Monday, December 02, 2013

Re-Writing History in Rwanda

In Rwanda, Hutu nationalists had come to power in the “Hutu rebellion” of 1959–1962, during the last years of Belgian colonial rule. They overthrew the traditional Tutsi kingdom and its ruling class, resulting in the death of around 20,000 Tutsi and the exile of another 200,000 to neighboring countries. Independence from Belgium in 1962 marked the establishment of a Hutu-led Rwandan government. The RPF was formed in 1985 by Tutsi nationalist exiles who demanded the right to return to their homeland. They attacked Rwanda from neighboring Uganda in 1990; though the invasion failed, Hutu fear of losing power paved the way for mass murder four years later. Pro-genocide propaganda ran in newspapers, dominated public gatherings, and was broadcast across the country.  On Aug. 3, 1993, when President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda signed the Arusha Accords, which would have weakened the Hutu hold on Rwanda. Eight months later he was dead. On April 6, 1994  Habyarimana  was returning from a summit in Tanzania when a surface-to-air missile shot his plane out of the sky over Rwanda's capital city of Kigali. Hutu extremists in the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development blamed the Tutsis for the assassination. From April to July of 1994, upwards of perhaps one million Tutsi were massacred by Hutu-led gangs and the country’s army. It ended when Tutsi exiles in Uganda, organized in the RPF, invaded the country, marched into the capital of Kigali, and defeated the perpetrators of the genocide. Some two million of the genocidaires, known as the Interahamwe, fled into the vast rain forests of the eastern Congo, from where they have periodically launched attacks into Rwanda. Since 1994, the RPF-led government has been dominated by a small clique of anglophone Tutsi who had been in exile in Uganda, and who blamed Belgium and France for having supported Hutu rule.

In 2010 Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda since 2000 and candidate of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), won a second term with 93 per cent of the vote, in an election marred by repression, murder, and lack of credible competition. Some potential opponents were disqualified or failed to enter the race, because they would have been charged with “divisionism.” References to “Hutu” and Tutsi” in public discourse is a crime, as part of  “unification” policies designed to create a national identity. Offenders can be prosecuted, newspapers shut down, and political parties banned. The government insists that all of the country’s citizens are simply “Rwandans.”

The history books have been rewritten to stress the “harmony” of its pre-colonial past. This form of what the sociologist Stanley Cohen, in his book “States of Denial,” refers to as “social amnesia,” is an attempt to allow the country to separate itself from its horrific past. According to the new historical discourse, prior to the arrival of, first the German, then Belgian, colonialists, the labels “Hutu” and “Tutsi” referred to wealth and social status, not “essentialist” ethnic groups, and hence they were fluid. Insofar as there was inequality between the royal court and ordinary Rwandans, both Hutu and Tutsi were equally victims of subjugation.  It is now claimed that it was the Europeans who introduced the “Hamitic hypothesis” — the idea that the Tutsi were actually immigrants to Rwanda from Ethiopia, whereas the “Bantu” Hutu were indigenous to the region. The Europeans thus elevated the Tutsi as the supposedly “superior race,” breeding resentment among the Hutu. They were the creators of ethnic dissension.

After 1934, the Belgian government introduced an identity card system, which identified each person as either a Hutu, Tutsi or Twa (a very minor ethnic group). And by having defined the Tutsi as more recent arrivals, the colonialists also allowed Hutu nationalists to argue that the country should be restored to its “original” owners. With independence, Tutsi could thus be portrayed as a foreign minority who were enemies of the country.

Hence it’s necessary to eliminate the colonial discourse about ethnic identity — which, by happy coincidence, also obscures the predominance of the minority Tutsi, now some 15 per cent of Rwanda’s 12 million people, and allows them to run the state without official reference to that fact, even though everyone knows it!

From here 

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