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.

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