Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda

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As a result of their national consultations, most of the ordinary citizens in Rwanda speak easily of vision and where they want their country to be in A significant portion of the document deals with the history of Rwanda and the challenges it faced at the time. A very frank assessment also enables the development of a stronger vision for a country as it makes no assumptions about the starting point of its journey towards a shared goal. In Sri Lanka we are yet to have a broad discussion on what kind of a country Sri Lanka would be by What is our vision for the next 20 years?

What would our economy look like? What sectors will it be based on? Do we possess a vision for a plural and multi-cultural Sri Lanka that incorporates the concerns and expectations of all social groups in Sri Lanka? What kind of a Government would we have? Will our Parliament be seen as a progressive space for innovative law making? Would our judiciary be as progressive as the current Indian Supreme Court? These are only a few of the questions that a broad national vision would have to grapple with.

As much as the development of a national vision should be a question that requires serious thought, if we agree that a national vision can be developed serious consideration should also be given to the process through which this vision is developed and finalized. Would we consult people from different walks of life, different social groups and areas of the country in the development of this vision? Furthermore, are we willing to be frank about our current position? Economists constantly point to the unrealistic statistics and achievements trumpeted in the development of economic policy.

Similarly it is also worth asking ourselves as to whether we in Sri Lanka are ready to be frank about our current positions and realities.

Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda - E-bok - Filip Reyntjens () | Bokus

Developing a national vision forces us to ask ourselves some very tough questions about where we stand and where we want to be and who is really important to the country and why. Another important lesson to be learnt from the Rwandan Vision document is the emphasis placed on governance in achieving this vision. The fact that governance is the very first pillar that the vision is built on underlines the importance of sound governance policies as being the catalyst for a serious economic and social transformation of a country.

The country is committed to being a capable state, characterised by the rule of law that supports and protects all its citizens without discrimination. The state is dedicated to the rights, unity and well-being of its people and will ensure the consolidation of the nation and its security… The State will ensure good governance, which can be understood as accountability, transparency and efficiency in deploying scarce resources. Are the state structures that exist in Sri Lanka transparent, accountable and efficient in deploying our scarce resources? Do we know what laws are being discussed in our Parliament?

Do we know how laws are promulgated and what is said during our Parliamentary debates? Do the structures that we have in place make it easier or more difficult for us to do this? In addition, by some , people had fled the war zone and moved to camps just north of Kigali, where land was already at a premium and whose economy was already under multiple threats. This proved a severe additional drain on government resources.

The internally displaced population came from the "breadbasket of the country," a source of substantial food supplies to the urban population; the loss of their production only exacerbated the external factors contributing to inflationary pressures. Political pressures also played a role in these tensions. A program of political reform, resulting from a combination of external pressures and a growing internal "democratization" movement threatened those in power, through two channels.

"Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda" - Filip Reyntjens

One was the formation of new parties. Ironically, though seen as a threat by those in power, few of these gained the confidence of large numbers of rural producers; to the contrary, many peasants saw the new parties as an expansion of the political elite without any broad effect on rural lives. Many felt that none of the parties truly spoke with sincerity and commitment to the increasingly urgent needs of the peasants. A second channel of political change was an increase in popular opposition.

People demanded more educational opportunities and fair prices for their goods; they criticized official corruption and they resented the increasing land acquisition by the elites. These grievances were forcefully articulated through a popular radio program on youth culture, which openly aired concerns common to many rural citizens.

In addition, Kinyamateka, the premier Kinyarwanda newspaper of Rwanda, published a series of hardhitting articles critical of official corruption. The government responded in September by prosecuting the editor of the paper, the late Andre Sibomana, and his staff, for having "devalued and dishonored the political authorities of the state.

The Kinyamateka trial was emblematic of the degree to which the people were invested in such outlets; they made this trial their own and established themselves as popular jury by the attention they gave it. Sibomana and his colleagues arrived at court with massive amounts of documentation on the inequalities of education, land holdings, and wealth. They established the kin ties involved in such appropriation and made public the means by which the government had attempted to muzzle the press.


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In effect, they turned their trial into a trial of the government itself. However, more important than the accusations brought against the government in the course of the trial, was the reception it received among the people. Both within the court and massed outside, crowds gathered to offer powerful encouragement to the defendants, so much so that the judge threatened the audience with prison sentences of their own.

Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Finally the judge simply curtailed the proceedings, dismissed the charges, and adjourned the court. It was a shortlived "victory of the people," but a victory nonetheless. And for Andre Sibomana it was but a momentary opening in the struggle against inequity. After having published similarly probing reports on conditions in postgenocide rural Rwanda, Sibomana, a Catholic priest, was removed from his position as editor of Kinyamateka and denied permission to seek medical care abroad; he died in February Thus three factors were involved in the central planning of the genocide.

One was the recruitment of large numbers of youth to the army and to the locally organized militias, often associated with the radicalized factions of the government. Surely this was a response to the rural crisis, for these recruits were those without land, education, jobs, or hope; the ecological and demographic crisis was critically important in creating this context. But rural anger was nonetheless channeled through the politics of the day and manipulated by the decisions of those in power.

In a context of growing class differentiation, that meant not among the victims of rural crisis. Ecology was surely a factor in this complicated equation, but it was not the sole explanation of genocide. A second element in the politics of genocide was the fact that the country was at war, fighting against an army formed mostly of refugees from outside, seen as sons of the monarchy overthrown during decolonization. The members of this force had grown up in Uganda and their political position had become increasingly insecure in the evolving politics of post-Idi Amin Uganda. Their leaders had formerly been close associates of the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, in his long struggle for power.

But as it became clear that his association with the Rwandan refugee community had turned from a political asset to a political liability, these leaders, who were principally trained as soldiers, turned their attention to new objectives.

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Ecological issues played an important role here as well. While the refugees felt increasingly threatened over land in Uganda, the Rwandan government argued -- with some validity -- that there was insufficient land to accommodate such numbers in Rwanda. In these circumstances, a military strategy gained support among both leaders and commoners within the refugee community. This again was not a predetermined path from ecology to violence. Political factors played an important role here too. The decision to go to war was expedited by the training and support this force had received from Uganda.

And the attack on Rwanda by mostly Tutsi refugees led to targeting all Tutsi within Rwanda -- a pattern that had occurred before. Within Rwanda, political pressures also moved toward war. An increasing segment of the government and military felt that they stood to lose if the conflict were resolved and multiparty elections were held. Furthermore, the recently recruited youths -- who would have been the first to be demobilized -- often had little to return to. Their sole training was in warfare; their sole hope was in continuing to fight.

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Finally, the population had replaced hope for the future with despair for the present. Their attitude toward the government was more cynical than supportive; they had lost confidence in the president, who was increasingly isolated as he slowly negotiated an end to the war in the north and an end to single party rule within the country.

In short, the army stood to lose; large segments of the government administration stood to lose; most of the population had long since lost any hope in the government or respect for its leaders; and the global economy had abandoned Rwanda, in fact, it had condemned Rwanda to instant penury. The economic disaster, failed multiparty initiatives, and the people's withdrawal from the political arena all combined to open the way for a group of well organized radicals to carry out their political agenda -- to seize power and forestall gains by the new parties.

They were able to do so not only by their mobilization of disaffected youth and the wartime context, but by the desertion of the political arena by the population in general. There was no organized internal opposition to the genocide; individuals had to act alone against the power of the state. On April 6, the President of Rwanda was returning from a trip to Tanzania where he had been involved in long drawn-out negotiations on ending the war when his plane was shot down as it approached Kigali airport.

Within several hours of the assassination, the killing started. While scattered rural violence against Tutsi had taken place before April , it is significant that the first victims of the violence on any large scale were members of the Hutu political class, opponents of those in power, rather than Tutsi. Only later did the genocide, targeting all Tutsi, move into the rural areas.

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Even then, the motives for these atrocities were complex and diverse. While rural distress was real, this was not first and foremost a struggle over land, nor was it essentially a rural uprising to seize land; many of those killed were not large landowners, the poor and defenseless were often the principal targets, and even some wealthy Hutu landowners were attacked.

Instead this struggle was over power. It originated as an internal coup d'etat; planned and directed by a faction of the political elite seeking to retain their privileged positions.

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Beyond the organizing clique, however, the killings drew on the combination of many grievances, ambitions, fears, angers -- as well as outright greed. At the local level, many accounts note the importance of personal relations, class issues, religious affiliations, and commercial competition, along with ethnicity, associated with the patterns of killing or of reprieve.

To be sure, this was genocide, but in varied forms.