From April 6, 1994 to July 4, 1996, almost one million Rwandans were slaughtered by their own neighbors, bosses, and even by their husbands (history.com). The political unrest and ethnic tension between Hutus and the minority, Tutsis, began shortly after World War I when Belgium was given control of Rwanda (history.com). During this time, the Belgians favored the Tutsis causing frustration within the Hutu populace until, finally, on April 6, 1994, the Hutu-moderate president, Juvenal Habyarimana, and the president of Burundi’s plane was shot down, presumably by Hutu extremists who blamed the RPF (bbc.com). Immediately afterwards, several Hutu armed forces established roadblocks and blockades in the streets and began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the most inhumane and violent ways possible (history.com). One-by-one families were slaughtered with whatever the Hutus could get their hands on, including but not limited to, grenades, firearms, rifles, and machetes. Men, women, and children were massacred in a span of about 90 days until the Rwandese Patriotic Force and Ugandan Army were, finally, able to regain control of the country, unfortunately, by that time, about 800,000 Tutsis had already been murdered and about 2 million Hutus had already fled (history.com). This horrifying and violent period not only left a lasting impact on the lives and mental state of Rwandans, but it also left a lasting negative impact on the country’s environment and resources.
A massive problem that has arisen from the Rwandan genocide is deforestation and with that a loss of biodiversity in forests and wetlands. According to the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, deforestation was due to the cutting down of trees for fuel, overgrazing, soil exhaustion, soil erosion and widespread poaching, (accord.org). Like previously stated, after the RPF and Ugandan Army entered Rwanda to regain control, about 2 million people fled the nation either to escape punishment and repercussions or to start a new life because they had lost everything (history.com). However, shortly after, tons of people began to move back. To keep up with the masses of people who were returning to the country, many forests had to be cut down to use as land and as materials for homes. Before 1990, 36 percent of Rwanda’s surface was covered in forest, but since then it has decreased to about 8 percent, and the rate of deforestation increases by 7 percent every year (accord.org). Also, Rwanda’s problem with overpopulation was making their situation even worse. In less than 50 years, the country’s population skyrocketed from about 1.9 million to more than 7 million people (cia.gov). Even after the 2 million people had already fled, Rwanda was still very overpopulated. Rwanda is only a measly 26,338 square kilometers, about 373 times smaller than the United States (cia.gov), and has about 410 people living in one square mile (accord.org). Containing this many people in such a small area requires a great deal of resources to keep all the inhabitants sheltered and fed. They had to farm the land around them over and over again causing the once fertile soil to lose all of its vitamins and nutrients crucial to grow crops (accord.org). Because of this, many people starved, and the agricultural state of Rwanda has changed permanently.
Agriculture has been a driving factor for the growth of Rwanda’s economy before and after the genocide. In fact, Rwanda’s agricultural market accounts for 63 percent of the country’s earnings from foreign exchanges and 39 percent of their gross domestic product, meaning that 39 percent of the total value of all goods produced by the country is related to agriculture and farming (thebalance.com). Because such a large percentage of Rwanda’s GDP is from agriculture, a sizeable portion of the population is heavily involved in the agricultural industry (accord.org). Eighty percent of all employed people in the country work in or with the agricultural industry, so when there’s such a large event or change in the industry, it can affect the entire country either positively or negatively (accord.org). Before the genocide started about 75 percent of families were involved in farming in some way, but it decreased to about 57 percent after the genocide because there was more of a need in other professions such as constructing new homes and settlements (accord.org). Many people switched to subsistence farming because of the amount of people who had to come back to live in such a small area and to keep all their families fed with the little land they owned or could cultivate. Because they were only producing enough crops for them to live off of, many families had a very low income or none at all, causing such a high poverty rate. Although agriculture was such a large part of the economy, more than 75 percent of families whose main source of revenue comes from agriculture are below the poverty line, compared to only 49 percent for families who live in a rural area (accord.org). Even though many forests were cleared and demolished, people began to start using wetlands as a spot to farm because many times there wasn’t enough room for both a home and a plot of land to farm (accord.org). Farming in these places caused competition for resources in the wetlands, resulting in animals to be displaced from their homes or to die. Losing biodiversity in these areas caused the landscape and amounts of resources to drastically change.
