In April of 1994, the largest African genocide would occur. The haunting body count of over 800,000 Rwandans, the rape of thousands of Tutsi women, and the graphic photos of dismembered children strewn across the ground like confetti would resonate inside the souls of the world as they reflected on their past actions. This complex story of negligence, antipathy, and sorrow would later be known as the “Rwandan Genocide.” Despite the actual Rwandan Genocide occurring in 1994, tensions would begin a hundred years before in the 1890s. During the age of European Colonization, Germany seized control of Rwanda.
At the time, the Rwandan people identified with two core ethnicities: Hutu and Tutsi. The Tutsi were distinguished with their fairer skin and taller stature, while the Hutu had darker skin and were shorter due to their more laborious work. The Tutsi were considered the social elite of the two ethnicities in the eyes of Europeans. This stereotype was further distinguished after Belgium gained control of Rwanda through the power of the “League of Nations” in 1918 (Feature History, 1:40- 3:07). The Belgium overlords didn’t just see the Tutsi and Hutu as ethnicities, but their own separate races. Similar to Europe’s history, they saw the Tutsi as the “superior” race of the two. Belgium became the equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan in their determination to separate the Hutu and Tutsi “races.”
Once they assumed control of Rwanda, they measured heads, inspected skin tone, and investigated family lineage to determine a Hutu from a Tutsi. After this dividing act was completed, the two separate “races” were issued ID cards stamped with their respective “race” (Feature History, 2:50-3:07). Belgium left the inferior Hutu with the arduous, fatal task of harvesting coffee beans for Belgium’s luxury. Meanwhile, the Tutsi became the overseers of the Hutu people and reported back to Belgium as a monarchy. Because of this, the Tutsi people were given special privileges in education, employment, financing, and many more fields (feature History, 3:07-3:26).
Civil unrest was stirring in a nation divided by race. The Hutu people, who outnumbered the Tutsi overseers 2:3, were beginning to revolt by 1959. They looted Tutsi-owned business, burglarized Tutsi homes, and committed arson. At this same time, post-World War II, the United Nations instructed Belgium to begin preparations for Rwandan independence by majority rule (Clay and Lemarchand, “Rwanda”). Political parties, such as Paremhutu and the Rwandese National Union (UNAR), formed. Paremhutu was led by Grégoire Kayibanda. Kayibanda represented the formally oppressed Hutu people, all who were ready for vengeance. UNAR, the political party led by Francois Rukeba, rose up to rival Paremhutu. UNAR advocated for the Tutsi people, and was supported by the current monarch King Kigeri V (“Rwanda: History”).
On September 25, 1961, the referendum and election that would later shape the fate of a nation, of 800,000 Rwandan bodies and scarring memories of rape, would be held. The first two questions on the ballot would regard the current Tutsi monarchy. Question one asked, “Should the monarchy in Rwanda be preserved?”, while question followed with, “Should Kigeri V remain king of Rwanda?” (“Elections in Rwanda”). An overwhelming 79% of Rwandans voted against the monarchy and King Kigeri. By the end of that night, Paremhutu had secured 35 seats of the government, while UNAR captured only 7. The Tutsi people were no longer the social elite who had Belgium’s patronage. Because of this, over 300,000 Tutsi entered exile (“Elections in Rwanda”). On July 1, 1962, Rwanda gained its independence. Belgium withdrew from overseeing the transition of a Tutsi monarchy to a Hutu majority parliament. Grégoire Kayibanda became President of Rwanda and remained in ultimate power until 1973. The Hutu Revolution from years before had finally achieved its goal.
However, the methods Kayibanda and his associates used were often unscrupulous. By 1965 Paremhutu was the only legal party in Rwanda. Kayibanda went as far as to change the Rwandan constitution after 1969, to allow him to stay in power even longer. It seemed as if Kayibanda would remain the only president of Rwanda until his unfathomable death. Little did anyone know that a talented and ambitious general would soon over throw President Kayibanda (Himabara, “Power Addiction And the Rwandan Tragedy”). However, during Kayibanda’s reign in 1962, tensions in Rwanda were so high that Rwanda separated itself into two different nations: Rwanda and Burundi. The exiled Tutsi now found themselves either located in Burundi or Uganda (“Genocide: Burundi 1972”).
