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The literary topography of the Rwandan genocide (Part 2)

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As already mentioned, Rwanda is a country occupied by three ethnic groups spread out in the different parts of the territory. The Hutu form the large majority. The massacre of Tutsi took place across the country, but much more so in towns and villages where the Tutsi minority were strongly represented and where there was a strong Hutu dominance also. The Tutsi were also defenceless in cities where the number of Hutu was overwhelming. The Hutu, being mainly farmers, lived mostly at the time of the crisis in the fertile South-East and South-West regions. There was quite a significant number of Tutsi living in some of these areas.

On the map below, the circled areas are those with high Tutsi minority. Thus, the Akagera National Park with an area covering almost the entire region of North-East border of Tanzania, including Lake Ihema, Kibungo, Butare, Kibuye cities, and the surroundings, are areas where a large portion of the Tutsi minority lived because these areas were also suitable for grazing and that most of the Tutsi are cattle rearers.


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 Areas with a strong Tutsi minority

According to the statistical report of the Rwandan Ministry of Territorial Administration, the vast majority of Tutsi victims were massacred in these areas. To these four areas, we must also add the following towns: Gitarama, Kigali and their surroundings, as they stand astride these four areas.

The analysis enables us to identify the most affected places in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide through the crosscutting representations made by our different authors. We also note that Kigali, the capital, remains the most affected area. The interpretation reveals that Kigali is the most cited in each of the twenty-eight books, representing a percentage of 14.52%. This percentage applies only to direct quotations since 5.32% of other place names mentioned are from Kigali, thus accounting for 19.84%. In Devant le mal, Rwanda : Un genocide en directe by Rony Brauman, we can note that Kigali is mentioned thirteen times: In just a few weeks, in the city of Kigali alone, the number of corpses was more than sixty thousand, whilst medical teams were working non-stop to save scores of those wounded by bullets, grenades and machetes, who, miraculously, managed to make their way to these teams every day, alongside the victims of bombing” ; in Sous Le Déluge Rwandais by Anicet Karege, Kigali is mentioned forty-seven times, 151 times in We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, and 196 times in France-Rwanda : les coulisses du genocide by Venuste Kayimahe.

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Indeed, the fact that Kigali is the most affected place can well be understood in the sense that, like almost all postcolonial African capitals, Kigali served and still serves as the major modern hub for all the other communities in the country. Therefore, this capital is usually the place where people with executive powers, the bulk of civil administrators and other state officials, members of the private sector and the growing population of migrants from rural areas live and work. Therefore, Kigali can be regarded as one of the most important places, if not the most, where Hutu and Tutsi coexisted for many years. This may be well understood through certain passages. For example: ” When Sister Anna Beata came to fetch me in Kigali where I was working to offer me job of a French teacher at the School of Economics and Commerce where she was director of studies, I accepted the offer immediately.” (Karege, 2005, p9). A second example: “The week before the Nyarubuye massacre, killing began in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.” (Gourevitch, 1998, p24). Or better still, “In the district of Gikondo in Kigali, in just a single day, on the 10th of April, more than one kilometer of the street was littered with corpses.” (Brauman p12).

However, after Kigali and Rwanda (10.96%) we note that Butare, like most areas in southern Rwanda, is among the hardest hit places with 4.40%. It is mentioned 346 times in all the works we studied for our analysis. In addition, it is also one of the towns where a large Hutu majority dominates the population. Butare is cited seventy-five times in Carnage of a Nation: Genocide & Massacres in Rwanda (1994) by Edward Kabagema, and sixty times in Giti And The Rwandan Genocide by Leonardo Nduwayo.

Among the least mentioned places, Gisenyi (1.15 %) and Kibuye (1.47 %) can be identified. We note that Gisenyi is cited ninety-one times: twelve times in We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, fifteen times in Tu leur diras que tu es hutue: A 13ans, une Tutsi au cœur du génocide rwandais and seven times in La mort ne veut pas de moi by Yolande Mukagasana. This makes it tempting to identify the region as one of the least affected during the 1994 genocide. This is understandable because, Gisenyi is not only in the north of the country where violence has been less fatal compared to Kigali and Butare, but also because of its proximity to the border with Congo. This made it possible for a large number of the population, in one way or the other, to escape from Goma “from behind a restaurant in Gisenyi in the North-East, or perhaps from the other side of the border with Zaire, a few hundred meters away.” (Gourevitch, 1999, p170). It is also the place where barbarism was quelled by the advancement of RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front). This helped in providing relative security for the people.

Similarly, we can also cite Kibuye as a factual place with a very strong Hutu presence. The Province of Kibuye is located in the West of the country. Sharing Lake Kivu with Congo, Kibuye can more or less be regarded as one of the most mentioned areas in the entire corpus: “diametrically opposed to Nyarubuye in the Province Kibuye, near Lake Kivu and the western border of Rwanda … ” (Gourevitch,1998, p33). “The massacre of Tutsi and members of the opposition parties was reported in the north as well as in Kibuye …” (Karege, 2005, p190). However, this could be identified 116 times: 19 times in We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families; 2 times in Sous le Déluge Rwandais and 51 times in Tu leur diras que tu es Hutue by Pauline Kayitare.

