Revisiting the horror of Rwanda genocide

This year marks the 20th anniversary since the genocide in Rwanda when millions of people lost their lives, scores were maimed, thousands displaced while property was destroyed.

The genocide remains a dark stain not only in the Eastern African country, but also on the continent and the world. It is a historical occurrence that reminds us that such a thing should never be allowed to happen again.

The 1994 Rwanda genocide is the story of David Belton’s book, 'When the Hills Ask for Your Blood' (2014). Belton is a British journalist and the genocide was one of the assignments he covered while working with the BBC. The book is a collection of his experiences and Rwandans during and after the genocide.

It recalls the genocide through the stories of two people: Jean- Pierre, a young father who hid in a cesspit for about two months during the massacre and a Bosnian Catholic priest who sourced food from neighbouring countries to feed displaced families.

The man had no idea where his wife and two daughters were. He got food from a kind Zairean who risked his life to feed him. When he left the pit after the Rwandan Patriotic Front had driven away the 'interahamwe' (the Hutu militia) he found that his parents and seven of his siblings had been killed. The priest stayed in the country despite his colleagues fleeing for fear of their lives and vowed to help the suffering masses. After the genocide, he embarked on reconciling the warring communities but the ruling elite did not take this kindly and believed he was betraying the Tutsi by calling on them to forgive their attackers. He was murdered about two years later. Belton’s account raises issues that Rwanda and the region need to consider carefully even as the country prides itself in economic progress. For instance, how did the country get to the point of turning against her own brood?

Belton’s record demonstrates just how dangerous ethnic suspicions can be. He singles out the media and the education system for perpetuating tribal hatred and suspicion.

He cites a teacher who kept asking Tutsi children to raise their hands in class and the Hutu children would laugh at them and told the pupils about Tutsi kings who used to punish the Hutus. At the same time, Belton indicts the international community for looking away when Rwanda was burning. The church does not escape the chastising as some nuns and priests reportedly participated in, or supported the killings. Belton examines the reality of post-genocide Rwanda and how memories of the killings are treated by the state today. 

The writer teaches Literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]