RWANDA’S INSISTENCE on equal treatment in world affairs serves as a reminder of the pressures currently facing African governance and diplomacy. It is either about keeping external forces from meddling in the internal affairs of this or that country or complaints about disrespect before, during, or after an international gathering. Sometimes it is about showing respect to people in another part of the continent.
By now followers of goings-on in the Great Lakes region and its relationship with the outside world know of the anger some are directing towards the government of Rwanda because of its refusal to forget about or fudge what happened in the country twenty years ago and ‘move on’. Those pushing the ‘move on’ argument are the same people who take the position that what happened was long ago, and that ample time has passed since the events in question.
On the surface this looks suspiciously like an effort by those who would rather sweep history under the carpet or corrupt it, to run away from their responsibility in what happened. However, what is at play is something much more profound. The idea of ‘moving on’ is not an isolated argument; it is part of an entrenched thought system that is grandfathered by a deeply entrenched drive to dominate and subjugate others. It is what begot both slavery and colonialism.
The two subjects of slavery and colonialism, and of late genocide, are very sensitive for those who have long believed in their mission to be masters of the world. Their discussion makes them very uncomfortable. Their preference, therefore, is that they should not be brought in the examination of Africa’s history and their role in it. They fear the discussion will mess up what they think is their good image, after all some of them are major aid donors and feel that in itself ought to whitewash their past misdeeds.
A few things are implied by the desire to underplay the past. First, the weight of the violations committed is minimised, often with campaigns countering claims that, on the contrary, external involvement was a good thing that did so much good. Also implied is that because African lives don’t count that much, and that, therefore, owning up to misdeeds buried deep in history is of little value. The more brazen view would have it that if Africans valued their lives, they wouldn’t be killing each other as often as they do. It is as if to suggest that war and political upheaval are African inventions.
And then there is the issue of aid. Aid dependence by African countries makes their benefactors feel that they can use aid to buy silence about dirty histories, presumably in the hope that with time this uncomfortable past will disappear from the Africans’ collective memory. As a result, continued insistence on justice by those who live on charity, becomes offensive, a sign of ingratitude.
However, for silence to be maintained, complicity is required. It is complicity or its absence that therefore explains why some choose to forget and move on, while others insist on continuing to highlight the past as a part of the present. The role of local accomplices in efforts to hide the truth is in many ways the key challenge facing post-colonial Africa.
Whether we admit it or not, Africa’s colonial legacy points to a continuing active confluence of both internal and external forces in keeping the continent backward. It is therefore difficult to fully account for present circumstances without reference to their links to history. Those who try to discount the impact of external interference wallow in escapism.
But for those Africans who seek to move forward as a people who value themselves, historical clarity is a must. It is historical clarity that will allow us to understand where we are, how we came to be there and to devise strategies to enable us to proceed with confidence and self-assurance about the future. Short of that, we are doomed.
An example of a country carrying this burden is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its present circumstances paint a picture of a country that, for some reason, won’t connect the dots of history to form a coherent line. It would seem as if those responsible for pushing for the clarity necessary for resolving its enormous challenges have chosen to shirk their responsibility and do nothing about the need to salvage the dignity of the Congolese people.
Finally, Rwanda’s resistance to the pressure to ‘moves on’ and not seek the appropriate apportionment of responsibility for the genocide is only the tip of a much larger challenge: African states must strive to promote and safeguard the dignity of the African.