Rwanda: Ten Years Later

Monday, April 12, 2004


Written by Kyle Lambert

Ten years ago our newscasts and newspapers suddenly became flooded with stories about something called genocide in a place called Rwanda. I was too young to understand what was really happening at the time, and I don’t think I’ll ever truly be able to understand the roots of such horror. All I remember feeling was a sense of shock that human beings are capable of such things, and an even greater shock that those capable of stopping the violence chose to stand by and act as though they could do nothing.

There really isn’t much that an 11 year-old can say about genocide. In fact, there isn’t much that anyone can say about it. All this week we have heard and read stories and editorials about the tragedy in Rwanda. It seems that with the ten-year gap comes the ability to analyze the conflict and chide those who failed to act. All the anti-UN authors are using this as an opportunity to point out the failures of the organization, while those who support the global security and rights approach see a chance to promote their causes such as the International Court.

What bothers me about all of the outcry is that it’s happening 11+ years after it was really necessary. While it is great to see what I believe is a genuine caring attitude from many about what happened in Rwanda, the root causes of such an event are still not being explored. The inability of the United Nations to act did not cause the genocide in Rwanda, numerous other factors did. The colonial actions of countries such as France in Rwanda and Belgium in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the greatest impact on the genocide in Rwanda. Yet nobody talks about colonialism and its effects when it comes to Rwanda. The short-sighted tribalism excuse remains popular. It is easy for us to say that if the UN had taken the high road everything would have been prevented, but in reality, much of the West decided to take a much darker path long before 1994. So what should be done at this point in time? Some may argue that discussing the horrors of colonialism is simply splitting hairs and that what’s in the past cannot be undone. However, perhaps by honestly analyzing what has gone on in Africa, we can find a way to avoid another such catastrophe.

It is time that we start really teaching young people about Africa and other non-white parts of the world. Growing up, I learned a ton about Western Europe and the revolutions of the 19th century, but nothing about the revolutions in Africa in the 20th century. I was taught that colonial strife helped cause the Great War, but never about what colonial strife meant to those being exploited. We continue to live in an era of colonialism, this time of a purely economic breed. Lenin was first to use the term “neo-colonialism”, the expansion of Western economic greed through ownership of foreign assets, as opposed to the classic military expansion which started it all. Yet, I had never even heard this term until I took a first year university history class. What I believe we must all seek is a change in attitude, a change which can only come from gaining real knowledge about what has happened and what continues to happen. Many will still argue that bottom wage labour in the developing world is necessary, but at least they’ll know about it. I guarantee that if young people are taught about the reality of neo-colonialism many will think twice about buying that new Gap sweater.

What does this have to do with Rwanda? It’s all about mentality. Rwanda was unimportant until millions were being murdered in the streets. It was unimportant until Western news outlets could see blood. It was unimportant because most Western people couldn’t find it on a map. It is this mentality that changes with education. If we learn about the history of African or Asian countries then maybe more will start caring about what’s happening in them, long before the blood hits the asphalt.

The current generation of leaders doesn’t want us to care about places like Rwanda because their policies don’t suit those who really want to help. It is up to those below the radar of the politicians and their corporate and media allies to kick-start a real global education. The old cliché says that knowledge is power. Well, this is true, but not in the conventional sense. Knowledge brings the power to understand, and with understanding comes caring…you can see where it’s going. Sure, it’s a little scary because caring isn’t always convenient, but it can sure as hell make one real difference on this planet we call home.

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