Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century

Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century

Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century

Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century

Synopsis

The conflict in Rwanda and the Great Lakes in 1994-1996 attracted the horrified attention of the world's media, diplomats and aid workers struggling to make sense of the bloodshed. This study shows how the post-genocide regime in Rwanda managed to impose a simple, persuasive account of Central Africa's crises upon international commentators, and explains the ideological underpinnings of this official narrative. It is a sobering analysis of how simple, persuasive, but fatally misleading analysis of the situation led to policy errors that exacerbated the original crisis.

Excerpt

The eruption of conflict and civil war in the 1990s, in both Rwanda and eastern Zaire, had its origin in modern struggles for power and wealth. The world, however, easily overlooked this modern origin, since the confrontations it witnessed appeared to have taken on strongly ethnicised, seemingly 'tribal' overtones and justification. The Rwandan 1994 genocide in particular, more than the fighting in eastern Zaire (1996 onwards), was for too long and at too great a cost portrayed by the media as rooted in tribalism. Rwanda's bloodbath was not tribal. Rather it was a distinctly modern tragedy, a degenerated class conflict minutely prepared and callously executed. Most of the world failed to see it that way, and continued to think of the conflict – this after all was Africa – in terms of 'centuries-old tribal warfare'.

The power of shamelessly twisted ethnic argument for the sake of class privilege was demonstrated most shockingly in the blatant imaginings about history that galvanised Rwanda's 'Hutu Power' extremists. These extremists killed Rwanda's Tutsi and sent their bodies 'back to Ethiopia' via the Nyabarongo and Akagera rivers. The imagined origin of 'the Tutsi', along with their (poorly understood) migrations and conquest of Rwanda, were evoked by power-crazed Hutu politicians to instil 'ethnic hatred' in the very people they themselves oppressed: the victims of class oppression were spurred on to kill a minority group which the oppressors had labelled 'the real enemy'. Some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu who declared their sympathy with the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) were slaughtered in a matter of three months. Today, those who govern post-genocide Rwanda also imagine the past in order to make sense of the present, but they do so in different, more subtle ways. Post-genocide leaders regard Rwanda's pre-colonial past as something of a golden era, a state of social harmony later corrupted by Europeans. Vital to the justification of minority rule, their message is delivered in a well-rehearsed manner and style, marked sometimes by omission (of well-established counter-evidence) and sometimes by disregard for context. Complexity and context are continuously screened out of contemporary representations of 'the Old Rwanda', as could be seen, for instance, in official testimonies just prior to Zaire's civil war (detailed in Chapter 5). Against available empirical evidence, the Rwandan government's 9 . . .

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