understand the politics of both countries.

There had, of course, been four years of war. But that had ended in a peace accord, and when I arrived in Kigali in February 1994, two months before the president’s plane came down, the country was peaceful except for sporadic grenade attacks and the occasional political assassination. Outside Rwanda, those hardly counted as news. Inside Rwanda, everyone was waiting for something to happen: for political accords to be implemented, for the war to restart, for something to give.

 

Kigali is scattered across a series of hills and, when I arrived, the country around it was covered in crops and flowers, and everything was a lush green. The city, however, was ugly. Paint peeled off the walls of the concrete blocks, and in the afternoons, the torrential rains that came each day would wash mud down the steep roads. When I walked in town, children followed me, calling ‘Mzungu, mzungu’ – ‘white person’, signalling a lack of sophistication that you wouldn’t find in Nairobi or Kampala or even in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Food purloined from aid consignments was on sale in the market – square cans of cooking oil marked with the Canadian maple leaf or the stars of the European Union. If you knew whom to ask, you could get a hand grenade for three US dollars.

‘Political power,’ an African diplomat told me one evening, ‘is the only way to wealth in Rwanda. Most of the politicians here don’t even have farms to go back to. If they lose power, they’ll have nothing.’

The diplomat took me to dinner at a restaurant owned by a Maronite Lebanese called Afif, whose chief business was construction. We were the only diners. A handful of musicians, in robes intended to represent traditional Rwandan dress, played mood music. The mood was glum. The Ministry of Public Works owed Afif money, and he couldn’t get his hands on it. ‘Since democracy, you can’t even drink the water,’ he said. He and the diplomat spent much of the evening on the phone, calling politicians to discover what deals had been brokered to shore up the government. I asked Afif about his contacts. He said he had bribed most government ministers, and they were afraid of him.

My daytime conversations were different. Western aid workers preferred to take another view of Rwanda, a humanitarian attitude expressed in terms of how many bags of food had been delivered the previous week and how many children had been immunised. Politics, how Rwandans thought and felt about their present and future, hardly existed in this world. The map on the office wall showed clusters of camps, inhabited by two sorts of refugee: in the north, those displaced by Rwanda’s war; in the south, those who had fled a coup attempt in Burundi a few months before. There was a drought in some places, incipient famine, and malaria was on the rise. Nearly half the pregnant women in towns were HIV-positive. The population was growing; land was scarce. Talk of food sacks and immunisation programmes was a way of avoiding the what-is-to-be-done conversation, the indulgence of despair.

Most of the Rwandans who worked at Unicef simply refused to talk about politics at all. The secretaries showed me how the computers worked and promised to introduce me to their dressmakers. They shrugged off my questions. ‘Rwandans are terrible,’ said one. ‘They will just lie to you.’

And then one day, I made a mistake. Compiling my first Unicef newsletter, I quoted an internal report by the Catholic Relief Services in south-western Rwanda on the problems faced by the country’s tiny population of forest or pygmy people, the Twa. ‘The Twa cannot find work as farm labourers because of the drought, so they have taken to stealing. When they are caught, they are killed.’

My draft came back from Unicef with a line through the offending quotation. I was told to expunge the reference and never to mention the Twa. Or Hutus. Or Tutsis. Referring to people’s ethnic group – their ethnie – was too sensitive, too dangerous. If one or other group was attacked, or suffered disproportionately, I shouldn’t draw attention to it. All the people of Rwanda were Rwandans.

This denied a truth that was obvious to the most ignorant outsider, though it was a well-meaning denial. When a foreigner comes to Africa and sees something cruel and ugly, perpetrated between citizens of the same country, then the easiest explanation is contained by the phrase ‘ancient tribal hatred’ and the idea that the neat colonial boundaries of Africa, drawn up by Europeans, are no more than a result of cartography; that they have disguised, but never resolved, long-standing struggles for territory or power between different peoples – tribes if you like – who happened to find themselves under the same flag of a new nation state. Then the foreigner meets Africans who point out that white people don’t talk about ‘tribalism’ when they analyse their own conflicts; that the European colonists have exploited tribal distinctions to retain power; and that ‘tribalism’ obscures the complexities of African politics and history. And so the well-meaning foreigner stops using the word: we are embarrassed by it, become frightened to ask about ethnicity in Africa in case it causes offence. Afraid of the words, we gloss over what the words are trying to describe.

In Rwanda, the idea of tribalism is particularly inappropriate. Most of the distinctions – language, customs, territory – that mark one tribe from another elsewhere in Africa do not apply. The people who live in Rwanda speak the same language, Kinyarwanda; share the same culture; and farm together on the same hills. And yet there is a division. There are the Hutus, who form the great majority (perhaps as much as 90 per cent of the population, though the census is unreliable). There are the Tutsis. And there are the Twa. A child’s guide to Rwanda would say that Tutsis are tall compared with Hutus, generally speaking, and then be stuck to find other obvious signs of difference.

Rwandans know better. They can tell each other’s ethnie through conversations about family and lineage. Foreigners are not so artful, so don’t know how to ask. Yet ethnie – a complex sense of self shaped by history and ideology – is the defining point of identity for Rwandans. It is something at once more subtle and more consuming than tribalism. Foreigners might believe that ignoring the politics of ethnic division is the safest course of action, but we didn’t understand it, and if we had understood it, we wouldn’t have believed its consequences. For ethnie was to determine who was to live and who to die.

 

2

I suppose I’d known for some years what this business of ethnie could do because I’d met Rwandan refugees in Uganda. They were the evidence that Rwanda, where the sole and ruling party described itself as a movement for development, had known violence and political strife. The refugees were Tutsis, the minority that had ruled Rwanda in the pre-colonial age and continued to dominate it during its time as a colony. They had been driven out after the Hutus, the majority, seized power when the Belgians left in 1962. The Tutsis lived in camps close to Uganda’s border with Rwanda, but they were a successful community; some sent their children to universities in Europe and North America. Then, in 1990, an army of these Tutsi exiles, calling themselves the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), invaded Rwanda. They were almost immediately beaten back, but they regrouped, and war began. By 1994, the RPF had become a sophisticated guerrilla army that had advanced and retreated and advanced again.

