July 23, 2021
The Tutsis made up just 15 percent of Rwanda’s population in 1994. They ruled Rwanda for the most part until 1959 when the Tutsi monarchy was overthrown. On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the then-President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down, killing everyone on board. The Hutus blamed the Tutsi organization called Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and started a well-organized campaign of slaughtering the Tutsis under the banner “weed out the cockroaches.”
Neighbors killed neighbors. Some husbands even killed their Tutsi wives. The campaign of terror lasted for 100 days. In the end, some 800,000 people were killed in a country of 6.2 million people at the time. Thousands of Tutsi women were taken away and kept as sex slaves.
Will the same happen in Ethiopian cities, particularly in Addis Ababa? We hope not. But with emotions running so high on all sides, there is a cause for concern. After all, no one foresaw the savagery the world witnessed in Tigray several months ago.
The parallels between Rwanda and Ethiopia are striking. In both cases, the targeted minority groups were resented for ruling their respective countries despite their numbers. In both cases, the unrest started when the largest group was in power: the Hutu in Rwanda and the Oromo in Ethiopia. In both cases, rape was used as an instrument of terror. In both cases, a better-organized and highly motivated minority organization (RPF in Rwanda, TDF in Ethiopia) came from the dead and marched beyond its region, in large part due to public anger caused by the atrocities committed.
In Rwanda’s case, the RPF eventually overran the capital Kigali. Then, fearing revenge, some two million Hutus fled Rwanda into the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Burundi. Hundreds of thousands of them died in this exodus, most of them innocent.
In Ethiopia, the TDF rose against all odds and drove out two national armies and an assortment of militias from most of Tigray. Following important battles in Kobo and Adi Arkay in the Amhara region and several towns in Afar, the TDF seems to be poised to advance further south.
The knives and matchets have not come out in the open in Addis Ababa yet. However, unarmed Tigrayans are being hunted down in many cities and towns of Ethiopia outside Tigray. Some have died already. Tigrayan-owned businesses are being closed one after another. Tigrayans are being rounded up and taken to local and faraway prisons and detention centers. Women are being raped. Many cannot access their bank accounts or run life as usual. This is on top of the horrific crimes committed in Tigray a few months ago, and the continued blockade of all of Tigray causing immense hardship on the local population.
Justice and due process have greatly deteriorated in Ethiopia lately. At a time when the UN and international relief organizations are being accused of siding with the enemy, the average guy on the street cannot expect to get justice or due process.
No one should be marked for reprisals for supporting or sympathizing with one side or the other unless he/she is materially involved. Even then, that person should be treated better than the prisoners of war paraded elsewhere and offered due process. All warring groups should refrain from attacking the unarmed and the uninvolved, regardless of his/her political position. This is international law.
The horrifying question now is, what comes next? Will the extremists go as far as killings en masse in Addis Ababa and other cities? Again, we hope not.
However, if that happens, the bloodshed will be historic, and the perpetrators and their supporters will come to regret it. In Rwanda’s case, the Hutu extremists and their enablers, such as RTLM radio station and newspapers, paid dearly. No place was a safe haven for them. They ended up being dead or battered inside and outside their country for what they did.
Whichever side you are supporting, there is a red line beyond which everything becomes humanitarian and international. You are a global citizen with all the privileges and obligations. You could face serious liabilities for inciting violence, if not criminal, financial. Those behind extremist websites and YouTube channels cheering all sides should learn from the likes of RTLM radio station. If principle cannot stop you, perhaps accountability will.