Abantu ntibava inda imwe bava inkono imwe.
Real fraternity is not about blood, it is about sharing.
We thought long and hard before selecting the cover photo for this issue. We would have liked a more optimistic photo, a photo of reconstruction. We would have of course liked to avoid all sensationalism. But, as with our last dossier on slavery and the slave trade, the question of memory imposes, and so too does that of dignity. Which is what this woman seems to convey, even though her hand, her means of action and communication, has been cut off.
It is not easy to tackle the question of the Great Lakes. As we work with African writers to prepare dossiers which are coordinated and compiled in the countries concerned, we hope that this one will be just a first stage, an initial step towards a future dossier from this region.
The dossier was urgent, however, to break the silence, for the drama goes on. It was also urgent to show the extent to which artistic creation helps to deconstruct representations.
Artists often go further than politicians in what they do and say : they are less short-sighted. Rummaging in the realms of the human, they are willing to look him/her in the face. It is through this process alone that they are able to offer visions anchored in the continuation of what is essential. In their sensitivity, they find the weapons to fight a battle which goes beyond short-term interests. They convey the universal.
If this dossier adopts a stance, it is that of believing that artistic creation can help surpass hatred. And that it does so without ignoring it, by reworking it. That by drawing on tradition (essentially the oral, musical and dance traditions), it sheds light on modernity : as another Rwandan proverb puts it, Niba utazi aho yjya, ibuka aho ivuye (If you don’t know where you are going, remember where you come from). But also, by believing in utopia, it reinforces the small steps possible in the present.
The mediatization of the genocide and its effects has caused terrible ambiguities in peoples’ minds. These ambiguities lie in questions of vocabulary, and give rise to reductive images.
« Speaking about casts, ethnic groups or tribes is by no means innocent when groups attack one another. We draw on the ineptitudes transposed from one written source to another for a century whose source can rarely be verified, whose ideological origin is rarely measured. If everybody says so, it must be true. And in an oral civilization subjected to colonization, the written ends up being taken as law. »
Describing genocide as a tribal or ethnic war is serious : it amounts to confirming the logic of its initiators, an ethnic, racist logic. In Rwanda, over a million human beings were massacred (1) because they were thought to belong to or to support a race or ethnic group. Lists were drawn up in advance. The genocide was planned.
Let’s leave the notion of race aside. Who would still dare to talk about the Jewish race ? People still do, however, when they are referring to the Africans. The notion of an ethnic group is just as problematic :
« It is a specific concept produced by the Western intellectual tradition to interpret African reality », esteems the historian Elikia M’Bokolo, « in order to establish a clear hierarchy between the « nations » of the rest of the world and the « ethnic groups » of the African continent ». (2) One ethnic group is differentiated from another by opposing language, culture, religion, territory. In Rwanda, just as in Burundi, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa lineages share all of these. They claim to descend from the same mythical ancestor Kigwa or Gihanga.
We sometimes speak about castes, a term which cannot be applied outside the Indian continent as it connotes a purity/impurity opposition which is perfectly absent from Rwandan social relations. Moreover, these groups could intermarry, or move from one to the other.
We speak about the Hutu farmers and the Tutsi herders, but the Tutsi did not own cattle, unlike the Hutu who owned large herds in the North. The epizootic which decimated herds at the end of the nineteenth century reinforced the Tutsi chiefs’ position as cattle owners, but cattle rearing was practiced by the two groups.
Hutu and Tutsi are not even social classes : each group’s possessions varied according to the regions.
In fact, the Hutu, Tutsi or Twa categories were only one element in a more complex social identity summed up by the bwoko, a Kinyarwanda word which describes regional belonging as much as it does that of a profession, or clan.
Indeed, the oppositions in Rwanda at the beginning of the century, when the colonizers arrived, were experienced more in terms of geographic zone, that is, grosso modo, between the North and the South. The Tutsi chiefs recognized the authority of the mwami (the king) and, served by the Hutu and the Twa, were opposed to the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa of the east, west and, above all, the north of the country who refuted this authority. In short, this constituted a rivalry between the Bakiga, the people of the North, and the Banyanduga, those of the South.
How did this lead to the programmed elimination of a race, or ethnic group ? Due to the imposition on Rwandan and Burundi society of a racist schema of interpretation. By whom ? The colonizers.
Stanley abandoned all hope of entering Rwanda after he was shot at with arrows. With the search for the mythical sources of the Nile as a backdrop, explorers and missionaries alike conveyed a fantastical vision of this region.
Speke, in his « Journal of the discovery of the sources of the Nile » (1863), describes the Tutsi as the members of a conquering Hamito-Semitic race from Ethiopia. He offers no proof of what he advances as a theory. Who, then, were these Hamites ? They were qualified as « white negroes », conferring on them a distant white ascendency.
