Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A brilliant genocide...or the lesser evil?

“Rwanda´s Untold Story” is a controversial 2014 BBC documentary which questions the standard narrative about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. According to that narrative, one million innocent Tutsi were massacred by Hutu extremists in full view of the UN and the world community. Fortunately, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) intervened and put a stop to the genocide. Under the presidency of RPF leader Paul Kagame, Rwanda has become an African success story with economic growth, clean streets and no ethnic divides (indeed the ethno-designations “Tutsi” and “Hutu” have been banned). And presumably some kind of democracy, too, since Kagame is the elected president of the country. Most people still believe this narrative and its corollary: that president Yoveri Museveni of Uganda (RPF´s main backer) is also one of the good guys. To question the official story is tantamount to “Holocaust revisionism” or “genocide denial” in the eyes of many. Indeed, in Rwanda itself, such wrong-think can land you in prison for considerable time.

Perhaps the Kagame faction of the Tutsi is right. And then, perhaps not. Either way, “Rwanda: The Untold Story” is worth watching.

The BBC reporter Jane Corbin has interviewed two US scholars, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport, who after doing research “on the ground” in Rwanda drew the disturbing conclusion that most people killed during the Rwandan genocide were Hutu, not Tutsi. There weren´t one million Tutsi in the country at the time. 200,000 of the victims were Tutsi while 800,000 were Hutu massacred by the RPF in revenge killings. Also, the RPF didn´t stop the genocide – it stopped by itself before the RPF troops reached the areas in question. Unfortunately, I haven´t seen the material these conclusions are based on. Two possible objections: the standard Western narrative at the time was that Hutu extremists killed *both* Tutsi and moderate Hutus, so on that reading of the events, Hutu victims would be no surprise (although hardly as many as 800,000). Second, that RPF didn´t literally stop the Tutsi genocide-in-progress is hardly an argument against the RPF, unless you believe that they deliberately avoided doing so, and even that can have reasonable explanations (such as logistical problems, etc – the Allies never bombed Auschwitz during World War II). More disturbing, of course, is the conclusion that the RPF´s revenge killings were *worse* than the Tutsi genocide.

The 1994 genocide was triggered by the murder of Rwandan Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana, who had signed peace accords with the RPF (which had began to invade Rwanda four years *before* the genocide). Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down over Rwanda´s capital Kigali. Hutu extremists were widely believed to be responsible, but according to “Rwanda: The Untold Story”, the RPF downed the plane. If so, the RPF never had any intention of sharing power with the old Hutu leadership. The killing of the president was in reality a coup d´etat, a coup the Hutu radicals tried to botch by unleashing a wave of indiscriminate anti-Tutsi terror, met with equally brutal counter-measures by the RPF. 

The counter-killings continued after Paul Kagame and the RPF had firmly installed themselves as the new government, now directed at Hutu refugee camps in southern Rwanda and eastern Congo. The RPF claimed that the camps harbored Hutu genocidaires (which is, of course, true) but independent observers regard the RPF attacks on the camps as indiscriminate. The documentary features an interview with a Hutu girl who survived the slaughter by hiding for several years in the Congolese jungle. As noted, the RPF didn´t rest content with controlling Rwanda. Backed by Uganda, they soon extended their reach into the Congo, charging the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko with genocidal designs against the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi tribe. Mobutu´s support for the Hutu was another point of contention. The RPF and Uganda essentially invaded the Congo, toppling Mobutu and installing the government of Laurent Kabila in its place, thereby triggering a decades-long conflict which may have killed up to five million people.

Jane Corbin interviews Carla Del Ponte, the UN-appointed special prosecutor at the ICTR, the international court charged with prosecuting suspects involved in the Rwandan Genocide. When Del Ponte wanted to investigate RPF war crimes (which she suspected had taken place), Kagame made sure the UN removed her. According to Del Ponte, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had told her. “I agree with you, Carla, but it´s all politics, you know”.

“Rwanda: The Untold Story” argues that Western support for Kagame´s presidency (former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is one of his chief advisors and promoters) has convinced the regime that it can act with impunity, including on foreign territory. Several high-ranking defectors from Kagame´s government have been killed abroad, and the BBC had to interview other defectors in secret. They used to have high positions in the government or military, and clearly fear for their safety. Their exact reasons for “turning” are never explained. All of them are Tutsi, interestingly enough. (I´m a bit too cynical to believe that they favor “democracy” in Rwanda. Perhaps they simply had personal fallouts with Kagame.) The easiest part of the documentary to believe is that Kagame is really a dictator. Of course he is – it´s *very* hard to believe that a Tutsi (the Tutsi only being 15% of the population) can get 95% of the votes in a Hutu-majority country. Sounds like election-rigging to me…

Even this anti-Kagame documentary admits that Rwanda has made progress under Paul Kagame´s (authoritarian) rule. Foreign investment and economic growth is part of the picture, the country is stable, and the capital of Kigali actually does look neat and tidy. Health care is free (sic) and there is free Wi-Fi on the buses. Of course, this raises a question “Rwanda: The Untold Story” can´t raise, with its “liberal” perspective on things. What if Paul Kagame, despite everything, is the lesser evil in Rwanda? Democracy doesn´t work everywhere and at all times, despite what woke Westerners like to believe (I used to believe it myself).

Perhaps the real choices in Rwanda are between mono-ethnic authoritarian regimes or a bi-national authoritarian regime…

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