Rwanda and Syria—- Different Countries- Different Treatment – By Yvonne Sam

Rwanda and Syria—- Different Countries- Different Treatment

By Yvonne Sam

Twenty three years ago this day (April 7, 1994) the monstrous Rwandan genocide unfolded.  Instigated by the government of Rwanda, close to 1 million Rwandan Tutsis and their Hutu allies were murdered by right wing Hutu extremists in less than 90 days. To this day the scale and rapidity of the human genocide has defied human imagination. The horrific events of 1994 dramatized in the movie Hotel Rwanda were linked to both the externally imposed economic policies that Rwanda was forced to accept, as well as historic tensions that were rooted in colonialism.    

Much has been said about the events that unfolded, among them being the Clinton administration’s obstruction of the efforts of the United Nations to prevent the genocide. Intelligence reports obtained using the US Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Cabinet and almost certainly the President had been told of a planned “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” before the slaughter reached its peak. As a consequence people died who might have lived if  Americans, especially Blacks had demonstrated, raised the issue in the House or merely create an uproar forcing the U.S.A to get out of the way of a recuse  by the United Nations. No,

there were no mass demonstrations against the genocide nor calls for an international military intervention to stop it.

The framework that many use in looking at Africa is that of a site of struggle for racial justice and national freedom against European colonialism. We reduced many, if not most of the struggles to that framework. Yet the reality of Africa was (and still is) never just about European colonialism and White minority rule. Within each country there have been ethnic contradictions, frequently rooted in and/or fueled by colonialism. There have been struggles rooted in class and power, also regularly tied in with the activities of multi-national corporations and countries of the global North. These realities have been the kerosene thrown on to open flames.

Now let us fast forward to April 4, 2017 where least 80 people have been killed in a suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. Now unlike in the case of Rwanda, the new American President Donald Trump is being tested on the world stage, as this chemical attack comes just days after the White House said that ousting President Bashar al Assad was certainly not his priority. In addition it also evoked questions regarding Trump’s support for autocracies and authoritarian regimes, and whether he can lead the world with moral clarity as has been done for decades by other U.S presidents.

After being briefed on all possible options by Defense Secretary Mattis, President Trump gave the green light and without warning on Thursday April 6, the United States using 59 tomahawk missiles carried out a missile strike on Syria. No time was lost in retaliation.

Two countries.  Similar atrocities.  American notification.  Dissimilar consideration.

Of the horrific genocide that took place in Rwanda, not to mention the women who were raped during the violence and the children born as a result, no pictures were shown.   The UN initially estimated that 5,000 children were born of rape in the 1994 genocide, but the Survivors’ Fund – a British charity working in Rwanda – believes the number might be nearer 20,000. In brutal wars, all too often it just takes the picture of a child to make the world pay attention, and in the case of Syria this has happened on more than one occasion.

In September 2015, the image of Aylan Kurdi, a lifeless 3 year old Syrian boy washed ashore on a Turkish beach flashed around the world. His family was desperately hoping to find sanctuary in Europe, but he failed to make it that far. Aylan became the symbol of the most sever refugee crisis, forcing countries to open doors to mass migration.  Then in the summer of 2016, in the war-torn city of Aleppo, journalists captured the footage of Omran Daqneesh a young Syrian boy sitting in an ambulance in the aftermath of an airstrike in his neighbourhood rebel-held-Qaterji. There was also a video.  Little Omran stunned and speechless, calmly wipes a combination of dust and blood from his face to his hand. In so doing, he silently and succinctly communicated to the world just how ordinary these kinds of events have become to the children of Syria.  It has happened yet again, on April 4 2017, following a barbaric chemical attack on the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, photos of a Syrian father clutching the lifeless bodies of his 9-month-old twins, Aya and Ahmed, attracted the collective sorrow and condemnation of the world.

Who spoke for the Rwandans before, during or after the attacks? Elsewhere in the world it would have been stopped.   Now once again the goings on in Syria will take the forefront shrouding any vestige of recall.  The only logical conclusion I can make is that the issue of race is very clearly the case.


Yvonne Sam.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 04/07/2017 at 12:43 pm

    Well said, Yvonne Sam.

  • Ron Saywack  On 04/07/2017 at 3:38 pm

    Here is a comment from Ron Saywack:

    “The only logical conclusion I can make is that the issue of race is very clearly the case.”

    It is ‘racial indifference’, to say the least.

    Indeed, the Clinton administration categorically failed to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to the horror occurring in Rwanda in 1994.

    The Rwandan genocide began to unfold only months after his failed peace-keeping mission in Mogadishu in which a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by rebel forces, and lives lost.

    Clinton’s response to several other international situations was also an abysmal failure. At the time, they made it clear they didn’t want to get involved in tribal civil wars which they didn’t fully understand.

    He had an opportunity to assassinate Osama bin Laden in 1998 but chose not to, citing possible costly collateral damage to women and children. He was severely criticized for it.

    The Trump administration’s response to Assad seems appropriate. But were he president in 1994, would he have responded in kind to the Rwandan humanitarian crisis?

    Highly unlikely, in my view.

    Ron Saywack.

  • Hermina  On 04/08/2017 at 3:19 am

    Once again Yvonne Sam you have called it like it is. No holds barred. The facts are clear. Regardless of what may be said a raw deal was the fate of the Rwandans. Personally if you had not written I would not have brought to mind the date of this terrible tragedy . In fact, I do not recall hearing anything about it in the media. Let us also not forget the terrible genocide that occurred before under the regimes of Milton Oboete and Idi Amin Dada who together were responsible for the deaths of 600, 000 people of the Acholi and Baganda tribes. In 1972, he launched a genocidal program to purge Uganda of its Lango and Acholi ethnic groups. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made moves to evacuate American and British citizens from Uganda. Britain opened her doors to the expelled Asians. I hope the picture is clear.

  • demerwater  On 04/08/2017 at 6:15 am

    My earliest awareness of conflict was during a city-wide blackout. I remember the intense darkness – everywhere I looked. I remember feeling very, very, frightened because my mother was hugging me tightly and talking (for anyone else, it would be babbling) about Germany, killing, etc. I sensed that she was frightened too.
    The partitioning of India in 1947 was a bit more comprehendible; because I was experiencing the divide. I was not to eat from “Mohammedan people” because they ate beef!
    Cowboy films; and playing Cowboys and Indians in the school yard, inured my feelings to the extermination of Native Americans. Their own tribal conflicts contributed to my callous attitude.
    I grew up. I matured (a WIP, still); I learned that “picture-story different from the real story”. I am almost convinced that conflict has been; it continues to be; inseparable from the human condition. I now eat beef … and pork. I suppose you can call me and equal opportunity offender.
    A British veteran of WW 2 confided to putting a soldier out of his misery after the latter was splattered with contents of a phosphorous bomb. I watched phosphorus catch fire spontaneously in the laboratory.
    I cannot attest to the truth of confidences exchanged over alcohol beverages; but I was startled out of my wits when I read the “Times” obituary for Karen Wetterhahn.
    I cannot think of a single benefit from that type of chemistry.
    It must have to do with chemical warfare.
    The images show the horror; and we feel the trauma; when dastardly dictators cancel their membership in the human race.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: