Friday, February 12, 2010

Rwanda's Ethnic Card: Who is manipulating whom?

On 10 February 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the Government of Rwanda to end attacks on opposition parties. Read the press release for the full commentary. Reuters reported that Rwanda's political opposition (meaning Mme. Ingabire) will likely face criminal charges for playing the ethnic card.

I would like to add a layer of context to these two reports. On the BBC Africa Service on 10 February (Focus on Africa), Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch spoke correctly when she said that attacks on opposition politicians were intensifying.

I agree with her 100%. Such attacks are not new, they are only more intense in this round of elections. I am pleased to learn that the Government of Rwanda has agreed to accept Commonwealth election monitors. I only hope they actually consider more than the bare basics of electoral democracy (ballot stuffing, padding voter lists, etc) to consider the ways in which the ruling RPF plays the ethnic card that it accuses Ms. Ingabire of manipulating.

The RPF has outlawed public reference to ethnicity. It justifies its intolerance of political dissent in the name of eliminating the ideology of genocide and ethnic divisionism which it claims drove all Hutu to kill all Tutsi. My own research reveals the extent to which the RPF has instrumentalised the genocide to protect and consolidate its own political power. The RPF claims that the ultimate blame for the 1994 genocide rests with the colonial powers who promoted divisive politics that resulted in the ethnic hatred of ALL Hutu for ALL Tutsi. This simplistic interpretation of events works to mask the crimes against humanity and war crimes that the RPF itself committed before, during and after the genocide.

This simplistic interpretation of all Hutu killing all Tutsi does more than overlook the myriad ways in ordinary Rwandans, irrespective of ethnicity were caught up in the maelstrom. It also hides from view, in the name of ethnic unity, that many Hutu died including those who died trying to protect Tutsi. Equally, there are Tutsi who put themselves on the line to protect Hutu family and friends. Many Tutsi survived because of the aid and succor of a Hutu family member, friend, colleague, neighbour or strangers. There are also stories of Twa and Hutu who died because of their Tutsi features (for more see Des Forges, 1999; Fujii 2009; and Straus 2006 for the various forms of killing and the attendant motivations).

These different forms of killing and surviving are not accounted for under the current government. It is recognition of what Fujii (2009) calls "webs of violence" that I think Mme. Ingabire is asking the RPF to allow. The ferocity of the government's reaction -- threats, harassment, and physical violence -- to her request to take into consideration and account all the lives lost in 1994 is revealing. It reveals the insecurity of the current government as it expects deference and compliance to its directives. Those who dare break the facade, or try to peek behind the veil of peace and security, are treated harshly.

A good example of the lack of legitimacy that the RPR-led government has among ordinary Rwandans is its politicisation of individual mourning. The RPF seeks to control the ways that ordinary Rwandans -- Tutsi, Hutu and Twa -- mourn their lost loved ones.

First, only official survivors are recognised, and the RPF represents their trauma symbolically through the image of a lonely, wounded survivor as the personification of the 1994 genocide. The RPF invokes this image of the traumatised survivor to silence criticism from the international community. The lives lost -- Tutsi, Hutu and Twa -- in the violence before (1990-April 1994) and after (July 1994 to September 1999) are not memorialised.

The government uses the official mourning period (7 to 14 April every year to assert its official version of what happened during the genocide. Survivors (read Tutsi) are clearly distinguished from the killers (read Hutu). This single version of events hardly captures the multiplicity of individual experiences.

The genocide means more to ordinary Rwandans than just the idea that all Hutu killed all Tutsi; some Tutsi killed, some Hutu protected Tutsi; Twa also participated; just as some joined in, others stood by. Despite this, the government requires that Rwandans of all ethnicities attend mourning week events, notably the exhumation of mass graves and reburial of bodies, and listening to the speeches of government officials that remind the population of the need to “never again” allow genocide in Rwanda.

Many ordinary Rwandans that I spoke with in 2006, both in formal interviews and through participant observation, said that they felt the RPF was manipulating the way the genocide is remembered to maintain their positions of power and wealth rather than truly seeking to unify the country.

As Gaston, a released Hutu prisoner, told me, “We dig up bodies for reburial at the national ceremony but how do we know those remains are even Tutsi bodies? We [Hutu] died as well, but nothing is mentioned about how we suffered during the genocide. Not all of us killed you know. Instead we go because our new government says we must; we were told this very clearly at ingando (citizenship re-education camp)”. (I write about the humiliation of ingando here).

