After several weeks in Rwanda, I saw my first dog since entering the country. Now, many of you know that I am a dog lover myself. My favourite breed is the Jack Russell Terrier and have owned three Jack Russells so far in my lifetime. The lack of dogs in Rwanda prompted me to question it, and I almost wish that I hadn’t…it was a direct result of the Rwandan genocide.
The 1994 Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda’s turbulent history involves a series of several genocides, the worst being the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The 1994 genocide was triggered by the shooting down of president Habyramina’s plane, resulting in his death and also the death of the president of Burundi.
It is said that this event started the genocide of the Tutsis, yet there is evidence to say that the genocide was systematically planned. Machetes were being imported from China in bulk for less than 50c a piece well before this date. The RTLM radio was used to spread the word and encourage Hutu’s to ‘chop the tall trees’ meaning slaughter the Tutsi’s.
Causes of the Rwandan Genocide
Many people without a full understanding of the Rwandan genocide dumb it down and classify it as ‘just another tribal war’. But what they fail to recognise is that Rwanda itself even at the time of the genocide was far from the stereotypical view of Africa being full of ‘mud-huts’. Kigali was very developed, and the two tribal groups Hutu and Tutsi previously socialised and inter-married before the colonial era.
When the Belgian colonizers took over Rwanda, they distinguished between the two tribes further, giving high powered and political roles to the Tutsi’s while the Hutu’s continued to work the land. However, after Rwanda gained it’s independence, Hutu’s came into power, heightening the ethnic differences even further.
The historical and political causes of the Rwandan genocide are much more complex than this, and if you are travelling to Rwanda, I recommend that you read ‘We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be Killed with our Children’.
The Rwandan genocide was the fastest and most brutal genocide in world history. Tutsis, moderate Hutus and Tutsi sympathisers were murdered – hacked to death by Machetes. Over 800,000 people were killed during the Rwandan genocide in a period of just 3 months.
Why are there no Dogs in Rwanda?
You will see very few dogs in Rwanda – most dogs are either pets of expats or stray dogs that have come over the Ugandan border. After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, all the dogs of Rwanda became pack animals. Even the domestic dogs ended up feeding on human flesh as their owners were no longer alive to feed and look after them.
All of the dogs were shot after the genocide – the situation was too bad to repair and the dogs remaining had become rabid and aggressive. It is easy to look at this from a Western point of view and say ‘how awful’ as a dog lover. However, in civil war and crisis, certain things have to be done to protect the remaining population and allow a country to start to recover and move forward.
If you would like to know more about my work in Rwanda, please visit my blog on Volunteering in Rwanda with Global Volunteer Network. Rwanda is now an extremely safe place to be and is a new leading wildlife destination, due to the Gorilla population.