Burundi, just like Rwanda, was broiling over with racial hatred. In 1972 this extremism would reach its peak with the Burundi Genocide, during which an estimated 100,000 – 200,000 Hutu were killed in vie for political control against the Tutsi. This elevated racial tensions in the neighboring country of Rwanda. Among these people affected was Juvénal Habyarimana (“Genocide: Burundi 1972”). Juvénal Habyarimana was born in 1937, and studied mathematics. He joined the Rwandan National Guard in 1960. Habyarimana held office as Minister of Defense and Chief of Police. He was continually promoted until 1973, when he became a general. That same year, on July 5, Habyarimana enacted a coup and overthrew his self-proclaimed immortal leader, President Kayibanda (“Juvénal Habyarimana” ).
Habyarimana was nicknamed “Kinani”, which translates to “invincible” in English. He was a moderate Hutu, but had the ultimate goal of staying in power. Because of this, Habyarimana turned a blind eye to a sundry of assaults and attacks against the Tutsi people performed by extremists of the Hutu people (“Juvénal Habyarimana”). In the 1980s the Rwandan Patriot Front (FPR) was formed by Paul Kagame and Fred Rwigyema. This party was a Tutsi led group that originated from the neighboring country of Uganda. Their mission was to retake Rwanda from the Hutu. They began invading Rwanda from the Ugandan border on October 1, 1990 (Rosenberg, “Rwandan Genocide Timeline”).
The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) was taken by surprise and was pushed further and further back from their country’s border. Eventually though, the tides began to turn as French soldiers arrived to assist Rwanda. Rwigyema was killed, leaving Kagame alone in charge of the FPR. As soon as the French arrived, the FAR began to push back. By the end of the attack they mounted, only 2,000 FPR fighters were left. They retreated to the mountains where they would regroup and continue their attack (Feature History, 6:30-7:52).
In 1991 though, France threatened to withdraw all troops from Rwanda unless major reform was done by President Habyarimana. Habyarimana relented and relaxed his political and administrative rules. Now, multiple parties were allowed to campaign in Rwanda. One of these parties was the Akazu, led by President Habyarimana’s wife Agathe Habyarimana. Agathe was an extremist and radically believed the Hutu were the superior race. Later on, she would be regarded as the real power behind Habyarimana’s presidency.
Agathe used the Akazu to spread hateful propaganda and encouraged violence against the Tutsi (McGreal, “Profile: Agathe Habyarimana, the Power behind the Hutu Presidency” In response, many more Tutsi joined the FPR. Tensions boiled over again in 1992. President Habyarimana, being a power-addicted man, attempted to quell these tensions by reverting back to a one-party government. This only rose the level of lava simmering below a volcano. Riots erupted in the capitol of Rwanda. Chaos ensued, and President Habyarimana immediately backtracked. He switched his cabinet to a multi-party system. In July of 1992, a ceasefire between the FPR and FAR occurred. President Habyarimana agreed to negotiate with the FPR (Feature History, 8:30-8:52). These negations could have stopped the massacre of 800,000 people and the displacement of 2 million others (Clay and Lemarchand, “Rwanda”).
Instead, these negotiations became a menial and only symbolic agreement of trembling peace. The negotiations took place between President Habyarimana, the Akazu, and Kagame, the leader of the FPR. Meanwhile, the international community monitored the summit with gleaning interest. Each of the interest groups had no interest in peace, and instead had ulterior motives. President Habyarimana’s only goal was to stay in power, the Akazu wanted to continue to spread hate and distrust against the Tutsi, and Kagame only wanted to break the stereotypical idea of a rebellious leader to appear as a rational-minded person in the eyes of the international community (Feature History, 8:45-9:17).
