Thursday, October 14, 2010

Whose Genocide?

Since I posted last, I have received several not-so-friendly reactions about how my understanding and explanation of Rwandan history is "flawed", "self-interested" or "a crime against the humanity of survivors". Such statements are made anonymously, which weakens their impact. I mean, at least identify yourself so we can have a proper dialogue and debate! I would love to be wrong about the worrying trends I see on the ground in Rwanda. If I am correct, then people will die and this is the last thing I want....

At the same time, I have received many words of thanks and encouragement. For, "those of us that were there know what we saw". Because this is not a "Hutu" or a "Tutsi" issue, but rather one of individuals trying to have their experiences of genocide recognised so that they too can talk about them openly and without fear of repercussion, I am providing this excerpt from my own research on what I think happened during the genocide. For those of you that wrote to say I am a denier, I am not. I do not buy into recent debates that the RPF organised the genocide. I could be considered a revisionist as my account does differ from the official and accepted version of what the RPF says happened.

"Between April and July 1994, genocide engulfed Rwanda. Across the hills and in the valleys, in churches and homes, on narrow footpaths and in banana groves, in stadiums and schools, killers slaughtered at least 500,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsi (Des Forges, 1999: 15). The genocide was carefully planned by a small élite group of powerful ethnic Hutu extremists who refused to share power under the conditions of the Arusha Accord. Through an orchestrated strategy to liquidate Tutsi and any politically moderate Hutu perceived as opposed to the Habyarimana regime, the extremists had one goal in mind: to maintain their monopoly on state power.

Unknown assailants shot down he plane carrying the Rwandan president as it approached Kigali airport; soon after the killing started in the capital during the night of 6-7 April 1994. Militias – the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi – led the killing with the help of the Presidential Guard, the army, and local government officials (African Rights, 1994; Des Forges, 1999; Prunier, 1995). Outside Kigali, ordinary Hutu men committed acts of genocide, often under the direction of militia or government soldiers, under the threat of loss of their own life or that of their loved ones if unwilling to participate (Straus, 2006: 122-152). Genocidal violence occurred at different times in different regions of the country (André and Platteau, 1998; Des Forges, 1999: 303-591; Guichaoua, 2005, 258-290; Straus, 2006: 53-60). In some instances, local political and business élites colluded to enlist ordinary Rwandans to genocide (Longman, 1995; Wagner, 1998). Social ties and local power dynamics often compelled ordinary Hutu to kill; others resisted participation. Some stood by while a few rescued, instead of killing intended victims (Fujii, 2008; Straus, 2006: 65-94). Not all Hutu participated, and not all participated to the same degree. Some killed enthusiastically; others killed a few (Prunier, 1995: 242-250). Some Tutsi men joined in the killing as a means to save themselves and their families (fieldnotes, 2006).

The RPF also committed widespread reprisal killings – between 10,000 and 50,000 Hutu died – while countless others of all ethnicities died as the RPF gave greater priority to military victory than to protecting Tutsi civilians (Des Forges, 1999: 16). An estimated 10,000 ethnic Twa were killed during the genocide (IRIN, 6 June 2001). At least 250,000 women – mostly Tutsi but some Hutu – were raped (HRW, 2004: 7). Some men also admit to being raped (fieldnotes, 2006). Countless others, men and women, young and old, healthy and infirm, were tortured or maimed.

The 1994 genocide is much more than a series of facts and figures about who killed, who died and who survived. Irrespective of ethnic category, ordinary Rwandans were caught up in the maelstrom. There are countless stories of survival, of friends and family who took extraordinary risks to protect Tutsi (African Rights, 2003f, 2003h; Rusesabagina, 2006; Umutesi, 2004). There are stories of Tutsi who put their own lives on the line to protect Hutu family and friends from the coercion and intimidation tactics that the killing squads used to goad ordinary Hutu into killing (African Rights, 2003b, 2003c; fieldnotes, 2006). Notorious killers protected Tutsi they knew personally, ushering them safely through roadblocks, warning them of the whereabouts of marauding groups, and even hiding them at their homes. Some individuals killed during the day, only to shelter Tutsi friends and relatives at night (fieldnotes, 2006). Many Tutsi survived because of the aid and succour of a Hutu family member, friend, colleague, neighbour, or stranger (Jefremovas, 1995). There are stories about Twa and Hutu who were killed in the genocide because of their “typical Tutsi features” (fieldnotes, 2006).

