From the Editor’s Keyboard

Rwanda: No Lessons Learnt

15 April 2006 at 00:08 | 357 views

Last week the world remembered the 12th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Gerald Caplan argues that understanding about the real causes of the genocide remains limited, while the world’s superpowers continue to act in their own self-interest when it comes to other genocides.

By Gerald Caplan

Twelve years after perhaps a million defenseless Rwandans were slaughtered for the sin of being Tutsi, Rwanda’s genocide has at last become widely known. As people around the world commemorate this week the 12th anniversary of the genocide, the phrase "Another Rwanda" joins the wildly ignored "Never Again!" to reflect the world’s apparent abhorrence of genocide-the ultimate crime of crimes. Anyone who thinks this augurs well for the future of humankind is dead wrong.

There are three critical realities that both these neat little phrases obscure: Few really understand what actually happened in Rwanda in 1994. A pernicious campaign to deny that genocide continues to unfold. And it IS happening again before our eyes.

Thanks to a modest production of movies, documentaries and books since the 10th anniversary, the genocide is far better known now than it was even while it was at its bloodiest. Far and away the most important vehicle has been the mainstream film "Hotel Rwanda", seen by millions and widely available on CD. The problem is what these large audiences learned from "Hotel Rwanda." Yes, it made clear that the minority Tutsi people were attacked viciously by the majority Hutu and that the world at large failed to intervene.

Yet the lasting impression surely is that some Hutu Africans were sadistically massacring some Tutsi Africans for no good reason. No one viewing the film alone would have grasped that this was no mere barbaric tribal eruption based on primitive ancient hatreds. This was a carefully planned and executed conspiracy by a group of sophisticated, westernized, greedy men and women for the purpose of ensuring their continued power and privileges. That’s not a savage African phenomenon - that’s a universal human phenomenon.

Nor is the critical, destructive role of outside forces evident in "Hotel Rwanda". No viewer would learn that the hatred between the two groups had largely been invented and inculcated over a century ago by the powerful Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda. They’d know nothing of the responsibility of the Belgian government for the deep, ultimately deadly, division between Hutu and Tutsi. They’d be blissfully unaware that the government of France was complicit in the genocide and has never to this day accepted any responsibility. Indeed, without a century of western interference, there’d have been no genocide as we know it. And had western governments cared one iota, they could easily have prevented the entire genocidal conspiracy from being executed. The world knows everything about Rwanda except what really matters.

What’s even worse are the insidious forces at work that brazenly deny that there ever was a genocide launched by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi. Another unwelcome lesson in human nature: There are always deniers. There are always David Irvings and Ernst Zundels, who for their own sordid or pathological motives deny what can’t be doubted. In Rwanda’s case, it’s an unholy coalition of Hutu genocidaires who want to complete the extermination of the Tutsi, whites in Belgian and France who had privileged access to the pre-genocide Hutu government, conservative Christian politicians in Europe, and a motley cast of characters around the world (including Canadians) with diverse, perverse, sometimes inexplicable motives.

For the survivors of 1994, and for the families of the victims, denial creates a second unbearable hurt, making an already difficult healing process far more painful and prolonged. And it’s all based on lies and distortions. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable: To deny the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda is the equivalent of denying the Holocaust, and all who do so should be treated accordingly.

Finally, despite Rwanda, there remains Darfur. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the world to assure that Darfur, the besieged western area of Sudan, doesn’t become "another Rwanda". Unlike Rwanda, all the world knows what’s happening in Darfur, so the excuse of ignorance, as in Rwanda, doesn’t hold. Unlike Rwanda, Darfur has been formally labeled a genocide by the Bush administration and both Houses of the American Congress.

Yet three years since the Darfur crisis erupted, the world’s reaction has been pitiful. The all-powerful permanent members of the Security Council - China, Russia, the US, France - have perfectly good reasons of crass self-interest to allow hundreds of thousands of Darfurians to die, countless women raped, millions forced to flee to squalid camps. Three years after it exploded, the situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate drastically. "Another Rwanda", indeed.

What are the real lessons of Rwanda and Darfur? They are surely inescapable. Those of us who demand interventions on humanitarian grounds - in Rwanda, Darfur, northern Uganda - will continue to be ignored. When western powers do intervene, we can be sure that dubious geopolitical and hegemonic interests are the driving force. We’ll have many more Rwandas; we can count on it.

* Gerald Caplan has written frequently about the Rwandan genocide and genocide prevention.

Source: Pambazuka News

Photo: President Paul Kagame of Rwanda