This is an excellent chronicling of the Rwandan government’s racist policies toward the majority Hutu population, writes Ann Garrison.
“The Rwandan government will be enraged by this book, but that’s a badge of honor.”
Justin Podur’s new book, America’s War s on Democracy in Rwanda and the DRC, is about Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and their inextricably entwined histories within the framework of European colonization and American empire, and it’s excellent.
I believe it will come to stand alongside the best of recent research and writing on the subject, including Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, from Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction by Robin Philpot, The Accidental Genocide by Peter Erlinder, How Paul Kagame Deliberately Sacrificed the Tutsi by Jean-Marie Ndagijimana, Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire, by Marie Beatrice Umutesi, Dying to Live: A Rwandan Family’s Five Year Flight Across the Congo by Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga, Judi Rever’s In Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and the 1994 [UN] Gersony Report, the 1998 [UN] Garreton Report, and the UN Group of Experts Reports on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2001-2020.
“It will come to stand alongside the best of recent research and writing on the subject.”
America’s War on Democracy in Rwanda and the DRC added to my understanding of all those works without redundancy, and, like them, it challenges the book that became the most common textbook on the Rwandan Genocide, Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. That’s a godawful book, a disservice to Rwandans, Congolese, and anyone else who takes a serious interest in the subject, so the more challenges to it the better.
My strongest response to Podur’s book came with Chapter 10, “How Africanists Present Hutus as Deserving of Death,” which is long overdue. I have never seen more virulent racism than that directed at Rwandan Hutu people, thanks to the “Africanist” scholars Podur critiques, the powerful interests that racism serves, and the distortions and omissions in the popular movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
I have written about this racism myself, as have others, but I haven’t read anything that describes it as well as Justin Podur has by devoting a whole chapter of his book to it. Like so much racism, it is deeply ingrained, not only in Rwanda but also throughout the West. This should be obvious to anyone who observes the constant Western prosecutions of Hutu people for the crime of being a Hutu in Rwanda between April 6 and the first week of July 1994. Often the defendants in these prosecutions are in the dock because the Rwandan government felt threatened by their success, their advocacy for justice in Rwanda, or their testimony on behalf of a fellow Rwandan Hutu on trial in the West. Sometimes those found guilty (of being Hutu) are sent back to be imprisoned in Rwanda, and sometimes they are imprisoned here in the US or in Europe.
“I have never seen more virulent racism than that directed at Rwandan Hutu people.”
Last year I covered the trial of Jean Leonard Teganya in Boston, where the mostly white, all-American jury found him guilty on all counts within an hour of deliberation, despite a public defender’s excellent case.
Some years ago I covered the case of Lazare Kabogaya , an 80-year-old Burundian Hutu who was unfortunate enough to have been in Rwanda during the first six months of 1994. The Rwandan government had trumped up some genocide crime charges, but he was in fact on trial for testifying in defense of another Rwandan Hutu somewhere in Europe. The US government wasted a million dollars trying to deport him and failed.
Another case I covered was that of Joseph Nkusi, a Rwandan refugee in Norway who was deported to Rwanda for dissident blogging that the Rwandan government labeled “genocide ideology.”
I recently read an essay by a Rwandan American friend of mine, Claude Gatebuke, in which he wrote that the Rwandan government is withholding genocide survivors benefits from young people who were orphaned by the Rwandan Genocide because—having little idea of who their parents were—they might unknowingly give survivors’ benefits to Hutus as well as Tutsis. (This is a concern of the Rwandan government because it considers Hutus, as Justin Podur writes, “innately evil,” even if orphaned in infancy or early childhood.)
“Joseph Nkusi was deported to Rwanda for dissident blogging.”
This fundamental racism took root not only in Rwanda, with Rwandan Tutsi supremacists, but also with well-meaning Western liberals who somehow imagine that it’s a humanitarian response to the Rwandan tragedy.
Discussion of the Rwandan Genocide, and Rwanda’s invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is always controversial. The Rwandan government will be enraged by this book, but that’s a badge of honor. Its current allies controlling the Congolese government won’t like it either. Nor will the American imperialists it implicates. This bunch are all so self-protectively cloaked in their own self-righteousness that few are likely to read far into it if at all, but nevertheless, the truth continues to emerge.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com.