Instrumentalising the Genocide
Despite the complexity of the genocide, the RPF-led government presents it as a clear-cut affair: Hutu killed Tutsi because of ethnic divisions that were introduced during the colonial period (1890-1962) and hardened to the point of individual action during the postcolonial period (1962-1994). Ethnicity is a fiction created by colonial divide-and-rule policies. Ultimate blame for the 1994 genocide therefore lies with Rwanda’s colonial powers, who instituted policies that made the Hutu population hate Tutsi. Divisive politics grounded in decades of bad governance resulted in deep-rooted ethnic hatred of all Tutsi by all Hutu, causing the 1994 genocide (NURC, 2004a; Office of the President, 1999a). This simplistic interpretation of events forms the backbone of the programme of national unity and reconciliation, which is grounded in the need “to eradicate the devastating consequences of the policies of [ethnic] discrimination and exclusion” so that “the scourge of genocide never again happens in Rwanda” (NURC, 2004a: 19-20).

Straus (2006) identifies different motivations for different forms of killing in interviews with génocidaires. He writes, “motivation and participation were clearly heterogeneous” with different forms of killing with different motivations occurring simultaneously (Straus, 2006: 95). The forms of killing were: 1) killing, torture, rape, and mutilation perpetrated against civilians – mainly Tutsi but also politically moderate Hutu – by militias, Forces armées rwandaises (FAR) soldiers and willing ordinary people; 2) killing, torture, rape, and mutilation perpetrated against Tutsi by ordinary Hutu, typically under duress from local leaders; 3) intended killing of soldiers and collateral killing of civilians (Tutsi, Hutu and Twa) in the course of the conflict between the RPF and the FAR; 4) killings carried out by the RPF against civilians (Tutsi, Hutu and Twa); and 5) murder motivated by theft and looting as well as the settling of scores between ordinary people (Straus, 2006: 113-118; 135-140; 163-169). Ordinary Rwandans understand that all of these different types of killings took place during the genocide and they use the phrases “les événements de 1994” (the events of 1994) and “en 1994” (in 1994) to describe “everything that happened in 1994, not just the genocide” (fieldnotes, 2006).

Straus’s findings on individual motivations to kill are particularly instructive as they reveal the intentional simplification of the government in grounding its approach to post-genocide justice in the presumed ethnic hatred of all Hutu for all Tutsi. His research shows that “preexisting ethnic animosity, widespread prejudice, deeply held ideological beliefs, blind obedience, deprivation, or even greed” did not motivate individual Hutu to kill individual Tutsi (Straus, 2006: 96). Instead, Straus finds that “Rwandans’ motivations [for killing] were considerably more ordinary and routine than the extraordinary crimes they helped commit” (Straus, 2006: 96. See also, Fujii, 2008; Hatzfeld, 2005b; Longman 1995; Wagner 1998). Among ordinary Hutu, participation was driven by intra-ethnic pressure from others, usually more socially powerful Hutu, security fears in the context of civil war and genocide as well as opportunity for looting and score settling. Straus concludes that these factors “were salient in a context of national state orders to attack Tutsis [sic], war, dense local institutions, and close-knit settlements” (Straus, 2006: 97). The available evidence simply does not support Rwandan government claims that ethnic enmity drove the participation of ordinary Rwandans in the 1994 genocide. Officially, this ethnic enmity is called “genocide ideology”; much of the work of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission is concerned with identifying and eliminating the genocidal thoughts of ordinary Hutu to prepare them to engage in state-led reconciliation activities. In practice, as will be further analysed in the next chapter, accusing an individual of harbouring “genocide ideology” is a tool used against any individual or group that steps outside the accepted boundaries of government policy. Approaching post-genocide justice on the presumption of a criminal (adult male Hutu) population is a useful mechanism that the RPF strategically deploys to control political opponents, deflect criticism of its actions during the genocide and justify its continued military presence in Eastern Congo (Jordaan, 2007; Usborne and Penketh, 2008).

