Obama’s Summit and Feingold’s Eureka

BESIDES THE pictures from Washington – yes, those pictures – the second hottest topic for Rwandans from the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit was Feingold’s moment of Eureka. 
Lonzen Rugira
Lonzen Rugira

BESIDES THE pictures from Washington – yes, those pictures – the second hottest topic for Rwandans from the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit was Feingold’s moment of Eureka. Russ Feingold, the former Senator for the State of Wisconsin and one time rumoured presidential candidate and presently the United States Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, was quoted from the sidelines of the Summit declaring that there is “no justification” for the FDLR’s “demand for political negotiations” precisely because “the origins of the FDLR have to do with the genocidaires.”

For a moment we can disregard the distinction between a group being made up of genocidaires and one which has ‘origins’ “to do with genocidaires.” Doing so allows us to congratulate Feingold for finally calling a spade by its name, his Eureka moment. 

One is inclined to think that had this moment prevailed upon him about a month earlier, he would have skipped the Rome summit. Having done so, however, exposed him to scepticism on whether he means what he says when he threatens the use of force against “an illegal armed group that should be eliminated and we are simply interested if they are willing to surrender in the near future and if they don’t, we strongly believe that an appropriate military action must be taken.”

Observers noted whether force can indeed be carried out in circumstances where some of the top leadership at the United Nations Secretariat, at MONUSCO, and in the Special Brigade in the DR Congo appears compromised in favour of the genocidaires.  

Feingold’s words are significant, nonetheless. While they are words that can be expected of any reasonable person, experience shows that when it comes to the genocide against the Tutsi, people generally known to be reasonable on other matters all of a sudden start acting mad, taking up positions that attempt to give logic to the illogical. Here’s why. 

Part of the answer was discussed in last week’s column. It was a discussion about a set of immediate motivations for the push to negotiate with the FDLR. However, these are underlain by a desire for some to wash the blood of genocide victims off their hands and to abdicate from moral, and possibly criminal, responsibility.

Once you negotiate, all bets are off. Negotiations are a backdoor entry to rewriting history. In general terms, they give currency to new interpretations of what really happened twenty years ago. More specifically, negotiations imply civil war not genocide. Only civil warriors, not genocidaires, negotiate in search of a peace settlement, let alone the conceptual and moral difference between the two, whose understanding is important in guarding against recurrence.

To emphasise, the act of negotiation alone shifts the interpretation from genocide to civil war. Further, it groups whatever then would have happened in Rwanda as no different from the chaos elsewhere on the continent in the early 1990s as “normal consequences of African civil wars.” Thus, the killing of a million people becomes collateral damage, not deliberate targeted massacres.

There’s more. For the RPF, the difference between winning a civil war and stopping genocide is clear. The former not only robs it of the moral authority of the latter but also brings into question its legacy to date. 

There would no longer be genocide deniers. That is because their narrative would have triumphed and become the mainstream narrative for understanding not only the events of 1994 but the reality since. And get this for irony: genocidaires and tigistes, not genocide victims, would require reparations and a ‘moral obligation’ from all of us to ask them for forgiveness.

Crucially, a move to negotiate would undo major progress achieved over the past twenty years. It may surprise some people but it was only this year that the United Nations recognised what happened in Rwanda as genocide against the Tutsi replacing the previous conceptualisation of “Rwandan genocide,” a concept that was not only misleading but one that spoke from both sides of the mouth.

The logical next step from this recognition would be to ensure that its denial is an offense similar to denying the Jewish Holocaust. Thereafter would be action for arresting Genocide perpetrators roaming about in Europe and America and elsewhere in the world. Moreover, calls to negotiate with the FDLR would amount to denial, automatically prompting prosecution.

It appears the contrary is the reality – a world turned upside down. Victims are having to answer for the crimes of the perpetrators, with some powerful actors attempting to rewrite history for selfish reasons, and showing little remorse for past misadventures. Once again the international community watches on with indifference, which is why Feingold’s Eureka is significant.

This conduct is essentially due to the same reasons for the failure to intervene to stop the Genocide, the failure to apprehend genocide perpetrators and its deniers, and the refusal to put an end to the FDLR. 

Fortunately, Francois Mitterrand left us with an explanation: “In such countries, genocide is not too important.”