War had forced up to a million Hutu peasants to leave their homes. Several hundred thousand were camped uncomfortably on hillsides outside Kigali, but the plan was that soon they – and the Tutsi refugees from previous decades – would be able to return to their homes. A peace treaty had been signed at Arusha, in northern Tanzania, in August 1993 – a power-sharing arrangement between government and rebels and United Nations troops brought in to oversee it. Rebel leaders would become ministers in a transition government. Diplomats began to talk of the Arusha Accords as a model for the resolution of conflict in Africa. (And there was certainly a lot to resolve. Rwanda had another displaced population of about 400,000 people who had crossed its southern border from Burundi after an attempted military coup in that country in October, in which Burundi’s Hutu president had been killed. The Burundi army was dominated by Tutsis; the refugees in Rwanda were Hutus. They lived in miserable camps, which were marked on the map on our office wall. The international community had failed to provide enough food; many of their children were dying.)

In March, I went to an RPF rally on the Ugandan border. Busloads of RPF supporters, all Tutsi, drove up from Kigali, talking of the good times to come. Thérèse, a secretary with the UN, was excited at the prospect of finding a husband among the RPF. ‘These boys are handsome – when the RPF comes to town, we’ll even find one for you, if you want.’

She had spent four months in prison in 1990 on suspicion of supporting the RPF. She was in her mid-thirties and had never married. Her explanation was ethnie. ‘Hutu men who have good jobs like civil servants aren’t allowed to marry Tutsis,’ she said. That wasn’t strictly true. Only soldiers were banned from marrying Tutsi women – among powerful men, Tutsi wives were a status symbol. The real issue, I thought, is that well-educated, middle-class Tutsi women like Thérèse don’t want to marry Hutus.

I tried to settle into my rented house. With the foreigner’s tact, I had never asked Evariste his ethnie, but he was quite tall and slim, with a narrow nose, a typical Tutsi physique, and the owner of the house told me that she believed he was a Tutsi.

Anyway, I scarcely knew him, and his ethnie was none of my business. He was simply the nightwatchman. Expatriates and the native rich in Kigali employ watchmen, known as zammu, for their houses, as they do all over urban Africa. The wealthy live besieged and guarded by the poor. In Kigali, as crime and shooting increased, the zammu learned to open the gate only to whites or to black people who came in cars marked with the symbols of aid agencies.

Our exchanges were the routine greetings of employer and employed: ‘Bonjour, madame.’ ‘Bonjour, Evariste, ça va?’ His French was hesitant, and he didn’t invite conversation. He helped us install the generator. In the tense weeks before the president was killed, electricity in our part of town was restricted to two evenings a week. The growl of the generator masked occasional grenade explosions and gunshots; the light it powered enabled us to work or read. I didn’t go out much at night.

During my first weeks in Kigali, I had stayed at a hotel. I would sit at one of the rough wooden tables under the thatched roof of the bar and watch people. One evening, a young man in a leather jacket came over and started talking. He told me that he had a university place in Belgium but had been refused a visa.

I wanted to find out about ethnie – it was easier to talk to a stranger – so I asked to see his identity card. He pulled it out of his wallet. Name, father’s name, place of birth, place of residence, ethnie. The choices were Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, naturalisé. The last category was for foreigners who had taken Rwandan citizenship.

‘It’s the fault of the Belgians,’ he said. ‘The Belgians made us carry this card.’

‘But the Belgians left thirty years ago! Why didn’t you ditch the cards then? That’s what the Kenyans did,’ I said.

‘You don’t understand what the Belgians were like,’ he said. ‘They colonised us and gave us these identity cards. Now they won’t even let me have a visa. It’s racism.’

One Saturday night, a group of men threw grenades into the hotel bar. Eight people were killed and thirty injured. The hotel was owned by the only prominent Tutsi politician in the country. A few days later, fragmentation grenades were thrown into some Tutsi homes. The hospitals were filled with people slashed with machetes and injured by shrapnel. Soon after, I moved from the hotel to the house. I stayed at home in the evenings and read Middlemarch. And then, the president’s plane was shot down.

 

3

Evariste and I developed a routine in those few days after the president was killed. I would sleep a few hours at night, after the shooting died down; at dawn, as the gunfire started up again, I would start work by the telephone. Foreigners were scrambling to leave the country, but I reverted to my role as reporter and stayed.

The killers were murdering people at roadblocks and in their homes. Once a day, Evariste would call a neighbour to try and find out if his wife and two children were still alive.

I thought: their targets are Tutsis. At any moment, they could come for Evariste.

I tried to persuade him to sleep in my absent landlady’s bedroom, where I believed he would be safe from the mob, but he refused, saying first that it was not his place to sleep in the bed of la patronne; and then that the patrolling soldiers had told all the zammu in the neighbourhood to stay outside and keep to their duties, protecting the rich people’s houses. The soldiers’ authority was greater than mine.

Fragments of news came in by phone for me to piece together and relay to London. A group of men had been to one aid worker’s house and demanded that he hand over his Tutsi cook. He refused, but they found the cook and killed him anyway. The prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a Hutu, and the Tutsi hotel owner were dead. Ten Belgian UN soldiers had been killled, because Belgium was regarded as pro-RPF; the killers were saying that Belgium was behind the shooting down of the president’s plane. The RPF had left their bases in the north and were heading for Kigali.

The Rwandans I knew from Unicef called me from the suburbs. They had abandoned their reserve, the opacity that I’d found so impenetrable in the office, and were desperate for help. One Rwandan colleague, François, was a Hutu, but his son, who was tall like a Tutsi, had lost his ID. ‘They said they would kill him, so I gave them the radio, and they spared him. What shall I do when they come again?’

‘Give them money bit by bit, don’t give them everything at once,’ I suggested.

‘But there’s another problem. They killed my next-door neighbour, Monsieur Albert. They say I was his friend, but it’s not true. I don’t really know him. He was Belgian, but I’ve called the Embassy, and they won’t come and get the body. Now the body is beginning to smell.’

‘Bury it,’ I said. ‘It’s a health risk.’

‘But he’s a white man; he should have a proper burial.’

‘It doesn’t matter what colour he is; he’s dead. Just bury him and say a prayer.’

‘But what if the soldiers say I buried him because he was my friend?’

‘Tell them you didn’t know him, but you had to bury him because of the smell.’

