EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article is based primarily on interviews Dr. Hagengimana, a psychiatrist, did in Rwanda after the genocide which are reported in different psychiatric journals. For background on genocide and Rwanda, read review of Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story and Rwanda: Genocide Bystanders Responsibility Reiterated.
After 90 days of genocidal hell, in June 1994 the Rwandese Patriotic Front (an armed movement formed mainly by Tutsi refugees) halted the massacres, leading the interim government and the army to flee into neighboring countries with over two million people.
In taking power, many Tutsi soldiers, finding their parents and relatives murdered, massacred thousands of Hutu in acts of revenge.
The genocide and massacres resulted in human and material losses, psychological trauma, and social problems.
Losses occurred at different levels (human, physical, and psychological) and have strong social repercussions. In our 1995 survey, 97% of survivors interviewed had lost a close relative. According to government estimates, nearly one million people were killed, 400,000 of whom were children. Up to 120,00 children were orphaned and as many as 85,000 households are now headed by children.
Most of the people killed were male; the majority of perpetrators were also male and are either in prisons (over 100,000) or are refugees. Consequently, the current Rwandan population is predominantly female: there are 84 males per 100 females in general and 67 males per 100 females among people aged between 24 and 29. More than a third of all households are headed by women.
As a result of the genocide, entire families and extended families were completely wiped out. Homes of some were destroyed as well. This implies the loss of important symbols of privacy, identity and a safe place which fostered family union.
People fled or were displaced, many families having lost communication with their relatives. This is mainly felt during marriage ceremonies where survivors have to look for people who stand for the dead parents.
Both Hutu and Tutsi feel victimized by events of the genocide and subsequent migration. The fate in 1994 of up to 800,000 Tutsis killed in the genocide and tens of thousands of Hutu killed in extrajudicial executions and reprisals in Rwanda and others killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or during counterinsurgency activities have created a sense of mutual victimization and a climate of mistrust. The war between Rwanda and DRC and the recent tensions between Rwanda and Uganda have created fear among all ethnic groups, resulting in wishes to flee the country for safer places.
Despite government commitments to create ethnic unity and reconciliation, the wounds are still deep and healing difficult on both sides. Since both groups have to live together, a national healing process would probably decrease emotional barriers between Hutu and Tutsi and facilitate reconciliation. We hope that the planned trials through a local social justice system called GACACA will bring out the truth about the killings on both sides and will help the reconciliation process.
Psychological aftermath of genocide
In 1994, a new word appeared in Rwandan vocabulary -- IHAHAMUKA -- describing a variety of psychological manifestations thought to originate from the genocide. IHAHAMUKA joins two words: HAHA (lungs, respiration) and MUKA (without).Among the psychological problems encountered are:
From 1995, nationwide reburial ceremonies have been conducted and this helped the healing of the lucky ones who managed to identify the remains of their relatives who were buried in mass graves.. However, many still do not know the circumstances of death and the whereabouts of their relatives as in the following example:
A widow who lost all her six children went through all the orphanages more than twice, hoping to find her children. She was told several times by neighbors that they died but, unless she witnesses it or sees the corpses, she still hopes to find them by a miracle.
For widows and orphans, anniversaries of the death of relatives become a hard time. The national grieving week in April brings up all the suffering. For some, every weekend reminds them of good moments with the husband, parents or children. Since different family members may have died at different times and in various circumstances, many survivors grieve for several people and their different endings.
Personality change and behavioral problems in adults and children
In 1996, I was referred to a child, aged six to seven years, because he was behaving abnormally in an orphanage. . "He was eating too much and was too obedient," said a social worker.
A neighbor who happened to know him and his family told us the following story: On April 6, 1994, the child refused to eat food given by his parents and they got upset. In the same evening the presidential plane was shot down and soldiers started killing suspected people staying around the airport including the parents and siblings of the child who survived alone. This is a clear explanation of his behavior: I refused to eat, my parents died. Eating too much, being too obedient may be an attempt to undo what happened or prevent his caregivers from dying.
An elementary school teacher stopped teaching because he could not stand seeing his students who are the same age as his children who died. "This reminds me of my children and I start crying in front of the students," he said.
Many people after the genocide have unusual habits that are also called IHAHAMUKA: including anti-social behaviors in young people with promiscuity in young girls or widows, excessive drinking that was not present before the genocide, and excessive aggression and irritability directed to anybody.
The 1994 genocide affected almost every social class in Rwanda. Large segments of the Rwandan population were subjected to losses and various traumatic events. This resulted in social and psychological problems which hinder national unity and reconciliation. The healing of wounds and justice for survivors seem to be unavoidable requirements for reconciliation.