"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


a few missing details

I'm really enjoying the relatively new Mo'dernity, Mo'problems blog. It's written by Grant, a specialist in humanitarian policy. His analysis is always insightful and usually pretty funny as well.

Grant has a great post up today on Philip Gourevitch's New Yorker article on Rwanda, which, as he points out, is full of errors. (Start with the fact that there are no mines in Rwanda and move on from there. Rwanda's mineral exports come almost entirely from the DRC.) Gourevitch is an outstanding writer, but missed a lot on this one. I'll add to Grant's list:
  • "Soldiers are nowhere to be found." Well, I've seen them out and about in Kigali right before the major military action that occurred in Congo in August 2007, but the average visitor to the city probably wouldn't. If you leave the city and head northwest, however, you'll see plenty of gendarmes, soldiers, and police manning checkpoints on the road to Gisenyi. Rwandan authorities routinely stop and search buses along the route. They're ostensibly looking for interahamwe, although very few actual genocidaires would dare to cross the border these days.
  • "Kagame did not want to be perceived as the Tutsi president; he wanted to be perceived as the Rwandan president." I think this is true. But that begs the question as to why almost all top-level officials in Rwanda are Tutsis. (And they're not just Tutsis - most of them are Tutsis who were in exile in Uganda.) It doesn't explain why all the gendarmes searching the buses are Tutsis. Kagame's aide is right. There's no good reason that a Tutsi can't be president over a country that is majority Hutu. But when the majority Hutus don't have a real political voice in the country's future, that Tutsi-led government is setting itself up for future disaster.
  • "...the vast majority of Hutu civilians who returned [from refugee camps in Congo-Zaire] were reintegrated into their communities." Kindof. But it's important to remember that the Rwandan government did everything it could to block the return of those refugees. Most were in Congo for 2-4 years. And a large percentage arrived back home to find that their homes and farms had been expropriated by Tutsis returning from their 35-year exiles in Uganda and Tanzania.
  • It's unclear from the article whether Gourevitch believes Kagame's claims that the Rwandan government never supported the CNDP. Those claims are blatantly false. One need only look at how well-equipped Nkunda's forces were in the fighting last fall. They had new uniforms, more than sufficient weaponry, and were well-trained. It is highly unlikely that the CNDP's degree of discipline, training, and equipment resulted from Nkunda's efforts in a mountain hideout. Highly unlikely.
That said, Gourevitch's description of one killer's account of his experience and those of survivors is fascinating and an example of great reporting. One of the survivors makes a very subtle point that Kagame's authoritarianism is somewhat necessary to keep her safe. But they also make the point that the gacaca court system and the official program of reconciliation is only surface-deep. You don't have to spend ten minutes in Rwanda to realize that real reconciliation is a long way off.

Gourevitch is a brilliant and talented writer. The New Yorker piece is interesting. You should read it. As Grant puts it, however, "[Gourevitch] falls prey to the all too common logic that post-genocidal reconstruction justifies any and all social, political, and military agenda; even if that agenda is dangerous and has proven violent in the past."


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