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In hushed voices, a swath of national leaders orchestrated the Rwandan genocide. Labeling themselves the Zero Network, Rwandan powerbrokers crafted their “final solution” to reduce the number of Rwandan Tutsis to zero. I’ve always assumed some sort of horrific groupthink or terror contagion struck Rwanda in 1994. I’ve believed that a few bad guys escalated an ethnic conflict into a catastrophe.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was nothing haphazard, surprising, or accidental about the Rwandan genocide. It didn’t slowly evolve and wasn’t a civil-war-turned-ugly. The genocidaires murdered one million humans with the precision that a builder constructs to a blueprint:

It was a careful and long-prepared plan to destroy a people. Press reports at the end of 1994 were still talking about a country losing its sanity, but that is too simplistic an analysis. What happened in Rwanda was premeditated murder. – Hugh McCullum in A Thousand Hills

Théoneste Bagosora, popularly known as “the colonel of death,” led a group of government and military leaders that planned–down to every last hut (really)–how they would exterminate the Tutsi people. They trained thousands of  Hutu boys how to chop people to death with pangas (machetes they ordered from the French). They lulled international superpowers like the UN and the United States into believing they were working toward peace.
But when the genocide started, it was evident that Bagosara’s ominous forewarning of a “second apocalypse” was understated. The radio announcers stoked the lethal rage, evidencing just how very un-accidental this event was.

Our enemy is one! We know him, he is the Tutsi! …Kill Tutsi in their homes, their parents and their children–and don’t forget the unborn fetuses!

In the end, the Zero Network accomplished 80% of their plan of killing all 1.2 million Tutsis. And just 18 years later, astoundingly, Rwanda is one of the most hopeful countries on the planet.

Hôtel des Mille Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda)

It’s my first visit to Rwanda and I’m stuck. I’m stuck between the horrors of the genocide and the optimism of an upstart nation. I can’t seem to reconcile the tragedy of the past with the promise of the future. This morning, I reflected on this tension while a group of eight Rwandan orphans led us in song. In their eyes I saw both pain and resolve. And as I worshiped with them, I came to a sense of peace about being stuck. They were too. Harrowed, but moving forward. Wounded, but not fatally. Pained, but steadied. Out of their deep affliction, the people of Rwanda carve a new path.