Thus, other names of places, such as the District of Cyangugu and the Province of Byumba, could be added to that category. With regard to Cyangugu, we realise that the city is mentioned 11 times in Sous le Déluge Rwandais; 5 times in We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and once in Devant le Mal, Rwanda : Un génocide en directe. Although the region is in the south-eastern part of the country where the killings were atrocious, Cyangugu benefited greatly from the Turquoise Operation led by the French army and one of whose main objectives was to establish a security zone in order to enable humanitarian aid workers to carry out their work. “This did not prevent French soldiers from embarking on a real mission of providing protection for the eight thousand Tutsi living in Cyangugu and of the other thousands scattered in the hills of the Triangle of Safety.” (Rony Brauman, 1994, p70).

Similarly, Byumba, located in the north of the country near the border with Uganda, was one of the few areas where the majority Hutu were not easily noticeable. In addition, with the advance of the RPF, the city enjoyed relative protection. This contributed a lot to the quelling of the violence in this region. “Fighting had already resumed on all fronts: in Byumba, Ruhengeri and also in Kigali where the RPF battalion was officially deployed in December to ensure the safety of its members who were to have their share in the institutions catered for under the Arusha Agreement.” (Karege, 2005, p190).

The impact of space study of the artistic representations of our works does not only give us information about affected places in Rwanda during the genocide, but also provides us with information on the variety and complexity of the topography of the country. First by the hills, for example: “… the village of Mugonero is also perching on a hill at the foot of a big church.” (Gourevitch, p33) “… thousands of Rwandans were still threatened with death: Tutsi survivors, hiding in the hills or regrouped by the Kigali army…” (Brauman, 1994, p66); then, lakes like Kivu and Victoria : ” A few days later , Samuel saw houses burning in villages on the shores of Lake Kivu, in south of Mugonero, he decided to stay in the hospital until after the troubles” (Gourevitch, 1998, p34) ; “The fifty thousand corpses found in Lake Victoria, threatening pollution in Lake Victoria …” (Gourevitch, 1998, p184); and finally, rivers: “When the enemy militia crossed the Nyabarongo river and attacked the township from Shyorongi,  everybody took up arms to defend the territory and returned home singing the heroic deeds, reminiscent of those warriors during the time of kings.” (Karege, 2005, p151).

We would also like to mention that some names of places, appearing only once, can mislead the reader into relating the degree of severity to them. For example, areas such as Cyahinda and Karama are mentioned just once. But these are places that are in Butare and we understand from our study that Butare is one of the most affected areas. In Maurice Niwese’s novel, Ruhengeri is mentined twenty-six times and ten times in that of Pauline Kayitare, while only 1.3% of massacres were carried out there. The same goes for Gisenyi with 3.8% of Tutsi killed, cited fifteen times in Tell Them That You Are Hutu by Pauline Kayitare and seven times in People of Rwandan: One Foot in the Grave by Maurice Niwese; while Gitarama with 12.1% of Tutsi killed is only mentioned eleven and six times, respectively, in the novels of Maurice and Pauline Niwese Kayitare.

In view of the foregoing, it is observed that the Provinces of Butare, Kigali and Gitarama alone represent 48.8% of total killings or attempted extermination of the Tutsi minority. The least affected areas are located mainly in the North and Northwest. Thus, 3.8% of the massacres took place in the Province of Gisenyi and 1.3% in the Ruhengeri Northwest. In the Prefecture of Buyumba, which is now composed of Byumba and Umutara North, 2.8% Tutsi deaths were recorded. Certainly, this does not only explain the fact that the Tutsi formed the majority of the Butare inhabitants, but also the fact that Butare was the main stronghold of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), at the time officially allied with the rebel RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) . The least affected areas, like Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, were the least inhabited by the Tutsi, while Byumba was, since 1992, largely occupied by the RPF which could surely protect Tutsi in this area.

In these works, which constitute the base of our study, each author narrates the facts he suffered and witnessed or the story as was narrated to them. For this reason, we found, in their texts, names of towns, villages, other locations or other provinces during their long journey across Rwanda. For Edward and Maurice Kabagema Niwese, it was mainly an issue of escaping or avoiding the killing machine of the conquering Tutsi army; and for Pauline Kayitare, it was a matter of escaping the machetes, clubs and all other lethal weapons used by the Hutu.



It will be difficult to establish with certainty the number of people killed, on both Hutu and Tutsi sides. The victim estimates often vary between about 978,000 and 1,377,000. However, what is very obvious is that the number of victims is over a million. Admitting that about 1.1million Rwandese were killed, the count, according to the report, would be as follows in ethnic terms. There would have been about 800,000 Tutsi in 1994 (10% of the population), of which about three quarters were killed, representing about 600,000. This means that approximately 500,000 Hutu were victims of violence. If these figures are comparable in absolute terms, the Tutsi suffered the most in respect to their demographic weight. Cities and entire villages were destroyed or abandoned; lives were completely destroyed in Rwanda. It was in this small landlocked country in Central Africa, locked within itself, that the whole world witnessed for 100 days with borrowed blindness and utmost negligence, the systematic massacre of Tutsi by Hutu. This ethnic cleansing will ever remain for all the nations of the world, and African nations in particular, a shame that time will never be able to erase from our collective memory.

Dr Pierre Gomez is a senior lecturer and the dean, School of Arts and Sciences at the University of The Gambia.


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