"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)



Of all the mysteries surrounding the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the events that led up to and followed it, the alleged massacre of more than 4,000 mostly Hutu civilians in an IDP camp at Kibeho in April 1995 is among the most troublesome. Did the mostly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army exact revenge for the genocide against Hutus, albeit on a more limited scale? Why do we not know the answer to this question when there were international peacekeepers present and a UN investigation into what happened?

Most scholars outside of Rwanda seem to agree that post-genocide killings by the RPA (the armed movement that is now the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the political party that took over after the genocide and controls Rwanda's government) happened. As early as 2001, Alan Kuperman pointed out that the numbers of missing people after the genocide don't add up if we only count people killed in the genocide proper. Most agree that the Hutu extremists who perpetrated the genocide killed about 800,000 people from April-June 1994. Approximately 500,000-600,000 of those were Tutsis; the rest were moderate Hutus who opposed the genocide, gave shelter to Tutsis, or otherwise resisted the Interahamwe's madness.

At least one million, and likely many more, Hutu Rwandans fled the country for refugee camps in Zaire, Uganda, and Tanzania. The conditions in the most crowded camps - those in Zaire - were horrific; thousands of people died of cholera and other diseases. More were killed by the Hutu extremists, who militarized the camps and summarily executed anyone who dared to challenge their authority. Filip Reyntjens, one of the few Western scholars who worked on Rwanda prior to the genocide, estimated 50,000 Hutu deaths in the camps due to health issues. On top of that, there are still displaced Rwandans in refugee camps today; the question of their return is an enduring political issue.

But once we count the genocide, the deaths in the camps, the non-returned refugees, and civilians killed in the RPA's advance on Kigali, as well as the extremist Hutus who fled into Zaire to form what is now known as the FDLR, there are still several thousand missing Hutus. As Kuperman notes, "Statistics comparing Rwandan population figures before and after the genocide indicate that 1.1 million Rwandans appear to have died or gone missing between April 1994 and Spring 1995." What happened to the rest of the Hutus is an enduring mystery, and, arguably, one of the major sources of tension in the region.

Hutus in the region argue that what happened at Kibeho provides a clue as to what happened to at least some of the missing Hutus. While the events at Kibeho in April 1995 are still in dispute, it's certain that some people died there, that they died at the hands of RPA soldiers, and that the official death toll of 338 far under-reports what actually happened. Gerard Prunier estimates that 5,000 Hutu civilians were killed at Kibeho.The best potential source of information, a UNHCR-contracted report into the Kibeho incident and others conducted by Robert Gersony, was never released. As Rene Lemarchand points out, the story of what happened at Kibeho became part of the mythologies of history that form the basis for ethnic grievances in Rwanda. To Hutus, Kibeho is a place at which a great injustice was perpetrated. To Tutsis, in Lemarchand's words, "at no time have RPF troops engaged in cold-blooded executions of civilian populations."

There's one problem with the official narrative of what happened at Kibeho: there were witnesses who reported a starkly different outcome. Some of those witnesses were UN peacekeepers. There have been journalistic accounts of their experiences in the past, but now, fifteen years after Kibeho, one of the soldiers from Australia's contingent has published a book, Pure Massacre, with an account of exactly what he and his compatriots saw. Their accounts are damning:
By early 1995, the displaced persons' camp at Kibeho was the biggest in Rwanda, sprawling for 9sq km and containing 80,000 to 100,000 people.

The 32 Australian soldiers and medical officers arrived there as part of the UN peacekeeping force on April 18, 1995.

There were daily random killings by the Rwandan soldiers, but the slaughter exploded out of control soon after 10am on April 22. The Australians had a grandstand view of the nightmare from the Zambian compound.

The RPA soldiers murdered women and children right up to the UN wire. Bodies were everywhere. For the Diggers behind the wire, the next few hours were agonising.

For the refugees, there was nowhere to run.

As the Australians collected the wounded from among the piles of dead, the crisis began to escalate as panic-stricken Hutus overran the Zambian compound, driven forward by machete-and rifle wielding militia.

Hundreds were killed in the crush and the Australians were forced to repel at bayonet point the terrified victims they were supposed to be protecting, pushing them back into the RPA killing zone.

...The RPA went wild and cut loose with another hail of fire on the panicking crowd.
After the madness stopped, one Australian medic with a hand-held counter counted bodies he passed. He reached more than 4000 clicks about halfway through the killing field before RPA soldiers threatened to kill him if he did not stop.

For two days, the Australians brought out those still alive and helped to fill mass graves with corpses.
It will be interesting to see how Rwanda's government reacts to the publication of the soldiers' accounts. Normally, discussions of Kibeho are dismissed by the government as genocidal ideology perpetrated by Hutus who want to kill Tutsis. Those claims are easily dismissed.

But the claims of former Australian peacekeepers - none of whom can reasonably be denounced as having real biases in this fight - are something else. Here are some key reasons why the RPF cannot simply dismiss the former peacekeepers' points:
  • They represent testimony from impartial, international observers who actually saw the killings and counted bodies. The peacekeepers were on the ground as part of a United Nations-mandated mission that the RPA allowed to be present in the country after the genocide.
  • The peacekeeping contingent abided by their mandated rules of engagement and did not intervene to protect the civilians in the IDP camp.
  • Australia's government did not have any significant ties to Rwanda prior to the genocide, so the RPF cannot denounce them as being biased like the French (who had very close, documented ties to the Habyarimana regime).
  • They can't be written off as Westerners who want to see Rwanda fail; the peacekeeping contingent included 80 Zambian soldiers.
  • It's hard to fathom a motivation on the part of former peacekeepers to outright lie about what they did or did not see.
The timing of this book's release - just before the anniversary of the genocide and in the leadup to the August elections - could not be worse for the RPF. Part of me thinks we'll see a hysterical editorial in the New Times in reaction. The other part thinks that the RPF would be better off just ignoring the book, which, after all, few of its citizens are likely to hear about or read.

(HT: @noodlepie)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many of the arguments about numbers seem to be based upon the number of members of IBUKA [a survivors organisation] post-Genocide and the number of Tutsi in the last Census pre-1994. You take one from the other and supposedly get the number of Tutsi killed. What this ignores of course is that the number of Tutsi stated by the pre-1994 gov't to be living in Rwanda was reduced for political reasons to try to make them seem a less significant minority. So beware of arguments which are so based.

The HRW Report "Leave none to tell..." also alleges there were civilians killed by the RPF, not just Hutu but also Tutsi. The US invaded Iraq to avenge 9/11. Anyone have any idea of the casualty total so far?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 9:41:00 AM

Blogger Rachel said...

Hey, I've said this before, I'll say it again. I love your blog. Thanks for this, it's so heartbreaking but "good" to know/think about.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 12:23:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Anon, I am not in fact working off of IBUKA sources but rather from academic accounts that take into account things like manipulation of census data. I have a PhD in political science and know how to evaluate the validity of information. If you want to sit in London and attempt to discredit everything I post, you should do so under a recognizable identity.

Rachel, thanks.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 4:49:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write, "The other part thinks that the RPF would be better off just ignoring the book..."

Except that Hutu people won't forget. Whether the government of Rwanda ignores the book on Kibeho is to us immaterial. The massacres of Kibeho are the epicenter of how we view the Tutsi dominated regime. For political convenience and other varied reasons, the RPF has not hesitated to kill Hutu civilians (in Rwanda and Congo). Worse, they almost always blame it on the Hutu victims.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 10:29:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


"The massacres of Kibeho are the epicentre of how [Hutu] view the Tutsi dominated regime."

Really? So after the Genocide when Hutu killed for 100 days, went out every day in gangs, making victims suffer as much as possible before they died, the use of rape, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, with survivors left traumatised and many deliberately made HIV+ive, are you saying that after the death of maybe 4,000 people at Kibeho that Hutu are the victims in all this? That any revenge tarnishes all Tutsi but Hutu are all innocent are they? After all that happened there was comparatively little revenge. If there had been more could you have complained? And you have Kagame to thank for that and everybody who votes in the election knows that.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 1:38:00 PM

Blogger linda said...

Thank you again for an important, awful, amazing blog post.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 2:09:00 PM

Blogger Nkunda said...


No need to export your tribal rivalry to this blog.

The game of who-killed-who can go on forever.

"So after the Genocide when Hutu killed for 100 days."

Point of correction, not all Hutu participated in the genocide. In fact, most of them were victims of both the Interahamwe and the RPF.