The programme of national unity and reconciliation legitimates the moral right of the RPF to rule post-genocide Rwanda. The programme is supported by a historical narrative about Rwanda’s past in an effort to shape the collective memory of the genocide, a narrative which eliminates the real social and economic inequality faced by most ordinary Rwandans under colonial and post-colonial rule. In particular, it reformulates the violence against Tutsi in 1959, 1962 and 1973 and during the 1994 genocide as strictly ethnic in origin, thereby ignoring important class and regional dimensions of those conflicts. Instead, the programme of national unity and reconciliation reframes certain aspects of the genocide, while completely misrepresenting other elements, notably in its premise that the violence was the result of “seething ethnic hatred” of Tutsi rather than fear or opportunity (interview with senior RPF official, 2006). For example, the narrative of national unity and reconciliation ignores the fact that the labels Hutu, Tutsi and Twa represented status differences in pre-colonial Rwanda and overlooks the ways in which these labels became politically significant during the colonial period. In addition, it overlooks the ways in which Tutsi élites participated in and benefited from colonial rule. The narrative of national unity and reconciliation also depicts the events of 1959 as a “practice genocide” when in fact it was a social revolution of Hutu against the Tutsi élites (Kinzer, 2008: 11).

The programme of national unity and reconciliation uses this re-interpretation of history as a tool to shape the collective memory of how the genocide happened and the role of the RPF in stopping it while limiting the boundaries of acceptable public speech on the causes and consequences of the 1994 genocide. Notably, it is taboo to discuss the atrocities committed by the RPF during the genocide or speak of the partial responsibility of the RPF in creating the necessary conditions of fear and insecurity that in part caused the 1994 genocide. Instead, the RPF portrays its invasion as a necessary but principled battle on behalf of all Rwandans against the excesses of the Habyarimana regime. Rather than engage in frank discussion on what happened during the genocide, the RPF opts instead for a discourse which purports to restore Rwanda to the “peaceful harmony of pre-colonial days” (NURC, 2004a: 21), through re-education camps (ingando) about “what it means to be a Rwandan and how we used to live before the seeds of division were thrown down by the Belgians” (Office of the President, 1999a: 76). This interpretation allows the RPF to paint Tutsi as innocent victims who passively waited for the ethnic enmity of Hutu to be enacted, which in turn allows it to capitalise on its ability to liberate Rwanda from an oppressive and genocidal political leadership. This interpretation of the genocide legitimates the repressive approach of the post-genocide government in three ways: First, it invokes the heroic status of the RPF in liberating Rwandans from “oppressive rulers” (NURC, 2004a: 9). Second, it provides the RPF with a virtual carte blanche with which it can reconstruct Rwanda and “reconcile” Rwandans according to its own “vision of how things should be done” (MINECOFIN, 2000: 12); and third, it allows the RPF to continue to elide the specificity of their role in the genocide, while evoking the genocide guilt card with international audiences.

Finally, the programme of national unity and reconciliation does not acknowledge the lived experiences of most Rwandans: Tutsi and Twa perpetrators, Hutu and Twa rescuers; Tutsi, Hutu and Twa resisters; as well as Hutu and Twa survivors. The words of a Hutu woman widowed during the genocide sum up the situation well:

'For me, the genocide is what happened after the killing stopped. I lost my husband and four of my children during the events. Now I suffer without hopes and dreams. My brother is in prison, and I have no one to take care of or to take care of me. I feel alone even when I am with other people. And then the government forces us to tell the truth about what we saw. I saw a lot of bodies but never did I see someone getting killed. I heard people dying but I did not see anything. How can I tell my truth when the government has told me what I have to say? I fear being sent to prison and I think now that my neighbours do not like that I live in [the same community as before the genocide]. Where can I go, what can I do? The government says Rwanda has been rebuilt but my life and home are still not repaired…. (interview with Scholastique, a 54-year-old umutindi Hutu woman, 2006)'.

