Tragedy in Rwanda—Who Is Responsible?
“In the moment before the 23-year-old mechanic’s skull was hacked open,” U.S.News & World Report said, “one of the attackers told Hitiyise: ‘You have to die because you are a Tutsi.’”
HOW often such a scene was repeated in the small Central African country of Rwanda during the months of April and May! At the time there were 15 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in and around Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The city overseer, Ntabana Eugène, was a Tutsi. He, his wife, his son, and his nine-year-old daughter, Shami, were among the first persons slaughtered when the rampage of violence erupted.
Thousands of Rwandans were murdered daily—week after week. “In the last six weeks,” the above-quoted newsmagazine reported in mid-May, “as many as 250,000 people have died in a campaign of genocide and retribution that rivals the Khmer Rouge’s bloody purge of Cambodia in the mid-1970s.”
Time magazine said: “In a scene reminiscent of Nazi Germany, the children were picked out of a group of 500 simply because they looked like Tutsi. . . . The mayor of the southern town of Butare, who is married to a Tutsi, was offered [an agonizing] choice by Hutu peasants: he could save his wife and children if he gave up his wife’s family—both her parents and her sister—to be killed. He made the deal.”
Six persons worked in the Translation Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kigali, four of them Hutu and two Tutsi. The Tutsi were Ananie Mbanda and Mukagisagara Denise. When the militia along with looters came to the house, they became angry at finding Hutu and Tutsi residing together. They wanted to kill Mbanda and Denise.
“They started to take the pins out of their grenades,” said Emmanuel Ngirente, one of the Hutu brothers, “threatening to kill us, since we had among us their enemies. . . . They wanted a large sum of money. We gave them all the money we had on us, but they were not satisfied. They decided to take from us as compensation everything they could use, including a laptop computer used in our translation work, our photocopier, our radios, our shoes, and so forth. Suddenly they left without killing any of us, but they said they would come back later.”
In the days that followed, the looters kept returning, and each time the Hutu Witnesses pleaded for the lives of their Tutsi friends. Finally, when it became too dangerous for Mbanda and Denise to stay any longer, arrangements were made for them to go with other Tutsi refugees to a nearby school. When the school was attacked, Mbanda and Denise were able to flee. They succeeded in crossing several roadblocks, but, eventually, at one of them, all the Tutsi were taken aside, and Mbanda and Denise were killed.
When the soldiers returned to the Translation Office and discovered that the Tutsi Witnesses were gone, the soldiers gave the Hutu brothers a terrible beating. Then a mortar exploded nearby, and the brothers managed to escape with their lives.
As the killing continued throughout the country, the number of dead reached a possible half million. Eventually, between two and three million, or more, of Rwanda’s eight million inhabitants left their homes. Many of them sought refuge in nearby Zaire and Tanzania. Some hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses were killed, and many others were among those who fled to camps outside the country.
What ignited such unprecedented slaughter and exodus? Could it have been prevented? What was the situation before the violence erupted?
The Hutu and the Tutsi
Both Rwanda and the neighboring country of Burundi are populated by the Hutu, a generally short, stocky Bantu people, and the Tutsi, a normally taller, lighter-skinned people who are also known as Watusi. In both countries the Hutu make up about 85 percent of the population and the Tutsi 14 percent. Clashes between these ethnic groups have been recorded as far back as the 15th century. Yet, for the most part, they have lived together peacefully.
“We used to live together in peace,” a 29-year-old woman said of the 3,000 Hutu and Tutsi living in the village of Ruganda, located a few miles east of Zaire. However, in April raids by gangs of Hutu wiped out nearly the entire Tutsi population of the village. The New York Times explained:
“The story of this village is the story of Rwanda: Hutu and Tutsi living together, intermarrying, not caring or not even knowing who was a Hutu and who a Tutsi.
“Then something snapped. In April, Hutu mobs throughout the country went on a rampage, killing Tutsi wherever they found them. When the killings began, Tutsi fled to churches for protection. The mobs followed, turning sanctuaries into cemeteries that remain splattered with blood.”
What had ignited the killing? It was the deaths, in a plane crash in Kigali on April 6, of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, both of whom were Hutu. This event somehow unleashed the slaughter not only of Tutsi but also of any Hutu who were thought to have sympathized with them.
At the same time, fighting intensified between the rebel forces—the Tutsi-dominated R.P.F. (Rwandan Patriotic Front)—and the Hutu-dominated Government forces. By July the R.P.F. had defeated the Government forces and had gained control of Kigali and much of the rest of Rwanda. Fearing reprisals, early in July, Hutu by the hundreds of thousands fled the country.
Who Is Responsible?
When asked to explain why the violence suddenly erupted in April, a Tutsi farmer said: “It is because of bad leaders.”
Indeed, throughout the centuries, political leaders have spread lies about their enemies. Under the direction of “the ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil, worldly politicians have persuaded their own people to fight against and kill those of another race, tribe, or nation. (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19) The situation has been no different in Rwanda. The New York Times said: “Politicians have repeatedly tried to foster ethnic loyalty and ethnic fears—in the case of the Hutu, to keep control of the Government; in the case of the Tutsi, to marshal support for the rebel front.”