In Genesis, after the flood, Ham, Noah’s son, mocks his father, whom he finds drunk and naked in his tent. Noah curses his son, Canaan, condemning him to be the slave of Japheth and Shem, Ham’s brothers. A handy myth indeed ! When the Westerners enslaved the Black people, they likened them with Ham’s cursed son… and so justified the slave trade, colonialism and apartheid. And when they sought to divide them, they discovered that some of them belonged to another of Ham’s lineage, Shem, who was not cursed, the famous Hamites, or Hamito-Semites.
Whilst a number of texts blithely refer to these approximately fifteenth century migrations from the North, the only linguistic and archaeological traces of migratory movements researchers have managed to find go back to over 2000 years. Furthermore, the oral tradition bears no trace of these alleged migrations. But what could be more convenient than this myth of the Hamite from the North, a superior race, to legitimize the power of one group, who could be used to better enslave the rest ?
The remarkable organization of the country discovered on the arrival of the Whites had to be explained. What ? Were negroes capable of this ? The Hamites were thus supposed to have brought civilization to the Bantous who lived in the heart of « deepest darkest Africa ». The Hutu and Tutsi were differentiated in order to support these fabrications : the interpretation of the Bible and a highly debatable anthropometry would serve as the scientific basis. The Tutsi from the North would be refined and slender, as opposed to the « indigenous » small, stocky and vulgar Hutu. It was not taken into account that some Tutsi are small and stocky, and some Hutu tall and slender… other than by several missionaries who made note of their doubts and consternation in their diaries. (3)
There was nothing particularly astonishing in this : they were simply applying the concept of « national duality », as it was first described by the historian Jean-Pierre Chrétien, which was in vogue in France between the Franks and the Gauls. French nobles readily saw themselves as descending from the Germanic Franks, thereby appropriating the spirit of conquest, and a convenient difference used to exclude the masses and the bourgeoisie from power. The Revolution came as a form of vengeance, turning the nobles’ proclaimed foreignness against them. With the Hamitic myth, however, this war of the races retained all its vitality in Rwanda.
Who, then, were the nobles a colonial power could rely upon ? Those who would lead the rest of the population as Clovis did in Gaul ! The debate between the missionaries and the German administrators was heated. The Tutsis of the Mwami held sway over the whole of Rwanda, but made the mistake of resisting evangelization, unlike the Hutu who agreed to be baptized in the hope of shaking off the domination of these Banyanduga. Preferring a central power to a myriad of local kings, the German Residency imposed the Banyanduga Tutsi’s domination over the Bakiga from the North. In 1912, a revolt was mercilessly suppressed. The Belgium colonial authorities of Ruanda-Urundi continued the trend in 1916. The Banyanduga thus became the driving belt of colonial power, and their exactions inflicted upon the Bakiga of the North went uncondemned.
In the Thirties, the colonial administration, anxious to control the payment of taxes, introduced a record book on which it was marked Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. The Rwandans became used to defining themselves in these terms for the Europeans. At the same time, the Tutsi elites were educated at the Astrida school group into the French medieval mode of thought : « Hamite royalty » had achieved « Rwandan unity » in the « Isle of Rwanda », the Hutu being no more than the serfs of the Tutsi lords.
When the new Pères Blancs missionaries were shocked by the social inequalities, and the winds of decolonization began to blow in the Fifties, the Tutsi leaders had assimilated the European discourse on their Ethiopian origins and the existence of three distinct races. Feeling betrayed by the Europeans, who began to support Hutu demands, they rejected them. In retaliation, the Europeans quickly supported the new, right-thinking Hutu elite educated in the seminaries. When decolonization took place, the two Hutu and Tutsi elites would find themselves in a position of confrontation.
The Bahutu Manifesto, written in 1957 in collaboration with the Pères Blancs, incorporated this representation of the Tutsi as the Hamite race who enjoyed an economic and political monopoly. At the end of 1959, the opposition between the Tutsi royalists and Hutu leaders intensified, the latter ordering them to return to Abyssinia, the supposed land of their ancestors. Killings ensued, but the racism was not widespread enough for this to be a Hutu-Tutsi confrontation. The groups opposing one another were more complex. The 1960 elections gave the majority to the two parties presenting themselves as defending the Hutu. The moderate Hutu were thus eliminated from the political scene right from the first years of the new Republic proclaimed in 1961, a year before independence.