In presenting a particular set of facts about the genocide, the RPF is wiping away the specificity of individual acts of genocide, the death after death after death that are the aggregated whole. Such an approach ignores how ordinary Rwandans were enticed or coerced to participate. Each act of violence – a killing, a rape, a threat, a looting – is different and took place within a specific set of circumstances as individuals made their choice to kill, hide, resist, or stand by. This is not to downplay the magnitude of the genocide, but is to point out that in assigning collective responsibility to all Hutu, many of whom did not commit acts of genocide, the programme of national unity and reconciliation does more than simply misinterpret the nature of the genocide. It is likely to recreate, given Rwanda’s history of ethnic conflict, the same conditions of ethnic inequality and political repression that it claims to undo.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rwanda's Response to the UN Mapping Report on the DRC

Yesterday, I received a copy of the Rwandan governments response to the Draft UN Mapping Report on the DRC. It is divided into five sections, all of which warrant reaction. I'll just make a few points as the Report is best read as a statement of the extent to which the RPF is losing international legitimacy.

Before going into some of the substance, I want to point out one consistent reaction from members of the Rwandan government. They do not deny that there its army killed civilians in the DRC, only that these killings do not constitute genocide. Indeed, the government's ineptitude at handling its response is uncharacteristic of its usual deft skill in "managing" bad press. It may be that so much negative yet accurate press has emerged in international sources the last year as the RPF cracks down on political opponents (both with its own party and outside challengers) human rights activists, journalists and other segments of civil society that there are serious cracks within the party machine. Time will tell.

There is a great deal in the government's rhetoric, both formally through the UN, and statements from government representatives in the regional and international media, that the fractures and fissures within the ruling RPF are becoming more apparent. At the same time, we see the lengths to which Kigali will go to defend its version of how the genocide happened, how the RPF stopped it and the successes of post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation process.

I want to say too, that the RPF's emotive and excessive reaction to the UN Report seem to be the reaction of Kagame himself. He is known to be allergic to criticism while maintaining the moral authority of conviction (RPA were stopping genocide, not continuing it!) and insisting ad nauseum that his army was only doing what it had to do because of the inaction of the international community. I think the RPF's reaction is also reflective of a government that is losing its grip on power, and has little legitimacy among most Rwandans. The RPF is a party of factions, and only a few are reaping the benefits of power at the moment. This is the most worrying trend....

The Executive Summary of the Report says that its findings are unacceptable to the RPF, and that the allegations of mass murders are the result of the UN manipulating the true facts of the role of the RPF in eastern DRC. In particular, the Response notes that the publication of the Mapping Report might reignite conflict in Rwanda and in the Region. I think if any one actor is going to reignite conflict in the Region, it is the RPF itself.

The RPF's reaction to the historical context, and what happened during the 1994 genocide, are unoriginal. Anyone who has read Pottier (2002), Re-imaging Rwanda, particularly its chapter on how the RPF manages it public relations machinery will agree. The government has made similar assertions in public fora with interested audiences. It appears that the RPF is worried about losing face "in the court of public opinion" (para 5, p. 7). Yet its allegation that the UN leaked the Report out of spite (what it calls asymmetry) is false as it was a reporter with Le Monde that leaked the Report.

In the section The 1994 Rwandan Genocide is equally reactionary. First, there is sufficient empirical evidence to show that the RPA did not stop the genocide as early as it could of (para. 6, p. 7). Instead, it made calculated military moves to assure that it took power in Kigali while Tutsi (and Hutu and Twa) died. Two excellent books, Sibomana's Hope for Rwanda (1999) and Umutesi's Surviving the Slaughter (2004) provide sufficient counter-evidence to the RPF assertion that it directed all of its resources to stopping the genocide. Indeed, anyone aware of how the RPF acted in bad faith during the Arusha Accords will scoff as this section of the Response.