François rang back the next day. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I did what you said. You were right. We dug a grave at the front and buried him. Maybe the Belgians will come for him after the war.’

‘Maybe they will,’ I said, thinking: is this it, is this all I can do? Tell someone to bury a body?

The phone kept ringing. Another colleague, Françoise, rang. She was a classic Tutsi – tall, light-skinned and lithe – one of the women I’d travelled with on the bus to the RPF rally the previous month. Now, she was sobbing hysterically and hiding in a cupboard. Her cousin had been killed on the road outside her house, she knew that her family was next on the list. ‘They don’t kill you if you give them money and jewellery, but we have given them everything.’ She wanted the UN to receive her, but the UN was evacuating only foreigners.

An RPF contingent had broken out of the old parliament building and taken on the Presidential Guard; fighting blocked the road to the airport. All the politicians who supported the Arusha Accords were dead or in hiding. A new government had appointed itself.

 

I tried to plan how to rescue the people I knew. I was fooling myself – I couldn’t do it. Tutsis trying to escape were being pulled from vehicles and slaughtered on the road. I had scarcely any petrol in my car. I didn’t know the suburbs where the people lived.

One afternoon, a delegate from the International Red Cross rang. He had seen hundreds, maybe thousands of bodies, evidence of a slaughter far worse than we had imagined. I knew that I had to see for myself if I was to report first-hand. The next morning, I drove through the streets, past soldiers swigging beer, and abandoned bodies, to the Red Cross headquarters, and from there, with a medical team, to a Red Cross depot in the suburbs. Two women lay inside, moaning from the pain of bullet wounds. Five bodies lay round the back. Up a hill, two soldiers shifted uneasily outside a house and watched us go in. The bodies of five women lay piled in the flower bed. Their faces were fixed in terror; flies crawled over the blood of their machete wounds. A woman who had watched from the other side of the valley said that some Tutsis had gathered at the Red Cross depot for safety. In the morning, twenty soldiers had come. Those they did not slaughter on the spot, they marched to the house up the hill and murdered there.

In the house, we walked through shards of glass, torn paper, wrecked furniture and broken crockery. The mess spoke of a frenzy of killing, of anger and madness.

We took the wounded to the central hospital. The dying lay two or three to a bed and on the floor, blocking the entrance to the ward. Nurses stepped over them. Blood ran down the steps and along the gutters. Trucks kept arriving, loaded high with more bodies. A woman came into the ward carrying a baby whose leg was partially severed, the tendons and muscles exposed. Relatives patiently told their stories, always the same – Hutu neighbours and soldiers had thrown grenades in their house because they were Tutsis.

That night, after we left, the soldiers went into the wards and finished off most of the patients.

I went back to the house. Evariste was still there. The next morning, after a sleepless night, I went into the living room, sat down and started to cry.

Evariste sat silently opposite me. Eventually, he said, in French, ‘Why are you crying, madame?’

‘Because I’m scared,’ I replied. He waited.

‘Don’t be scared,’ he said, at last.

I told him I would have to leave; I couldn’t stay much longer in the house because the telephone would soon be cut off and, without the telephone, I couldn’t work. I needed to go to the hotel where other journalists were. But I didn’t want to abandon him. To Evariste, the answer was simple.

‘You are a European; you should be with other Europeans,’ he said.

The UN security officer, a flamboyant French former policeman known by his radio call-sign, ‘Moustache’, was driving around town with a single armed guard rescuing foreigners. When he asked his headquarters in New York if he could help Rwandan UN staff, he was told no. He had no support from the UN troops because they had retreated to barracks. Two months earlier, when all UN staff had been asked to mark their house on a map in case of emergency, I had decided not to bother. In case of emergency, I might want to stay. Now I rang Moustache.

‘At last you ring me!’ he said. ‘Tell me where you are and I am coming for you.’

He took me to a house where, as Evariste had predicted, I found other Europeans. Other journalists began to arrive, and I moved into a hotel. After a few more days, I left Kigali for Nairobi, and then Nairobi for Burundi, where I would go to the border to meet the first refugees heading south, away from the charnel house Rwanda had become.

 

4

The Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana, who died in the plane crash on 6 April, had been hated by the RPF Tutsis, but extremists close to his own Hutu family and political party had come to hate him even more.

Habyarimana had done everything he could to avoid implementing the Arusha Accords. Under the agreement, the presidency would have lost most of its power, and his party, the National Republican Movement for Development and Democracy (MRNDD), would have had to govern not only with opposition Hutu parties, but with the Tutsi-dominated RPF. His negotiators had let him down, and the rebels had struck a hard bargain. After twenty-one years of unfettered rule, he was committed to a policy which would destabilise his power. His wife was not pleased.

In Rwandan politics, every institution had its unofficial counterpart. The president ruled, but then there was the akazu – the ‘little house’, a clique named after the court that surrounded the Tutsi kings during the nineteenth century. The president’s wife, Agnès, and her brothers controlled the akazu, and with it access to wealth and power. And while the president’s party supported the Arusha Accords, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (CDR), secretly funded by Habyarimana, propounded a Hutu extremist ideology, against all compromise with the rebels.

The parties had militias masquerading as youth wings: the MRNDD militia was the inherahamwe – ‘those who attack together’; while the CDR militia was called the impuzamugambi – ‘those with the same goal’. The militias carried out politicians’ orders by bombing, shooting and stabbing, while the party leaders talked peace. Even the army and the government radio station had their shadows. A ceasefire in 1993 had, in theory, confined the army to barracks, but members of it, the death squads known as the Zero Network, went on operating under the command of an army colonel. And while the state-owned Radio Rwanda supported the official line – brotherhood and amity – the commercial station, Radio Mille Collines, broadcast Hutu extremist propaganda, folk songs and chants – ‘I hate the Hutus who eat with the Tutsis’ – as well as lists of Tutsis who were to be killed.

Habyarimana manipulated and schemed and split the opposition parties with a mixture of bribery and threats. The Arusha Accords had specified which portfolios would go to which parties. By March, the parties were in disarray. Twice, the diplomats and dignitaries were in their seats waiting for the president to swear in the new assembly. Twice, he failed to turn up. He consulted his friends, Presidents Mobutu of Zaire and Eyadéma of Togo, past masters at staying in power without popular support. The UN peacekeeping force, there to oversee the transition, began to mutter about withdrawal.

