Writing Back To The Empire
Writing Back To The Empire
It is interesting how the latest book on the Rwandan genocide by Linda Melvern has been received, or, rather, how it has been ignored by the South African media. Even the radical posturing newspapers have so far ignored the book. The neglect of the book is reminiscent of the intentional ignorance that facilitated the massacre of about a million members of the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutu in that country in a period of 100 days in 1994.
Cruelty dressed as Charity: the legacy of colonialism
"CONSPIRACY TO MURDER" by Linda Melvern and published by VERSO late last year. In her 358 pages work documents in detail the events that led up to the genocide, and goes back 100 years before the 1994 genocide to analyse
"Colonial rule," writes Melvern, "eroded the power of the king of
Furthermore, "Every Rwandan was counted and measured: the height, the length of their noses, the shape of their eyes." (pg 6) Like all colonial powers divide and rule was the Belgians policy. The divide and rule policy engendered a situation whereby the Tutsi occupied a higher level than the Hutus in the colonial hierarchy. And so, by and by, "the divisions in society became more pronounced with the Hutu discriminated against in all walks of life."
As the colonial era drew to a close, "for the Hutu the future of
Melvern reveals that right after the bloody turn of events in 1959: "The UN General Assembly sent a special commission to
Moreover, "Unless there was national reconciliation, the commission concluded, the outlook for
Bertolt Brecht's poem "The Dispute (A.D. 1938)" used words that in part reflect on the nature of such a dispute: "Two yelled and two were silent. All four were enraged: Two held knives in their hands, and two carried knives in the shafts of their boots. 'Give us back what you stole from us,' two of them yelled, 'or there will be a disaster.' And the two were silent, nonchalantly observing the weather."
"At 2.30pm. on the afternoon of Monday 10 October, 1990," writes Melrven, "fifty armed men crossed the border from
"The rebel army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), was representing the refugees, all those Rwandans forcibly driven out of the country between 1959 and 1963. Their demands included an end to the ethnic divide and the system of compulsory identity cardsâ€¦ [and] democratization of the security force." (pg13)
However, the invasion failed, mainly because both
After the failed invasion, the government proposed that the Hutu youth of
Along with the machetes, the government imported razor blades, nails, hoes and axes, screw drivers, scythes, saws, spades, knives, pliers, pincers, scissors, hammers, and shears. At the same time the government was importing arms at an alarming rate. "In the three years from October 1990
A campaign of hate was launched by the Rwandan government to complement the arm's programme and the training of the youth militia. A journal called Kangura ('wake up others') was established. Melvern writes that "one of its most infamous issues was number six containing what were called the Hutu ten commandments. These amounted to a manifesto against Tutsis, which was not only an outright call to show contempt and hatred for the Tutsi minority, but also to slander and prosecute Tutsi women. 'A traitor is anyone who befriends, employs or marries a Tutsi'." (pg 50)
To further strengthen this campaign of hate a new radio station was set up. "In the street markets hundreds of cheap portable radios suddenly became available and the new station was immediately popular.
"That false information was broadcast on RTLM [Radio - Television Libre des Mille Collines] to instill fear and incite violence was confirmed some years later by witness who testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for
The Genocide and the Response of the International Community
"[When it comes to Africa]
The killing began in early April 1994, right after the assassination of the Rwandan president, President Habyarimana. When the genocide started, the new radio station was put to full use to facilitate and speed up the killing. The rumour was spread by government officials and soldiers that the RPF and its accomplices had assassinated the Hutu president. And so it was decided that the Hutu opposition and all the Tutsi were to be eliminated.
Melvern explains the role of the RTLM. "A daily morning briefing for journalists from RTLM and Radio
As for the actual killings, "It was systematic and well-organised with soldiers and militia taking part. The militia drove around in vehicles provided for the purpose and were armed to the teeth. Whole families were taken away on lorries, told they would be safe but instead taken to the public cemeteryâ€¦ where they were killed. Those people who tried to flee to neighbouring
UNAMIR, "the UN mission in
Melvern continues: "In
In one instance, Melvern says, "One group of Belgian peacekeepers, a platoon of Belgian soldiers, was ordered to abandon 2, 000 people they were protecting at a school in Kicukiro in order to help the evacuation. As soon as the peacekeepers were gone the militia started firing at the people and threw grenades into the crowd." (pg. 186)
And, "Rwandans who managed to board evacuation lorries were taken off at roadblocks and killed, with French and Belgian soldiers looking on. While this was going on, "On 15 April the
The killing continued at a steady pace. "The sexual crimes in the genocide were unparalleled. The rape of women was so extensive that the ICTR [ International Criminal Tribunal for
"In the early hours of 17 May," continues Melvern, "eight weeks after the genocide began, and twenty-seven days after UNAMIR had been reduced, the Security Council finally authorized the 5, 500 reinforcements, expanding the peacekeeping mandate to provide security and protection for civilians at risk in
However, initially, the Security Council agreed to send 5, 500 troops made up of volunteers only. A few poor African countries volunteered, but these countries had no planes to get their troops in
Melvern's book succeeds where most books on the Rwandan genocide fail, solely because it documents in detail the events that led up to the genocide, while at the same time she analyses Rwandan ethnocentrism from an historical perspective. But most importantly, Melvern demolishes the international community lie that it did not know what was going in
Mandisi Majavu is a freelance journalist and an activist. He can be reached through the Centre for Civil Society at the