[BOOK REVIEW] Rwanda's Popular Genocide: A Perfect Storm

We are on the 25th May 1989 and the third edition of the Francophonie conference is taking place in Dakar, Senegal. All French-speaking heads of state are in attendance including Presidents Mitterrand of France and Rwanda’s Habyarimana.

We are on the 25th May 1989 and the third edition of the Francophonie conference is taking place in Dakar, Senegal. All French-speaking heads of state are in attendance including Presidents Mitterrand of France and Rwanda’s Habyarimana.

On the second day, they find on their tables a letter titled: ‘The Rwandan question’. The letter canvasses succinctly the Tutsi refugees’ issues, then concludes with one specific question to Habyarimana: Mr. President, it goes, what makes you think that the fate you are imposing on the Tutsi exiles will not be visited upon you one of these days?


How did this letter get there? As it turns out, a young Rwandan student in the faculty of Journalism at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, saved two months worth of his refugee stipend to seduce a young Abdou Diouf’s assistant and charmed her into slipping the letter into every guest’s file.


The young man eventually came of age and wrote a book: ‘Rwanda’s Popular Genocide: A Perfect Storm’. You have guessed right, the young man was Dr. Jean-Paul Kimonyo.


The book is a systematic study of the causes of the last genocide of the 20th century, in which more than one million people perished.


It derives from a doctoral thesis and is in essence a dispassionate observation of unfolding political adventures and misadventures, with 30 pages of scholarly endnotes to suggest that it is the twilight of sound and lengthy research.

It is a captivating read, for theories are processed through the author’s beautiful mind. He succeed in turning a boring 400-pager academic thesis into an enticing, intriguing coffee-table book.

The story reveals some intriguing anecdotes, almost farfetched political deals and volt-faces that have characterized Rwandan power brokerage.

An iconoclast writer, he does not agree with Nyakizu sages such as Prof. Laurent Nkusi on the role played by the infamous Gitera and his APROSOMA, nor does he settle into the correctness of current political discourses.

Yet seasoned scholars, Senator Nkusi included, unanimously applauded his work. So do younger peers such as Dr. Phil Clark, author of ‘Justice Without Lawyers…’ (2011) and Dr. Francois Masabo, Head of the Centre for Conflict Management of the University of Rwanda.

‘When I wrote the book, I was a political scientist; After the experience, I have become an economist’; he says, ‘for the only chance we have at lasting peace in this country, is to put money into the Rwandan people’s pockets’
It is an important book to read, especially for politicians and aspirant cadres, to understand the causes and effects of political decisions. Researchers and commentators such as myself as well as scholars out there, before they start calling themselves ‘experts and specialists on Rwanda’.

It is an account of a deeply ethicized nation, the perversion of the state and its leaders and the systemic inefficiency to govern. The book exposes the sublimation of real socio-economic issues with distractive divisive politics.

It is yet another compelling endorsement of the Kinyarwanda aphorism,‘abasangiraubusa, bitanaibisambo’(those who share less call each other thieves)

Interviewing one perpetrator, one survivor and one by-stander, in every cell, every sector he immerses himself into the environment and ambiance of the time, to acquire a triangulated, multifaceted account of what transpired.

‘Knowing Jean Paul and reading the book, one is really impressed by the laborious fieldwork. There is a stark contrast between the elitist analyst, presidential advisor, with the patient, grassroots data collector.’ Dr. Phil Clark confides to me at the book launch…

The author conducts a ‘micro’ analysis. Unmoved by simplistic explanations of the causes of the Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi, namely: ‘The killings were driven by public anger following the downing of Habyarimana’s plane, having been told that Tutsis killed him’;‘people were asked to kill and they did because they blindly obeyed government authority’ and ‘The invasion of the RPF triggered people’s revenge’ – in fact he demonstrates that there is prevailing civic disobedience and the rise of all genres of political opposition in times leading to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

‘He went into the thought process of the ordinary man and built his thesis organically from the ground up. This is an original approach that will be utilized in the future by other researchers.’ Commented Eugene Ntaganda, a seasoned Political Scientist of the Great Lakes Region.

The conclusion of the book thus emerges in timely fashion having built up the appropriate anxiety in the reader.

In the end, one understands the choices of the current government more. One understands why the rejection of yesteryears’ ethnic-based politics, born and nurtured by the former ruling elite.

Reading the book in these times of the Burundi crisis though, one gets depressed by the all too familiar patterns, tragically leading to human catastrophe just off our shores: yet again.

Copies of the book are available at Ikirezi book store.

Thierry Gatete is a Senior Research Fellow, Governance, at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).

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