What about the spouses of former dictators? Where are they now and how are they doing? This is a question Peter Verlinden, journalist for Belgium's national broadcaster VRT, asks himself in his new program 'Widows after the fall' (Weduwen na de val).
In last week's episode he visits Agathe Kanziga, the widow of former Rwandese president Juvénal Habyarimana and their son Jean-Luc in their house in France. The whole episode tells the history of Rwanda up to the genocide in 1994. Follow us on a quick trip down memory lane.
What's the history of Rwanda and what has Belgium got to do with it?
At the end of WWI, Belgium got the League of Nations mandate to govern over Rwanda as the territory Ruanda-Urundi. To understand the conflict in Rwanda completely, one must know that the country is mostly divided between Tutsi and Hutu, two different and hostile ethnic groups.
During the Belgian mandate the Belgian government supported the Tutsi, who made up only 14% of the Rwandan population. The reason? Because they had had the power for many years and because they were seen as "closest to the white race."
Agathe Kanziga was the daughter of a reasonably rich Hutu. He had a lot of cows and land, which is why he could send his daughter to school. More and more Hutu got the chance to go to school which led to them becoming more self-conscious. They eventually grew tired of the Tutsi-domination.
In 1957 the Hutu manifesto saw light, a political pamphlet that talked about the disadvantages of being Hutu. Two years later the Hutu revolted. Many Tutsi fled the country. And this is where the Belgians come in again. They organized the first democratic election. Without real representation for the Tutsi, the Hutu won.
The tides have changed
Grégoire Kayibanda became the first elected president. Agathe and Juvénal Habyarimana met at the independence party that day. They got married the same year and eventually got eight children. Juvénal also became a big chief in the military.
Meanwhile the Tutsi fled to Uganda and were living in refugee camps. They started attacking Rwanda slowly from the border. In Agathe’s eyes, "they aren’t real Rwandese anymore because they fled the country."
Habyarimana took power in 1973 in a military coop. He was a dictator. The first 15 years of his dictatorship did not face a lot of problems, there was not a lot of corruption and the land became relatively wealthy. This all ended when the coffee market collapsed, coffee being the most important export product.
Meanwhile the refugees in Uganda joined forces in the FPR (Patriotic Front of Rwanda), led by current Tutsi president Paul Kagame. They invaded Rwanda in 1990, killing many people as they went. This drove completely ended friendly relations between Hutu and Tutsi population. Although FPR was eventually stopped, the raids and killings continued. The anger and frustrated environment plus the fact that Habyarimana started peace talks under pressure of international forces will eventually lead to the genocide that happened on April 7.
What happened to Juvénal Habyarimana?
On April 6 1994 Habyarimana’s airplane got shot out of the sky. The president died that day. This was the trigger for the genocide that started the day after. Over the course of 100 days, approximately 1,000,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed. The Tutsi would eventually win and Paul Kagame became president. We will never know what would have happened would he not have died but Agathe repeats over and over again that nothing would have happened if her husband had lived.
What’s happening in Agathe Kanzagi’s life right now?
Agathe got arrested in 2010. Tutsi victims accused her of being complicit to the genocide and that she was already planning it before her husband’s plane crashed. The Rwanda tribunal agreed that this is not true and that the planning of the genocide started on April 7 and not a day earlier. She’s currently staying in France, undocumented.
Kato Vander Sande is our Belgian correspondent. Her interest is women's issues, climate change and entertainment. She studies journalism at Thomas More University College.
The opinions expressed here by Shout! columnists are their own, not those of Shout!