CG #1: Rwanda

Day one of Commonwealth Games proceedings, and I thought I’d kick things off on a…cheery note. Ok, it’s not the most forward-thinking of countries (just try googling ‘Rwanda + LBGT rights’), and it doesn’t have the happiest of recent histories, but it’s on the list because a) it’s one of two competing nations* at the 2014 CG to have no historical ties to the British Empire, which I like for various reasons although it does make me think ‘ermm…why would you want to be a part of this??’ and b) I’m writing about various things to do with Rwanda at the moment for this conference commemorating (among other events) 20 years since the Hutu/Tutsi genocide, so I wanted to. Nur.

How long have people been living there? According to Jean-Pierre Chrétien (2006), anything up to 10,000 years. Neolithic hunters gave way to Stone Age hunter-gatherers, and then came Iron Age settlers; the nothing’s-direct-in-human-history-but-more-or-less-direct-ish descendants of this line are the Twa, one of three ethnic groups living in modern-day Rwanda. The other two are the headline acts in the grotesque display of atrocities in the latter part of the twentieth century, which leads me on to…

…who’s lived there since? The thing is about the other two, it’s even disputed that they are in fact two: the Hutu and Tutsi ‘ethnicities’ may just be one people, divided along class lines (it’s a fairly recent theory, but possibly a sound one; more here, from a 2012 report). Also, as many have alleged (one forceful presentation is put forward in Jean-Philippe Stassen’s 2000 graphic novel Deogratias), the divisions between Hutu and Tutsi may have been fabricated by Colonial authorities to enhance tension in the country, in a classic divide-and-rule manoeuvre. So there were three-maybe-two lots of native people, Germans (after the country was [HA] ‘awarded’ to them in the late nineteenth century), and Belgians (who [HA HA] ‘assumed’ governance of the region when Germany was busy being a bit naughty in the first half of the twentieth century). Oh, and a few French and British. Because…well, because there usually are. Which mélange leads me on to…

…why’s there been all this fighting? Well the aforementioned divide-and-rule colonialism didn’t help. Neither did the fact that the region (now known as Rwanda and Burundi, national borders being always a bit slippery — particularly in heavily colonised regions of the world) was under the rule of a Tutsi monarch, exacerbating anti-Tutsi feeling. (The Hutus were in the majority in the region, but were very firmly below Tutsis in the pecking order.) Neither did independence in 1962, at which point pro-Hutu political parties took control, and set about, basically, getting their own back: tough ethnic quotas were imposed, and many Tutsis fled in the face of a 1973 military coup. After which there was an uneasy ‘peace’** for 21 years.

What about 1994? Ah yes. As you’ve probably worked out by now, this all built to something of a crescendo of horribleness. Some of those Tutsis who’d fled in 1973 formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in exile in Uganda, and invaded Rwanda in 1990. There was a rather shaky ‘peace’† accord signed, as a result of which UN troops were stationed in the region, but then in 1993 the Rwandan government ordered enough machetes from China to arm one-third of all adult Hutu males; a Hutu militia was formed, called the ‘Interahamwe’; and finally, on April 6 1994 the plane carrying the Rwandan president Habyarimana was shot down, allegedly (though it was never proven) by the RPF, and the establishment (politicians, radio stations, the works) called for the systematic extermination of the Tutsi ‘cockroaches’. Men were killed, women were raped, children were tortured. And the UN did pretty much nothing, citing its neutrality: Western Political Prevarication 1, Basic Human Decency 0.

When did it join the British Commonwealth? After all that, and a decade and a half of national rebuilding, Rwanda was granted membership of the British Commonwealth in 2009 — though who knows why? Why, having gone through a series of bloody massacres that were indebted in no small part to various examples of Western interference, would you choose membership of a club which bears the name of a fairly comparable colonialism?? The mind boggles. Anyway. Glasgow is the country’s second CG, having sent 22 athletes to the nineteenth Games in Delhi in 2010 (and returned home with 0 medals).

And finally, where‡ do their 2014 medal hopes lie? I reckon their best bet (based on a fairly fruitless internet search for any better ideas) is the team captain, Dieudonne Disi. He may be virtually an OAP, but he’s had some success in long-distance running in the not-too-distant past, and competed in the marathon at Delhi 2010 (we’ll gloss over the fact that he didn’t finish). And he has an AMAZING first name. C’mon, Godgift!§



*Name the other, trivia fans.

**Quotation marks because it’s the sort of peace you get when one side hasn’t the resources slash is too exhausted to fight back. See various stages in World Wars I and II, Israel/Palestine for large parts of the period since 1948, etc.

†That word again.

‡Yes, that’s the wrong word, but I wanted to crowbar in the final question term, so go with it.

§Translation based on schoolboy French, so probably not accurate.


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