The Rwanda genocide unfolded at the same time as the elections marking the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa—during the first half of 1994.
At a meeting of African intellectuals called in Arusha later that year to reflect on the lessons of Rwanda, I pointed out that if we had been told a decade earlier that there would be reconciliation in one country and genocide in another, none of us could have been expected to identify the locations correctly—for the simple reason that 1984 was the year of reconciliation in Rwanda and repression in the townships of South Africa.
Indeed, as subsequent events showed, there was nothing inevitable about either genocide in Rwanda or reconciliation in South Africa.
I’m only a few pages into Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviours and Survivors, but I’m immensely enjoying it already. Even the footnotes (see above) are interesting.
The book is Mamdani’s broadside against the tide of Darfur advocacy movements in the US. The academic in me loves Mamdani’s basic point: politics, like life, is complex. Boiling the Darfur conflict down to a slogan and popular campaign is at best naive, and is probably doing a disservice to peace and stability itself.
Mamdani suggests a different credo for activists:
In contrast to those that suggest that we act the minute the whistle blows, I suggest that, even before the whistle blows, we ceaselessly try to know the world in which we live—and act.
Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant.
‘Thinknactivist’ seems a little too plodding a term. I’ll call it the Thinkavist Manifesto.
The problem as I see it: simple messages, credos for action, and the call to “save” Africans will always mobilize more attention and enthusiasm than “Well, on the one hand…”. Are we Thinkavists doomed to obscurity by our monotony and evenhandedness?