Three lessons from the Rwandan genocide

This year will be marked by the commemorations of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Twenty years later, it is still time to mourn the dead but also to draw lessons from the tragedy. 

rwanda-genocide-memorial-tourThe first lesson to learn from the Rwandan genocide is taught by historians: their work disclosed that the political logic behind ethnic hatred not only led to dehumanizing the Tutsi minority but preceded the genocide of that minority. Hatred for otherness, exacerbation of difference until there is no longer room for living together have powerfully contributed, in both Rwanda and Nazi Germany, to making possible, if not unavoidable, mass murder. We must not stop contradicting the theories which tend to make ordinary the crime, or even to justify it, by seeing it as a spontaneous event following the murder of President Habyarimana. We do know today that the Rwandan genocide was not an accident of History but the product of a racist ideology and a murderous will.

The second lesson is addressed to the international community whose indifference and inaction appear today not only as a political mistake but also as a moral fault. That blameworthy attitude shows the civilizational complex of superiority of an international community still recovering from the Somalian fiasco of 1992 at that time. By allowing and reinforcing the sense of impunity nurtured by the opposing forces present in Rwanda, the abstention of foreign powers has also participated to the escalation of violence and the onset of the most horrible atrocities. This lesson resonates today with a singular echo in a context of mass murders perpetrated every day in Syria and the drama which is taking place in Central African Republic. This is the reason why the Rwandan genocide should raise awareness not only among those who tell the story, but also the people who hold in their hands the fate of entire regions. International justice alone, if it is to be relevant, will never replace the action of diplomacy, and sometimes the use of force to prevent the worst from happening.

Finally, the third lesson is that revisionism, with all its symbolic brutality, always prevent memories from finding root in people’s minds, survivors from mourning and honoring with dignity the victims. Revisionism banish the prospect of reconciliation between communities who once tore each other apart.  The accounts of the Tutsi survivors and their executioners, like those of Holocaust survivors seventy years ago, unveil the unspeakable suffering of people who prepared themselves to die and who had to learn to live again.  With the images, the nightmares haunting their nights and the memory of missing loved ones tearing their hearts apart. Commemoration is not only a matter of honoring the dead, it helps the living rebuild their lives.

Elie Wiesel wrote that he who chose to dedicate the rest of his life to tell the story of the Holocaust because he thought he was indebted to the dead. Not remembering them, he said, amounts to betraying them one more time. This is why we should, twenty years later, learn all the lessons from the Rwandan genocide.


Translated by Ndeye Mane Sall

Three development lessons from Asia


Much has been said about the Asian “miracle”. Countries like South Korea and Taiwan had between the fifties and the sixties levels of development similar to those of Ghana and Nigeria, and the following decades the Asian “Dragons” and the “Tigers” initiate a forced march to catch up with the developed world economically. A number of analysts welcomed the “enlightened dictatorship” of Asian leaders like Lee Kwan Yew (Singapore) or Park Chung Hee (South Korea) as the decisive factor of the catching-up process. By contrast, Africa was plagued by malicious or obscurantist dictators (Bokassa, Mobutu, Idi Amin Dada, Robert Mugabe, and the list goes on) who have led the continent to its bankruptcy. Is development a question of leadership after all? This theory that is still being defended by many supporters is simplistic in many respects. It reduces politics, which is the conduct of affairs in complex societies, to a matter of individuals, ethics and good intentions…

The essay of the economist Joe Studwell, « How Asia works » should then be welcomed in more ways than one. The author gives an explanation to the success of North-eastern Asia (Japon, South Korea, China, Taiwan) and the relative failure of South Asia (Thailand, Malaysia,  Indonesia, Philippines) through three policies which are, in his view, pivotal in the development process of a Nation.

According to Joe Studwell the structural transformation of North-eastern Asia economies is the result of a recipe made of three ingredients: free the agricultural potential of a country by the redistribution of lands in order to set a rural capitalist agriculture, reinforced by an affirmative development of support services (access to inputs and loans, efficient storage and distribution infrastructures); upgrade without delay the industrial value chain with state-of-art technologies and techniques to modernize domestic industry, with a state-driven and proactive policy compelling national entrepreneurs to take part to that effort in favor of modernization and international competitiveness; to use finance as a tool in service of the achievement of the two previous objectives and overlook short-run profits, profuse in speculative activities (land rent, property speculation) to prioritize long-term objectives like  the mastering of state-of-art industrial technologies. Those lessons from Asia are in contradiction with certain dogmas conveyed by the liberal vulgate especially by pleading for a preeminent state intervention in periods of economic catching up at the expense of the invisible hand of the market, short-termist interests of shareholders of developing firms being potential barriers to structural transformation.

