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Rwanda’s self-emancipation

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Why it has been important that Rwandans and not the international community ended the genocide

On Monday, Rwanda commemorated 20 years since the genocide against the Tutsi. It was an inspiring event because Rwanda has astounded admirers and critics alike. In little less than two decades, it has moved from a failed state with a collapsed economy and a broken society to one of the most successful countries in economic growth-rates, state reconstruction endeavors and social and political reconciliation.

However, this story has been a sub theme in the international (read western) media. For here, a section of journalists, pundits, experts and “experts” have been arguing that Rwanda is a failed or failing experiment. Rwanda, they argue, is a “police state” that is suppressing freedom of speech and hunting and killing political enemies abroad. While bemoaning their failure to intervene militarily to stop the carnage in 1994, they now think they should intervene diplomatically to save Rwanda from its accomplishments and impose their own version of success.

Yet the “world” actually intervened in Rwanda in 1994; the UN having deployed a multinational peacekeeping force called the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) drawn from 21 countries. If you visited Rwanda in the first months of 1994, there was not a single piece of ground in that country not occupied by UN peacekeepers. People used to joke that you cannot spit without spitting at a UN soldier or their APC. The UN Peace Keeping Operations intervened in January to stop a planned attack on ammunition stores for genocide. The Security Council intervened again in April 1994 to withdraw its troops.

The story of genocide in Rwanda is not one of failure to intervene, but the failure of the intervention. Indeed, this massive presence of UN troops explains to a considerable degree why the genocide enjoyed such stunning success. Endangered Tutsi civilians, seeing UN troops everywhere and trusting in the promises of the international community stayed put thinking they were secure. When the genocide started and the UN forces pulled out, it was too late for them to escape.

Many Rwandans including senior leaders of the RPF feel the world let them down in their hour of need, believing – and naively so – that had Western powers intervened, they could have helped stop the carnage. I belong to a minority that believes the best thing to have happened to Rwanda was the failure of the intervention. While the genocide was tragic, a successful international intervention would have made a bad situation worse.

Let us assume that the self-appointed savior of mankind, the USA, had decided to intervene to stop the killings as its former President, Bill Clinton has always regretted. The mass killings in Rwanda began on April 7th. The international community did not “realize” that what was happening was genocide until after at least ten days. Most of the victims of genocide died within the first forty days of the beginning of mass killings.

In a 2002 article in Foreign Affairs titled Rwanda in Retrospect, Alan J. Kuperman presents the logistical requirements for the US to deploy a military force in a country 10,000 kilometers away. He estimates that airlifting the desired US personnel (13,000 troops) with their kit (26,000 tons) would not have taken less than 40 days. When one adds the interval between receipt of deployment orders and initiation of airlifting, an extra seven days would have been lost. Therefore at the earliest, a US force would have arrived in Rwanda at the beginning of June: too late to prevent, slow down or stop the genocide.

Kuperman also shows that the US lacked basic intelligence information on where the killers were and how many they were – meaning that they would have deployed “blindly in a troubled country,” a factor that would have vitiated against success. Most intervention planning was focused on Kigali, which had only 4 percent of the country’s population. Yet most massacres were in rural areas. Kuperman calculates that in the best case scenario a US intervention would only have been able to save only 125,000 out of the 800,000 killed.

Before the international humanitarian community jumps on this possibility, Kuperman actually simplified the complexity of the situation. Although the killings were organised through the state, they were carried out by millions of ordinary Rwandan civilians. For their scare, shock and awe to work, US troops would have had to be deployed in every commune and village. Unable to separate civilian from combatant, US troops would only have been effective if they killed indiscriminately. And what would have been the result of such an American massacre?

The “international community” (read the West) always has one solution for every problem regardless of circumstances. First they would have secured a ceasefire between the extremist Hutu regime and the Tutsi-led rebels. This would have saved the extremist regime from collapse. Second, they would have called for a “government of national unity” i.e. composed of killer and victim. Such an arrangement could never have provided a foundation for a stable peace. Third they would have called for elections, in an extremely volatile situation. Fourth, they would have insisted on “press freedom”, in circumstances where the mass media and its journalists were the ones promoting ethnic hatred and mobilizing for mass murder.

Effectively, the pursuit of a theoretical ideal would have negated the evolution of a more realistic solution for a problem that was local and unique. For example, the ceasefire and the resultant government of national unity would not have contained the forces of genocide that had gained ascendance in the politics of Rwanda. Instead it would have preserved the ideology of genocide as an instrument of political action.

The failure of intervention was a victory for Rwanda, albeit a pyrrhic one. Although Rwanda lost over 800,000 people, in the long term, the resolution of the problem by Rwandans themselves laid the foundation for the emergence of a more stable political dispensation. It also paved way not only for the military but also the moral defeat of the ideology of genocide as an instrument of political action in the country.

Inadvertently, the genocide destroyed old centers of power and therefore left the society conducive to far reaching reforms. Political parties, the church, the professional class, the business community, even the mass media all actively aided and abated the genocide and emerged from the conflict discredited and weakened. The international intervention failed to stop the slaughter and therefore lost its claim to save Rwanda. These circumstances gave RPF the necessary legitimacy to reconstruct the country relying on its vision. Therefore, Rwanda is successful because Rwandans saved themselves.

