PASTOR Rick Warren’s prayer for Rwanda on 6th September was encouraging to many Rwandans. I was most touched by his advice to Rwandans when he said ‘the past is passed’. These are words of solidarity in support of Rwanda’s peace building process.
Indeed, we don’t have to be stuck in our dark history, but work towards a promising future for posterity. Of course I don’t propose to forget the past but, to use the words by Kenyan nationalist and first president of Jomo Kenyatta in reference to colonial excesses, after his country became independent, ‘Lets forgive but not forget’.
Rwandans in general have embraced the wisdom of Jomo Kenyatta, and every where you go in the country, you find people going about their business harmoniously. Those who listen to media reports inspired by dissidents and their foreign friends brush them aside as selfish detractors. You hear more of vision 2020 than the past.
But of course we are not oblivious of the barrage of reports by detractors through a section of the international agencies intent on negating our progress .Before the storm settles over the Human Rights Commission allegations about the DR Congo, Amnesty International’s ridiculous report assumes centre stage just before the French team jets in to investigate the death of former Preside Habyarimana, sixteen years after his aircraft was short down.
Legitimate as these groups may be, as an ordinary observer, I wonder; can’t these honorable ladies and gentlemen give us a break?
This question came to mind as I was reading Johan Pottier’s book: Re-Imagining Rwanda.Conflict, Survival, and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century, published in 2002. The University of London (SOAS) based social anthropologist’s work demonstrates how some opinion makers are reluctant to accept the reality of Africa as it is, but attempt to portray it as they wish it to be perceived.
Here, I wish to critique Pottier’s perception of what he calls ‘ Knowledge construction under the Rwandese Patriotic Front’. Pottier says that Western journalists, diplomats, aid workers and academics who worked in Rwanda immediately after the 1994 genocide and whose familiarity with the region was’ mostly nonexistent’ have contributed to the re-imagining of post-genocide Rwanda, through media and academic venues.
Referring to them as ‘instant experts’ or beginners, he accuses the foreign actors in the region of having “accepted, formulated and spread images of Rwanda that chimed well with the RPF-led regime now in Kigali”. He asserts they helped to disseminate RPF grand narratives which dominate and shape Western perception and attitude towards the region.
Having worked in Rwanda in the 1980s right through to late 1990s, one would expect informed opinions of the Rwandan social-historical reality Pottier purports to re-contextualize, and any way what is wrong with the experts /RPF narratives?
According to pottier the two groups ignored post-colonial researchers’ narratives that sought legitimize the falsehoods of Rwandan ethnicities. His thesis is that Tutsi and Hutu are different and that it is only on the basis of that difference that the Rwandan reality should be based, to achieve progress and reconciliation.
He criticizes renowned historian Basil Davison for writing in, support of earlier anthropologist- researcher Jean-Jacquet Marquet, that “ when the Germans became involved in the ‘scramble for Africa’ in 1890, they found in Rwanda and Burundi no trace of tribalism. Those who lived there spoke the same language, were one people, divided over occupational groups. No classes.”
Why does Pottier imagine that the journalists, aid workers, academics and diplomats, he refers to as ‘ instant experts / scholars’ were not informed by these scholars instead of the RPF? I think he apportions too much credit to RPF influence. The Rwanda Patriotic Front’s ideological position must be equally attributable to the proper reading of the social history of their country and it would have been absurd to expect them to have misread history the same way Pottiers does.
The 251 one book is compelling reading not only because of the wealth of information it offers, but also the apparent agenda of discrediting dissenting views, all in the name of scholarship. He consciously errors to further his agenda , because he acknowledges eminent postcolonial scholars, V.Y. Mudimbe and Edward Said’s wisdom.
They advise the international observer –commentators to be “ more conscious of the objective limitations that their own subjectivity and regional socio-historic determinations impose(d) on their dealings with African matters.” In other words time has come for Africans to fashion their own representations and destiny. They know better.
But he goes ahead to link RPF to Hintjens observation that “ Tutsi –Hutu classifications in ethnic terms was the invention of European colonialism. The Belgians did not understand Rwanda and imposed their own categories in desperation”, a point he elaborates very well with the example of the issuing of identity cards in 1931 based strictly on economic system of identification. He accuses him of being influenced by the RPF –functional narrative, yet this same point as indicated above was raised by Marquet and Basil Davidson among others long before RPF was born.
Should Rwanda be guided or rather misguided by narratives based on erroneous assumptions? Should we be influenced by ideas that promote difference? Certainly not. Rwandans read and live their own history and a good friend to Rwanda is that one who helps us build unity, gives us moral support in our progressive, humane and moral endeavors like Pastor Warren.