In the end, at a summit in Tanzania, Habyarimana bowed to pressure from other regional leaders and agreed to stop prevaricating and to implement the Accords. It was on his way back to Rwanda that his plane was shot down. It is not known who was responsible, but the evidence points to Hutu extremists who had once been close to Habyarimana.

 

5

Genocide in a small country with little access to sophisticated technology relies on bombs, guns, sticks and knives; people to wield them; and a plan – whom to kill and when. Then there is the question of motive. Ideology supplies that. Thus, you could argue, genocide requires three kinds of people: killers, strategists and ideologues. Rwanda’s shadow armies and political parties and radio broadcasts provided all three: the CDR, the inherahamwe and Radio Mille Collines. But they were all recent institutions; none could have existed without history and myth.

All societies are sustained by myth, and in Rwanda the myths are especially potent. Stories of the past blend history with legend, and are reworked and retold to justify the power of rulers or the protest of the ruled. The past – who are we? where did we come from? – resonates in the present: who has the right to land or a country, who is condemned to exile? One well-known Rwandan myth is this:

At the beginning of time, Kigwa, the first king of Rwanda, descended from heaven and sired three sons: Ga-twa, Ga-hutu and Ga-tutsi. He asked each of them to take care of a gourd of milk overnight. Ga-twa became thirsty and drank the milk.Ga-hutu fell asleep and knocked the gourd over. Ga-tutsi guarded the milk carefully and was guarding it still when Kigwa returned in the morning. Kigwa decreed everyone’s social status – Ga-tutsi would be his successor, own cattle and be excused manual labour. Ga-hutu and his people would only be allowed cattle if they worked for Ga-tutsi. Ga-twa would have no cattle and would be an outcast.

The idea of Tutsi superiority is in the subconscious of all Rwandans; denying the attitudes it engenders requires conscious self-defiance. Ideology rather than knowledge is the tool; you choose your interpretation of history to back up political propaganda, or to justify murder.

European explorers searching for the source of the Nile first came across Rwanda in the second half of the nineteenth century. They found three groups of people in this part of Africa, each playing a distinct social role. The state was embodied by the king – the mwami – who had a sacred drum or kalinga. The Tutsis gave the Hutus the right to rear and tend cattle and to cultivate land in exchange for labour. Social divisions were permeable – a Hutu could become a Tutsi by acquiring cattle, and then marrying a Tutsi woman – though they were becoming more rigid under the last of the precolonial kings. Many questions could have been asked of this society: were the Hutus merely serfs who were repressed by the Tutsi aristocracy, or was the relationship of benefit to both? But the question that obsessed the Europeans was much simpler: why were the Tutsis so tall? In a Darwinian age which was beginning to develop racial theory and was equipped with a set of sub- or pseudo-sciences – anthropometry, craniology, phrenology – there was no shortage of answers. The Tutsis had captured the European imagination. John Hanning Speke, the British explorer who discovered the source of the Nile in 1862, decided that they had descended from the Oromos of southern Ethiopia – that they were a superior race which had conquered the inferior Bantu people, the Hutus. Colonial rule, first by Germany from 1890 to 1916 and thereafter by Belgium, brought further theories: the Tutsis were the lost tribe of Christendom, they were survivors of Atlantis, they were descended from ancient Egyptians, they were refugees from Asia Minor. Eventually, a consensus emerged that was close to Speke’s original idea: the Tutsis were ‘Nilo-Hamites’ – Nilo from the River Nile, Hamites because they had descended from Noah’s son Ham – who had migrated south from Ethiopia in the sixteenth century.

The Duke of Mecklenburg, an early German explorer, wrote lyrically: ‘Unmistakable evidence of a foreign strain is betrayed in their high foreheads, the curve of their nostrils and the fine oval shape of their faces.’ The Hutu, by contrast, ‘are medium-sized people whose ungainly figures betoken hard toil, and who patiently bow themselves in abject bondage to the later-arrived yet ruling race, the Tutsi’.

Belgian anthropologists instituted a programme of measurement. The average Tutsi nose, one study noted, was 55.8mm long and 38.7mm wide; an average Hutu nose was 52.4mm long and 43.6mm wide. Stature, weight, ‘nasal index’, face height and ‘facial index’ were also measured, the results tabulated and sent back to Brussels. From the perspective of the late twentieth century, this obsession with the human physique may sound risible, but in Rwanda, a month after the president’s plane was shot down, I watched doctors bandaging the hands of children whose fingers had been sliced off by Hutus because long fingers were thought to be a Tutsi characteristic. Hutus also cut off Tutsis’ legs at the knee, to make them ‘as short as us’.

Size was too crude a mark of identity for the Belgian administration, and in the 1930s, such categorisation was refined with the introduction of identity cards. Anyone with more than ten cattle was defined as Tutsi, those with fewer were Hutu. By the 1950s, the few Hutus who had been educated in mission schools were agitating for change, for government jobs, for access to power. Elsewhere in Africa, anti-colonial movements were encouraging Africans to burn identity cards that specified ‘tribe’. In Rwanda, however, Hutu political leaders wanted to keep the cards so that the Tutsis could be identified, and their social, economic and political dominance ended.

The Tutsis were, in any case, becoming unfashionable. Social democracy was gaining currency in post-war Europe, and many of the missionary priests who came to Rwanda found the Tutsi monarchy, with its assumption of superiority and its monopoly on power, distasteful. Moreover, as independence approached, the Tutsis adopted the rhetoric of pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism; the Belgians began to worry that they would take Rwanda into the Chinese or Soviet camp. The Belgians decided to save Rwanda from feudalism and communism in one smart move. After forty years of shoring up Tutsi power, they changed sides and backed the Hutus. The violence began in 1959, two years before independence, and Belgium did little to stop it. Tutsi political activists assassinated Hutu leaders, and in retaliation Hutu peasants swept through the countryside in bands of ten, each led by a ‘president’ with a whistle, burning Tutsi homes. The peasants called it the muyaga, the wind that blows itself into a hurricane. By 1963, it had forced 135,000 Tutsis to flee Rwanda, and the fact that many children of these refugees later formed the core of the RPF was never forgotten by Hutu leaders. Léon Mugesera, a Hutu extremist ideologue, told a gathering of Hutu peasants in 1992: ‘Our fatal error back in 1959 was to let them flee.’ By 1994, Hutu leaders were advocating mass slaughter: ‘This time, we will kill them all.’ Those who murdered children used a Rwandan proverb: ‘If you want to exterminate rats, you mustn’t spare the little ones.’

