Monday, August 25, 2003

Rwanda: Some Background Information

I've just come across this Atlantic Monthly report on Rwanda, dating from 1964. It does a decent job of filling in the story behind the continuing tensions within that country, and it has the additional advantage of having been long before the events of the past decade, and as such escaping the biases that are imposed on Rwanda reporting by Western guilt over inaction in 1994.

This article should make abundantly clear that the conflict in Rwanda is not at all to be likened to events in the Third Reich, in which a numerically insignificant minority was scapegoated as the cause of all of the nation's misfortunes. Jews in Germany didn't enjoy even civil equality in all of Germany until as late as 1870, much less the four centuries of unbroken domination that was the lot of the Tutsis, and what successes the Jews did achieve after emancipation, they did so by sheer hard work and raw talent, not by exploiting a mythology along the lines of Plato's "Noble Lie", in which some men were simply born to rule, while others were destined by fate to be their servants.

I do not believe in collective guilt or innocence, and I certainly don't buy into the notion that an entire class of people deserve to be massacred simply because of the historical privileges they may have enjoyed. Mass murder is wrong, whether it occurs in Rwanda, in Poland, or in the context of "class struggle", and the perpetrators of genocide should be brought to justice, however reasonable their reasons for killing may have seemed to them. Having said all this, we do live in a world in which actions have consequences, and if a dominant class like the Tutsis refuses to accept that the feudal era is at an end, it must surely understand that those it imposes upon will seek recourse in violence at some point; as with Sparta and its' helots, so with Rwanda and the Hutus.

The history of South Africa offers a salutary lesson in this regard. As in Rwanda, a significantly outnumbered minority attempted to monopolize wealth and power by hiding behind all sorts of phony excuses - "We got here first", "The blacks have their own homelands" (bantustans), "Africans are genetically inferior", and, in the 1980s, "Black rule will lead to communism!" Where South Africa has been relatively fortunate has been that it had in F.W. De Klerk a ruler who realized that the status quo could not be perpetuated for much longer without giving rise to a massive bloodbath, while in Nelson Mandela it had a black leader who understood that the common good was best served by leaving behind past animosities, instead of trying to avenge old wrongs.

There is no guarantee that South Africa will not eventually go the way of Zimbabwe - Thabo Mbeki's record does not give rise to optimism - but even the Zimbabwe of Comrade Mugabe would be a better place in which to be than the killing zone that is the Rwandan region. The Tutsis need a De Klerk of their own, but Paul Kagame is not such a figure.