When foreign “experts” author our history

The Rift Valley Institute, based in Kenya with affiliates and support from the US and the UK, has organised a course on the Great Lakes region that is due to take plae in Burundi from July 9-15, 2011.The course will focus on three countries - Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Rift Valley Institute, based in Kenya with affiliates and support from the US and the UK, has organised a course on the Great Lakes region that is due to take plae in Burundi from July 9-15, 2011.

The course will focus on three countries - Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the organisers, the historical and political context of the conflicts in the region, are worth looking at with detail, as well as the recent Presidential elections recently conducted in the three countries.
The Rift Valley Institute’s course is an obviously intensive, one-week, programme designed for various players in the region, including, aid workers, peacekeepers, businessmen and women, researchers and diplomats.
And, the institute says, the participants would be in position to challenge assumptions and learn new perspectives on politics, development and other current issues such as culture of the region.

The idea of teaching the people of the Great Lakes region about their historical and political background, as well as, democracy is commendable.
However, when I glanced at the course instructors, I was shocked.

The course director is Ben Shepherd, formerly research fellow at London School of Economics and Great Lakes specialist at the UK Foreign Office.
His deputy director is Emily Paddon, Lecturer in international Studies at Oxford University.

The Director of Studies will be Jason Stearns, currently at Yale.   Other lecturers and specialists on Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi are Ndaywel  e Nziem, Professor of History at the University of Kinshasa and author of Histoire générale du Congo; Greg Mthembu-Salter, consultant for the UN Group of Experts on the DRC and natural resources specialist; and Pascal Kambale, Deputy Director of the Africa Governance, Monitoring and Advocacy Project for the Open Society Institute.

International teaching staff will include: Catharine Newbury, Professor of Government at Smith College; author of The Cohesion of Oppression, David Newbury, Professor of African Studies at Smith College; author of The Land Beyond the Mists; and Filip Reyntjens Professor of African Law and Politics, University of Antwerp, author of The Great African War.

The above list of lecturers is suspicious.
I do not doubt their competence; however, after reading it, it became evident to me that the people of the region had been short-changed.

If the course is for the good of the people, why leave out the role of their democratically elected governments or the local experts?

I would have loved to see an inclusive course, with a good melange of local experts and leadership from the concerned countries.

The participants would then be in position to draw from the various experts, most importantly, those actively involved in the day-to-day developments of the region.

The mere fact that the list of lectures is selective, only proves the suspicious nature of the agenda.

Until the West learns to partner with developing countries in the efforts to foster peace, security and economic growth, the perception of exploitation and colonialism will be hard to erase.

And, they will always be treated with suspicion.
The role played by foreign forces in the region is well documented both before and after the countries in the Great Lakes region gained their independence.
It doesn’t help when such courses are organised and among the instructors is an individual who helped author the constitution that was tailored towards divisive politics in Rwanda.

Prof Filip Reyntjens was not only associated with the Habyarimana regime, but has continued to closely identify with some of the people who planned and executed the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Indeed such courses present a platform for people like Reyntjens and a number of others on that list of experts to espouse revisionist views with regard to the Genocide.

With the so-called constitution at hand, Habyarima’s oppressive regime gained justification and the end result, was more the more than a million innocent lives lost in the 1994 Genocide against the Tusti -a 100-day killing spree that will go down among the worst atrocities the World has ever witnessed.

What kind of lessons on democracy can such a lecturer give? There is definitely no objective analysis to expect from an individual with a tainted background.

Irrespective of how many courses on politics, the Rift Valley Institute, or any other organisation, will offer, the mere thought of ‘importing’ Western democracies will never work as a stand-alone. The ‘democratic’ system as the West would desire for Africa will fail as long as it is not conceived by Africans themselves.

Burundi and Rwanda are nations with centuries of history. They have their own traditional and modern scholars with a historical and political background based on rich, reliable, documented and well kept references.

The participants in such courses are deprived of knowledge when such resources are not tapped into.

A blend of local and objective foreign experts would work superbly for the benefit of the region.

The principle should be and must remain one of partnership.

The decision to reject foreigners attempting to rewrite the region’s history, rests with the people of the Great Lakes.

And, considering that being an “expert” has become a wealth accumulation strategy, if the people just lay back and consume anything, what may be considered funding for developing countries, may just trickle into the pockets of individuals whose interests of the people is among their least priorities.
Our region’s destiny is in our hands, it must stay that way, and we deserve better.


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