And so, after independence, a new Rwanda was established which turned the old hierarchy on its head. Quotas were introduced; as always, ethnie determined whether you got a job or went to school or could hold political office, only now the powerful ethnie was Hutu. The kalinga or drum that had been the symbol of Rwanda at the time of the mwami was rejected as an emblem of Tutsi domination. Instead of a symbol, post-independence Rwanda had an ideology: Hutu power, rooted in a culture of obedience and control. From birth all Rwandans were members of President Habyarimana’s Republican Movement for National Development, the only political organisation. A group of households comprised a cellule; every cellule had a spokesman who reported to the conseiller who was in charge of the next administrative unit up the ladder, the secteur. He, in turn, reported to the bourgmestre, who was in charge of the commune. And the bourgmestre reported to the préfet in charge of the préfecture . . . and so on, to the highest reaches of the government. If a Rwandan wanted to leave his hill, he first asked the authorities for permission. Unlike most African capitals, Kigali remained small and largely immune to urban drift; Rwanda had pass laws stricter than those of South Africa.

What outsiders saw, or chose to see, was an ideology of discipline, development and conservative Christianity which made a pleasant contrast to countries such as Zaire or Sudan, where political breakdown and apparent chaos rendered Western ideas of development meaningless. What outsiders did not hear, or chose not to hear, was the idea of ethnie that fuelled the ideology; the fear that history in the shape of the old Tutsi hierarchy would return. After all, to the south, in Burundi, where the Tutsi army continued to slaughter Hutu peasants, it had never gone away.

Hutus, therefore, were taught the lessons of history as it was interpreted by the new Hutu elite. Ferdinand Nahimana, professor of history at Rwanda’s National University and the founder of Radio Mille Collines, tried to demystify the Tutsis by explaining that while European scholars studied subjugated Hutus in Tutsi kingdoms, few had examined the Hutu principalities that had resisted Tutsi expansion until the 1920s. This demonstrated that Tutsi rule was not inevitable, so long as the Tutsis were kept in check. Tutsis were to be denied not only citizenship, but life itself, because they were inyangarwanda – ‘haters of Rwanda’.

Léon Mugesera, who was vice president of Habyarimana’s party in the president’s home préfecture, adapted history in a different way. He subscribed to the European belief that the Tutsis were relative newcomers who had arrived in Rwanda from Ethiopia four centuries before. In a speech in 1992 – by which time Hutu ideology was well-developed – Mugesera said the Tutsis should be returned to their original home via the expedient route of the River Nyawarungu. Two years later, the bodies of murdered Tutsis were floating down the Nyawarungu and into the Kagera River, in which they could be seen passing under a road bridge on the Tanzanian border at the rate of one per minute. Ethiopia, given the river-flows of Africa, was an unreachable destination. The bodies came to rest on the shores of Lake Victoria, where they rotted in the sun.

 

6

Two months after I left Kigali, I returned to Rwanda, to Butare, a city in the south of the country that had once been well known for its tolerance and spirit of liberalism. The Hutu inherahamwe were now in charge of the roadblocks (though they would not be for long: the RPF, having dislodged the ‘interim government’ that had appointed itself in Kigali after Habyarimana’s death, was now advancing south), and thousands of Tutsis had been slaughtered there, as well as Hutu students and lecturers at the university, who were seen as the RPF’s fellow travellers.

I went to Gikongoro, a town in the hills a few miles to the west of Butare. French troops on a ‘humanitarian mission’ had occupied the area, which was filling up with Hutu refugees. Two young men, a teacher and a Red Cross volunteer, were among them. They tried to explain to me what had happened in Butare during the previous ten weeks of murder.

‘The Tutsis formed an association,’ the teacher said. ‘They were planning to kill all the Hutus, and there were documents to prove it in their houses. When the people found these papers, they grew angry, and that’s why they killed the Tutsis.’

I asked about the Hutus at the university who had been killed by other Hutus.

‘They were plotting, too.’

‘So who was responsible?’

‘The victims were responsible.’

I persisted with my questions. ‘The children who were killed, were they responsible for their own deaths?’

‘That was a question of hatred between families,’ the Red Cross worker said. ‘Many Tutsis sent their children to join the RPF, so people said: “I don’t want the child of a person who does such bad things.” ’

These were educated men, fluent in French. They spoke without irony; I believe they were convinced of their own story. They faltered just a little when I asked if they had taken part in killings themselves.

‘No, I didn’t personally take part,’ the teacher said, and the other concurred. ‘But we understand why people did it. This is war. It’s sad that people die.’

‘Are you sad the Tutsis died?’ I asked.

The teacher quoted a proverb: ‘If there’s a trap ahead of you, and someone removes that trap before you fall in, then you’re happy. So we’re happy.’

 

7

By the time I reached Kibuye, in the west of the country, in August, the bodies of the four thousand Tutsis who had been killed in a church there were long buried. The church stands among trees on a promontory above the calm blue of Lake Kivu. The Tutsis had been sheltering inside when a mob, drunk on banana beer, had thrown grenades through the doors and windows and then run in to club and stab to death the people who remained alive. It had taken about three hours. A few days later, another organised mob did much the same at the local sports stadium where the préfet, Clément Kayishema, had told Tutsis to assemble. Eleven thousand people were gathered there. They couldn’t kill them all on the first day, so they came back the following morning. Once, there had been 60,000 Tutsis in Kibuye préfecture, about 20 per cent of the population – an unusually high proportion. French troops now estimated that about nine in every ten Tutsis had been killed, and that half the male Hutu population, and a smaller proportion of the female, had taken part in the killings.

