Photos: Wikimedia Commons\YouTube Screenshots
In an article published in Black Star News-Visiting Rwanda-America can learn lessons about honesty from Africa August 1, 2023- the author, Wim Laven cites Rwanda’s handling of the genocide as a lesson in honesty America can learn from. I beg to differ.
Wim Laven’s PhilPeople profile indicates that he is instructor at Cuyahoga Community College who writes frequently on matters of peace and conflict resolution at home and abroad. He has PhD in International Conflict Management, has been teaching, researching, and working in the fields of peacebuilding, He currently serves on the boards of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the International Peace Research Association and works as editor in chief for the Peace Chronicle magazine. He is no doubt well equipped to write about this matter with some authority.
Decrying the ‘Slavery is good for you’ curriculum of Florida Governor DeSantis https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/07/ron-desantis-florida-slavery-curriculum and America’s refusal to fully confront its ugly past, Laven points to the experience of Rwanda that keeps the memory of the genocide alive and encourages its people to forgive and reconcile but not forget. The government of Rwanda has documented and catalogued the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi civilians as an example. Referring to the US, Lavern adds “We sugar-coat atrocities, crimes against humanity, and war for a whole range of reasons and I think it contributes to amnesia and denial”. No argument there.
Before getting into Laven’s point, a brief look at the history of Rwanda might shed some light in understanding the genesis of the genocide.
The treaty of Versaille that officially ended World War I awarded the former German colonies of Rwanda-Urundi to Belgium and the League of Nations made it official giving Belgium the mandate over the territories.
The dominant ethnic group in Rwanda-Urundi were the Hutus. They were crop farmers while the minority Tutsi made their living as livestock herders. Both shared the land, recognizing each other mainly by their occupation in the precolonial era.
It was the Belgians who began to inject ethnic differences among them favoring the Tutsi as having more European like features. The Belgian administration gave the Tutsi ruling class (king) control over the majority Hutu population. The Tutsis also converted to Catholicism more readily than the Hutus who initially resisted conversion by clinging to their traditional African religion.
The colonial administration further reinforced ethnic differences between the two communities by issuing for the first time ethnic identity cards in 1926. This time tested ‘divide and conquer’ tactics worked for them. The preferential treatment of the Tutsis was resented by the majority Hutu population who felt marginalized. The resentment has been simmering below the surface with periodic outbreaks of ethnic violence since the 1930s. 1959 saw organized rebellion of the majority Hutu against Belgian colonial rule and Tutsi domination.
The Rwanda revolution, often referred to as Hutu revolution erupted in 1961, sparked by rumors of a killing of a Hutu chief by the Tutsi. Extremist Hutus carried out large scale burning of Tutsi dwellings and businesses that led 360,000 Tutsis to flee to neighboring Uganda and Zaire (DRC today). This intercommunal violence was to last for 2 years. Rwanda-Urundi splintered into two separate states of Rwanda and Burundi 1961/62.
The Tutsi monarch went into exile in 1961 after which Rwanda became an independent republic under Hutu leadership. Major General Juvenal Habyarimana of the Rwanda Armed Forces staged a coup d’état in 1973 and installed himself as president. A new constitution of the Republic of Rwanda was promulgated in 1978. Habyarimana established the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD) and ran for president winning three consecutive presidential elections in 1978, 1983, and 1988 in which he was the only candidate. He presided over a Hutu dominated administration whose cabinet included some Hutu supremacists. There were, however moderate Hutu politicians who wanted an end to the anti-Tutsi campaign, calling for a more inclusive and democratic Rwanda. They won the parliamentary election in 1992 reflecting majority Hutu sentiment, forcing Habyarimana to share power with them. They also called for negotiations with Tutsi politicians and signed the Arusha agreement in 1992 and 1993 that brought the Tutsi into the political life of Rwanda.
In the prelude to the genocide, some Hutu extremists were waging an ugly campaign against the Tutsi. An example of such campaign is that of Dr. Leon Mugusera who exhorted his fellow Hutus to “send the Tutsi back to Ethiopia via the rivers”. Demonization of Tutsi using terms such as ‘cockroaches’ were heard on the airwaves.
Members of the large Rwandan exile community in Uganda, majority Tutsi were recruited by Museveni into his Popular Resistance Army that was fighting to topple the government of Milton Obote, the founding father of Uganda’s independence. Among the recruits was a young army officer named Paul Kagame who rose through the ranks of Museveni’s army to become a senior intelligence officer.
The Rwandan exiles, Kagame among them, formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1986. Kagame attended the US Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, in 1990. RPF started a military campaign against the Rwandan government of Habyarimana as ethic violence against the Tutsi was heating up in early 1990s.
Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6/1994 when his plane was brought down by a surface to air missile. Hutu extremists were blamed for the assassination. Others pointed a finger at Kagame’s RPF who were closing in on Kigali. Several national and international investigations to determine the perpetrator(s) of the crime gave conflicting conclusions. The issue remains unresolved to this day. The assassination triggered an orgy of killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, egged on by some government officials. 800,000 to a million Rwandans lost their lives. The UN and France who had troops in Rwanda stood idly by, unable or unwilling to stop the carnage as it was unfolding.
RPF captured Kigali on July 19, 1994.
Hutu government officials and members of the armed forces as well as hundreds of thousands of Hutus civilians fled to neighboring DRC fearing retaliation.
There were an unknown number of Hutus who perished in the genocide, some for giving shelter to their Tutsi fellow country men and women; others who lost their lives by the thousands in retaliatory killings by Paul Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Forces (RPF) as they were advancing to capture Kigali.
The photo of the monument accompanying Laven’s article is captioned-hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were victims of Genocide. Therein lies the problem.
The monuments that are meant to be constant reminders of the crime of a genocide make no mention of the Hutus who lost their lives, victims of retaliatory killing by the RPF. That is Rwanda’s ‘amnesia and denial’. Such official narrative will perpetuate the victimhood of Tutsis only, the Hutus stigmatized collectively as perpetrators of genocide. This is not a lesson in honesty.
The Rwanda Patriotic Front has established a military security state under the tight grip of its leader, Paul Kagame for three decades and counting. Rwanda is often held by Kagame’s boosters in the West as an efficient well run state that has made significant strides in providing peaceful development of the country. His fans include the IMF and the World Bank for making Rwanda safe for capitalist investment. It cannot be denied that Rwanda has enjoyed a sustained period of peace but a closer scrutiny reveals that it comes at the expense of the Congolese people and the Hutus who fled to DRC to find refuge. Kagame’s troops have entered DRC repeatedly ostensibly to neutralize Hutu rebels. Troops of his onetime mentor Museveni of Uganda have also violated the sovereignty of DRC. Both leaders have laid waste to vast areas of Eastern Congo whose mineral wealth they have plundered with impunity. Their decades-long intervention in DRC is said to have cost the lives of as many as 5 million Congolese people. Their lost lives are crying out for justice and an honest accountability by the international community.
The mantra in Rwanda is “We are all Rwandans”, ethnic identity being discouraged and often punished while the RPF has created an ethnocratic regime with 80% of the top positions in government held by the minority Tutsi. It is a situation reminiscent of the pre-independence Rwanda-Urundi under the Belgian colonial administration.
Laven poses the question “-can we learn a lesson in being honest about the past?” I would say yes and we must, but it would not be from Paul Kagame’s RPF authoritarian regime which has effectively suppressed its role in the massacres of Hutus and in perpetuating a lie that only the Tutsis were victims of a genocide.
Mohammed A Nurhussein MD