It has been 15 years since the genocide in Rwanda, but tensions are building not lessening. The runup to the August elections doesn’t look good.
I was in next-door Zaire when the genocide began. I have friends whose lives were severely effected by the genocide. My daughter and I with a couple close friends were nearly kidnaped by powerful Hutus in Zaire (now The Congo) who took control of precious metal mines and established their own mini-states within the DRC.
But until this year all the possible bad news about Rwanda’s future was eclipsed by all the good news. That’s changed.
Wednesday the last of the promising Hutu political leaders in the country was arrested. There are no viable candidates left to challenge the current president in the August elections.
This followed Tuesday’s arrest of two prominent Tutsi generals, suggesting once again the machinations of this country’s diabolical ethnicity was gearing up for something bad.
It’s all in the runup to the August elections. The billions and billions of dollars that mostly France and the U.S. have injected into Rwandan society to build shopping malls and fine roads came with the price of “free and fair elections.”
Down payments were made. Hutus who had fled the country, like activist Victoire Inagbire were allowed to return (from The Netherlands), and disgruntled Tutsi who increasingly criticized the militarization of society, like Frank Habineza, were given a wide birth to criticize the government in the media.
But then things went south earlier this year, when the new educated class in Rwanda, much wealthier and more savvy than their parents, began to actually cross ethnic lines in support of social movements.
Anyone criticizing the government was suspect, and now most are in jail.
Habineza heads the Rwanda Green Party. True to its name, its agenda is mostly nonpolitical, but with time its membership grew with disgruntled Tutsi including many former military officers concerned with too many resources being used for guns rather than trees. Inagbire – fully educated in the west – started pointing out publicly that there were many Hutus who suffered in the genocide as well as Tutsi.
Her own brother was mistaken during the genocide for a Tutsi and killed.
And therein lies the quagmire of Rwanda. Tutsi and Hutu are linked by a common language and many, many intermarriages especially in Kigali. The old notion that the Tutsi is lean and tall and the Hutu short and stubby is especially not true, today, where the melting pot is bigger than the tradition.
Yet the animosity is intense, and since the 1994 genocide it has morphed into something political rather than ethnic.
The Hutus who fled and didn’t come back are now a powerful, onerous force in The Congo mostly known as The Interamwe. They are brutal, ruthless cowboys almost exclusively men controlling important Congolese mineral deposits by guns and terror. Read John Le Carre’s fabulous book, Mission Song.
The Interamwe has beat back Rwandan, Ugandan and even UN forces trying to suppress them. In the long time since the genocide this movement has attracted a number of eastern Congolese movements, some of them actually Tutsi. So this Hutu ethnic movement has become a renegade but powerful political source sitting on tons of titanium that buys arsenals of weapons.
And within Rwanda, Paul Kagame, President, has controlled Rwanda since he liberated it from the Hutu massacre in 1994. There has actually been a growing number of Hutus integrated into his government, and in the last several years, even into Rwanda’s Army, which is the real force in the country.
And so this “Tutsi” government has morphed, too, into an iron-handed government that many now call a dictatorship. Kagame says government policy is necessary as a defense against the huge Interamwe threat on his border.
Trouble is, as always happens, contemporary political motives erupt into old feuds. Our Arizona’s legislature’s honest interest in stemming illegal immigration seems to me fast transforming into a birther and racist movement.
And so will it in Rwanda if anything blows. Strong government against external threats will once again become Tutsi versus Hutu.