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Rwanda: legacy of a genocide 15 years on

April 3, 2009

This April marks 15 years since the Rwandan genocide, an event that still casts a dark shadow over the region. It was a killing spree that lasted just three months, but that left 800,000 people dead, most ethnic Tutsis, killed by soldiers and civilians from the majority Hutu ethnic community.

It took an army of exiled Tutsi Rwandans, led by Rwanda’s current president Paul Kagame, to stop the killings. That government, still in power 15 years later, has vowed that a Rwandan genocide can never happen again. It’s a policy that has had a deep impact on the whole region, especially on Rwanda’s bigger neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This is where the defeated Hutu army fled in 1994. In the sprawling refugee camps, a new Hutu militia was formed – the FDLR or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.

Rwanda didn’t take the threat across the border lying down and invaded Congo three times, sparking a civil war in 1998 that sucked in six African countries and killed 5.4 million people, according to aid agencies.

But their most recent incursion took place with the full complicity of the Congolese government. This February, thousands of Rwandan troops descended on the country’s East, to try and hunt down the FDLR once and for all.

Suspected FDLR fighters and their families were rounded up, to be taken back to Rwanda. FDLR corporal Jean Baptiste Iradukunda explained that he had given himself up voluntarily so that he could go home to Rwanda safely. “Now the FDLR is disorganised,” he said. “We can’t communicate anymore. Many FDLR groups still have some heavy guns but they are defeated, there is no organisation.”

Near the village of Matembe, the army found an FDLR camp and burnt it to the ground. We saw no fighting, no resistance. The smoke drifted peacefully over the surrounding forests: an good hiding place for any militia.

A group of women and children sat around on the outskirts of the village. Marie Celine Uwamariya is married to an FDLR fighter who was still in the bush. The term she used to describe the ethnic Tutsi soldiers in Rwanda’s army – “cockroach” – was used by the killers for their victims during the genocide.

“When my husband heard that the cockroaches were coming from Rwanda we decided to run into the forest,” she told Reuters Africa Journal. “When we got there, life got too hard for us so we decided to go back to our village. When we got there, these
soldiers took us and brought us here.”

When they get back to Rwanda, the former fighters spend time in a rehabilitation camp, where they learn their country’s history – from the government’s perspective – and how to be good citizens in a system that they fought against for 15 years.

Back in eastern Congo, we were there when the Rwandan army packed up to go home, after a month on the ground. The last time they left Congo in 2002, most of the locals were delighted to see them go. Not this time. Matembe resident Shinyongo Ramadhan
had this message for the Rwandan troops:

“When you leave, the rebels will come back and we will be beaten,” he said. “Some of us will be hurt very badly.”

Since then, the FDLR have returned to local villages and launched reprisal killings and rapes, according to human rights groups. The UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA estimates that this year alone, 150,000 people have been displaced in eastern Congo, most by the FDLR.

Was Rwanda right to fight the FDLR all these years, waging war in a country not their own? Who should be responsible for disarming this militia born out of the 1994 genocide?


I hate the term Umoja Wethu, the reality is Congolese and Rwandese hate each other. We Congolese wanna have nothing to do with Rwanda, Our wish is to see Congolese’s border being closed for any Rwandans. We hate them with passion, they must live us alone and stop trying to normalise their relationship with us.We are central african they are east African, Rwanda must befriend Kenya and not Congo please, As congolese we dont really need them

Posted by mo | Report as abusive

Quite obviously, the Congolese army should be the ones disarming and disbanding a rogue force on its own soil. The fact that it can’t – and turned to an arch-enemy to do so – speaks volumes about its inability to enforce security throughout the country.A painful but long-lasting solution would be to cede eastern Congo to Uganda and Rwanda, two well-organized countries with some of the most professional armed forces on the continent. DRC as a nation is an utter failure and should be split up.

Posted by Brandon | Report as abusive

No one in this world will allow its borders to be violated for whatsoever reasons. It is true that Rwandan government has a legitimate case of national security, but this situation should have been handled by the international community as Hutu entered Congo not as rebels, but asylum seekers. It is so good to have sympathy with the genocide in Rwanda, but to allow and watch the killing of millions of innoncent lives in Congo in the name of genocide in Rwanda is wrong and the international community should be ashamed of its attitude toward Congolese people who are now victims for their hospitality. Unfortunately these Hutu rebels who were used by the Congolese government to fight Mutebesi and Laurent Nkunda are now on the platter as present. Kabila who by whatever miracle became “democratically” elected has forgotten his manifesto and is busy silencing all his critics with deaths squads every day in the effort to exert control without challenge. He will end up like Mobutu, but it will not take him three decades


Brendon, unfortunatly your wish will never come true, way congolese with the entire international community against it has prevented the balkanisation of it country. despite the death of millions of congolese parts of congo has not becoming Rwanda or Uganda. one thing you need to understand that the west wants to keep congo on it knees becausse a strong and powerful congo will translate into a strong Africa something that the west does not whish to see. hence they are using heavily depandant countries such as Rwanda and Uganda to carry out their mission.With regard to the Rwandan genocide they are many question about who participated and who was responsible, some claim they current Rwandan president and his cronies open the door for the genocide to commence by shooting down the plane that was carry former president Habyarimana. So why should some be punished and other enjoy impunity.

Posted by mq | Report as abusive

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