FIRST-PERSON: The Rwandan Genocide

Baptist Press
Posted: Jun 20, 2014 5:22 PM
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- This time 20 years ago in the east African nation of Rwanda, men, women and children were being slaughtered on a mass scale. In 100 days, between 800,000 and 1 million people were brutally murdered and many more were maimed.

What has been called the Rwandan Genocide is certainly not the first incident of mass murder the world has seen nor was it the last. However, it was particularly gruesome due to its intensity and circumstances.

The Rwandan massacre began on April 7, 1994, and continued until mid-July. While there is absolutely no justification for what took place during the 100-day killing spree, a historical context provides some perspective.

The genocide in Rwanda has its roots in a deep-seated racism between the Hutus and Tutsis, dating back to the early 1900s when the country was controlled by the Belgians.

When the Belgian colonists arrived in 1916, they viewed the Hutus and Tutsis differently and even produced identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity. Even though the Tutsis comprised only about 15 percent of the population, they were viewed by the Belgians as more fit to rule and were selected for positions of leadership.

As a result of their favored status, the Tutsis also enjoyed preferred educational and economic opportunities. As time went on, the Hutus began to resent the Tutsis.

After enduring decades of second-class status, the Hutus responded with a series of riots in 1959. Approximately 20,000 Tutsis were killed and thousands fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

When Rwanda was granted its independence in 1962, the majority Hutus took over politically. Tutsis began to be portrayed negatively and were made scapegoats for most every crisis.

Over time, some Tutsis formed a rebel group known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front. It initiated a civil war in 1990 with the RPF stated goal of overthrowing the Hutu-dominated government.

A ceasefire agreement in 1992 eventually led to negotiations between the warring factions. In August 1993, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, signed an agreement calling for the creation of a transition government that would include the RPF. This move did not sit well with Hutu extremists.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down over the Rwandan capital of Kigali, leaving no survivors. Though it was never determined who downed the plane, Hutu extremists blamed the RPF. There are some who have speculated that Hutu extremists were behind the attack, using it as an excuse to launch an attack on the Tutsis.

Within an hour of the plane crash, the Presidential Guard together with members of the Rwandan armed forces and Hutu militia groups the Interahamwe ("Those Who Attack Together") and Impuzamugambi ("Those Who Have the Same Goal"), took advantage of the president's death.

The hardcore Hutus seized control of the government and called on the majority Hutus to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors and anyone who sympathized with Tutsis. The first victim of the genocide was the moderate Hutu prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

The mass killings in Rwanda quickly spread from Kigali to the rest of the country. During the 100-day slaughter, local officials and government-sponsored radio stations called on ordinary citizens to murder their neighbors. Tragically most complied, leaving the unfathomable death toll.

The question posed most often after a tragedy like the Rwandan genocide is, "How could this happen?" The succinct answer is "sin," though it is in no way meant to be a simple answer.

From the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, to the Cambodian killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, to the present-day tragedy of abortion in the United States, the common thread that runs through man's inhumanity to man is sin.

Sin is more than a theological concept to be proclaimed in sermons and debated in seminary classrooms. Sin is a reality that rests in the heart of every human being. Though it manifests itself in different ways, it is there waiting to be stirred.

The apostle John wrote of sin, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world."

From John's assessment, we understand the reality of sin reveals itself in an individual's life in three broad categories. The lust of the eyes entails what a person can see and would have a desire to possess. The lust of the flesh would be that which a person would deem as pleasurable. The boastful pride of life would center on a person's ego in the form of power, position, popularity, prestige or preservation.

The reality of sin is a reality with which everyone must come to grips.

No one can say for certain what motivated a Rwandan Hutu to murder his innocent Tutsi neighbor. Perhaps the murderer wanted to occupy his neighbor's home. Maybe the Hutu believed slaughtering his neighbor would preserve his own life. Who knows? The reality of sin is powerful beyond human understanding.

When Cain was furious with his brother Abel, the Lord counseled him, "… sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." Cain ignored God's warning and murdered his brother.

The infamous anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide should be a reminder that sin has crouched outside mankind's door throughout history. And because the Lord's warning is ignored, it continues to manifest itself in the form of lying, greed and even mass murder.

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (

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