As if it were deliberate, just before and just after African countries became massively
independent, African prehistory, which was also making a revolution, imposed itself
or, more exactly, imposed Africa as the birthplace of humanity.
Léopold Sédar Senghor 151
The world must take another look at the Rwandan war so as to avoid visiting the same tragedy on other countries, be they in Africa or elsewhere.
Between 1990 and 1995, Europe and North America, led by the United States withdrew all power Rwandans had to make independent decisions about their future, whereas following a social revolution in 1959 and independence in 1962, Rwandans had succeeded in building a society and a state that was able to meet the needs and aspirations of the Rwandan people.
The so-called donor countries decided in the late 1980s that the economic model had to change. A strong state apparatus that intervened in the economy had to make way for a skeleton state through privatization and outright withdrawal from certain sectors. Though Rwanda was only “invited” to join the movement by those who wield money and power, the big stick behind the invitation left little doubt as to the consequences of a refusal: either you obey or you will be shunned by the “international community”, a euphemism for the retired expression “civilized world”. You will become the world’s dinosaurs. Rwanda rushed to comply.
It was supposed to be just an economic model but for Rwanda it engendered profound political and sociological transformations, not the least of which was a transfer to private interests of the hard-won power Rwandan Hutus had obtained as a result of the 1959 social revolution. It represented a major step backwards and a reinforcement the Tutsi minority’s economic power since the Tutsis already dominate the private sector. For the people with money at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, a model is a model, is a model! It must be applied across the wall. When they decided to impose the model on Rwanda, did they consider the impact it would have on the country? Most likely not. If they did, then their decision was even more sinister.
At the same time, France joined a growing crowd and “invited” African countries to adopt a new political model that, since it came from Europe and North America, was nothing less than God’s gift to humanity and democracy. From now on, war or not, everybody had to hold free elections and establish a multiparty system. The same model applied to everybody, whatever their history, demographics, economy or traditions may be. But that model did not exactly apply to everybody. Ugandan President Museveni, for instance, established a total dictatorship and was not troubled in the least. In fact he was lauded. Africans were not exactly “invited” either. As with the economic model, a big stick was held over their heads in case they failed to comply. As with the economic model, however, the Rwandans under President Habyarimana willingly went along with the “invitation” as best they could.
As if these transformations were not enough, a foreign army invaded the country while everybody watched and some applauded. The foreign army occupied Rwandan territory and very soon the same powers, led by the United States, told the Rwandans to sit down and negotiate a peace and power sharing agreement with the occupying army that had just launched a murderous war.
The invading army occupied more land, drove the civilian population out and activated armed clandestine cells among the Tutsi minority. Despite this escalation, international support for the invading army, especially from the United States and Britain, remained strong and determined. It even increased thanks to the zeal of brigades of human rights organizations, officially non-governmental.
As the ill-named “peace process” followed its course and formally sanctioned the occupation of Rwandan territory as well as President Habyarimana’s removal from power, the first Hutu president of neighbouring Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by the Burundian army dominated by the Tutsi minority. Ndadaye’s assassination confirmed the Rwandans’ worst fears. It became ever more clear that the Rwandan Patriotic Front, who rejoiced when the president of Burundi was murdered, was not interested in a democratic Rwanda, but rather in establishing a new order patterned after the pre-1959 feudal order in which the Rwandan Tutsi minority, who represented less than 15 percent of the population, would once again enslave the Hutu majority. For decades, Western countries, and particularly the United States, had lectured the world on democracy - the political system in which the majority expresses its will in free elections. Now we saw the same Western countries, led by the United States, defend and support an army that, at best, represented a small minority of the population, and whose leaders could never hope to win a democratic election.
This was the situation in Rwanda on April 6, 1994, when the president of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were assassinated. Political power was no longer held by Kigali, but rather by Washington through a proxy army. The economy was in a shambles, crippled and drained by the war and the displacement of more than one million internal Rwandan refugees camped around Kigali, one million peasants who no longer worked their land. The newly created political parties were in crisis. All were jockeying for position in the eyes of international decision makers.
Following the assassination of the two African presidents, and knowing full well that death and violence would ensue, the United States and Britain, for their own strategic interests in central Africa, prevented the United Nations from intervening in Rwanda. Their goal was obvious: help the Rwandan Patriotic Front win a decisive and, they hoped, quick victory in Rwanda. But the decisive victory the British-American tandem was counting on was not as quick as expected. Four long months went by before the victory was decisive. It is not surprising. A people who freed itself after centuries of domination, even with its back to the wall, will never willingly abandon that freedom, as well as the past thirty-five years during which it enjoyed the freedom.
As the American diplomats predicted in the evening of April 6, 1994, there were killings in Rwanda. Nonetheless, the United States and Britain pursued their policy of favouring a decisive and, they still hoped, imminent RPF victory. Let us remember what former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote: “The U.S. effort to prevent the effective deployment of a UN force for Rwanda succeeded, with the strong support of Britain.” For the British-American tandem, strategic imperial interests prevailed over human life, and especially when those human lives were African.
That is the main crime committed in Rwanda in 1994, the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis in the name of strategic imperial interests. The word “imperial” is carefully chosen.
In modern times, the pro-imperial narrative of the earlier type (1850 to 1960) draws smiles and smug complacency, because it is viewed as something antiquated, quaint, but surely never to raise its ugly head again. The imperial hypocrisy of those times has been exposed and the old empires have been rejected.
