It was seventeen years ago this week that massive Rwandan genocides were sparked. April 6, 1994 marked the beginning of a three-month massacre. In just a few months, 800,000 people were dead.
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For many Americans, the events in Rwanda were just another faraway blur of TV news clips, sandwiched in between the first Gulf War and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina. My husband and I were dating at the time, and as a college student, he had taken a course on African studies. I remember his explanations of the hostility between the two main ethnic groups in the Rwanda: the predominant Hutu and the minorityTutsi, who were heavily favored by colonial policies. Long simmering tensions erupted in widespread killings of the Tutsi. Why didn’t the news provide this explanation?
One of the most interesting effects of the Rwandan genocide is its effect on women. Because so many men were killed, women make up the majority of the current population of Rwanda -- even in the Parliament. Many of the nation’s doctors were also killed, meaning people often have to travel long distances just to get to a basic clinic.
Many of the outside efforts to focus attention on the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide are also spearheaded by women. Kay Warren, the wife of The Purpose-Driven Life author Pastor Rick Warren (who led the prayer at President Obama’s inauguration) has been active in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Rwanda.
And this week, HBO2 showed a recent documentary by Deborah Scranton called Earth Made of Glass, which follows current Rwandan President Paul Kagame and another genocide survivor on a quest to find out how this widespread killing could have happened with so little notice from the Western world.
As the United Nations paid tribute to the victims of the Rwanda genocide this week, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “Preventing Genocide is a collective and individual responsibility. Rwanda's survivors have made us confront the ugly reality of a preventable tragedy." While war crimes trials began in the late 1990s, the alleged mastermind behind the genocide -- former foreign affairs advisor Dr. Runyinya Barabwiriza -- is still being prosecuted.
A lot has changed in the Rwanda -- and the world -- in the seventeen years since the genocide. A whole generation of young people born after the genocide is now reaching adulthood. The Rwandan people want to move on, but they don't want to forget. Many of the sites of the massacres -- many of them Catholic churches -- have been turned into museums or memorials for the victims. An acquaintance whose daughter is now working for an NGO in Africa tells me that very few outsiders visit Rwanda, even the family of aid workers.
Thanks to technology, it is much easier to find out what's happening in parts of the world which used to be isolated. PBS News Hour reported in March on how satellites offer new window into documenting, preventing genocide.
The current President of Rwanda is on Twitter, @PaulKagame. Last month, blogger SavvyKenya, tweeted at him with an invitation to visit the Rwandan school where she works. He responded with a visit. You can read her blog post about meeting President Paul Kagame.
And as the recent events in Egypt showed us, social media and bloggers, including BlogHer GazaMom, have played a major role in organizing activism, giving voice to those who might not have had any voice.
But all the information in the world doesn’t matter if people don’t pay attention. And care.
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