Others, particularly Tutsi survivors, acknowledged the reburials as “a little bit necessary for national healing” but would prefer to do it in private, “away from the spotlight”. In homogenising the diverse individual lived experiences of victims of the genocide – Hutu, Tutsi and Twa – as well as those of individuals who lived through the violence of the 1990-1994 civil war, and the emergency period after the genocide (1995-2000), the RPF is stage-managing and politicizing individual mourning.

I think the RPF harassed and harmed Mme. Ingabire because she spoke out against this stage-managing and politicization of individual mourning.


  1. Hi Ms. Thompson;

    It was a relief to read your paper 'a false reconciliation'. It is a good sign that, at last, people in western countries begin to grasp what really is going on in Rwanda: Life conditions under Kagame's regime are even worse than that of animals. Under Kagame's regime, ordinary Rwandans don't simply have the most basic right, THE RIGHT TO LIFE. The international community has conceded the right of life and death to anything living in Rwanda. Why? Simply because so far Kagame and his killers have not been prosecuted for the horrendous crimes they committed not only against rwandans, hutu and tutsi alike, but also against american, canadian, belgian, french and british citizens.
    By all modern standards and values, this situation where some people, Kagame and his killers, have the right of life and death on other people is simply unacceptable.
    Kagame is shielded by the official account that the genocide in Rwanda was done by Hutus against tutsis. While it is undeniable that some hutus participated in the killings against interior tutsis, the global picture that emerges when all facts are put together is that of ONE GENOCIDE OF INTERIOR RWANDANS, HUTU, TUTSI AND TWA, AND THE MASTERMIND OF THIS GENOCIDE IS KAGAME HIMSELF. See this paper I published in 2007
    The evidence is simply overwhelming.

    Thank you for your support to Rwandans in their struggle for freedom.

    Guillaume Murere
    38 Rue de l'Élan
    Gatineau(Aylmer), Québec, J9J 2Y1
    Tel : 819-682-1840
    Cel : 613-266-1972

  2. Hi Guilluame, Thanks for your comment. I am not convinced that Kagame himself organised the genocide but there is definitely evidence to suggest his RPF downed the plane.

    I will read your 2007 paper.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Thanks a lot Ms Thompson.
    The rwandan people crucially need objective journalists like you.
    Please keep up the good work.
    I also run a blog Hungry for Truth Peace and Justice with emphasis on current crisis in the African Great Lakes Region

  4. THanks Mamadou. I am a follower of your blog and know it well. Thanks for your analysis as well!

  5. Hello susan, i agree with you,we can't say that kagame organised the genocide himself. i think that what Murere tried to say , is that Kagame knew what 'll be the reaction of Hutu extremist if the president 're killed.Today when we see the way the genocide of tutsis is used to justfy its policy, we may simply conclude that Kagame and RPF are the one who benefit of this genocide. The rest are all the losers ( hutus, tutsis survivers..)


  6. hi Prudence, I agree with you. I think the empirical evidence definitely shows that the RPF is benefitting from the genocide, and uses it so justify its oppressive policies. Thanks for the idea. I think I will blog about that now. Nice to meet you here!

  7. Thank you for that report which i find really reliable!
    But i am not naive i do think that both western intellectuals and politians have always known the truth about Rwanda including yourself, but like many people prefered keep the silence on the plot agnaist rwandan people( Hutus and Tutsis)while others decided to back the killer Kagame,just because of the interests. I can't believe that in 1994 when you were in Rwanda didn't discover the animosity of the current regime. 15 years late you want to let us know that you finally the truth.
    The matter is that most of you have nothing to do with our lives!

  8. I am in support of all of you who chose to become Voices of Voiceless Rwandans who live in fear in their own country. There is no doubt that Kagame, his army and his allies from western countries have blood on their hands. Tutsi and Hutu innocent civilians were hacked to death. I am from Rwanda and I lived the nightmare. There is no doubt that Kagame and his extremist wing play cards based on ethnicity to undermine if not eliminating anybody that speaks out against the injustice in Rwanda. People especially those from Hutu tribes can’t talk, can’t mourn for their loved ones who were killed during, after genocide and who are still being thrown in jails by the brutal regime of Kagame. Many innocent from Hutu tribes especially those who are educated, who own proprieties such as land, house, car, and jobs are targeted. If they dare to speak out they are charged either diversionists or genocide ideologists.
    Everyone should know the truth. Mass murder was carried out by Kagame army not only in Rwanda but also in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. What is needed to bring all the killers to face justice?
    I can’t finish my comment without blaming the western gov. who support dictators in Africa.
    It requires all efforts from those who chose to be Voices of Voiceless innocent lives.