A wealth of revelatory insights can be gleaned from the growing body of witness literature by Hutu and Tutsi survivors, as well as from the testimonies gathered by outside observers. In this latter category, pride of place must be given to Scott Straus’s invaluable interviews with convicted prison inmates in Kigali and several provincial towns. The accompanying photos by Robert Lyons provide a chilling visual counterpoint to the text (Straus, 2006). What makes this contribution unlike any other is the resonance of authenticity conveyed by the interviews, which, in his words, combined with the extraordinary images of inmates, “offer a largely unmitigated and intimate view of the Rwandan genocide” (ibid., 14). Though lacking the powerful “rawness” of Straus’s narratives, Jean Hatzfeld’s Une saison de machettes (2003) captures the cold cynicism as well as the terrifying ordinariness of the Hutu killers. Just as its earlier Dans le nu de la vie (2000) revealed the agonies of the victims, “machete season” brings us face to face with the inner workings of the killers’ motivations, reminiscent of Arendt’s phrase about the “banality of evil”.
The witness literature can be conveniently divided into two kinds of narratives — by Tutsi survivors of the genocide, and by Hutu who survived the manhunt conducted by units of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (APR) in eastern Congo after the destruction of the refugee camps. Among the latter, Béatrice Umutesi’s recently translated narrative, Fuir ou Mourir au Zaire : Le vécu d’une réfugiée rwandaise, is by far the most compelling. The scenes of apocalypse she describes are no less emotionally wrenching as the images of murder witnessed by Tutsi survivors. “Hers is the voice of hundreds of thousands who never lived to tell their story – of the countless men, women and children who died of hunger, disease and sheer exhaustion in a murderous game of hide-and-seek with advancing rebel units; of the untold numbers trapped at the Tingui-Tingui death camp” (Lemarchand, 2006: 94). The hell of Tingui-Tingui figures prominently in Maurice Niwese’s moving testimony, Le peuple rwandais un pied dans la tombe : Récit d’un réfugié étudiant, as well as many other localities evocative of the refugees’ agonies in their murderous game of hide-and-seek with the APR. His book is also a remarkably lucid commentary on the social context of Rwanda in the early 1990s, on the ambivalent relationship of ethnicity to murder, on the involvement of school drop outs in the killings. As former president of the Association Générale des Etudiants de l’Université Nationale du Rwanda (AGENEUR) the author is particularly well placed to analyze the trend towards radicalization among university students, and how off-campus extremists were able to make political capital out of this situation. This is only one of the many illuminating insights that make his book worth reading. No less important as a first-person account of the refugees’ harrowing Odyssey is Philippe Mpayimana, Réfugiés rwandais : Entre marteau et enclume. Récit du calvaire au Zaire, 1996-1997, by a former radio journalist for the Bukavu-based Agatashya station. To this must be added Benoit Rugumaho, L’hécatombe des réfugiés rwandais dans l’ex-Zaire : Témoignage d’un survivant. All of these add up to a devastating commentary on the conspiracy of silence surrounding one of the biggest ethnic cleansing operations that followed in the wake of the genocide.
Among Tutsi survivors of the bloodbath Yolande Mukagasana was the first to tell the story of her excruciating experiences while trying to escape death, of how her husband and three children were murdered, the first before her own eyes, and how in the end she owed her survival to the reluctant protection of a Hutu colonel of the Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR): La mort ne veut pas de moi, co-authored with Patrick May, is more than a tale of woe; it also tells us a great deal about the way ethnicity can be manipulated, both as an incitement and a deterrent to murder. In Les blessures du silence, in collaboration with the photographer Alain Kazienierakis, she returns to Rwanda to confront the killers, including those responsible for the death of her children. In a more explicitly political vein, Venuste Kayimahe reflects on the collusion between the French government and its Rwandan ally, France’s “betrayal” during the genocide, and the dramatic circumstances of his flight into exile. His France-Rwanda. Les coulisses d’un génocide. Témoignage d’un rescapé (2002), based in part on his own experiences while working for the French Cultural Center in Kigali, is a scathing indictment of France’s indifference to the fate of those who were left behind during the “cut and run” phase of the genocide. One of the most arresting and unbiased of such testimonies, by a survivor on mixed origins, is Edouard Kabagema’s Carnage d’une nation : Genocide et massacres au Rwanda, 1994 (2001). His message comes clear and loud in the first pages: “Not only have I seen the genocide of Tutsi perpetrated by their neighbors and their huts going up in flames… I also saw many Hutu using a thousand tricks to save their Tutsi neighbors… and I saw FPR rebels engaging in a selective and then a large-scale massacre of Hutu, to avenge their own people and consolidate their grip on the country” (Kabagema, 2001: 5). Leonard Nduwayo’s Giti et le génocide rwandais is a captivating and entirely credible account of why the Giti commune was spared the agonies of virtually every other locality, making it a “commune d’exception” – and why the subsequent bloodshed was largely the work of the APR (Nduwayo, 2002). The pertinence of this witness literature to an understanding of “mourning and memory” in contemporary Rwanda is the subject of Catherine Coquio’s excellent contribution on the theme of “reality and the narratives” (Coquio, 2004).
