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Rwanda marks 25 years since genocide. Where were you around April 1994 when an estimated 500k to 1M people were brutally slaughtered?


By Muntaka Chasant | 1105 words | Reading time: 4 min





Rwandan Genocide by Muntaka Chasant 

Photo: Rwandan Genocide Victims' Remains, Nyamata Memorial, Rwanda/ February 2013. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant


The Rwandan Genocide


Today’s post departs from air pollution-related content to something equally important; the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide.



While visiting the Nyamata Memorial Church in Rwanda some years back, I asked a guide who had just walked me through crypts and mass graves what I thought was an 'innocuous' question.


“What tribe are you, and how did it feel at that time if you don’t mind me asking?” I asked.


In hindsight, this was a stupid question, but his profound response will go on to change how I perceive inter-ethnic relations in the African context, forever.


See also: Agbogbloshie And Africa's Bulging Youth Population



Kigali, Rwanda 

Kigali, Rwanda/ 2013. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant


"We are all Rwandans now. No longer defined along tribal lines," the guide answered me.


This encounter kept bouncing around in my head for the remainder of my travels in East Africa those days.


The guide was right. His tribal identity did not matter. What mattered was he’s Rwandan, and that was enough.


It seems to me ethnic competition is still to the African today as it was in the ancestral environment some 70,000 years ago.



Rwandan Genocide 

Photo: Rwandan Genocide Victims' Remains, Nyamata Memorial, Rwanda/ February 2013. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant


Post-independence, it appears African elites became interested in democracy only as a means to power, and not necessarily as a means to improve the socio-economic situations of their people.


Tribalism became a powerful tool to rally their social base.


Thus tribal identities became the foundation for political competition in many African countries.


I have observed very few African politicians who are capable of overriding their deep-seated tribal impulses.


Politics of clan pervades the social fabric of much of Africa.


See also: A Small Glimmer Of Hope Comes To Agbogbloshie



What Caused The Rwandan Genocide?


Because I’m too lazy today, I’ll quote parts (exactly as written) of a piece I wrote in the Ghanaian Times back in March 2013 to throw a little light on what happened in Rwanda in the April of 1994.


"Over the course of my travels, I have seen perhaps more than my fair share of atrocities, but none compared to what I saw inside the Nyamata church in Rwanda. I have a long-held interest in the history and implications of the Rwandan genocide, and I feel deeply for the victims. So when I came to Rwanda on February 24, this year, through the northern border with Uganda, the first thing that came to mind was to pay a visit to the Nyamata memorial located in the Bugesera district, about 30km south of Kigali, the capital city. This is so I can have a far better understanding of what transpired in the 1994 genocide. Some 10,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed between April 14 and 19, 1994 in this small church."


"The church features some relics, but primarily a harrowing insight into the genocide that transpired there in April of 1994. Similar events had occurred in the past and churches had served as refuge for the Tutsis and the moderate Hutus, but this time, things took a very different turn at this little church. Thousands of Tutsis fleeing from their homes were hiding in this church, believing they were safe. Yet the Interahamwe gained Hutu government support to massacre nearly 10,000 people at and around the Church, and used grenades to gain entry into the locked church."




Rwandan Genocide Death Toll


Prunier (1998) gives a casualty figures of around 800,000.


According to Reyntjens (1997), around 1,100,000 died during the Rwandan genocide. Around 600,000 Tutsi and 500,000 Hutu.


United Nations estimates the death tolls to around 800,000.


In all, it appears an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 civilians were brutally slaughtered during the Rwandan genocide.


Rwandan Genocide 

Photo: Rwandan Genocide Victims' Remains, Nyamata Memorial, Rwanda/ February 2013. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant


To Prunier (1995), the Rwandan genocide could only be explained through Rwanda's pre-colonial and colonial history.1


Yanagizawa-Drott (2012) on the other hand has linked more than 50,000 perpetrators of the genocide to mass media influence.2



Africa is Still 'Heavily Tribal' in Post-Rwandan Genocide Era


Life in Rwanda 

Photo: Life in Kigali, Rwanda, in February 2013. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant


Post-Rwandan genocide, inter-ethnic relations have barely improved in many African countries.


I have been kicking myself about this for some time now.


While tribalism may not seem beneficial in advanced societies today, it remains highly relevant in the African context, where individuals are expected to serve the interests of their tribes.


Was tribalism much worse in the ancestral environment?


Is it likely that some of the genetic traits of the groups which did not join the “out of Africa exodus” were passed down to some of us?


It makes sense. If the groups survived by keeping to their tribes (as opposed to the intrepid who crossed the seas and resettled as far as the Australias), chances are this mechanism could have been passed down to some of us as a survival trait. Remain in your group. Danger lurks outside!


While this may seems far-fetched as I’m not a primatologist, it does appear we may have inherited our capacity for intergroup violence from a much earlier ancestor.


Similar intergroup killings have been observed among chimpanzee males (Wrangham and Glowacki, 2012).3


In a way, many Africans are very “bee-like” as we do not like to band together with members of other groups (tribes).


This behavior was a key element for survival in the ancestral environment. However, loyalty to group identity may no longer benefit our species today.


While the arbitrary post-colonial boundaries argument may hold at times, it is unlikely states could have been carved out for all the major ethnic groupings at the onset. There are about 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, the same for Dr Congo, and more than 100 in Ghana.


With a very strong tribal tradition, and even the inclination to harm others who are not members of their groups, it appears to me most African societies are yet to reach the stable environment where group members can start to develop their individuality and consider moving away from their tribal bonds.


A couple of centuries more before we can learn to shake hands with both hands, heh?



Agbogbloshie - A short film



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See also: Videos and Photos of Agbogbloshie, Ghana


See also: "Urban mining" and Air Pollution in Accra, Ghana










1. https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/the-rwanda-crisis-1959-1994/ (Retrieved March, 2019)
2. https://www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/centers/cid/files/publications/faculty-working-papers/257_Drott_Rwanda.pdf (Retrieved March, 2019)
3. https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/the-rwanda-crisis-1959-1994/ (Retrieved March, 2019)










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Comments (2)

  • K9fi

    I think all African countries, especially Ghana and Nigeria should see this and to write down that " NEVER AGAIN " Should such a thing happen in Africa.

  • Ellis

    @ K9fi

    Thanks for your comment. We agree, everyone should see this.

    ATC MASK Customer Support Team.

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