America and Rwanda have a special bond. We share a national holiday on July 4. America celebrates it as Independence Day; Rwanda, as the end of a genocide that ravaged the country a quarter century ago.
On July 4, 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took the capital city, Kigali, and effectively ended the 100-day slaughter. The dead have never been counted, only estimated. The United Nations puts the number at 800,000, others at more than 1 million.
But even these numbers do not account for the 250,000 to 500,000 women who were unspeakably brutalized, or the 2 million Rwandans displaced. In a country of 7.1 million people, 40% of all Rwandans and 70% of the Tutsis became casualties of war.
In this third, and final, commemorative column, I want to look at the cause and the cure of this unspeakable evil of recent history.
Histories that trace the rise of tensions between the Hutus and the Tutsis through the 20th century are myopic, at best. But those that trace the tensions to prehistoric times are no better. Both narratives assume a falsehood. They believe in the existence of two races.
The real tragedy is that, prior to the imposition of toxic Darwinist ideas, the Hutus and Tutsis were different cultures, but not different races. For centuries, Rwanda had ranchers (Tutsis) and farmers (Hutus). Ranchers tended to marry other ranchers, and farmers tended to marry other farmers. But this was only custom, not law. Over centuries of coexistence, physical characteristics of ancestry were increasingly muted.
However, when German colonists arrived in 1885, they carried something deadlier than smallpox. Their minds were infected with the new ideology of Darwinism. Reading the evolutionary tea leaves, they came to believe that the Tutsis were of Ethiopian descent and, hence, racially superior to the Hutus.
Acting on this blind faith, the Germans regularly appointed Tutsis to positions of power over Hutus. Later, when the Belgians took Rwanda as a war prize after the Treaty of Versailles, the discrimination only got worse until they set their racism in stone. In 1933, the Belgian government imposed identity cards that pigeonholed each Rwandan into one of four racial categories.
Intermarriage that had once integrated families did so no longer. The indelible mark of a “Tutsi” or “Hutu” could not be erased by marriage. Likewise, changes in economic fortune that once gave opportunity for mobility from working class to ruling class did so no longer. The caste system created by European colonists was now irrevocable.
These are the ugly results of Darwinism and the identity ideology that it spawns. It is a reminder that the racism of National Socialism was not quarantined to Germany. It infected the minds and skewed the policies of all prewar Europe, and it was imposed on unsuspecting tribes that had lived in relative harmony for centuries.
War did not come immediately, but resentment did. It grew like a cancer until it broke out in civil war in late 1959. Since then, Rwanda experienced three-and-a-half decades of on-again, off-again civil war.
Some foreign powers sided with the Hutus as victims of Tutsi oppression. Others supported the Tutsis as victims of Hutu aggression. The truth is that both were victims. They were attacked by a toxic Darwinism imported from Europe.
When the genocide began, the government ID cards became a death sentence for Tutsis, and forced conscription into execution squads for Hutus. On the third day of the slaughter, 1,000 heavily armed French troops came to escort foreign nationals out of the country. Rwandan spouses and children were not evacuated. A mark on the ID card made all the difference.
The cure for this venom is not to exact reparations for sins of the past. It is to reject the racial ideology at the root of the injustices. Even as this toxic stew was boiling over, both Rwandans and some foreigners rejected the Darwinist division. Numerous Hutus died at the hands of fellow tribesmen when they refused to kill their Tutsi neighbors.
Some foreigners, like Father Vjeko Curic, refused evacuation. He chose to stay and give sanctuary to fleeing Tutsis. After the genocide, he reached out to Hutus and worked to rebuild a community shattered by neighbor murdering neighbor. Tirelessly, he lived out his love for all Rwandans until, on Jan. 28, 1998, he was assassinated in Kigali. His story is only one of many.
Today, the Rwandan people carry on the work of those who rejected the artificial division between Tutsi and Hutu. Official Rwandan policy no longer identifies people by race or seeks reparations for past atrocities. There is still much healing to be done. But the healing truth is clear. In Rwanda, there can be no races, only humans.