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FEATURE: A massive dose of ethnicity can not cure an ethnic cancer

The Great Lakes Region continues to have many problems, one of the more enduring ones being the determination among some “experts” to prescribe an ethnic cure to its ills.
Ambassador Dr Richard Sezibera
Ambassador Dr Richard Sezibera

The Great Lakes Region continues to have many problems, one of the more enduring ones being the determination among some “experts” to prescribe an ethnic cure to its ills.

A most recent example is Jan Van Eck’s assertion that the solution to the crisis in the region depends on Rwanda allowing for what he calls a normal democratic right – namely the formation of a predominantly Hutu party – and exercising ethnic based politics.

This is a strange cure for what he calls an ethnic problem in the region. It is rather like prescribing a heavy dose of intravenous cancerous cells to a patient with breast cancer. Such a prescription would not only be laughable, it would be criminal.

Jan Van Eck has his facts wrong. The problem in the Great Lakes Region is not ethnicity.

It is mainly the activities of post Colonial elites, steeped in unquestioning acceptance of the colonial tactics of divide and rule as the key component of State Craft. Take Rwanda for example.

The Country gained its independence on the understanding that it would be a Hutu Republic, with a predominantly if not exclusively Hutu party of the kind Jan Van Eck advocates for. The result of this was entrenched and institutionalised “ethnic” and regional segregation and a skewed understanding of democracy as democide, leading to the genocide of 1994.

Post genocide Rwanda has taken a diametrically opposed view of nation building, and it is working. The country has embraced unitary pluralism. Emphasis is placed on what Unites Rwandans, not what divides them. History has taught us that division and segregation does not build stable nations or vibrant societies. Consider the apartheid system in South Africa.

 It was easy for its advocates to capitalise on the visible differences between black and white and completely miss the humanity common to both, with tragic results.  When Jan Van Eck talks of the “Tutsi regime of President Paul Kagame”, he reminds me of the apartheid’s regime’s attempt to pit Xhosa against Zulu and the two groups against other components of South African society in days gone by. I am sure that, ignoring all objective reality and applying Jan Van Eck’s logic, die hard “experts” and advocates should write or talk about a Zulu or Xhosa regime in South Africa, or some such nonsense, based on the origins of the leader of the moment. And then they would carry out calculations to decide whether this was a minority or majority regime! 

What does President Kagame’s origins, perceived or real, have to do with his mode of governance? Ethnicising politics is just one step away from the acceptance of Bantustans, Xhosastans, Zulustans, Tutsistans, Hutustans and other unacceptable stans as the basis of political communities. This kind of politics failed in Rwanda in the 1960’s and in South Africa. It is anti democratic to boot, Jan Van Eck’s invocation of the Burundi model in its support notwithstanding.

And he is wrong on Burundi too. The peace process in Burundi was almost hijacked by those who saw the cause of the conflict and its solution in ethnic terms.

 Jan Van Eck was among them. But if the conflict in that Country is ethnically based, how come there were more than eight Tutsi and seven Hutu political parties that appended their signature to the Arusha agreement of 1993? One would have expected one Tutsi and one Hutu political party, each taking care of their homogenous Community interests! Indeed, an examination of Burundi politics today shatters the ethnic myth. UPRONA, a putatively Tutsi party, has nominated Hutu members to Cabinet. FRODEBU, a putatively Hutu party has Tutsi members in Government. 

The CNDD-FDD, currently in power in Burundi refused to sign the Arusha agreement, partly because they officially objected to its ethno political logic and just like Rwandan leaders, they have chosen to reject ethnic based governance.

The last remaining armed group in Burundi, the FNL-Palipehutu used to claim they were fighting for Hutu rights. By this logic, they should have stopped their struggle with the election of CNDD-FDD. That they have not is proof enough, if any were needed, that the ethnic label is simply a convenient tag in their quest for power using undemocratic means. 

Jan Van Eck is wrong on the FDLR too. Rwanda, the DRC and other Tripartite Plus countries consider the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe currently calling themselves the FDLR an unacceptable security threat to the region not because they are Hutus, but because they are an armed group with a genocidal ideology. The group’s military operations against Rwanda have had code names like “insecticide”, broadcasting their intentions to exterminate the Tutsi, a group they called “cockroaches” during the genocide, far and wide.

The DRC-Rwanda November 9 Nairobi Joint Communiqué reiterates the fact that this is a genocidal group. So does the Tripartite Plus Agreement between Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, and other earlier bilateral and multilateral agreements.

This is why the group must be disarmed. Rwanda will continue to receive, reintegrate, and resettle all who repatriate. Indeed, tens of thousands of former combatants, including a former top commander and other very senior commanders have been reintegrated into the Rwanda Armed Forces and society once they abandoned rebellion and the genocidal agenda espoused by the group.

It is therefore simply disingenuous for Jan Van Eck to imply that a section of Rwandans have no rights in post genocide Rwanda. Former President Bizimungu, who subsequently received a Presidential pardon and was released, had been sentenced by Rwandan courts of law, not for being a Hutu, but for activities that contravened the Rwandan Constitution and other laws.

The Constitution I might add, was overwhelmingly adopted by Rwandans in the first ever referendum organised for this purpose in the Country’s history.

It is also dishonest for him to claim that Rwanda has targeted non armed Hutu opposition movements in the DRC. 

Rwandan society, including its economy and politics is the most open and liberal the country has had since its independence. From the ashes of genocide, within the space of a mere 13 years the country has emerged as a vibrant, optimistic, business friendly, secure and stable member of the concert of nations.

Organisations not usually prone to bouts of exuberance, like the World Bank, have used words like “miraculous” to describe this recovery.  Rwandan leaders have a vision of building an inclusive, open, non sectarian community.

One that recognises the intrinsic worth of every human being irrespective of their color, putative origin, race or creed. This vision inevitably, totally rejects the prescription of ethnicity to cure an “ethnic cancer”. No Mea Culpa expected here!

Ambassador Dr Richard Sezibera is the Presidential Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region.

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