In any case, the fact that Tutsi died shouldn't be a license for the RPF to kill Hutu as was the case in Rwanda during the insurgent years and in the Congo.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 6:51:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Look, I'm not on either side of this fight. I'm on the side of respect for human rights. Killing people is a moral wrong. It doesn't matter who the victims are or who the perpetrators are. It also doesn't matter how many people died - one life lost to senseless violence is too many.

I do think that the lack of a real, independent investigation (that Kagame would acknowledge) into what actually happened at Kibeho is problematic for precisely the reason that one of the above anon commenters raised: the events are central to resentment of the RPF regime.

We've learned a lot about the possibilities of forgiveness when the truth is told about all the good and bad things in which both sides of a conflict engaged. South Africa is a prime example of a process that was far from perfect, but that kept major tension from erupting into serious violence and allowed the country's citizens to move forward together. It seems to me that finally having an honest, open conversation about Kibeho and the events of the years that followed the genocide would do a lot to ease the tension over ethnicity in Rwanda.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 10:52:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Kibeho is "central to resentment of the Kagame regime" then the people doing the resenting need to ask themselves, whether the death of 4,000 people - allegedly killed by the RPF who [remember] stopped the Genocide - equivalent to the killings in the Genocide? It is not. If people resent the gov't because of Kibeho they lack perspective.

And what about resentment. Rwandans do resentment big time. They resent anyone who is doing well, has a better house than them, has more cows or a better spouse. How does the place move forward when so many people are resenting and trying to undermine others? It is a miracle. And yes progress needs leadership.

If you want to ease resentment in Rwanda, you should just forget it. You might as well try to stop it raining.

And an "honest open conversation", that could be interesting to see. In a recent BBC radio programme [about return from the DRC] someone said that everything is fine, there are no problems [between groups] etc etc. Was that what she was told to say or what she really thought? And how can you tell? So- called ethnicity goes really deep in Rwanda. It could take decades for people to put it behind them. Is getting it all out in the open like on a New York bus ride going to help? Not in my view.

And while we are on the subject of resentment, what about the survivors? Many killers were fed in prison, are now free, passing you on the way and singing loudly in church. Do the survivors resent them? And the gov't that let them out? Would that be part of the open conversation? And a way to move forward?

Is a book about Kibeho significant for the election? I doubt it. While people may resent Kagame, do they want to swap the progress for 1994 or 1996? I do not believe so. And who is responsible for the fact that Kibeho was 4,000 and not thousands more? They know.

Thursday, April 01, 2010 7:38:00 AM

Blogger Nkunda said...

There are two arguments that Anti-democratic RPF will always advance when questioned on democracy
1. Rwanda has to define her own democracy. The experience of genocide shaped us bla bla bla
2. Rwandans are comfortable with the progress being made, and want peace. Hence, they keep voting for Paul Kagame.

Anyone with an analytical mind can see how misleading the two statements are.

First, the myth of economic development is blown out of proportion. What economic gain, and who has benefited should be the question. Why do Hutu people feel excluded?

Second, the genocide was a direct result of dictatorial tendencies. Throughout Habyarimana's regime, there was a noted sense of public order. However, this could not stop the genocide from occurring.

Do we need democracy and reconciliation? Absolutely yes. The civil society has to function and the government MUST be accountable to its people. In addition, freedom of speech is vital.

And yes, if you're a westerner interviewing Rwandans, it is quite possible that Rwandans will tell you what you want to hear. Thus, the bbc radio report you refer to doesn't surprise me. With RPF secret cadres omnipresence, Rwandans live in constant fear. Some, out of experience, consider it better to live as cowards than to die as warriors. Speaking up is always the exceptional under an authoritarian rule.

Thursday, April 01, 2010 9:02:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are you saying economic development is a myth? Seriously? And why DO Hutu people feel excluded then? Please explain.

Thursday, April 01, 2010 9:17:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Pure massacre", terrible phrase if you think about it. A good friend of mine, a burundian widow, walked through the forest of Congo as a refugee, she told me horrible stories of what went on in uvira at the time. RPF soldiers singled out hutu's (a lot of burundian hutu's were in Congo at the time) because of their language and shot them in view of the Congolese present.

Monday, April 05, 2010 12:39:00 PM


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