A Lutheran pastor, Bernard Ndutiye, was – as he put it – a ‘passive participant’ in the slaughter. When I met him in Kibuye, he had turned a local primary school into a home for orphaned and abandoned children. He was thin and anxious; he said he couldn’t find enough food for his charges. There was also the matter of his conscience. During the months of killing, he said, the inherahamwe, their faces and genitals covered with banana fronds, had moved through Kibuye at dawn every day, blowing whistles and beating drums. ‘They went from house to house, saying: “Come on, attack. The RPF are killing people. We must kill all accomplices of the RPF.” ’ At Ndutiye’s house, they found three Tutsi children, school friends of his own children, whom he was hiding. They took the two girls away; the seven-year-old boy they clubbed to death then and there. ‘They said I had hidden the children of the RPF, so I was an RPF supporter. Afterwards, they forced me to follow them. They wanted everyone to participate,’ he said. ‘The people who put up resistance were forced. To prove you weren’t RPF, you had to walk around with a club or stick. We followed behind and buried the bodies.’

‘Did you try to resist?’ I asked.

‘I bandaged my leg as an excuse. Being a priest was no answer because they told me there are priests who are RPF. They said: “You can have religion afterwards.” ’

I asked how it was possible that so many had taken part in the slaughter, and that men like him hadn’t refused.

Ndutiye searched his vocabulary for words a foreigner might understand.

‘There are times when you lose faith, when a man loses control and is under the influence of the devil.’

Some people did resist. When I went back to Kigali later that year, I met an elderly Hutu who risked his life to hide seventeen Tutsis. He was a hero in his neighbourhood. He wasn’t the only one, but he was unusual. People struck bargains – their own Tutsi relatives would be spared if they took up a machete to kill Tutsis on another hill. Some Hutu women married to Tutsis were forced to kill their own children, while others saved their own children by agreeing to kill those of their neighbours.

During the genocide, one academic handed me a sheaf of papers marked ‘Ministry of Defence’ and ostentatiously stamped secret. It was entitled ‘Definition and Identification of the Enemy’, and I was told that it had been widely circulated in Rwanda from late 1992 onwards. The primary enemy was defined as ‘Tutsis inside and outside the country, extremists nostalgic for power’. Other enemies included Tutsi refugees, Hutus discontented with the current regime, Nilo-Hamitic people of the region, criminals on the run and foreigners married to Tutsi women.

Despite what the Tutsi women had told me on the bus to the RPF rally, intermarriage between Hutus and Tutsis had increased during Habyarimana’s regime in the 1970s, especially between Hutu men and Tutsi women. Foreign men preferred Tutsis too, especially the archetypal long-legged, light-skinned young women. Foreign-aid agencies tended to employ Tutsis because many came from successful families and had studied abroad. The Hutu magazine Kangura published the ‘Hutu Ten Commandments’, which began:

1. Every Hutu should know that a Tutsi woman, wherever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor any Hutu who marries a Tutsi woman, befriends a Tutsi woman or employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or concubine.

2. Every Hutu should know that our Hutu daughters are more suitable and conscientious in their role as woman, wife and mother of the family. Are they not beautiful, good secretaries and more honest?’

The fourth commandment condemned as a traitor any Hutu who did business with a Tutsi. The tenth stated that:

The Hutu ideology must be taught to every Hutu at every level. Every Hutu must spread this ideology widely. Any Hutu who persecutes his brother Hutu for having read, spread and taught this ideology is a traitor.

 

The efficiency of the Rwandan state made sure that this message was spread to every corner of the country. The same efficiency – the discipline and order so admired by foreign-aid workers – meant that when the orders came on 7 April for the killing to begin, they were usually obeyed. Numerous witnesses have told how the bourgmestres in conjunction with local military or police instructed people to kill. Fear drove the killers on – fear of the invading enemy, fear of their neighbours, fear of execution if they refused to obey orders. If everyone breaks the rules which govern society, the rules no longer apply; group solidarity is strengthened, guilt becomes collective.

 

8

From April into June, the rest of the world did nothing. The UN peacekeepers withdrew. Diplomacy was at best misguided and at worst damaging – the UN kept calling for a ceasefire, when an RPF victory was the only hope of ending the genocide. Eventually, late in June, the West sent its envoys: aid workers, representing individual altruism, a belief in the power of good; and soldiers.

By the time the French troops arrived, the genocide had continued unchecked for ten weeks. A few thousand gaunt and terrified Tutsis emerged from their hiding places in roofs and banana plantations and gathered in camps to be guarded by French legionnaires. The inherahamwe still controlled the surrounding hills.

The motives for French intervention were complex. The French were playing on a larger stage, pointing up the incompetence of the UN and the autonomy of France as a world power. But France did have an attachment to Rwanda. For many years, the head of President Mitterrand’s Africa Unit at the Elysée Palace was his son, Jean-Christophe, who formed a friendship with President Habyarimana. When his plane – a gift from the French – was shot down, his widow and her family were flown straight to Paris. The French regarded the Rwandan government as a protector of francophonie in Africa, a bulwark against encroaching Anglo-Saxon influence. Here was Europe’s ancient tribal rivalry played out in the heart of Africa in a clash of culture and language: the RPF, schooled in Uganda, spoke English, while the Hutu government spoke French. France empathised with the Hutus: the French too had overthrown a monarchy and staged a revolution.

The French troops on the ground, however, were none too sure which side they were on. President Mitterrand had sent them on a ‘humanitarian mission’, and they were saving the Tutsis, who had been attacked by murderous bands of Hutus. But the Hutus thought the French were there to save them from the advance of the RPF. Roadblocks where Tutsis had been killed were decorated with Tricouleur flags and signs saying vive la france; the Hutu militia drove around in pickups brandishing machetes and singing songs of welcome. The French army knew about Africa and its wars; they had played an important part in French colonial history, and French troops still did regular tours of duty in the Central African Republic and Djibouti. But nothing had prepared them for Rwanda. One day, I was talking to the commander of a marine unit, Lieutenant Colonel Erik de Stabenrath, about his experience. He was a career soldier, from an old-established army family, and he had served in Bosnia and Beirut, but the intensity of the killing in Rwanda had shocked him. ‘It was the most terrible massacre in world history,’ he said, ‘not in terms of numbers, but in the manner in which it was carried out.’

He had come upon thousands of bodies buried in shallow graves, churches where hasty scrubbing had failed to remove the blood from the walls. The stories told by survivors were often worse than the evidence: Tutsis hunted down and slashed with machetes, beaten with nail-studded clubs, shot with small arms, gang-raped and blown up by fragmentation grenades. His own estimate was that half a million had been killed, a rate of 7,000 deaths a day.

