As the documentary begins, the viewer is told about the conquest of the country first by Germans who turned it over to the Belgians. The narrator tells us, “It was all about exploitation, about greed, about power…” The “civilized” and “Christian” Europeans came to convert the heathen African and open up new lines for commerce. Unfortunately, the “enlightened” conquerors turned the conquered into the scum of the Earth and treated them like things lesser than human. The pitted them against each other by applying the classic theory of “divide and rule”. Many, many years after the Europeans left, taking everything of value they could lay their hands on, their lessons of hatred were manifested by their victims: The Hutus were calling the Tutsi “cockroaches” A war of genocide began to purge the land of the traitors who had been favored and privileged by the conquerors. It is easy to see there are no winners here.
Two brothers take center-stage. Both are blood brothers, Hutu by origin. One is a journalist, the other a soldier. The journalist becomes a party member and espouses the strange philosophy of “us against them”. His brother, on the other hand, is propelled against such an evil philosophy. He is determined to be a professional soldier trained to defend his country and countrymen. On a personal note, he is married to a Tutsi (the enemy tribe) and they have a total of three kids. Are the kids Hutu or Tutsi? A psychological conflict literally tears the family apart.
In one of the memorable moments of the film, one of the boys asks his father: “Who am I, Hutu or Tutsi?” The father replies, “I’m Hutu and your mother is Tutsi. That makes you Hutu, according to our tradition.” Not satisfied, the boy continues: “When I grow up, will my identity card say ‘Hutu’?” And his father replies, “Yes, but I hope one day it will simply say ‘Rwandan’.”
The boy’s dream is never realized; he and his brother and sister are massacred. Their mother is brutally maimed and left to die. She survives but commits suicide later. The Rwandan army blacklists the antagonist, listing him as a “Tutsi sympathizer”. His friend, and fellow soldier, is executed a roadblock while they attempt to flee to safety.
Rebel forces bent on purging the land of Tutsi “cockroaches” execute girls at a Catholic Convent. Civilians and officials of government are killed as if a “season of killings” has begun. The entire countryside and cities are turned into killing fields as the world sits back and debates the true meaning of “genocide”. Europeans are rescued and evacuated, while the Africans have a field day with each other. We’ve seen this before.
Did genocide happen in Rwanda? Yes, but at the time, the United Nations and powerful countries that had the power and ability to intervene were not so sure. Although it was agreed that “acts of genocide” were occurring, the consensus was this was not genocide, which led to the question: “How many acts of genocide equal genocide”?
As government officials and other bureaucrats around the world argued about what to do, it was suggested that a radio station that was spewing messages of hatred and division be jammed. Someone argued that it was “against international law to jam radio transmissions” because that would be an affront against freedom of speech and press. To bolster his arguments he said, “Radios don’t kill people, people kill people.” But was it not a crime to kill teenage girls at a convent, to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians?
Worried about the immensity of the crimes committed in Rwanda and how the world would view the inaction of the United States and others, someone wondered about the moral implication. She asked, “Are we doing nothing because they are Africans?” The other snapped back, “Let’s not do this… They were Rwandans killing Rwandans.”
At the international tribunal held in Arusha, Tanzania, the protagonist journalist ends up on trial at the international tribunal and his defense lawyer asks, “Where is the blood on my client’s hands? He was a journalist, an intellectual, and a man of letters. He was only exercising his freedom of expression; he was expressing a political view.” He admits his guilt of participating in genocide although he didn’t think he was promoting genocide through his radio program at the time; it took him years to realize that.
In other compelling scenes witnesses stand up to tell their stories, saying: “I was there. I’m a survival.” One of witnesses appearing at the tribunal is convinced that a defendant should be found guilty because, “When a person leads assassins, he is also an assassin.”
The documentary ends as the narrator tells us: “Every year in April, the rainy season starts. Every year in April, I remember how quickly life ends. Every year in April, I remember how lucky I am to be alive…” The narrator, the antagonist soldier has now become a schoolteacher. He is trying very hard to piece his life back together.
Whatever their motives were when they spoke, one must agree with the one who spoke about “Rwandans killing Rwandans”. When I substitute the words “Rwandans” for “Liberians” I can understand why it brings tears to my eyes. In our long and senseless conflict in Liberia, it was “Liberians killing Liberians”. There are no winners in such mindless savagery; it is a no-win situation.