Joe Studwell sees structural transformation of agriculture as the first ingredient of that Asian magic formula since the agricultural sector is employing a large majority of the population in poor countries. The transition from agrarian feudal societies to modern societies generally  goes, according to Studwell, through the stage of an intensive and productive agriculture on small plots of land (market gardening, peri-urban or subsistence agriculture) conducted by rural modest landowners. It would permit to increase the productivity of the largest category of workers with an impact on the global productivity of the country´s production factors. The result will come as a first accumulation of capital by this class of rural growers which will fuel a first consumption market and permit the emergence of a more important class of entrepreneurs. This transition was made possible, in most cases, by ambitious land reforms splitting the huge fields, property of big feudal landowners (Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan) in plots of land (3 to 5 ha) redistributed to modest growers; conversely South Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia still have not conducted land redistribution policies: hence big landowners are living from cash crops in large plantations (sugar cane, rubber trees, oil palm) enhanced by poor farm workers, with little effect on the economy and the emergence of a rural middle-class.

The second lever of success is the industrial transformation of the economic fabric, supported by a technological upgrading and added-value production processes. Joe Studwell pointed out that in the Asian cases, state intervention is crucial_ either by the means of creating state-owned corporations (China), either through the orientation and the framing of private firms (South Korea)_ in order to encourage, protect and drive the emergence of national industrial champions. The author brilliantly illustrates what makes the strength of Asian industrializing policies, in comparison with the failures of countries like Algeria. The condition for success of industry creation policies is to implement competition between several national operators and the inescapable export of their products (evidence of competitiveness in the international markets) both conducted by North-Eastern Asia.

Governments had no hesitation in forcing mergers of least competitive firms, later integrated to more viable groups.  For instance the growth of the electronics group Huawei went through the repurchase at a discount of less-seasoned competitors specialized in other market segments, and which thrived under the shade of Huawei.

In addition, State funding granted to domestic industries are linked to performance indicators indexed to industrial operators’ ability to sell their production abroad. The recipe for success lies in protecting domestic industries in their early years but also to establish an internal and external pressure to keep only the most competitive and not support lame ducks. Joe Studwell explains that the reasons why Soviet and Indian industries failed (before the reforms of 1991) are not to be found in public ownership of capital but in the lack of both competition in domestic markets and exports.

In the financial sector, Joe Studwell advocates a strong state control. In countries with low incomes, it is essential to allocate the little available capital to two main objectives: a rural intensive agriculture and an autochthonous modernizing industry, the two keys that put North-Easter Asia on track.

The examples coming from South Asia, by contrast, illustrate the noxious effects of a liberalized financial system, in the hands of a rentier class ( major landowners and oligarchs), either belonging to world finance or driven by easy and short-term profits which do not always meet development objectives. The volatility of foreign investments which led to the 1997 Asian crisis is distinct from long-term investments of national banks. As for the banks serving oligarchic interests, they particularly funded the housing bubble and speculative activities which did very little for the structural transformation of those countries.

The 1962 decree establishing the New Bank of Korea, under the tutelage of the Minister of Finance, had made this central bank a pivotal tool in the service of real economy designed according to development objectives, without falling in the trap of unrestricted money printing like many African countries. Preferential loans granted to domestic industries depended on the international clients’ credentials national operators were due to produce to prove their competitiveness on world markets. Banks which granted loans to those operators in order to fund their pre-purchased production abroad could refinance themselves from the central bank at below-market rates. Such measures will substantially contribute to the onset of a heavy industry in South Korea, followed by a state-of-art technology industry. The competitiveness of the South Korean operators-creditors permitted the sustainability of national debt. The 1997 crisis will eventually stabilize the South Korean economic landscape by sparing only the most economically and technologically viable operators.

 « How Asia works » is an essay which rehabilitates State action in the phase of economic emergence. Although the State is crucial in the process, it does not have a central and omnipotent role; it is stronger in its position as a regulator than as an economic agent. It is expected to make the rules fair, its strength should be oriented towards efficiency to take the best of private actors in order to reach the objectives of public welfare. An Asian lesson that could inspire several African countries striving towards emergence.


Translated by Ndeye Mane Sall

Rwandan Genocide, 20 years later: Desperately in search of peace (2/2)

"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important." Martin Luther King

Terangaweb_Gacaca RwandaGenocide is not a crime as any other. While the other forms of conflicts meet political and economic interests, genocide is a concerted plan in view of eliminating the members of a given group. Genocide aims to “purify” the social group by removing the elements regarded as unworthy to be part of it: Jews in Germany, Blacks in South Africa[1], Tutsis in Rwanda… Other countries have had the rather difficult task of reconciling a people torn apart by a conflict. In South Africa there were the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, in Sudan was chosen the radical solution of secession, in Ivory Coast we are crossing fingers for the maintaining of a flickering peace.  