Another French officer, Colonel Patrice Sartre, the commander in Kibuye, was more cynical: ‘Elsewhere in Africa people don’t like to work. They beg,’ he said. ‘People here are more educated and hard-working. They don’t beg, but they kill.’

I asked if, given the atrocities perpetrated by the Hutu government, France would now support the RPF. ‘No,’ he said. ‘France will always be on the side of the slaves.’

 

9

The RPF never forgave the French for their support of Habyarimana’s government, nor for occupying part of Rwanda and preventing a complete RPF victory, nor for allowing the key leaders of the genocide to escape across Rwanda’s borders. Nonetheless, the government army, the Forces Armées Rwandaises, knew by June that it had lost the war. In mid-July, its commander-in-chief, General Augustin Bizimungu, fled with his army to Goma, just inside Zaire. They had been defeated, but their forces had survived largely intact.

Much of the civilian population went with them. This was the awful, spectacular exodus, witnessed by hundreds of reporters and dozens of television crews, who never tired of repeating that it was the largest recorded exodus in history, meaning that a million people had come through one point in an international boundary within the space of three days.

It is difficult to forget: dust, children lost and weeping, the weak trampled underfoot in the crush. Fear drove them on – the terror that, if they stayed in Rwanda, the RPF would exact revenge from the Hutu population for what they had done to the Tutsis (and their fear, as I and others discovered later, was not misplaced).

The flight to Goma was chaotic, but it was also stage-managed. Entire communities moved together. They were still following the same leaders and obeying their instructions: Radio Mille Collines and the bourgmestres told them to flee to Zaire, just as some weeks earlier they had told them to kill their Tutsi neighbours. Many of them, however, did not escape death by fleeing Rwanda, because Goma became for them an act of collective suicide. Human excrement piled up in the gutters, while the bodies of those who collapsed of exhaustion lay unburied along the road. Cholera set in. Thousands died on a great black plain of volcanic rock, where graves could not be dug. Instead, bodies wrapped in rush matting lay two and three deep along the road to the airport, some with children whimpering beside them. Eventually, French soldiers in masks used a mechanical digger to carve out a large trench, into which they bulldozed the dead.

Goma was a trap for the refugees, but also an escape route for the guilty among them. International agencies talked about separating the inherahamwe from the innocent, but the threads of guilt and responsibility were too deeply woven into Hutu society for outsiders to tease them out. The Hutu leaders, meanwhile, rented large houses in Goma and Bukavu, another town in Zaire, at the other end of Lake Kivu, and set about recreating their structures of control. The aid agencies needed these structures as the only efficient way to distribute their aid. Compassion worked against justice: if the aid workers wanted to save lives, including those of the thousands of dying children, they would have to shore up the system which had produced the inherahamwe and turned peasants into murderers.

Here, in the middle of this pitiful chaos, while I waited to interview an aid worker in his office in a Goma backstreet, I heard a familiar voice: ‘Bonjour, madame.’ It was Evariste, the nightwatchman. Three months had passed since I had last seen him. We had spoken once by phone at the end of April, but then the line had been cut. I couldn’t believe he was still alive. He had stayed in the house, he said, until the RPF entered Kigali. No one had touched it, or him. His wife and children were safe.

What was he doing here, among the Hutus and their leaders? At last, I asked, ‘What ethnie does it give on your identity card?’

‘Hutu,’ he replied.

I had been stupid. Why had I assumed he was a Tutsi and a potential victim? Perhaps because he was employed by an aid agency, or because I had needed to trust him when I was afraid. Perhaps because even when the killing was at its height, one of my main emotions was embarrassment – I assumed he was Tutsi so I could avoid talking about ethnie.

Evariste handed me the keys to the house which he had carried with him after he had locked up. I gave him money. He disappeared into the crowd, one refugee among a million, facing the possibility of death more acutely now than ever before.

 

10

In December, I visited the Oxfam office in Kigali to see one of its staff, Esther Mujawayo. During the first week of killing, she had hidden, together with her husband and their three children, in the school where her husband taught French; in April, I had tried and failed to get messages to her from friends in England. In early May, soldiers took away her husband and shot him. Esther and the children spent another two months in hiding.

Esther has an intense, energetic way of talking, leaning forward in an effort to make her listener understand. If you ask her, she will show you photographs of her wedding. She will point to her father, mother and aunt – all of whom were killed in the village where she was born. Then she will point to the people who killed them – neighbours, people she grew up with.

Thirty-one members of Esther’s family were killed. Her seventy-eight-year-old invalid mother and an eighty-year-old aunt were dragged from their bed and thrown live onto a pile of corpses. It took nearly a week for them to die as they lay exposed to the sun and rain while village boys threw stones at them. Her cousin died in a pit latrine; when she reached up to struggle out, a Hutu cut off her hands.

‘What is very sad is that I don’t think my family tried to hide,’ Esther said. ‘I can understand that people have been manipulated – politicians and the radio can change people – but how could they use such horrible ways of killing?’

Esther told me that she had forced herself to return to the village to try to discover what had happened.

‘I thought it would be safe to go to my parents’ place to be clear with myself that it’s finished, and to see the hole where they are. It’s very impressive. They wanted to erase everything. They killed people, they completely destroyed the house, they cut down all the trees and they started to cultivate everywhere. They even ploughed up the road leading to our home to show us that we were finished.

‘I have no roots in Rwanda now. I can go anywhere as long as I am with my three children.’

 

The survivors of genocide, unable to bear the prospect of remaining where their families were slaughtered, have drifted to Kigali. Many of them feel guilty because they are still alive. They feel as though they are ghosts – strangers without a home. Monica Uwimana, one of those who had called me for help during the first week of killing, survived, though her five children were killed. When I met her again, she had no sense of future. She said, ‘There’s a saying these days, when you meet somebody: you say, Oh! you’re still alive! As if it’s a miracle. As if you were supposed to die.’

But Kigali, in December, was flourishing. Tutsi refugees who fled the violence in 1959 – ‘Fifty-niners’ – had returned from Belgium, Canada, Burundi and Uganda to reclaim the homeland. The disco had reopened; my old hotel had been repaired. There was a wave of weddings among former guerrilla fighters celebrating their new life. In the countryside, the newcomers had begun to cultivate their fields left by the dead or by those who fled to Zaire or Tanzania. The Arusha Accords stated that those who left in 1959 had no right to reclaim their lands, but who was to stop them?

