April 6,1994: Rwanda’s Day of Infamy

A personal reflection by Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
April 6, 2024,
Washington DC,

Today, thirty years ago, I attended a Pan-African Movement conference in Kampala, Uganda. Later that night, as I prepared to go to sleep, I tuned in to the BBC news. I heard that a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi had crashed, killing President Juvenal Habyarimana, President Cyprian Ntaryamira, and all their entourage.

Looking back, I vividly recall how I had traveled from RPF’s headquarters at Mulindi in northern Rwanda with colleagues Patrick Mazimpaka, Wilson Rutayire (Shaban), Christine Umutoni, and a few other senior cadres. I was the RPF’s Secretary General.

April 6, 1994, is Rwanda’s worst day in the centuries-old nation’s history; it is unquestionably Rwanda’s “Day of Infamy,” to borrow former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s words. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, left 2,400 civilians and military personnel dead.

The surprise missile attack on President Habyarimana’s plane was a powerful trigger for the firestorm that engulfed the whole nation, leaving hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to perish in just 100 days at the hands of the MRND Hutu regime of that day.

In retrospect, as I reflect on those times, RPF’s Major General Paul Kagame, in absolute pursuit of power, made a fatal and very consequential decision to assassinate Juvenal Habyarimana. Even more lethal and consequential were decisions taken by the Hutu political and military elite, who had thrived and survived on a racist anti-Tutsi ideology and sought a “final solution” to what they called a Tutsi problem. The scramble for the ultimate control of the collapsed Rwandan state became a matter of life and death as dead bodies choked rivers, piled on hills, and overflowed mass graves.

Meanwhile, an insensitive world looked on. Western nations rushed to evacuate their citizens, signaling that the deaths of Africans in Rwanda were not worth spending Western lives and resources to defend or protect. U.S.

President Bill Clinton callously decided that the United Nations Peacekeepers must withdraw from Rwanda. French President Francois Mitterrand, who had, since RPF’s invasion in 1990, provided full and unconditional support to the Hutu regime, decided to launch the controversial Operation Turquoise to “save Tutsi” belatedly.

By now discredited and irrelevant, the ineffectual United Nations decided on the so-called UNAMIR II, thus providing a disgraceful entry into the annals of history as the greatest failure in peacekeeping. As for our fellow Africans, none of them, then or even now, dared to even ask for full accountability in the assassination of two African Heads of State.
As I ponder these tragic events that have affected every Rwandan family since April 6, 1994, our interconnected stories as Rwandans look like a sad movie without ending.
Tutsi RPF engineered a regime change in 1994, only to build on the ruins of the ancient Hutu regime, a more lethal and deeply entrenched totalitarian police state. I often ask myself how a clique of Africans can inflict such untold suffering on fellow Africans, leading many to ask how different such cliques are from Western imperialism that sold us as slaves, colonized us, and lent us hands in our mutual assured destruction.
I am right now perched on my kitchen table reading that President Joe Biden will be sending former President Bill Clinton to represent the United States in Rwanda’s 30th Anniversary of the Genocide Against Tutsi. I have also read that French President Macron has stated that France could have stopped the genocide but did not have the will.
What an irony of history!

Fellow Rwandans, be watchful and not be deceived by hearts that fake empathy and compassion or mouths that churn empty, cynical words. In April 1994, the USA, France, Africa, the United Nations, and the whole international community abandoned Tutsi. Since then, the USA, United Kingdom, and France have propped up General Kagame’s brutal regime and sheltered it from accounting for the atrocities his regime has committed against Hutu and Congolese people.

As I grow older, the burden of history never leaves me alone. My mind roams across the past, present, and future landscapes. I contemplate the high price Rwandans have had to pay for violent regime changes in this troubled enclave at the heart of Africa, only to reproduce increasingly more lethal male dictators.

Let us dedicate the lives of our departed loved ones to build a Rwanda that deserves effective commanders-in-chief because they are, first and foremost, empathic healers-in-chief and not destructive killers-in-chief.

I am now thirty years older than I was then. I did not have a wife then; now, I have one and four children. I think about the future my generation will bequeath to our children. While we cannot change the past, we can own and write chapters of our common future story together.

In that relentless and never-ending quest, we can count on truth, one nation, one people, and a shared humanity as the pillars of a new dispensation built to last.

Let us remember as we focus our eyes on the future with hope, faith, and love for one another. Doing that will bind our nation’s wounds and heal one another.