Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It's April again...

Like every April, I take a moment to remember those of my friends, classmates, and my mother's friends, who died in the Rwanda genocide. I was in Rwanda from 1990 to April 1994, and was evacuated about a week into the genocide. My mother was the head of a UN agency there, and we were therefore among the UN evacuees. But before we left, I had the heartwrenching experience of hearing of, and watching first hand, some of the most vile actions ever committed by humans, on their fellow people. It is an experience that gives me nightmares to this day, and an experience that I hoped I could leave behind me.

But strangely, it followed me. After Rwanda, the aftermath of the conflict made the issue drift towards Rwanda's big Western neighbor, which just happens to be - sublime irony - my country the DR Congo. And that was the start of another deadly experience that to this day has resulted in ~4 million dead Congolese people. And just as the Western media turned a blind eye to Rwanda during the 4 years that led to the genocide, they are doing the same thing right now with Congo. And the guilt effect is just making it worse, because unfortunately, one of the main instigators of the current conflict - granted, alongside the interahamwe who were hiding among the Hutu refugees that fled to Congo after 1994 - was the very leader that was hailed as the one who stopped the genocide, namely the almighty General Paul Kagame, the then vice-President, currently President, and since 1994 most powerful man of Rwanda. Since he claimed that his intervention in the Congo - especially in the Second Congo War - was in support of Congolese-Tutsi rights, any outside intervention in the conflict would have looked like the World abandonning the Tutsi a second time... Quite a good war strategy, really.

Because of this unwarranted interventionism, the somewhat marginal antipathy towards Tutsi populations in the East, has bred a very unhealthy, nationwide resentment among the large Bantu majority (~95%). The heritage of the Belgian colonization, is that elder Bantu people from Eastern Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi (the Bantu groups of the latter two countries are called "Hutu"), have "fresh" memories of the days when the Tutsi elite/aristocracy were given preferential treatment, and when the notions of the "Tutsi supremacy" over the Bantu was promoted, and often acknowledged and acted-upon by the Tutsi. Within the Belgian Congo, there was no home-rule until the very last years, when a limited role was given to Blacks who were termed "evolved" (a disguised insult in so many levels). But Rwanda-Urundi being more of a protectorate, the local ruling class retained great power, and these happened the Tutsi minority, whom the Belgians had deemed "closer to Whites", and thus - these were colonial times - superior to the Bantu. Not that there were no tensions prior to the Belgian arrival; but their active "divide and conquer" policies escalated the situation, and we know what that bred a few decades later... In the independance years of the 1960s, theories emerged in Eastern Congo, of a Tutsi-led conspiracy to create a Tutsi-ruled, feudal "Hima Empire" in Central and East Africa. After Kagame's - and Museveni's - double intervention in the Congo, and the stated reason behind his intervention, the theories resurfaced, intensified, and some people have even gone as far as contesting the very existence of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Why is that? This is my opinion. See, when evidence of the Shoah was brought out, the Jews did not have the power in Europe, to influence the results of the investigations. Thus, evidence of the genocide were established fairly independently. In Rwanda's case, the victimized minority actually took over, and now rules over the majority; some say that it is simply a return to feudal-era Rwanda. Some people even thought that Kagame would call back to power Rwanda's pre-independance Tutsi Mwami (king), HM Mwami Kigeli V - and the lobbying efforts of the latter in the United States could certainly point that way. But that was without counting with Kagame's grip on power. Because of this very authoritarian attitude, and the iron-fisted grip he has on power, much of the investigations on the Rwandan genocide, have been made under the close supervision, and following the whims of Kagame's regime. There has, for instance, not been any credible investigation of the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, 12 years after the event arguably triggered the genocide. The regime is also hellbent on shielding its own soldiers from any independent investigation, to examine alleged organised exactions on Hutu populations. From this rises another theory, that of a double-genocide...

What of that "double-genocide"? I am not a revisionist, because I witnessed part of the genocide, and I remember vividly groups of people who identified themselves as Hutu, swarming in the streets, looking for houses occupied by Tutsis. And I remember them vividly entering the houses, hearing atrocious screams, and seeing them coming ack out with their machetes dripping with blood. I saw this, and it is very real: the vast majority of the dead were a result of a Hutu-led effort to kill Tutsis, and their sympathizers, in massive amounts. That said, for 4 years, in Rwanda, we saw what Kagame's RPF did to the Hutu populations they found in the northern areas of Byumba, Muranvia, and Ruhengeri. I remember that Rwanda - even in the outskirts of Kigali - was full of internally displaced people (IDP), and many of them brutally injured. Therefore, the RPF cannot claim to be the immaculate angel of salvation it wants to portray itself as. Thus, it is very difficult for me not to at least consider the claims of RPF-committed massacres of Hutus; especially considering that Kagame doesn't want this investigated... I mean ~2 million Hutus crossed the border to the Congo (then Zaire), and the vast majority of them were NOT killers, but simply very freigtened Hutus. The killers used them as a cover, yes, but not all Hutus were killers. The media has a nasty tendency to conflate the evil kilers - who are very real, and the general Hutu population. There was a genocide, yes. But whether Kagame and the RPF were part of the problem and/or the resolution, that is a public debate that is very long overdue, despite the fact that these days saying anything against Kagame and RPF seems to be labeled revisionnism.

All in all, IMHO, the very dynamics of the Great Lakes conflict make it a vicious cycle entertained by politicians, for which the common people of the Great Lakes - unwilling pawns - continue to pay. Congo is big, and minerally wealthy and with a very resilient people, so the situation, as catastrophic as it already is, is relatively tame; but there will be a tipping-point if we are not careful, and then what? Similarly, Rwanda's apparent resolution to the ethnic problem is a mere smoke-screen. Financed by the proceeds from both Congo military campaigns, the Rwandan situation has held because of the economic gains that seem to have come with the Kagame regime. But the rural population is not satisfied, and the vast majority of the current leadership of the country, and of major companies, is Tutsi; the very situation that led to the beginning of this vicious cycle in 1959.... how long will it hold without major redistribution of power is anybody's guess. Burundi seems to be going in the right direction, with a realistic system that assigns quotas on an ethnic basis, in order to ensure both democracy, and minority representation. But this can only work if the situation in both the Congo and Rwanda are resolved, and if Mr Nkurunziza gets a better human rights record. A lot of necessary politicking that is not being done, and right now, the people of the Congo are paying the price...

It's April again, and like every April, I take a moment to remember those of my friends, classmates, and my mother's friends, who died in the Rwanda genocide. But now I have to add in my remembrance and my prayers all the others that have died in Congo, for the sole crime of being born Congolese, on a coveted land of reological scandals. I have to pray for my father and brother who are currently fighting in the Congolese military, for the right of the Congolese people to live in peace, in posperity, in sovereignty, and in harmony with its neighbours, in a peaceful Great Lakes region. The so-called International Community have - finally - brought support for the Congolese leaders, but may be on the verge of failing the Congolese people...

It's April again, and 12 years after the worst experience in my life, I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel that is the current situation of my people...

It's April again...


5 comments:

mbayisyen said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I must try to see "Sometime in April" by Raoul Peck, the Haitian filmmaker who did lived in Congo (I think) during his formative years.

TheMalau said...

Frere Ayisien, you should! And yes, Mr. Peck grew up in the Congo.

007 in Africa said...

The Malau, I am sorry to hear that you were caught in the cross-fires of the Genocide...

TheMalau said...

Well, we all have something that has happened in our lives, that remind us of the human potential for evil... for me, this was that something. But I am mostly over it, though

Michoko said...

And every time they say "Never again" ....

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