Friday, January 2, 2015

Hutu Power!

The Ugandan raised Indian academic Mahmood Mamdani states that the Rwandan Patriotic Front used Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa as standard educational material for their cadres (Mamdani, 44). Walter Rodney makes the argument that the physical differences between the Hutu and the Tutsi were the result of a caste system, one in which the Tutsi had plentiful access to milk and meat from their pastoral cattle herding, causing them to grow much taller than their Hutu co-patriots (Rodney, 195). One could interrogate such a narrative by asking whether or not these phenotype differences have caused difference in genotypes amongst the Hutu and Tutsi, but that seems neither here nor there. This conflict threw the entire region into war, a war some have called The Great War of Africa, or Africa’s World War, and threatens to reignite tensions at any moment in the future. In November of 2014, the leader of the Rwandan backed rebel group M23, Bertrand Bisimwa, warned that conflict could begin again soon because of unresolved grievances (AFP). The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Hutu group seeking to restore the majority Hutu rule in Rwanda, continues to operate out of the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, even though it has been given a deadline by the government in Kinshasa to disarm (Beith). A permanent solution to the crisis remains elusive. While the Hutu-Tutsi conflict is not the only conflict going on in Africa, there is a reason most observers have tied the 1994 Rwandan genocide to everything else that has gone on since within the Great Lakes region of Africa. Identity and ideology have collided in this conflict in such a way to drive most of Africa into the fray, and it is in the interests of all of Africa that there is a solution to it.

Rwandan society before the invasion of European colonialists was more hierarchal and feudalistic than anywhere else in Africa (Rodney, 198). A system was in place where a privileged aristocracy ruled the Kingdom of Rwanda, where control over cattle meant everything, and those who owned the cattle identified themselves as Tutsi. Like the feudal lords of medieval Europe, the Tutsi aristocracy were tasked with the military defense of the country by the ruling Mwami, and so had the force of arms necessary to enforce the social-system that benefited them. Writing in 1972, Walter Rodney states that the Hutu, the Twa, and the Tutsi evolved together to form the Rwandan nation (Rodney, 199), over a decade after the events of the Rwandan Revolution, or the muyaga (“Winds of Destruction”) had occurred in Rwanda. On Rodney’s own interpretation of the history of Rwanda, one would think the Marxist Rodney would see the events of 1959-61 in Rwanda as the final overthrow of feudalism in Rwanda, possibly with favorable comparisons to the celebratory attitude Marx and Engels wrote about the Great Peasants’ War in Germany. If the Hutu and Tutsi are indeed one nation, then the muyaga could have been nothing short of a great class conflict, one in which the masses of Rwandans overcame their centuries old oppressors. Yet Rodney passes over this event in silence, leading one to suspect this is why the Rwandan Patriotic Front has their cadre read this work in the first place. Whether or not the leaders of the Hutu majority originally turned a class division into an ethnic one, the division today is real. It is certainly just as real (if not more so) than the divisions separating the Spanish speaking peoples of Latin America, or the English speaking British settlers in Canada and America.

The 1959 Social Revolution brought the Hutu into power and ended the centuries old rule of the Tutsi feudal aristocracy. The uburetwa system of the Tutsi feudal lords was finally abolished, and a system of election by secret-ballot was setup (Collins, 51). A series of massacres ensued, leading to the exodus of tens of thousands of Tutsi into neighboring countries. The defeated Tutsi aristocracy that fled to neighboring Uganda would eventually create the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU), which was formed to facilitate the eventual return of all Tutsi refugees to Rwanda. The RANU would soon involve itself in Uganda’s civil war on the side of Museveni’s National Resistance Army, helping to bring him to power 1986. The RANU would change it’s name to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1987, and with their military experience gained in the Ugandan civil war, invade Rwanda on October 1st, 1990 (Herman, 53).

