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.

1 comment:

  1. Susan,

    The over reliance on ethnic labels in the GLR politics worries some of us too. But, as you know very well, it is a complex issue. On one hand you have the RPF regime that pretends to operate in a post-ethnic environment. But when you dig deeper, their policies are ethnic-centric and exclusionary.

    The reality as you observe, is that most of the violence is committed against people of lower socio-economic backgrounds. It is mostly the elites who survive, and who continue to shape the story with their sinister agenda to maintain power.

    Thus the truth is rarely told, and the suffering continues deep in the villages.

    For instance, the current RPF elites who use the Genocide as a tool for political expediency, have little in common with most genocide survivors.

    How Rwandans will get beyond this pitfall, I don't know. But I should say that the UN report is a tremendous step in the right direction. Of course, politicians on both sides are going to play the report, but on a personal level, it offers some (minute) room for reconciliation.

    It is very horrific to die like a dog (forgive my analogy) without recognition.

    Finally, you ask the question, "Will the shine come off RPF rule?"

    Personally, I do not think regime change is all that is necessary. But I do think that the RPF regime must be held accountable.

    As it appears, not so much will change. I do believe that we Rwandans, with the support of the democratic world, can recreate a more equitable country that respects fundamental freedoms. This can be done and we are already doing it (you included)!