Netflix 'Black Earth Rising': The true story behind the Rwandan genocide in BBC's storming series

The genocide saw almost half of the country's population die within a span of just three months, leaving only destruction and death in its wake


                            Netflix 'Black Earth Rising': The true story behind the Rwandan genocide in BBC's storming series

After capturing the horrifying face of the Rwanda genocide in films like 'Hotel Rwanda' (2004), 'Kinyarwanda' (2010), 'Grey Matter' (2011), and coming up with insights into the mass murder in several books like 'The Girl Who Smiled Beads' and 'The Bone Woman', BBC Two is now telling the story of the genocide's aftermath. Starring Michaela Coel as Kate Ashby and John Goodman as Michael Ennis, 'Black Earth Rising' will follow survivor Kate, who was rescued from the genocide as a child and is now seeking an escape from the tragic shadows of her past as she resides in the UK. 

The Rwanda genocide does not hold its place in history only for the mass slaughter that encountered the loss of almost 800,000 Rwandans but also the limited time within which the genocide was carried out.

In a short span of 100 days, more than half of the Tutsis community was wiped out by the perpetrators, Hutus, and yet, their story about war and murder is just as old as the whole issue of ethnic crisis is. With its overwhelmingly high agricultural economy, Rwanda in the 1990s was the hub of the highest population densities in Africa, and about 85% of the majority belonged to the Hutu ethnic group while the remaining was composed of Tutsis and Twa.

Ribbons and drapery decorate the metal racks that hold victims' skeletal remains inside the Ntarama Catholic Church genocide memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the genocide. (Getty Images)
Ribbons and drapery decorate the metal racks that hold victims' skeletal remains inside the Ntarama Catholic Church genocide memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the genocide. (Getty Images)

The small nation saw a turmoil in its politics when sometime between 1894 and 1918 (a time when it was a part of German East Africa), it came under the League of Nations that made Belgium its ruling superior.

The Belgians turned the already tense ethnic climate to their advantage by favoring the minority Tutsis over the majority Hutus. As expected, this tendency to allow the few have power over the many created a legacy of turmoil in the small country, even a few years after Rwanda gained its independence. The Hutus eventually called for a revolution in 1959, when almost 300,000 Tutsis were compelled to flee the country. 

While this escapade saw a considerable decline in the already minor community, by 1961, the community was almost entirely washed out when the monarch was sent to exile, and the country became a republic. Soon the moderate Hutu, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana was brought in power, and in his turn, he came up with a new political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD).

Although he managed to maintain his office as a sole Presidential candidate from 1978 to 1988, following the attacks by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), chiefly formed by Tutsis, he had to sign an agreement in 1993 calling for the creation of a transition government that would include the RPF.

This yet again angered the Hutus who were now perceiving the minorities as a major threat. Surely, catastrophe wasn't far away and on April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the longterm President and his Burundi counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over the capital city of Kigali, leaving no survivors. As, even today, it is not known who caused the blast, the Hutus took no time in blaming the leaders of the RPF who belonged to the minority clan.

The Tutsis were immediately thrown under the bus when the Presidential Guard, together with members of the Rwandan armed forces (FAR) and Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe (“Those Who Attack Together”) and Impuzamugambi (“Those Who Have the Same Goal”) began to install roadblocks and carried out a mass slaughter of the Tutsis.

Kate Ashby's story is set to follow the genocide's horrible aftermath. (BBC Two)
Kate Ashby's story is set to follow the genocide's horrible aftermath. (BBC Two)

Things took a violent turn and families and homes were not spared, since even husbands did not hesitate from murdering their Tutsis wives. The first victims of the genocide were the authorities, which included the moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her 10 Belgian bodyguards.

The genocide led to a political crisis, and the opportunity was grabbed by the Hutus whose government of extremist Hutu Power leaders took command of the military. The genocide spread like wildfire across Rwanda and over the next three months, almost 800,000 people were murdered. This was the time when local officials and government-sponsored radio stations commanded neighbors to kill neighbors. 

The RPF immediately picked up their weapons and turned the situation to yet another genocide, soon regaining control of the country. Almost 2 million Hutus fled Rwanda and sought refuge in the crowded camps of Congo and other neighboring countries.

However, the RPF seemed to have noticed the declining condition of the country and immediately formed a coalition government with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as vice president and defense minister. Habyarimana's NRMD party was ruled out for its notorious involvement in the war, a new constitution adopted in 2003 eliminated reference to ethnicity.



 

The premise of 'Black Earth Rising' is set to pick up from what happened once the country attempted to restore peace.

What happened to the millions of people who had left home and been residing in camps like outlaws? Where were those who crossed the borders and fled to other countries? Keeping Kate Asby as the focus, the series, which is set to air on Netflix on January 25, after it already premiered on BBC Two back in 2018 September, will probably see the complex nature of international involvement which only came once the war was over. Touching upon a theme as contemporary and as old as immigration, 'Black Earth Rising' is expected to bring clarity to the need of resolving ethnic discrimination.