Revisionism covers a wide gamut, from the outrageous to the plausible. To this day, some Hutu extremists stubbornly insist that no genocide ever occurred, only a spontaneous outburst of violence in reaction to the threats posed by the FPR (Braeckman, 1994; Lanotte, 2006: 300-301). Untypical though it is, the case of Antoine Nyetera, a Tutsi claiming royal origins, is worth mentioning: on the occasion of a colloquium held in the French Senate on April 4, 2002, Nyetera flatly stated that “although massacres happened, there was no genocide”, a statement echoed on the same occasion by none other than the former UN Representative in Rwanda, Roger Booboh, who volunteered the opinion that “to claim that a genocide occurred is closer to the politics of surrealism than to the truth” (quoted in Gauthier, 2002, and Lemarchand, 2002: 561). If anything can be termed surreal, it is the calculated denial of the massive evidence supplied through countless testimonies and eyewitness accounts.
The numbers game: How many victims? How many perpetrators?
On both counts, the answers are anything but clear. As has been noted, “citing numbers is a widely used rhetorical device. Since accurate head counts could not be taken in most cases, none of the contradictory numbers that have been offered concerning victims of massacres (including the genocide) or of refugees fleeing from or returning to Rwanda and Burundi are substantiated” (Vansina, 1998: 38). Nonetheless, not all estimates are arbitrary. The demographic data analyzed by William Seltzer suggests a total of Tutsi population of 657,000 on the eve of the genocide (Des Forges, 1999: 15). Subtracting from that figure some 150,000 Tutsi survivors, Des Forges arrives at a total of 507,000 Tutsi killed, or 77 per cent of the total population registered as Tutsi. But she goes on to note, “deliberate misrepresentation of ethnicity complicates how many were actually Tutsi” (ibid., loc. cit). Using data from the UNDP and HCR, Filip Reyntjens reaches the figure of 600,000 Tutsi killed (Reyntjens, 1997: 182). In view of the total number of human lives lost – approximately 1.1 million – he suggests a total of 500,000 Hutu killed. Compared to such careful estimates the totally improbable figure of 280,000 cited by Pierre Pean carries little conviction. The global figure of 1,074,017 dead cited by the Rwanda government, though too precise to inspire confidence, conveys a realistic order of magnitude, but there are reasons to question whether 93.67 per cent of these can be identified as Tutsi (Republic of Rwanda, Minister of Local Administration, 2002).
Even more controversial is the number of Hutu who participated in the slaughter. A standard estimate advanced by government officials is 3 million, or nearly half the Hutu population. Christian Scherrer for his part suggests the possibility of an even higher percentage, i.e. 40-66 per cent of male Hutu farmers, 60-80 per cent of the higher professions, and almost 100 per cent of Rwanda’s civil servants (Scherrer, 2002: 115), but as Straus points out, no substantiation is offered for such claims (Straus, 2004: 96, note 2). In an impressive piece of research based on field work and interviews with perpetrators and survivors, Straus reaches the more plausible estimate of between 175,000 and 210,000 thousand perpetrators (ibid. 93). He goes on to raise the question of the perpetrators’ profile, and makes the arresting argument that most of the killing was done by perhaps 10 per cent of the génocidaires, i.e. “soldiers, paramilitaries, and extremely zealous killers”, while the remaining 90 per cent, made up of “non-hardcore civilians”, might account for no more than 25 per cent of the killings (ibid., 95).