Since the people of Rwanda are similar in many ways, one would never expect them to hate and kill one another. “The Hutu and the Tutsi speak the same language and generally share the same traditions,” wrote reporter Raymond Bonner. “After many generations of intermarriage, the physical differences—the Tutsi tall and thin, the Hutu shorter and broader—have disappeared to such an extent that Rwandans are often not sure whether someone is a Hutu or Tutsi.”
Yet, the recent barrage of propaganda has had an unbelievable effect. Illustrating the matter, Alex de Waal, director of the group African Rights, said: “Peasants in areas overrun by the R.P.F. are reportedly astonished that the Tutsi soldiers do not have horns, tails and eyes that glow in the dark—such is the content of the radio broadcasts they listen to.”
Not only do political leaders mold people’s thinking but religion does too. What are the major religions of Rwanda? Have they also been responsible for the tragedy?
The World Book Encyclopedia (1994) says of Rwanda: “Most of the people are Roman Catholics. . . . The Roman Catholic and other Christian churches operate most of the elementary and high schools.” The National Catholic Reporter, in fact, called Rwanda a “70% Catholic nation.”
The Observer, of Great Britain, gives background to the religious situation in Rwanda, explaining: “During the 1930s, when the churches were battling for control of the education system, the Catholics favoured the Tutsi aristocracy while the Protestants allied themselves with the oppressed Hutu majority. In 1959 the Hutus seized power and rapidly came to enjoy the support of Catholics and Protestants. Protestant support for the Hutu majority remains very strong.”
Have Protestant church leaders, for example, condemned the massacres? The Observer answers: “Two churchmen [Anglicans] were asked whether they condemned the murderers who had filled the aisles of Rwanda’s churches with the bodies of decapitated children.
“They refused to answer. They dodged questions, became agitated, their voices reaching an even higher pitch, and the deep root of Rwanda’s crisis was laid bare—the most senior members of the Anglican church acting as errand boys for political masters who have preached murder and filled the rivers with blood.”
Indeed, Christendom’s churches in Rwanda are no different from churches elsewhere. For example, of their support of political leaders in World War I, British Brigadier General Frank P. Crozier said: “The Christian Churches are the finest blood-lust creators which we have and of them we made free use.”
Yes, religious leaders bear a large share of the responsibility for what has happened! The National Catholic Reporter of June 3, 1994, reported: “The fighting in the African nation involves ‘a real and true genocide for which, unfortunately, even Catholics are responsible,’ the pope said.”
Clearly, the churches have failed to teach true Christian principles, based on such scriptures as Isaiah 2:4 and Matthew 26:52. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, a priest lamented: “They are slaughtering one another, all the while forgetting that they are brothers.” Another Rwandan priest confessed: “Christians have been killed by other Christians, after a century of sermons on love and forgiveness. It has been a failure.” Le Monde asked: “How can one avoid thinking that the Tutsi and Hutu who are at war in Burundi and Rwanda were trained by the same Christian missionaries and attended the same churches?”
True Christians Are Different
The true followers of Jesus Christ abide by his command to “love one another.” (John 13:34) Can you imagine Jesus or one of his apostles taking a machete and hacking someone to death? Such lawless killing identifies people as “the children of the Devil.”—1 John 3:10-12.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take no part whatsoever in the wars, revolutions, or any other conflicts promoted by the world’s politicians, who are under the control of Satan the Devil. (John 17:14, 16; 18:36; Revelation 12:9) Rather, Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrate genuine love for one another. Thus, during the massacres, Hutu Witnesses willingly put their lives in jeopardy in efforts to protect their Tutsi brothers.
Yet, such tragedies should not be surprising. In Jesus’ prophecy concerning “the conclusion of the system of things,” he foretold: “Then people . . . will kill you.” (Matthew 24:3, 9) Happily, Jesus promises that faithful ones will be remembered in the resurrection of the dead.—John 5:28, 29.
In the meantime, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rwanda and everywhere else are determined to continue proving themselves Christ’s disciples by loving one another. (John 13:35) Their love is giving a witness even in the midst of these present hardships, as the accompanying report “Witnesses in Refugee Camps” reveals. All of us need to remember what Jesus said in his prophecy: “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Matthew 24:13.
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WITNESSES IN REFUGEE CAMPS
As of July this year, about 4,700 Witnesses and their companions were in refugee camps. In Zaire, 2,376 were in Goma, 454 in Bukavu, and 1,592 in Uvira. In addition, there were in Tanzania some 230 in Benaco.
Just getting to refugee centers was not easy. One congregation of 60 Witnesses tried to cross the Rusumo bridge, a main escape route to refugee camps in Tanzania. When they were refused passage, they wandered along the banks of the river for a week. Then they decided to try to cross in canoes. They made it, and after a few days, they safely reached the camp in Tanzania.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in other countries organized large relief efforts. Witnesses in France collected over a hundred tons of clothes and nine tons of shoes, and such supplies, along with nutritional supplements and medicines, were shipped to areas in need. Often, the first thing brothers in the refugee camps asked for, however, was a Bible or a Watchtower or Awake! magazine.
Many observers were impressed by the love shown by Witnesses in Zaire and Tanzania, who visited and helped their displaced brothers. “You have received visits from people in your religion,” refugees say, “but we have not been visited by a priest from ours.”
The Witnesses became well-known in the camps, largely because of their unity, orderliness, and loving disposition. (John 13:35) It is of interest to note that in Benaco, Tanzania, it took the Witnesses only 15 minutes to locate fellow Witness refugees among some 250,000 people in the camp.