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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Bernard Nyamurwana, April 14, 2014
I completely agree with you Andrew. the fact that Rwandans were given an opportunity to solve their own problem it leaves no room for an outside force to claim the achievements the RPF has done. I myself lost relatives but life continues.
written by derek, April 14, 2014
In 2025 rwanda will have an estimated populaion of 18million population density of 683 people per squarekm double the population density of pre genocide population density of 283 people/km2 most of the population will still be dependent on agriculture factor in predicted climate change, soil exhaustion, lack of significant natural resources and rwanda may explode into another genocide. kagame's approach is just palliative care as we wait for another genocide.
written by derek, April 14, 2014
Rwanda's leadership should negotiate with neighbouring countries maybe tz, congo or even uganda to become a province,district of its neighbours with full citizenship rights for the rwandese to reduce the population pressures.

Imagine if former kigezi was an independent country right from 1900 the excess bakiga, the now so called bafuruki, wudnt have migrated to toro,bunyoro,ankole and we wud have another genocide of bafumbira, bahororo to create room for the excess bakiga.

Rwanda's bargain chip wud be the significant labour force, middleclass population,increase of tax base for country that accepts rwanda's offer
written by Musa, April 15, 2014
The genocide was started was started by Rwandese, including Kagame who ordered the shooting down of then Presidential jet. Who then did they want to end it for them?! Just curious
written by winnie, April 15, 2014
When Rwanda learnt the word forgiveness,they learnt to love Rwanda is where it is coz of hiring honest,trustworthy,intelligent people like Andrew Mwenda, Tony Blair,Clare Akamanzi these are people who mean well for Africa i wish all the people of Rwanda the best just ignore haters they say small is beautiful even switiziland is small but very developed haven't you seen big countries like Congo,Libiya,Somalia just "there"
written by winnie, April 15, 2014
On the Malaysian plane that got lost in the sea i have the following questions
1.Where was the plane coming from
2.Who reported that the plane had disappeared?
3.If the plane lost communication with the control tower how far had it reached?e.g if a plane diappears between Kenya and Entebbe one can surely calculate the distance it covered.
4. I now doubt the American Technology they say their satelite can see everything on earth so what happened? it seems they lie that they have been to the moon
written by Mushime Moses, April 17, 2014
What happened in Rwanda in 1994 was a Genocide - this is an incontestable fact, and any debate that reduces this genocide to something else is indifferent as it is inhumane. To this, I stand with our comrades in Rwanda as they remember their loved ones. It is also true that Rwanda that Rwanda has moved on that anyone could Imagine. But is utterly wrong and naïve to assume that the that was is in Kigali after 20 years now, is democratic dispensation/ liberal regime. What is illuminating in Kigali shows that the script that led to 1959 populist revolution Rwanda is slowly but surely unfolding, once again, but with different actors.
written by byabazaire, April 17, 2014
andrew you are wrong, rwanda is successful because of Kagame's chosen strategy on how to build Rwanda. people do not save themselves in most times, it all depends on who is leading them.
written by Marvin ya Kuku, April 17, 2014
You can shout all you wish but you can't eliminate a section of the population of Rwanda whatever their past indiscretions. I dont know why you think as many as 13000 US soldiers were needed or why the so called standard US conflict resolution strategy is bad. A transitional government and then elections would have saved many lives, human displacements and millions of African wealth from DRC. To remix that guy above, Rwanda's current approach is treating symptoms rather than the real cause. Serious dialogue must begin with all those refugees outside the country
written by Ocheto, April 17, 2014
It was not as if the genecide was not centrally planned and directed. In any case in many countries, especially in Africa all it takes to change the immediate political reality on the ground country wide is for the center of power to collapse. And if US troops had landed the incendiary radio messaging urging Hutus to wipe out Tutsis would have been changed to say the exact opposite. And most importantly the panga wilding Hutus would quickly realized the reversal of their fate and fortunes. The intervention would have been a game changer. The debate would have been as it is today about a future government that is inimical to pogroms.
written by Semakula David, April 19, 2014
Winnie you are a disgrace to humanity. If you cannot memorise something they told you 30 minutes ago, what are you? Reply a bhang smoker.
*The Malaysian plane was coming from Kuala Lumpur going to Nairobi
*The report of its disappearance came from satellite in Yemen
*There was no communication with the control tower,if there had been, they would know what happened.
*American technology is part luck, part guesswork and mostly lies. They never reached the moon. they would not have come back.
written by Semakula David, April 19, 2014
Marvin ya Kuku is a fool incarnate. Some people should be caught and castrated so that they cease to call themselves men. If he goes to Rwanda maybe he can learn how government works. What do you negotiate with a genocidaire? can a rat negotiate with a cat? Some people hear with their mouths and reply with their anuses.
written by winnie, April 19, 2014
Semakula you seem like one who used to carry demon filled people in church before you backslide. did you growth up with your mother and did you ever attend Sunday if yes there are some words you keep to yourself its too late i would have volunteered to teach you some basics in life.i am interested in the saga of the Malaysian plane coz i fly 1st class at times the pilot leaves the plane on auto and you see him like in deep thought. even if the plane was deliberately diverted by now they should have been a clue to where it could be.
written by Winnie, April 21, 2014
Sori for the grammatical error Semakula i was wondering whether you ever went to Sunday school and whether you grew up with your mother some words are simply not accepted in society sorry Marvin.

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