In 1972, the Hutus from Burundi, emboldened by the example of their brothers in Rwanda, attempted to stage an insurrection, slaughtering, for starters, several thousand Tutsis, who, in response, killed more than a hundred thousand Hutus. It was not the fact of the massacre alone, for these occurred regularly in both countries, but its staggering proportions that created an uproar among the Hutus of Rwanda, who decided to react. They were further inspired by the fact that during the pogrom, several hundred thousand (a million, they sometimes say) Hutus from Burundi sought shelter in Rwanda, creating an enormous problem for this poor country already periodically beset by food shortages.
Taking advantage of this crisis (they are murdering our kinsmen in Burundi; we do not have the wherewithal to support a million immigrants), the commander in chief of the Rwandan military, General Juvénal Habyarimana, staged a coup d’état in 1973 and declared himself president. The coup exposed the profound rifts and conflicts within the Hutu community. The defeated president Grégoire Kayibana (who would later be starved to death) represented a moderately liberal Hutu clan from the country’s central region. The new ruler, on the other hand, hailed from a radical, chauvinistic branch inhabiting Rwanda’s northwest. (Habyarimana, one can say, is the Radovan Karadžić of the Rwandan Hutus.)
Habyarimana will rule for twenty-one years, until his death in 1994. Massively built, powerful, energetic, he focuses all his attention on erecting an iron-clad dictatorship. He institutes a one-party system. He names himself party leader. All the country’s citizens must be party members from the time of birth. The general now improves upon the all-too-simple scheme of enmity: Hutu versus Tutsi. He will enrich this formula by adding another dimension, a further division—those in power versus those in the opposition. If you are a loyal Tutsi, you can become the head of a hamlet or a village (although not a minister); if you criticize the authorities, however, you will end up behind bars or on the scaffold, even if you are 100 percent Hutu. The general was absolutely correct to proceed this way: Tutsis were not the only ones hostile to his dictatorship; there were also large numbers of Hutus who genuinely hated him and resisted him in every way they could. Finally, the conflict in Rwanda was not only a quarrel between castes, but also a violent clash between tyranny and democracy. In this sense the language of ethnic categories, and the mind-set it stems from, is terribly deceptive and misleading. It blurs and neglects the more profound truths—good versus evil, truth versus lies, democracy versus dictatorship—limiting one to a single, and indeed superficial and secondary dichotomy, a single contrast, a single set of oppositions: He is of infinite worth because he is Hutu; or he is worthless because he is Tutsi.
While strengthening the dictatorship was the first task to which Habyarimana devoted himself, gradual advances were also being made on a parallel front: the privatization of the state. With each passing year, Rwanda was increasingly becoming the private property of the clan from Gisenyi (the general’s small hometown), or, more strictly speaking, the property of the president’s wife, Agathe, and of her three brothers, Sagatawa, Seraphin, and Zed, as well as of a bevy of their cousins. Agathe and her brothers belonged to the clan called Akazu, and this name became the password that could open many doors within Rwanda’s mysterious labyrinths. Sagatawa, Seraphin, and Zed had luxurious palaces around Gisenyi, from which, together with their sister and her husband, the general, they ruled over the army, the police, the banks, and the bureaucracy of Rwanda. So, a little nation somewhere in the mountains of a distant continent, ruled by a greedy family of voracious, despotic petty chieftains. How did it come to acquire such tragic worldwide renown?
In the eighties, the young activist Yoweri Museveni starts a guerrilla war against the horrific regime of the psychopath and butcher Milton Obote. Museveni needs fighters. And he quickly finds them, because in addition to his Ugandan brethren, the young men from Rwandan refugee camps are volunteering: militant, battle-hungry Tutsis. Museveni gladly accepts them. They undergo military training in Uganda’s forests, under the direction of professional instructors, and many of them go on to finish officer-training schools abroad. In January 1986, Museveni enters Kampala at the head of his divisions and seizes power. Many of these divisions are commanded by, or include in their ranks, Tutsis born in the refugee camps—sons of the fathers who had been driven out of Rwanda.
For a long time no one notices that there has arisen in Uganda a well-trained and battle-tested army of Tutsi avengers, who think of one thing only: how to revenge themselves for the disgrace and injury inflicted upon their families. They hold secret meetings, create an organization called the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and make preparations to attack. During the night of September 30, 1990, they disappear from the Ugandan army barracks and from the border camps, and at dawn enter Rwandan territory. The authorities in Kigali are completely surprised. Surprised and terrified. Habyarimana has a weak and demoralized army, and the distance from the Ugandan border to Kigali is not much more than 150 kilometers: the guerrillas could march into Kigali in a day or two. That is what would certainly have happened, for Habyarimana’s troops offered no resistance, and maybe it would never have come to that hecatomb and carnage—the genocide of 1994—were it not for one telephone call. This was the call for help General Habyarimana made to the French president, François Mitterrand.
Mitterrand was under strong pressure from the French pro-African lobby. Whereas the majority of European capitals had radically broken with their colonial past, Paris had not. French society still includes a large, active, and well-organized army of people who made their careers in the colonial administration, spent their lives (quite well!) in the colonies, and now, as foreigners in Europe, feel useless and unwanted. At the same time, they believe deeply that France is not only a European country but also the community of all people partaking of French culture and language; that France, in other words, is also a global cultural and linguistic entity: Francophonie. This philosophy, translated into the simplistic language of geopolitics, holds that if someone, somewhere in the world, is attacking a French-speaking country, it is almost as if he were striking at France itself.
20 May 2011
Kapuscinski on the rise of Habyarimana
From The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. by Klara Glowczewska (Vintage, 2002), Kindle Loc. 2339-66, 2373-92: