- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


What Humanitarian Organizations Don’t Always Think Of:

By emily on February 10, 2013

After reading Umutesi’s chapter “Survival in the Camps at Kivu,” I was struck by the ingenuity Umutesi and her neighbor’s displayed in overcoming many of the challenges present in the refugee camps in Kivu.  However, I was also simultaneously appalled by the lack of foresight humanitarian organizations displayed, as well as their perceived indifference to the plight of Hutu refugees because “After Habyarimana’s assassination in 1994 and the ensuing genocide, a large part of the world saw all Hutu as genocidal, from the old woman who could hardly walk to the baby still nursing at his mother’s breast.  As we saw it, this negative perception explained, in part, the lack of urgency manifested by the humanitarian NGOs and the international community in coming to our aid” (73).


Even when humanitarian organizations provided aid to the refugees, basic living conditions were not fulfilled; the low amounts of firewood that the organizations provided meant that the refugees were forced to forage for firewood–often the women who gathered firewood were raped.  Umutesi states, “the number of women raped while gathering firewood in the plantations of Zaire is incalculable” (79).  The security forces organized to “protect” the camps also proved more of a nuisance than anything–“Like all soldiers, those of the CZSC loved women and money too much” (82).  The lack of feminine products was also felt by the female refugees.


It was astounding to me how much Umutesi was able to accomplish and organize in the camps.  It seemed to underline her power and status within her community–not only that she was able to accomplish individual tasks, but that she was self-assured and protected enough to accomplish even the minute tasks she set out to do.  I wonder what a less-fortunate occupant of the camps would recount.



  • Professor Thomson said:

    Great post, Emily.

    Any thoughts on what role, if any, the RPF PR machine played into the perception of “Hutu” refugees as genocidal killers? As we’ve seen in class, civilians fled and suffered regardless of ethnicity. How much has the RPF fueled ethnic identity despite an official policy to do away with such social categories?

    Is there anything special about Umutesi’s ability to survive her flight throughout the genocide and its immediate aftermath? Do you think her experience is reflective of the experience of others who fled or did she have resources (personal, financial, etc) at her disposal?

  • emily said:

    IN my last paragraph, I tried to address the question of if there is anything special about Umutesi’s ability to survive her flight–she had immense resources at her disposal, which is why she was able to organize in the camps and eventually be able to get out of the DRC. However, even with the personal and financial resources at her disposal, the last chapter talked through some of the moments when Umutesi’s status made no difference–when she got kicked out of Bonde (only to be asked to return), being shunned by Ya Pepe’s family, and other events where her status as a refugee who was chased by the RPF and other forces took precedence over anything else. Those moments (and others) seem more universal, unfortunately.

    In terms of the RPF PR machine, I can’t conclusively say what kind of impact it might have had on the perception of “Hutu” refugees as genocidal killers, but I would be surprised if that rhetoric wasn’t recycled by the RPF. What other reason would they have to chase and pursue the refugees across the DRC? (Other than resources, of course).

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