CHRI insincerity and the distortion of Rwandan realities

There is an aspect of the Rwandan discourse that has not been given the attention it deserves. This is the persisting “Eurocentric” perception of Rwanda that most recently informed the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Report of May 2009, as the country sought membership during the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

There is an aspect of the Rwandan discourse that has not been given the attention it deserves. This is the persisting “Eurocentric” perception of Rwanda that most recently informed the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Report of May 2009, as the country sought membership during the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

While Rwanda’s new membership in the Commonwealth is now history, the CHRI report remains testimony of the negative Eurocentric influence. Though the authors of the report took a brief visit to Rwanda in their research, they mainly rely on four particular “scholars of Rwanda”. These include René Lemarchand, Filip Reyntjens, Allison Des Forges, and Gerard Prunier.

As has been observed by Senator José Kagabo, who has taught history at Ecole des hautes etudes en science sociales (EHESS) in Paris for many years, these are some of the French experts of the so-called “African Science” who for a long time played the “role of ‘thinking’ for Francophone African countries.”

In their mindset the French and their acolytes did not believe that an African could bargain his position and articulate his interest in the Francophonie, France’s version of the Commonwealth.

The so-called “area specialists” continue to find audience in International conferences, the media, ICTR, foreign Parliamentary commissions on genocide, etc.

To international observers the only truth is in the published documents and books, which seem to peddle a picture of a manipulative Rwanda in the region, and of a Rwanda preying on the international conscience.

For instance, only a day after Rwanda’s entrance into the Commonwealth, François Grignon, Africa program director for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor saying, “I think this reflects Rwanda’s shifting from the instrumentalization of guilt over the genocide toward its aspirations of becoming a Singapore of Africa.”

The word “instrumentalisation” is not only derogatory and completely off the mark, but diminishes Rwanda’s legitimate aspirations.

That such negative comments are possible is partly because of the “area specialists” reportage of Rwanda and the RPF over the years before and after the genocide, of which we shall take the examples of Lemarchand and Prunier discussing the two periods, respectively.

While being touted by the CHRI report as the foremost political science authority on the Great Lakes Region Lemarchand is quoted from his 2007 Online article, Rwanda: The State of Research, speaking of “the context of a civil war triggered by the invasion of the country by some 6,000 Tutsi ‘refugee warriors’ from Uganda, fighting their way into the country under the banner of the FPR, and thus threatening to reduce to naught ‘les acquis de la revolution’—everything that had been accomplished since the 1959-62 Hutu revolution.”

Lemarchand writes this not withstanding his own view in the book, Ruanda-Urundi, that this was not a revolution per se, but Col. Logiest’s coup when the colonial administrator pronounced his long-term political goal in his new-found Hutu embrace, saying, “[W]e must undertake an action in favor of the Hutu, who live in a state of ignorance and under oppressive influences.”

Soon after the first Tutsi pogroms and exiles of 1959 began. Yet by merely terming them as “6,000 Tutsi ‘refugee warriors’ from Uganda” is to trivialize the legitimate grievances of exiles who through the decades had to endure the humiliations of unwelcome sojourn under the successive regimes of Amin and Obote, including popular resentment among Ugandans throughout their exile right up to their return home in 1994.

It is forgetting that the Rwandan exiles had to be kicked out of Uganda by Obote, to be exiled yet a second time in Kenya, Tanzania and elsewhere in the world. The reference is also trivializing the Inyenzi struggle of the 1960s, that would be taken up by the succeeding generation of RPF Inkotanyi in the 1980s earning the exiles their long denied right of citizenship and a homeland.

Having also detailed the Inyenzi struggles in Ruanda-Urundi, Lemarchand seems to conveniently overlook this history of persistent determination, lending a certain perception of illegitimacy to the gains Rwanda has achieved since the end of the genocide.

On the other hand, there is also Gerard Prunier in his book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe.

The book makes broad claims about Rwanda’s and US role in the Great Lakes conflict as it played out in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1996 and 2001.

“One of Prunier’s pet arguments in discussing post-genocide Rwanda was the US guilt over the genocide, especially the ‘guilt’ of the Clinton Administration, [which] led us to buy into the RPF without doubt,” writes Lt.Col. (rtd) Thomas P. Odom about the book in his critique, Oxford University Press Enters the Tabloid Market, in a 2009 issue of the Small Wars Journal.

“Prunier singles out the US Department of Defense (DoD) as especially culpable in [its] naivete and stupidity because it was the US DoD that supposedly enabled little Rwanda to conquer great big Zaire not once, but nearly twice.”

“As a participant in some of the events described in this book,” observes Odom, “I found numerous errors of fact, doubtful analysis, and dubious sourcing, …[T]his book is neither good history nor good journalism.”

Yet Prunier and the other “scholars of Rwanda” continue to inform international opinion on what Rwanda is, or is not.

To come back to the CHRI Report, it makes much ado about the legal provisions on the public discourse of the social ascriptions of Hutu and Tutsi, which in reality continue to be a source of potential conflict in Rwanda given their history and negative psychosocial entrenchment.

To begin with, it is a historical fact the descriptions are not concrete but superficial creations entrenched for political expediency by the colonialists, and then by the regimes of Kayibanda and Habyarimana leading to the genocide.

While we must recognize that Hutu, Tutsi and Twa served well as mobile socio-economic categories in the traditional Rwandan kingdom, it is most doubtful that they have a place in the modern politics or politico-economy of 21st century Rwanda. More so if they remain a source of potential and unnecessary conflict.

Rwanda, it must be emphasized, was always composed of Rwandans and not “ethnic peoples”. It also must be acknowledged that overcoming the perceptions of difference entrenched over generations will not take one generation to erase, but perhaps several.

The law may seem inconvenient, but it emphasizes the resolve and historical truth of one people, and the necessity of a unified nation. It also makes it clear that post-genocide Rwanda has to begin somewhere.  

The current Rwandan situation can be told in the story of Ms. Lilliane Bizimana. Lilliane, 21, was born of a Hutu father and Tutsi mother, and has six siblings. When the genocide came her mother was killed. The mother’s murder was blamed on Lilliane’s paternal uncle, who is currently languishing in prison for the crime.

In as much as the genocide divided the nation of Rwanda, it also divided individual families. In Lilliane’s case, she has been caught up in the middle after being accused by her family as the one who pointed the finger at the paternal uncle.

She cannot live with her sister who perceives herself a Tutsi and lives with her Tutsi maternal uncle in Belgium, while she is vilified by her Hutu relatives for the uncle’s imprisonment. Caught in between, Lilliane has decided that all she wants is to become Rwandan, forgetting the ascriptions of her parents’ social consent and descent.

Liliane’s sister and maternal uncle have found solace in Belgium where, it may seem, “Hutu-land” and “Tutsi-land” symbolically exist.

History reminds us that when the Belgian administrators, guided by Col. Logiest and Bishop Perraudin, decided to put the Hutu at the political helm between 1959-1962, it was in view of their own divisions back home between the Walloons and the Flemings.

This Belgian divisions bitterly exist to this day. For instance, when there was a stalemate about the place of the Walloons and Flemings in the political dispensation in 2007, Filip Dewinter, leader of Vlaams Belang, would vehemently dismiss the nation of Belgium saying: “We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, [of which] we have nothing in common, except a king, chocolate and beer.”

Belgium may have to live with its divisions, but, like Lilliane, Rwanda aspires to become Rwandan as spoken in the words of Cecile Kayirebwa’s song, ‘Uzaze urebe Urwanda rw’ Abanyarwanda’!

Gen. Rusagara is the Defence Attaché in London. Mwaura is a commentator on Rwanda.

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