The section Mass Participation in the Genocide downplays the role of the RPF in helping to create the conditions for genocide. I want to make one thing clear. I do not buy into claims that have been circulating recently that the RPF organised the genocide. Instead, I take the argument of Straus (2006) in his The Order of Genocide that the civil war between the RPA and the FAR provided the necessary context of fear and insecurity that made the possibility of genocide by neighbours against neighbours possible, and indeed likely (as we now know with hindsight). I disagree with the assertion of the RPF that mostly young men committed acts of genocide. This is not a new assertion as the government's justice policy follows a logic of maximal prosecution (prosecution of all Hutu men of a particular age). This claim is, in my opinion, revisionist as it neglects the different motivations for killing as well as the strength of network and kinship ties in deciding who lived or died (Fujii, 2009, Webs of Violence).

The Response goes on for another 15 pages in which the RPF defends and justifies its actions in the DRC. I will end simply with this, the RPF doth protest too much.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The hierarchy of ethnicity

So the UN Mapping Report was released yesterday. There has been a barrage of reaction, much of revealing of the political positions of the various actors, including "Hutu" politicians and activists and "Tutsi" politicians and survivor activists. These reactions are certainly valid but they don't tell the whole story. While none of us knows the whole story because of the nuanced complexities of the violence committed against and by various groups and individuals, I remain concerned about the continued and undifferentiated use of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" (among other categories). The use of ethnic language is reflective of a major conundrum within Rwandan politics in particular, and politics in the GLR more broadly. Speaking of Hutu- and Tutsi- deaths continues the politics of othering that feeds the culture of impunity in the Region.

What I mean is that I sense of lack of commitment to human rights for ALL individuals, regardless of ethnicity, in the discourse and rhetoric of politicians and activists of all stripes. In other words, I have yet to hear any of the key actors in Rwanda and Congo talk about the importance of stopping the killing of poor, peasant people who are caught between armed groups, and who, more often than not, are caught up the violence and related circumstances (hunger, disease, displacement, etc) that they themselves do not create.

Instead, the rhetoric and action of powerful actors and decision-makers in the region continues to scapegoat peace in the language of ethnicity. The UN mapping report reveals the extent to which the politics of ethnic hierarchy (meaning that the lives of some are more valuable that others on the basis of ethnicity, and dare I say it, social and economic status) continues to dominate in Rwanda and the GLR. The RPF is skilled at claim a post-ethnic society when it facts its use of the language of ethnic unity creates difference and division on the basis of ethnicity.

So, for me, the UN Mapping Report does not represent an explosive exposee of what the RPF and other actors did on Congolese soil against resident populations. Nor does it present an alternative narrative. For me, and I assume others how follow political developments in the region, knowledge of what is contained in the Report is widely known. I see the politics of genocide manipulation that the RPF has followed since assuming power. I also see the ways in which opponents of the RPF manipulate its manipulation of the genocide for their own political gain. I recognise that suppression of UN and other reports on the excesses of the RPF against ordinary people because of other suppressed documentation like the Gersony report from late 1994. (See the excellent article by French and Gettlemen on Rwanda's relationship with the UN and its ability to craft a specific narrative of the genocide).

The key question, for me at least, is what now? Will the shine come off RPF rule? Will the Report expose its excesses in Congo and Rwanda against its opponents (of all political stripes and ethnicities)? Will international actors begin to push Kigali to open up political space? If so, to what effect? Indeed, significant in Kigali's reaction to the Report are the thinly veiled threats of renewed violence against those who challenge its version of history about how it stopped the genocide and restored peace and security to Rwanda (see the remarks of both Kagame and Mushikiwabo). How far can international actors reasonably push Kagame before he begins to react against his opponents? The list of questions goes on...

I'd like to see the international community -- policy makers, academics, journalists, activists and other -- begin to push Kagame and his RPF to open up to criticism of its actions and policy. Take a carrots and sticks approach that includes discussion of respect for all in region, regardless of ethnicity.