Twenty years later, full light has not been thrown on the shooting down of the plane of the then president of Rwanda, Habyarimana. The event was immediately followed by the genocide of the Tutsis by Hutu militias. Two hypotheses remain to this day equally possible: 1) the plane was shot down by Hutu extremists, making a pretext of the event to initiate the planned cleansing as well as get rid of the president who opposed it; 2) the plane was shot down by Tutsis in order to provoke a massacre and obtain the pretext for their “liberation army” stationed in Uganda to “liberate” (or “invade”) Rwanda, even if they may have underestimated the size of the massacre of which they would be the victims.
The tragedy is not an ethnic war as usually reported. Hutus and Tutsis belong to the same nation, speak the same language. “Hutu” is the name given to the majority (85%) of peasants submitted to the power of an aristocracy, called “Tutsi,” who are the owners of numerous cattle and, being free from agricultural labor, devote their time to administering the country. A system similar to the Hindu castes, without being as extreme: intermarriages are permitted. The Germans ruled Rwanda, their colony, until 1919 through a compromise leaving to the local aristocracy its economic privileges, giving their choice an explanation according to which the Tutsis were a “superior race.” The national liberation movement was, for that reason, confused. As elsewhere the local privileged classes (here the Tutsis), too, joined the demand for independence, hoping to maintain their positions, while many Hutu leaders combined independence with social demands aiming at removing the privileges of the Tutsis. In Burundi a compromise was reached between those two views, but not in Rwanda, where the Hutus wholly captured the power. As a result a number of Tutsi leaders emigrated to Uganda and organized in exile an “army” with the support of Uganda and the US.
France, Belgium, and the US have been involved in the region and therefore share responsibility for the tragedy. In particular, France and Belgium, who supported the “Hutu” regime of Kigali, certainly could not have been unaware that the extremists in the regime were planning a genocide. Nonetheless, replacing a government of the majority by a quasi-restoration of a power system ignoring it is not viable. According to the Arusha agreement free, transparent, and fair elections should be held, whose results would certainly compel the regime now in power to at least make serious concessions to the vast Hutu majority. Kagame does not accept that. His military dictatorship must continue, supported by Washington. The Western powers are interested not in the doubtful riches of Rwanda, but in the immense mineral resources of the eastern part of the neighboring Congo, in particular rare minerals. The modernized army of Kagame, fully devoted from the very start to its US masters, is for that purpose a useful tool: it not only controls Rwanda but also operates in Congo with the pretext of chasing the Hutu remnants of the former Rwandan army; it even had the arrogant ambition of controlling Kinshasa, until Kabila abandoned his previous military supporter and started re-conquering the eastern provinces of Congo. There had been times of tension between the US and France and Belgium, until the Europeans seemingly accepted the US command in the region. But that command might be questioned. African countries — Uganda, the major ally of Washington in the region, first; then South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola — have been supporting one or the other side, i.e. Kagame or Kabila.
The case of Rwanda is indeed tragic. There are no signs of the region moving away from continuous wars and chaos allowing permanent imperialist interference and plunder of its resources. The only acceptable solution would be diluting the violent inheritance of Rwanda through the building of a kind of loose “confederation” of the Great Lakes region, incorporating Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Congo (there are Hutu/Tutsi minorities in all these countries), pursuing a common sovereign project as distant as possible from the Western powers. An immense task for the popular and democratic forces in the region.
Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Among his latest works are The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism and Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory, both published by Monthly Review Press in 2013.