The dark heart of Africa : Ruanda

The shooting down of Ruanda president Juvénal Habyarimana's plane on 6th April 1994 triggered the worst genocide since the Shoah. Yet no journalist has heard the screaming of the victims who died under the hacking of machetes; no camera has registered the murderers on tape. When I arrived in Ruanda on 8th April 1994, the capital city Kigali was already under fire and the "hunt for Tutsi's and Belgians" was on.

It happened in the month when Western-Europe was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Liberation from nazi-Germany. We were touched by the movie "Schindler's List", and we thought that extermination of people only happened in gas chambers. Yet on the killing hills in Ruanda, some 800.000 moderate Hutu's and Tutsi people would be chopped down in less than three months.

The selection from articles that I wrote in those days, are put in perspective - against the background of the October 1990 raid of the Uganda based FPR into Ruanda. The 1994 events were later unfolded in the trial of Luc Marchal, the UN area commander in Kigali, and in a parliamentary committee of inquiry. The April 1994 events would ultimately result in the July 1994 cholera crisis in Goma, Zaïre, the Kivu rebellion in 1996, and finally the long march of Laurent Kabila that would end in the overthrow of Zaïre's president Mobuto Sese Seko.

In particular, some of the April 1994 articles recall the dangerous days at the dernier carré on the Kigali airport and the retreat of the powerless UN-forces, which I compared to "a Belgian Saigon." They call up the militarily successful rescue operation of whites, and the political fiasco of dishonourably abandoning the blacks. After ten Belgian paratroopers had been brutally killed, Brussels was all too keen to withdraw soldiers that even then could have stopped the flaring genocide. In New York, the Security Council remained focused on the biggest ever UN mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Washington, US President Bill Clinton preferred to forget Africa after the fiasco in Somalia the year before. Belgian politicians were all too happy to not oppose these shining examples of courage.

Dreadful as it was, the April 1994 genocide unfortunately was but one sequence in a broader, unfolding drama in the Great Lakes area of sub-Sahara Africa. Within three months, more than two million Hutu's left Ruanda in an endless, sad procession that would only be halted on the volcanic ashes outside Goma, Zaïre. A Tutsi minority had taken over in a country without people, and the Hutu majority had become a people without a country. The pictures of the exhausted people that marched into exile, leaving thousands of dead along the road, will never get out of my head.

I happened to arrive in Goma in the very first days of that exodus. The cholera crisis that followed, developed with a speed and a brutality that left even professional relief organisations dumb. It happened at the height of the holiday season in Western Europe. Feelings ran high for the sad fate of Africa - but then, people turned their head and left for a summer holiday. For three years to come, the survivors of the Goma disaster would wander in the jungles of Kivu, where they became involved in new wars with the Banyamulenge and MaiMai rebels before finally being swallowed up in the long march of Laurent Kabila towards Kinshasa.