Another reason why Rwanda’s resources have been dwindling is because families have been consistently been using them as a source of energy. About 75 percent of all households consistently use wood or charcoal as a main source of energy in their homes, mainly for cooking and building homes (accord.org). However, charcoal is derived from wood, so it can still technically be classified as a source of wood energy. Charcoal is made by burning wood in a low-oxygen environment or in an environment completely without oxygen at all. Before the genocide, about 28 percent of households used charcoal as their main source of energy, however, after the genocide in 1994, almost 50 percent of homes were consistently using charcoal as their main energy source (accord.org). To try to combat deforestation because of how much wood people were using, the price of wood began to increase (accord.org). Because of this sharp increase in its price, the accessibility to wood and wood related energy sources decreased from about 87 percent to 67 percent, leaving many people without energy because they couldn’t afford electricity, and they could no longer afford to buy charcoal or wood (accord.org). In fact, about 9.3 million or about 78 percent of the country’s population does not have electricity in their homes (cia.gov). To help those without any source of energy, but also keeping resources plentiful and keeping the environment healthy, great changes need to be made.
One way we might be able to help educate the people of Rwanda about the things that can happen if they do not change some of their habits and uses of their country’s resources is through an event in July of 2019, 25 years after the genocide ended, to celebrate and commemorate the lives of those lost in the genocide, hopefully hosted or sponsored by RISD, the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development. In this event, we can use traditional songs and dances to celebrate their lives because song and dance is an important part of Rwandan events. One such dance the people can perform is called the Intore (visitrwandaguide.com). This dance is composed of two different parts: one dance performed by men and one performed by women, usually accompanied by nine drummers (visitrwandaguide.com). The men perform the Dance of Heroes, while the women perform ballet to what the drummers are playing (visitrwandaguide.com). In the group of drummers, there is one soprano drum, which is the smallest, one alto drum, one tenor drum, two baritones, two bass drums, and two double bass drums, which are the largest (visitrwandaguide.com). After having these traditional song and dance performances, we can allow anyone who wants to participate to sing a tribute to any person they might’ve lost because of the genocide. Having the RISD connected to this event in some way would be beneficial not only to them, but also to the community as a whole. RISD is a nonprofit organization that focuses on educating people about sustainability (risdrwanda.org). This celebration is a good way to honor the lives and legacies of those who were killed, while also educating the people about what really happened and the effects it had on their country not only socially and economically, but also environmentally. Organizing and funding this event may be difficult, but publicizing it should be somewhat easy. Because Rwanda has about 11 million inhabitants and about half of them are eighteen and under, they should be the ones who the event should appeal to because the youth are going to be responsible for running the country in the future (pri.org). To publicize this event, we can try to reach the radio station, Contact FM, to see if they would be willing to market our event. Contact FM’s approach is to provide smart, hip programming for a young population, so they will probably know best how to reach the Rwandan youth (pri.org).
During my trip to Rwanda in June of 2014, I learned and experienced many things. Ever since I left, I’ve been interested in Rwanda and its history. I got to experience traditional Rwandan song and dance and how they remember their lost loved ones. Being there during the 20th year after the genocide took place, was a very emotionally tense time. I laughed and wept with people as we visited memorials and recounted memories that people had of their loved ones who were killed. However, I never really thought about what impact the genocide had on the environment because of how emotionally tense it was in the country at the time of my visit. Getting a chance to see and experience the brutal and horrific ways that people lost their lives definitely gave me a better understanding of how it might have affected the environment negatively. My experiences in Rwanda are priceless and I hope that eventually I’ll be able to have another as life-changing as the previous one.