Here are some gems for the record. The English explorer David Livingstone declared in 1866: “It is on the Anglo-American race that the hope of the world for liberty and progress rest… the inborn energy of English colonists would develop resources… By linking the Africans to ourselves… it is hoped that their elevation will eventually be the result.” 152 Livingstone’s fellow traveller and contemporary Samuel Baker maintained that “England (…) possesses a power that enforces a grave responsibility. She has the force to civilize. She is the natural colonizer of the world…to wrest from utter savagedom those might tracts of the earth’s surface.” 153 What about British Prime Minister Joseph Chamberlain who declared in 1904 “The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come”. And we should never forget Rudyard Kipling’s “White man’s burden” that so many Englishmen bore as they took over Africa and Asia.
There would be fewer smiles and less smugness if people were to realize that the story of the imperial burden and the responsibility for bringing freedom and progress to the peoples of the world has reappeared in popular literature and, what’s more, is the main thesis of serious papers written by influential people. A case in point is Michael Ignatieff, a highly praised award-winning Canadian writer who is currently Director of the Carr Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Governance. In a long article in the New York Times with the ominous title The Burden - he uses the term unabashedly and even calls the burden “noble” - Michael Ignatieff tries to justify and guide the American imperial intervention in Iraq just months before the war. His allusions to the imperial responsibility of the United States are ominous.
The semi-official ideology of the Western world - human rights - sustains the principle of self-determination […] This was the ethical principle that inspired the decolonization of Asia and Africa after World War II. Now we are living through the collapse of many of these former colonial states. Into the resulting vacuum of chaos and massacre a new imperialism has reluctantly stepped -- reluctantly because these places are dangerous and because they seemed, at least until Sept. 11, to be marginal to the interests of the powers concerned. But, gradually, this reluctance has been replaced by an understanding of why order needs to be brought to these places […] Bringing order is the paradigmatic imperial task. 154
Let us apply Ignatieff’s thesis to Rwanda. Rwanda was one of “these former colonial states” that supposedly “collapsed”. That collapse resulted in a “vacuum of chaos and massacre” and the “new imperialism stepped in”. It did so of course “reluctantly” because, according to all official statements, Rwanda is “dangerous” and “marginal to the interests” of the United States. We all know though that the Rwandan state did not collapse on its own and that the vacuum of chaos and massacre did not occur all by itself. Above all, we know that the reluctant new imperialism did not bring order, which is supposedly the “paradigmatic imperial task”.
The new imperialism in fact reinstalled a regime controlled by the Tutsi minority through which it would be able to impose a new domination. Moreover, this type of domination of countries and groups of countries, and even continents, through what is euphemistically called “market-dominant minorities”, in total contradiction with fundamental democratic principles, enjoys the support of a phalanx of theoreticians. One such theoretician is Professor Amy Chua of Yale whose book, World on Fire, defending that type of domination, appeared in January 2003 and was immediately praised and promoted by people in high places in the United States. 155 Chua maintains that the United States “should not be promoting unrestrained, overnight majority rule […] and that the best hope for democratic capitalism in the non-Western world lies with the market-dominant minorities themselves.” She cites the RPF regime in Rwanda as a good example.
The old imperial narrative has been recycled and regurgitated in the vast majority of popular books and reports on Rwanda. It is the thread that holds the “right and proper tale” about Rwanda together. Worst of all, if we are not vigilant, it is potent enough to open the doors to a new and brutal scramble for Africa and a return to something similar to colonial domination. For most Rwandans, that is exactly what occurred starting on October 1, 1990, though this time with fewer Belgians and more Americans.
Since it is known what happened in Rwanda in the years leading up to the 1994 crisis and given that the RPF army that enjoyed the unwavering support of the British-American axis and the CIA was most likely responsible for shooting down President Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, why do international institutions continue seeking out culprits only among Rwandan Hutus? Why also do they continue to be demonized and hunted throughout the world?
Why are we not be sickened by the hypocritical apologies offered by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the Organization of African Unity in December 1997? “We, the international community, should have been more active in the early stages of the atrocities in Rwanda in 1994 […] Yes, mistakes were made, but we are not responsible.” Sickened also by Bill Clinton’s mealy-mouthed apologies in Kigali on March 25, 1998. “It is important that the world know that these killings grew from a policy aimed at the systematic destruction of a people […] Never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence.” 156
Here is where the second crime committed in Rwanda lies. It is the cover-up and the protection of those responsible for the tragedy. The means deployed have been impressive. These include an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the massive dissemination of a “right and proper tale” that together created a group of good Rwandans and another group of horrible Rwandans, who are worse than the worst in modern history, the Nazis.
Though this latter big lie has been repeated ad nausea, absolutely nothing in the Rwandan tragedy can be likened to the Nazis’ planning and launching of a war and mass extermination of Jews. If in fact there was a comprehensive policy developed and implemented in Rwanda and central Africa, it was the one hatched by cynical minds in Washington and London as they reengineered the political and economic order of that part of Africa.
“Watch out for Africa! France has it all wrong. The strongman is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa,” forebodingly trumpeted the Under Secretary of State in November 1996. For decision-makers in Washington and London, the massive deaths in Rwanda and then in the Congo will have been little more than “collateral damage”.
151 Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ce que je crois, Grasset 1988, p 31 (my translation).
152 See Note 1, Chapter 11.
153 Samuel Baker, The Albert N’yanza, Great Basin of the Nile, and Explorations of the Nile Sources, London, MacMillan, 1866, p. xxii. , quoted in Hammond et Jablow, op. cit. p. 54.
154 New York Times Magazine, Sunday January 5, 2003.
155 Amy Chua, World on Fire, Doubleday, 2003, and in the New York Times, January 7, 2003 (Power to the privileged). This thesis is also at the heart of Philip Gourevitch’s book on Rwanda.
156 Gourevitch, op. cit. p. 350.