It would be four years later before the RPF would militarily seize power in Rwanda. The initial invasion by the RPF was a failure. Paul Kagame, who was in the United States at the time, taking courses at a US military college (Herman, 55), was flown to Rwanda to take over command of the RPF. Under Paul Kagame’s command, the RPF militarily turned the situation around for the exiled Tutsi. Unable to defeat the RPF solely by military means, the ruling government in Rwanda would seek out an end to the civil war, leading to the Arusha Accords. While the RPF was able to turn its military success into partial government power, the Arusha Accords mandated eventual multi-party elections. The history of Rwanda, before and after the muyaga, and the recent invasion by the RPF from neighboring Uganda, would not translate into electoral success for the RPF, even assuming ever single Tutsi minority in Rwanda would vote for the RPF. There was no possibility of an electoral victory for the RPF on the horizon (Collins, 116). The RPF would surely have realized this, and it is why today they still reject the concept of rule by the majority as illegitimate (Reyntjens, 41).

The time from the formation of the Broad Based Transitional Government (BBTG) established by the Arusha Accords to the start of the Rwandan Genocide would be about 9 months. Intense fighting would resume by RPF forces in the beginning of February and end before the month was out. The plane of president Habyarimana would be shot down on April 6th, 1994, and within two hours, the RPF would begin military operations on two fronts (Herman, 56). The Rwandan Genocide had started, and the killing would last three months before the RPF would capture the whole of Rwanda and drive the government forces and much of the Hutu population into neighboring countries where they would setup refugee camps. Of the 700,000 or so Titsu killed, over 800,000 Tutsi exiles would come to Rwanda after the RPF came to power (Prunier, 5).

The refugee situation created by seizure of power by the RPF in Rwanda would lead directly to the Congo wars. The illusion of a national unity government would collapse after the Kibeho massacre (Prunier, 42), with most of the prominent Hutu members of government resigning. Eighteen months later, on the pretext of getting rid of another militarized refugee camp on the Rwandan border, Paul Kagame wound send the armed forces of the RPF into neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). This would set off a chain of events not only leading to the overthrow of the hated Mobuto (whom the heads of most of the states of Africa had conspired to overthrow as early as 1994 (Prunier 67)), but to the first and second Congo wars, and the military intervention of nearly all of the governments of Africa into the conflict, not once, but twice.

The fuel for the Congo wars and the conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa continues to be the divide between the Hutu and the Tutsi. Like the state of Israel, the national motto of the Tutsi regime in Rwanda seems to be “Never Again” (Gettleman), and the international community has largely looked the other direction when it comes to the violence of the RPF regime itself. Despite being based around the Tutsi ethnic group, the RPF managed to get 75% of the vote in the last election. Even though the US government is a staunch ally of the RPF regime, the US embassy in Rwanda even called the vote into question, noting several irregularities (Embassy).

While there may be many grounds to question the racialization of the conflict by proponents of Hutu Power, the Tutsi counter-narrative itself would lend support to the Hutu as the majority of the Rwandan people seeking their right to fully partipate in society. If the events of the 1959 Social Revolution in Rwanda were not one ethnic group overthrowing their oppressors from another ethnic group, then it can only been seen as the culmination of a class conflict against a feudalistic aristocracy. The remnants of this ousted feudal aristocracy then fled the country as exiles, only to return decades later with an army to reimpose their will on a peasant population that had overthrown them. Even the events of the Rwandan Genocide itself could be interpreted in the framework of classwar. The narrative of the RPF and its backers doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and critical interrogation anymore than the ‘Hamitic Hypothesis’ does. The only political solution that comes to my mind is a thorough-going Pan-African socialism, one that is capable of weaving the bits of truth contained in both the Hutu and Tutsi narratives, and rightfully recognizing that the majority of the oppressed in Rwanda are the people with the right to rule their nation.


Beith, Malcolm. “Congo Rebel Group Faces Military Action Over Failure to Disarm.” Bloomberg, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014

“DR Congo’s M23 Rebels Warn of New Conflict Risk.” Agence France-Presse, 7 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.

Collins, Barrie. Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and Its Consequences. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Print.

“Embassy of the United States Kigali, Rwanda.” U.S. Embassy Observation Mission to the 2013 Chamber of Deputies Election Statement. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.

Gettleman, Jeffrey. “A Wound in the Heart of Africa.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Apr. 2009. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.

Herman, Edward S., and David Peterson. The Politics of Genocide. New York: Monthly Review, 2010. Print.

Mamdani, Mahmood. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2001. Print.

Prunier, Gérard. Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Reyntjens, Filip. The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, 1972. Print.

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