May 18, 2011

Rwanda and *The Fate of Africa*

Matt Yglesias pointed me to an interview with Rwandan president Paul Kagame the other day:
Paul Kagame, 53, has been president of Rwanda for the past decade and vice-president—and de facto leader—for seven years before that. But for all the power and years of command he appears as lean and austere as he was as the 36-year-old guerrilla commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel army that fought an end to the 20th century's swiftest act of mass murder—the killing between April and July 1994 of some 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers.
I'm no historian, but my service here has had me reading a bunch of books on African history. The last one was The Fate of Africa, a cynical and bloodcurdling — but good — post-colonial overview.  For such a gigantic topic, it's necessarily a bit limited (focusing a bit more on macroeconomics than I'd like), but it covers most of the big events.  Most African postcolonial leaders have had a wide authoritarian streak (a trend that is slowly reversing), and Rwanda is no exception.  More importantly, he follows the technocratic tradition laid down by leaders like Julius Nyerere (as compared to plunderers like Mobutu or psychotic butchers like Francisco Nguema), and now that socialism has definitively fallen out of favor, he is avoiding previous mistakes and making reasonable development progress.

By the way, Kagame's Wikipedia page is ludicrously biased at the moment.  Take that with a grain of salt.

The historical background obviously includes the 1994 genocide, but the history of ethnic tensions goes back a lot further.  Tutsis monarchs had been ruling Rwanda for years when first the Germans and then the Belgians took over, installing Tutsis as their administrators.  Independence came with a Hutu revolt in 1959 featuring a lot of anti-Tutsi murders and ethnic cleansing.  The most famous genocide was not the only one, either: in neighboring Burundi, in 1973, Tutsi president Michel Micombero, in the face of Hutu revolt, committed genocide against Hutus, killing as many as 200,000.

Kagame got his start in Uganda; he was part of the Rwandan exile army that helped bring Yoweri Museveni to power there.  His Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded from Uganda in 1990 with the object of bringing down then-President Juvena Habyarimana, who took power in a 1973 coup.  After a lot of fighting both sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1993, but when Habyarimana was shot down by parties unknown, the genocide began, which had been planned for months by Hutu extremists under the aegis of Habyarimana.

Kagame's actions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the genocide have been atrocious, but again the context is important.  When the RPF took Rwanda, a great many of the Hutu g√©nocidaires fled to (then) Zaire, which they then used as a base to launch attacks into Rwanda and Uganda.  Museveni and Kagame tried installing their own president in what was now the DRC (Laurent Kabila), but when that didn't work, they invaded, prompting Angola and Zimbabwe to jump in on Kabila's side.  A bloody war ensued, and Rwanda and Uganda began taking whatever wasn't nailed down from eastern Congo. 

The important thing is that none of this would have been possible if Mobutu hadn't left the DRC a complete basketcase.  What was at first a legitimate problem of rebels using eastern Congo as a base turned into a looting spree when it turned out there was no effective government anywhere in the DRC.  By the end it turned basically into a giant free-for-all, where even Rwanda and Uganda fought each other over the spoils.

The article mentions that Kagame has played the UN like a fiddle for aid, saying he's "not shy of playing on western guilt at having failed Rwanda in its hour of need."  It is true that the UN failed in what should have been the most open-and-shut case of humanitarian intervention since WWII, but it's actually much worse than that.  The whole story I'll save for another post, but suffice to say that France was hip-deep in the 1994 genocide from start to finish.  Stay tuned.

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