The spreading of the ethnic discourse, conceived in terms of an opposition between the races, intensified the opposition between the Hutu and Tutsi over the years. The side by side existence of a Hutu regime in Rwanda, and a Tutsi regime in Burundi did not help matters. Massacres, reprisals, and exoduses followed one after another like ricochets in the two countries. The fear of being massacred triggered a preventative massacre of the other. This vicious circle is at the root of today’s opposition between the Hutu and Tutsi, who have become, in the words of Dominique Franche, « communities of fear ». (4)
This fear has not just materialized out of nowhere : Rwandan leaders have exacerbated it for their own purposes, drumming in the fiction of the two warring races, particularly on Radio Mille Collines. It was a good way of hiding their corruption, the battle of interests between the North and South, and the lack of appropriate policies in an essentially rural country where the demographic explosion has cruelly intensified the exiguity of the land.
By 1994, the sixty year old Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa specification on people’s identity cards was taken for granted, and 600 000 Tutsi were living in exile. The 1990 take-over attempt by the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) was thwarted thanks to the intervention of the French parachutists, who saved the Habyarimana regime. France would later be reproached for backing this regime up until the genocide, training Rwandan soldiers, and remaining silent about the massacres perpetrated here and there.
Opération Turquoise in June-August 1994 had the adverse effect of protecting the militiamen guilty of genocide, who later took the refugees hostage.
The circle goes on : as we write, massacres are still taking place in the north of Rwanda. The politicians responsible for the genocide go unpunished, and France is reluctant to let its soldiers testify at the Arusha international tribunal. (5) This does not facilitate the highly delicate grieving process, without which history is bound to falter. If we fail to establish the real responsibilities (the academics, churches, politicians, media), and to accept the process of questioning both in Europe and in Africa, how will the wound heal ? If we fail to banish that still widely used term « ethnic war » from our vocabularies, how will we see the Rwandan conflict for what it really is : a play of interests stirred up into a civil war ? And, above all, if we continue to deny the reason which caused the wounds – the relations of domination – won’t we end up claiming that the patient is well, that these wounds are in fact a natural state, eternal ?
A burning question remains : why the horror ?
Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. The farmer Cain cut the throat of his brother Abel, the shepherd. The human family did not start out well. And carried on badly. « And what if« , Jean-Louis Sagot-Duvauroux comments, « it were precisely because men are brothers that they have real reasons to hate and kill one another ? » (6) All brothers, we have real inheritance problems, and thus real reasons to consider ourselves outdone and to take revenge…
The closer we are – Bosno-Serbs and Bosno-Croats, all more or less in-laws or cousins, Rwandan-Hutus or Rwandan-Tutsis, so alike and intermarried, etc. – the easier it is to project our own problems onto the other. In a nutshell, the more we are brothers, the greater the emotion at times of conflict, and the more bitter the confrontation.
« We forget that it precisely takes long family conflicts, centuries of badly shared out fields, generations of daughters sent from one clan to another by force or by love, for the resentment to thus well up into fury » (6)
However, it is the stranger, the foreigner, I choose to marry, making him/her my nearest and dearest. For immobile societies get stuck in the frontiers of their genealogies, and stagnate. What is behind the genocides of the twentieth century if it is not the egocentrism and insecurity accompanying the affirmation of the individual’s autonomy which characterizes modernity ? The temptation to project onto the other what is ours is strong. And a Rwandan proverb tells us : « Nta wiyanga nk’uwanga undi (Nobody hates himself more than he who hates others) ».
In their quest to surpass, artists open themselves up to all influences and facilitate the removal of projections. They thus explore a fraternity in which the identities of each and everyone are no longer the centre of human identities : not a fraternity of blood, but a fraternity of sharing.
(1) Filip Reyntjens, « Estimation du nombre de personnes tuées au Rwanda en 1994 », in « L’Afrique des Grands Lacs, » 1996-1997 directory, Centre d’Etude de la Région des Grands Lacs d’Afrique/L’Harmattan 1997.
(2) In an interview in « Télérama », nº 2313, 11.5.1994.
(3) Gudrun Honke, « Au plus profond de l’Afrique, le Rwanda et la colonisation allemande, 1885-1919 », translated from German by Olivier Barlet, Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal 1990, Germany.
(4) Cf the excellent book by Dominique Franche, « Rwanda, généalogie d’un génocide », edited by 10 F by Les Mille et une nuits, 1997.
(5) The newspaper « Ubutabera » (‘justice’ in Kinyarwanda), set up by the journalists of Reporters sans frontières shocked by the lack of international coverage of the hearings of the Arusha tribunal, provides accounts. It can be consulted on the internet.
(6) Jean-Louis Sagot-Duvauroux, « Héritiers de Caïn – identités, fraternité, pouvoir », La Dispute 1997.///Article N° : 5304