30 Years Ago Something Terrifying Started

On 7 April 1994 the prime minister of Rwanda, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, was murdered together with ten Belgian peacekeepers who had been sent to guard her. She had to die because she was a moderate Hutu attempting to stabilise the country after the president’s plane was shot down the previous night. They were targeted because scaring the United Nations forces away was essential for the plan to work.

And what a horrifying plan it was … A clique of extremist Hutus prepared lists of people to kill, brainwashed the population into believing that some among them were cockroaches that had to be exterminated and trained a militia to execute the scheme. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. 

Seeing the Belgian blue helmets laying down their arms, Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana surrendered herself to the attackers. Madame Agathe’s priority was to save her five children who were hiding nearby, and her quick action did protect their lives — they would later be resettled in Switzerland. She and her husband were shot on the spot. Her body was sexually assaulted later …

Why go into such detail? Because we want to bring the horror of those days closer to you, knowing that a human brain can go numb processing the official number of 800,000 – 1,000,000 deaths (Tutsis, Hutus who like the Prime Minister tried to stop the violence and a disproportionate percentage of the Batwa).

Even though two thirds of today’s Rwandans were born after 1994, such memories still dwell in the national psyche. Without remembering how dreadful it all was, it’s impossible to comprehend contemporary Rwanda and rightly value its dramatic transformation into an African beacon of order, security and economic development.

Agathe Uwilingiyimana was a trailblazer. She promoted self-organisation of Rwandans, eliminated ethnic quotas in favour of merit and, above all, fought for women’s rights. She would have been proud to live to see today when over 60% of Rwanda’s parliamentarians are female.

When you visit Rwanda and marvel at its achievements, don’t forget the women committed to keeping Africa alive.