 

11

And now, in the summer of 1995, Rwanda has become the new draw for the emergency aid industry. One hundred and fifty non-governmental organisations are there, along with myriad branches of the UN. Eager young Europeans and North Americans drive white Toyotas with logos on the doors and radio aerials thick as whips waving on the bonnet. They talk in acronyms, walkie-talkies strapped to the belts on their jeans.

Each new foreigner is issued with a white laminated card produced by the UN peacekeeping force, which failed to stop the genocide and now fails to prevent continued killing. The card shows a map of Rwanda and an explanation of the UN Security system – Green Alert, Yellow Alert, Red Alert. There is a list of useful phrases, the words in Kinyarwanda for: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Stop’, ‘Hello’, ‘My name is Bob’, ‘Where is Kigali?’ and ‘Do not shoot’.

Until the end of May 1995, aid was concentrated in the former French zone in the south-west of the country, where a quarter of a million Hutus were still living in camps. It was easier to feed refugees than to start rebuilding the country, and it felt more urgent.

But the new RPF government saw the camps as cover for the inherahamwe and weapons that had been smuggled from Zaire. In May, it ordered troops to break them up. According to government figures, 338 people died, mostly trampled in a stampede. Foreign doctors said that they saw 4,000 dead and thousands more injured, mainly shot in the back by RPF soldiers. The government’s message to the foreigners was clear: national security is more important than humanitarianism. Its message to the Hutus was unequivocal: we are in charge.

Foreigners, struggling to think of a solution, often come up with the word ‘reconciliation’. Esther Mujawayo told me that was a concept she found difficult. ‘It’s a word I hate because I don’t know what it means,’ she said. ‘Even if I were ready to reconcile – with whom? I’ve never met anybody who felt guilty, who said sorry. Who is asking me for pardon?’

No one is likely to ask Esther or any other survivor for pardon as long as the authors of the genocide – the old members of the akazu, the organisers of the Zero Network, the ministers of the government that appointed itself in April – remain at liberty. They fly between Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania, West Africa and Europe drumming up support, doing arms deals, planning their comeback and promulgating their own version of what happened in Rwanda. They include General Augustin Bizimungu and Jean Kambanda, the prime minister of the April government. Kambanda now calls himself ‘prime minister of the government in exile’ and lives in a lakeside house at Bukavu in Zaire, from where, across Lake Kivu, he can see Rwanda.

The Hutus in exile like to present the killings in the context of an ethnic war between the Hutus and the Tutsis, the result of an uncontrollable hatred between two peoples. The RPF, on the other hand, says that the killings were prompted by a government that tried to wipe out the Tutsis and all opposing Hutus in a brutal attempt to ensure that they would hold power forever. The RPF, which likes to see itself as a non-sectarian force, says that its quarrel is not with Hutus, but with the former regime (to the RPF, the history of injustice in Rwanda begins and ends with the past thirty years of Hutu power; the centuries of Tutsi dominance – and the repression of the Hutus – are seen as a benign old order). The RPF has filled Rwanda’s jails with people ‘arrested on suspicion of participating in genocide’, but locking up or even executing hundreds or thousands of peasants will not exorcise the collective crime.

The organisers of the genocide are well known, and the evidence against them is well documented. But only a handful have been arrested. A faltering and poorly funded International Tribunal is gathering more evidence. If arrest warrants are ever issued, the accused will no doubt get adequate warning and retreat into the more chaotic reaches of Africa to evade capture.

Those who led the genocide still have authority over the mass of Hutu peasants in Zaire and Tanzania. There is no pressure on them to acknowledge what they did, let alone atone for it.

The wealthy world’s fault in all this is not that it does not care – many millions of dollars have been spent to keep the refugees alive – but that it does not understand. Rwanda lurched into view only when Habyarimana’s plane exploded, and because we denied its history, the genocide had no meaning. We knew nothing, so we could do nothing. We could not comprehend that ideology and culture can subsume individuals into the mass, that collective identity can come to matter more than personal feeling and character.

Foreign governments say the RPF must share power with ‘moderate Hutus’, but the ‘moderate Hutus’ were the first to be killed; certainly, the RPF government contains Hutus, but its centre of power is the top rank of the Tutsi army which won the war.

Across Lake Kivu, just inside Zaire, the inherahamwe and Hutu soldiers look east to their homeland. They dream of return and train with new weapons, even as the sons and daughters of Tutsi exiles from thirty years ago stream in from Uganda with great herds of long-horned cattle, their dream of returning fulfilled.

 

12

The last time I went to Kigali, I looked for people who had known Evariste. By the time Esther Mujawayo took me to meet a driver who had news of him, I had guessed what the news would be. The driver told me he had crossed a roadblock near the house where I had stayed about a week after the killing started and had seen Evariste on one of the barricades.

‘What was he doing?’ I asked.

‘He was carrying a gun.’

‘Could he have been forced to do it?’

‘They only gave guns to certain people, those they trusted. He was with them – he was one of them. We know that.’

The driver, who was a Tutsi, faced death as he approached the roadblock. He pretended that he was employed by the Belgian Red Cross. ‘Evariste didn’t look at me, and I didn’t look at him. I pretended not to know him, but I saw him.’

I wondered whether Evariste had waited until I left before beginning his work, or whether he had already started, those nights when he refused to sleep inside the house. I wondered what deals he had done with the soldiers outside. What had he been thinking, why did he do it, what did it mean to him? Had he been a member of the inherahamwe before, or did it start then? Was he forced or did he believe in what he was doing? I wondered at how I could not have known, at my foolishness, at my painful ignorance, at my inability to understand or just to see. The days we had spent together in the house in Kigali had been the most terrifying of my life. I had been through all that with Evariste, yet I had known nothing of him, nor his people, nor where he came from, nor how he felt and thought.

 

 

 

Originally published in Granta 51, 1995

‘Where is Kigali?’, by Lindsey Hilsum. © Lindsey Hilsum, 1995. Reproduced with permission.

Photograph © James Nachtwey Archive / Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, Hutu man who was attacked with machetes after refusing to support the genocide, Rwanda, 1994

Editorial
Agnes of Iowa