Sunday, July 28, 2013

Anti-Tutsi sentiments in Central Africa?

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Apart from the most sensational news in the region: continued fighting between Tutsi rebels and the Congolese government and a grenade blast in kigali that left three people dead yesterday, another less publicized discourse has been taking place.

The Security Council met to discuss the recurrent violence in Congo and the foreign minister of the Congo was said to have stated that all problems in the Congo bear the same "genetic signature." Members of the Rwandan Twitter Defense Forces--a group paid to fight Rwanda's "social media wars" quickly erupted.

The contention here is that Congo is blaming Tutsi people for all the problems that the region faces. The point has serious weight considering the unspeakable horrors that Tutsi people went through during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Such a statement therefore seems to justify their feeling of collective victimhood--living among hostile tribes that want to finish them off. The fears were further escalated by tweets from the New yorker author Philip Gourevitch.

However, the issue is less dramatic. Anyone with a keen understanding of the region knows very well that Tutsi people do not have the exclusive monopoly of suffering. Neither are they the first or the last to undergo genocide in the great lakes region. They, like their Hutu neighbors, have been both victims and perpetrators in different genocidal incidences shifting in time and space.

I won't go too much into the history. However, the 1972 genocide against Hutu in Burundi is well known. So is the genocide against Tutsi in 1994. The UN has considered again and again whether the killings in the Congo against Hutu qualify as genocide. While whether the killings qualify as "genocide"will forever be subject to debate, it is undeniable that thousands of innocent Hutu were killed by Kagame's Rwanda "Patriotic" Army.

So why do we continue to talk about some perpetual anti-Tutsi ideology in the region--even at a time when Tutsi people have complete (and rather unprecedented) state control over the Rwanda state? This is one of those questions that are important to understanding the dynamics of the region.

Anyone who lived in Rwanda through the last 20 years has a valid reason to be afraid. It is very hard to find a single Rwanda who hasn't lost a loved one or brushed shoulders with death in the last two decades. And since the war was exported to the DRC, the Congolese inherited the same trauma--although this is often ignored.

Mention to a Congolese that 1 million people died in Rwanda during the genocide and he/ she will respond that 6 million Congolese have died as well. Both statements are true. The aim shouldn't be competition of victimhood. Rather, we should strive to be more empathetic and to try to understand the suffering of others.

Reconciliation will continue to be hard in the region. We all understand the world through our suffering and there is too much suffering in the region. Hutu people refuse to acknowledge the suffering of Tutsi people during the genocide.  The feeling among Tutsi people is mutual. Two people, both having severely suffered, refuse to see the common denominator they both share: suffering. It is hard for them to do so. Yet, it is important.

It is hard because our personal history reinforce victimhood. I am Hutu but I have lost countless of relatives since the beginning of the 90s. Most of them killed by Kagame's RPF. My conversation with other young Hutu's confirms that mine is not an isolated predicament. The pain is in part what fuels the fear and in turn the conflicts. The continued tribalism is not just some African "irrationality." Tribalism is rooted in the reality of political exclusion; the solution lies in greater political reconciliation. The affirmation that we are all human.

Yet, I have to acknowledge that for the majority of the people there are more important things than dwelling on their personal sufferings. Differently said, if today and tomorrow can be more secure, many people will tend to forgive the agony of the past. That is where the optimism lies. That despite all the history of intense distress, things can turn around if the present governments can offer more reassurances.

That is why I have insisted that the answers to a more secure Rwanda lies in the hands of Paul Kagame. He will be judged harshly should Rwanda implodes into violence again. This is the same for Congo's Kabila. Although both have consistently defied the will of the people, by refusing to allow democratic reforms. While Kabila's case is less severe (the press in DRC is quite free and the opposition is allowed to mobilize), he has refused to pave way for free and fair elections.

Yet, Tutsi people have more power than ever in the region. In Rwanda, the government is entirely controlled by a few Tutsi hands. Some have called it the "Tutsification" of the state. In Burundi, the successful peace agreements have allowed for a good representation of Tutsi people in both the military and politics. There are many Tutsi people in high positions of power in the DRC--the head of Congo's police, Mr. Bisengimana is Tutsi.

Hence, apart from the vicious history (which unfortunately will never go away), the talk of Tutsi hatred lacks serious political meaning. By this, I mean that while Tutsi people might be hated, they have the power.

Are they hated because of the power they wield? This might be the case. One Congolese reacting to this stated that: "if you rape our women and kill our young men, we will hate you." Of course, such a statement also lacks serious introspection. Even Tutsi women have been raped and killed repeatedly since 1994.

Yet, there is no shame to say that Tutsi leaders have rallied their people into forming ethnic militias since 1996 that has caused unbelievable havoc in the region. RCD, CNDP, M23...the acronyms are many and continuously remind the Congolese of "Tutsi terror."

Notice that Congolese rarely complain about Hutu militias such as the FDLR that are active in the Congo. The reason here lies in the fact that Hutu people have not been seen as a serious force in Congo's political competition. They are not seeking to overthrow the political balance in Congo. They have no interest in controlling Congo's resources. It has nothing to do with the imaginary "Bantu Unity" that some people have suggested. Some of the Congolese tribes actively participated in hunting down Hutu civilians in the late 1990s.

There is hope for a unified future in the region. But we must insist in keeping this hope alive. This cannot be done without actively speaking out against Kagame's reign of terror in Rwanda and DRC. And the essence of Kagame's tyranny has nothing to do with Tutsi people. Kagame, a "good" politician, has to package his hate in ethnic speak to justify that he is the hero of a persecuted minority. That he has been an active participant in the killings gets lost in irony.

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