The history of Congo and Rwanda continues to be written

Alex Engwete reviews René Lemarchand’s new volume on the violence consumed the DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda through the 1990s (and simmers today).

It’s striking how seldom the wars, intrigue and genocide are considered together. Thinking about events in Rwandan in isolation from those in Congo or Uganda is like trying to understand WWII only studying Austria. It’s a standard narrative impulse in most writing on Africa: civil wars, like nations, are treated as islands.

Engwete picks up two Lemarchand quotes bound to stir passions. For one, he bemoans the ‘misleading analogy’ between the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide: “Jews,” writes Lemarchand, “never invaded Germany with the assistance of a neighboring state for the purpose of bringing down the government.”

This highlights another narrative impulse: the desire for good guys and bad guys:

Drawing the line between the good guys and the bad guys is easy enough in the case of Nazi Germany; in Rwanda, the distinction is far more problematic, if only because it defies the simplistic equation between Hutu murderers and Tutsi victims.

This inherently complex dimension is one that is systematically shoved under the rug in official Rwandan historiography. The watchword in Rwanda today, symbolized by the moving memorial to Tutsi victims, is ‘Never forget!’—but there is an unspoken subtext: ‘Never Remember!’

Never remember the 1972 genocide of Hutu in Burundi, the massacre of Hutu refugees in eastern Congo, or the systematic elimination of Hutu civilians during and after the 1990 invasion of Rwanda by Kagame’s soldiers.

Above all, never remember Kagame’s onus of responsibility in the shooting down of the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi to Kigali, the detonator that ignited the genocide.”

That is enough to make me buy the book. I will let you know what I think.

Also in this vein is the encyclopedic but enlightening Africa’s World War by another French scholar, Gerard Prunier.

5 thoughts on “The history of Congo and Rwanda continues to be written

  1. I don’t know this history well, but is it consensus opinion that Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by Kagame’s people? I recall from Gourevitch’s book that there was speculation that the Akazu could have been responsible. Is that a perpetuation of the good v evil narrative?

  2. What does the term ‘onus of responsibility’ mean in that context? Kagame bears responsibility but the author can’t prove a connection?

  3. I think Prunier’s book speculated that the Akazu were the most likely to have shot down the plane.

  4. There is nothing close to a consensus on the matter. A French magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who had conducted an investigation into the matter on behalf of the families of the French nationals who died in the crash, concluded that Kagame was responsible. However, his report relies entirely on conjecture, as far as I can tell. To be fair, so does Prunier’s analysis that the akazu was behind it, but at least Prunier admits to as much (and, in my view, spins a more convincing theory.)

  5. I’d suggest that everyone read Silent Accomplice (by Andrew Wallis). The French were not impartial, or disinterested actors in Rwanda in the 1990s, and Bruguiere’s report isn’t the most reliable source.