It was through these negotiations that President Habyarimana realized how little power he actually had. The Akazu, which was being led by his wife and a man named Theoneste Bagosora, had evolved from a shadow organization whispering in the ears of men, to a full blown militarized party. Habyarimana began to fear the rising political party of the Akazu. He attempted to push back against them unsuccessfully. This led members of the Akazu to not only hate Tutsi, but any Hutu moderates (Feature History, 9:17-9:50). Agathe Habyarimana created the Thousand Hills Radio Station also known as the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM).
The Thousand Hills Radio Station would broadcast hateful propaganda against the Tutsi people. Later this radio station would be regarded as a deciding element of the Rwandan Genocide (“Radio_Télévision_Libre_des_Mille_Collines”). A transcript from May 1994, referred to the Tutsi people as “cockroaches.” “It is sad to them that the cockroaches (RPF) take 12-year old children, young children, to the battlefield and give them difficult tasks because there are children, still ignorant, and not yet intelligent enough (Thousand Hills Radio Station),” said one radio host known as Cantano. Soon after, on August 3, 1993, the Arusha Accords occurred. These negotiations took place between the international community, Rwanda, and Uganda.
The Arusha Accords negotiated another peace treaty that demanded a new democratically-elected government, as well as creating the organization the United Nations Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR) (“Rwanda: The Failure of the Arusha Peace Accords”) . UNOMUR was formed to deal with border control between Rwanda and Uganda. A few months after this in October, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to create the international force: United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). UNAMIR’s mission was to preserve the peace accords as Rwanda’s government transitioned yet again. They were led by a Canadian General, Romeo Dallaire, and made up of a majority Belgium unit (“UNAMIR”). As the end of 1993 wore on, guns and machetes were mysteriously delivered to several rogue Hutu militias. Extremist rallies garnered larger crowds, targeted hate killings were occurring, and the volcano of hate seemed on the verge of a massive eruption.
Months later, on April 6, 1994, the cataclysmic event that would double as the catalyst for the entire loss of 800,000 precious lives occurred. A plane, carrying President Habyarimana and the Burundi President, returning from Arusha to Kigali, was shot out of the sky (Rosenberg, “Rwandan Genocide Timeline”). None of the passengers on board survived. Both the Hutu and Tutsi parties accused each other of this heinous act, and even today it is not known who shot the plan out of the sky. This moment was the official beginning of the Rwandan Genocide. A vacuum of power in the already turbulent Rwandan nation now existed. Bagosora attempted to seize power from Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana, who was the rightful successor. Despite Uwilingiyimana being a Hutu herself, the Akuzu chose to target her (Feature History, 2:18-2:48).
The Thousand Hills radio station issued these chilling words, “Cut the Tall Trees.” This sentence was the command for all Hutu listening to kill any Tusti and Hutu moderates found. Hutu rushed out into the streets to murder enemies, friends, and family members (Feature History, 2:56-3:13). Meanwhile, UNAMIR did nothing to stop the atrocities committed during the genocide. They were instructed by the UN Security Council to not risk their political neutrality. Yet, the FAR still considered UNAMIR the “enemy.” They took over Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana’s security escort and captured 10 Belgium guards. These guards were then transported to a camp and tortured for days with machetes before being killed (McGreal, “Theoneste Bagosora: the Man behind Rwanda’s Genocide”).
Still, General Dallaire was instructed to remain neutral (Feature History, 4:04- 4:08). Two days later, after the genocide began, international support arrived. France, Belgium, and the US began evacuating foreigners only. The three nations left, and soon followed most of the UNAMIR. The slaughter continued for approximately 100 more days. The FAR and FPR were armed with guns, while the Akuzu’s Thousand Hills radio station directed the mobs of Hutu wielding machetes to their next targets (Feature History, 4:05-5:15). When the blood had finally began to dry, in July, the FPR had managed to gain control of the capitol. Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, became President, while Kagame was appointed vice president (Clay and Lemarchand, “Rwanda”).
The aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide still has not come to a resolution in our present times. Displaced members of the two ethnic groups fought again in the early 2000s, and the UN Security Council is still tracking down members of the Akuzu for trial (“Rwanda: History”). While the genocide occurring, America was busy attempting to save lives of their own. Bill Clinton had just assumed office, and one of his central campaign promises was universal health care. Clinton promised that within 90 days of him assuming office he would send a bill into congress to be passed. Clinton one of the American Presidential Election of 1992. He received 370 of the 538 electoral votes. However, his electoral votes were in stark contrast to the popular vote. Clinton had only won 43.3% of the actual American citizens vote (Schulman, “1992 ELECTIONS BUSH VS CLINTON”).
As a result, when Clinton appointed his wife Hillary Clinton to lead the Task Force on National Health Reform five days after taking office many felt he was being presumptuous of his position. The Task Force on National Health Care Reform was headed by six other cabinet members as well as Ira Magaziner. Under them, was over 500 other task force operatives (Amadeo, “Why Did Hillarycare Really Fail? How It Affects You Today” ). The task force was riddled with controversy, and in February of 1993 The American Association of Physicians and Surgeons filed a lawsuit against the task force. They argued that the task force was violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act, by not allowing members of the public in their meetings (“ASS’N. OF AMER. PHYSICIANS AND SURGEONS, INC. v. Clinton, 989 F. Supp. 8 (D.D.C. 1997)” ).
In March, the court ruled that because Hillary Clinton was not a government employee the task force was not exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The case however, would continue on for several more years (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia). The task force would continue to be a source of controversy. In May the task force would be disbanded to the delight of many Republican senators, yet the planning for “Hillarycare”, as it had been dubbed by many Republicans continued onward. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton advocated for their plan of universal healthcare (Amadeo, “Why Did Hillarycare Really Fail? How It Affects You Today”).
On September 23rd, 1993, Bill Clinton gave famous speech addressing healthcare to congress. “So tonight I want to talk to you about the principles that I believe must embody our efforts to reform America’s health care system: Security, simplicity, savings, choice, quality and responsibility.” Stated Clinton durring his speech (“CLINTON’S HEALTH PLAN; Transcript of President’s Address to Congress on Health Care.” ). In reality, the Clinton health care plan would be far from simple. The Health Security Act, as the bill was later called in congress, was over 1342 pages long. In addition, it would rearrange around 1/7th of America’s economy (Moffit, “A Guide to the Clinton Health Plan” ). As a result many large corporations were ardently opposed the Health Security Act. “Harry & Louise” adds were directed to make the general public feel as if the health care plan was to complex and far-reaching.
Even fellow Democrats didn’t endorse the Health Security Act, instead they proposed their own bills or solutions (Amadeo, “Why Did Hillarycare Really Fail? How It Affects You Today” ). On November 20th 1993 the official Health Security Act was presented to congress. Debate over universal healthcare would continue for almost an entire year, until September of 1994 when George Mitchell the Senate majority leader declared the bill done for. The Health Security Act was so pathetic that it never even was brought up for a vote. Instead, a year of bickering was resolved with an abandon damsel bill (Amadeo, “Why Did Hillarycare Really Fail? How It Affects You Today”). This entire debate, about saving lives with health care was occurring while thousands of Rwandans were being slaughtered each day.
This is what the political cartoon is ironically pointing out. In the cartoon, we see an innumerable amount of bodies buried in trenches coupled with the single chilling word, “Rwanda” inscribed on them. Above the slaughtered Rwandan bodies is an American plane parachuting down relief packages, practically a year late. Two lone survivors stand over the morgue of bodies, one asking, “What took them so long?”, only to get the response of, “They were debating healthcare!” The worst part of all is that America didn’t even manage to pass their universal healthcare reform plan. Instead, the American people wasted a year arguing amongst themselves, instead of possibly saving almost one million lives.
In conclusion the Rwandan genocide was a horrific event in history. In total, millions of individuals were affected by the genocide that could have been stopped by several outside nations. Included in this list of nations is America. However, America was too invested in their own healthcare debate to provide real health to the outside world. The author of the political cartoon preys on the irony of the fact that America was trying to improve their own health, but never did.