Travel Log #7: “Global Responsibility, Part 1” By Madeleine Harder. Brussels, BE

It’s very hard to pinpoint an exact origin or action that led to the Rwandan genocide and Civil War. Belgium played a hand through its colonization of Rwanda, France played a hand in the training of soldiers with intent to kill, the Catholic church played a hand by not denouncing the actions of its followers, and even the UN played a hand in the conflict by not taking it seriously enough. General Romeo Dallaire did everything humanly possible to enforce peace treaties with the resources he was provided but in the end it just wasn’t enough. The guilt he feels seems misplaced to me, it is not a problem of what more could he have done—it is a problem of what more could others have done. I applaud Dallaire for even returning to Rwanda because I can’t imagine the amount of strength that must have taken.

I am studying in Belgium this semester so in this post I am mainly going to focus on the role that they played in the conflict. Today Belgium is a small country that’s really only known for holding the capitol of the European Union. What many people don’t know is that it used to be a giant colonial power along with other unassuming countries today such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Portugal.

In 1916, Belgium accepted the League of Nations mandate to govern what is now known as Rwanda. As the colonial power, Belgium separated and labeled the population of Rwanda into Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutu were the majority of Rwandan citizens however the Belgians aligned themselves with the militarily strong Tutsi and used them to reinforce their laws. The Belgians were fascinated with the differences between the two ethnic groups and they flew in experts to compare skull sizes. The general (incorrect) thought at the time was a bigger skull meant a bigger brain and their allies the Tutsi’s possessed this trait along with lighter skin. The lighter skin led experts to believe that Tutsi’s were descendent from a common ancestor and thus superior. Long before the Holocaust, Tutsi and Hutu’s were issued ethnic identity cards.

Belgium couldn’t possibly have been prepared for what would happen over the next 5 decades. Rwanda officially declared its independence from Belgium in 1961 but the country was not rid of its colonial power just yet. The Tutsi’s started to believe they were superior and abused their powers over the Hutu. This is when Hutu factions revolted and a civil war was imminent. Belgium called many troops in to enforce peace treaties signed by the two groups but tensions were way too strong. Though well trained the Belgian presence worsened things in the sense that both ethnic groups had a distaste for anyone affiliated with the country. Belgium fled Rwanda as soon as things got very bad even though they had a responsibility to stay and clean up the mess they were partially responsible for.

nieuwsblad-cartoonThe cartoon that I chose to accompany this post was taken from a Flemish newspaper and is very insensitive in my opinion. Twenty years following the Rwandan genocide the president of Rwanda stands over a two-tiered cake holding a machete. Standing in the background are the UN secretary and Belgian minister of foreign affairs. The incredible irony of this cartoon is undeniable—it was the Belgian’s who chopped Rwanda to pieces and to try and turn that around just speaks to the utter lack of guilt that the Belgian people have of their role in this conflict.

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