Rwanda is (rightly) known to be the good pupil in the Great Lakes Area since it achieved its “resurrection” in various fields (See Le Rwanda, une Nation phénix (1ère partie) – L'Afrique des idées and Le Rwanda, une Nation phénix (2ème partie) – L'Afrique des idées). The country is being ruled with an iron hand by Paul Kagame who succeeded in inspiring the wind of development the country needed since 1994. What about the Rwandan society? The genocide has radically materialized a division that had been festering for a while in Rwandan society. The reconciliation between members of a society is not a matter of policy, it is nonetheless essential among people who are condemned to live together anyway. Thus forgiveness never can be an instruction given to the community but the state has the duty to ensure that anywhere, all members of a society feel like they are part of a group, otherwise it must enforce an official end to dissensions, in the absence of forgiveness.

That idea underlies penal law of all the countries which abolished death penalty: punish the culprit both to stop the cycle of violence then prevent any act of revenge and to ensure that the convict will be reinserted. The right to punish (or to avenge…) belongs thus to the state. The act of genocide involves necessarily all the layers of the society as it often concretize itself because “Some wanted it. Others committed it. Everybody let it happen.[2] If the act involves all the nation, the work of reconciliation should go further and deeper. It is about not letting subsist a vestige of animosity from one side or another, an animosity that could some day trigger new conflicts on the smoking remnants of the precedent.

The gacaca are scathingly criticized for not being professional courts and not responding to any criterion that defines a jurisdiction: impartiality, independence, fairness… but how could it be otherwise?

On the one hand, in the wake of the genocide, it was urgent to judge the hundreds of thousands criminals detained, the members of legal professions were either among the victims or among the accused…when they hadn’t fled the country. Qualifying the work of the gacaca as lacking juridical rigor would be a way to reproach Rwanda with not applying an ordinary solution to a situation that was anything but ordinary. Desperate times call desperate measures.

On the other hand, those courts, thanks to their popular dimension have helped to put together and confront people who never would have dreamt of this form of participatory justice in a classic legal framework. It would be indeed very naive to consider that, at the end of the trial, victim and offender end up hand in hand.  Besides the victims have been raising their voice to denounce a justice they consider expeditious and biased (how to believe an accused who ‘exchanges’ his remorse against the promise of a sentence reduction?) but following such a tragedy, there were not so many solutions. Except parting the country in two between the Hutus and the Tutsis, the only alternative solution was to permit systematic revenge which would have undoubtedly led to another tragedy with the same actors in reversed roles: the Tutsis as offenders and Hutus as victims. The chosen solution was certainly not the best but it is objectively the most adapted given the elements.

The genocide is only twenty years old, it is still too early to make an assessment of History and judge the progress in terms of social peace which will certainly take many years more to concretize. But Rwanda has started a process that should, in the very long term and, if it still followed, erase the divisions that should not exist. It could pass through (like in Nigeria) by a subtle power sharing between Hutus and Tutsis, an equal access for both ethnic groups to state structures, education, employment… in short concretize what the Constitution theorized: all Rwandan are equal.

Reconciliation is also and above all a matter of memory. Collective memory and individual memory. Maybe the second will be less acute in two or three generations and maybe time, failing to heal the wounds, will have eased the pain. For the time being, the dazed survivors are reintegrating as best they can that society which is still home to their offenders, and stoically bearing the plain view of their executioners, now allowed to walk free. Because “Amarira y’umugabo atemba ajya mu unda »[3]


Translated by Ndeye Mane SALL

Read the first part of this article here.



[2] Citation de Tacite


[3] Proverb in kinyarwanda : The crying of a man remain in his chest.


Rwandan Genocide, 20 years later: Desperately in search of peace (1/2)

“I don’t believe those who say that we have hit the bottom of atrocity for the last time. If there has been genocide, there can be another one, at any time in the future, anywhere, in Rwanda or somewhere else, if the underlying cause is still present and we don’t know what it is.” A survivor[1]

rwanda-genocide-memorial-tourBetween April and July 1994, Rwanda, a country of Central Africa, suffered what is known as the bloodiest genocide ever known, taking into account the number of victims and the short duration of the terrible abuses: nearly 800 000 people (Tutsis and moderate Hutus) were slaughtered in three months according to the United Nations. As we are close to the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, what is the current situation in Rwanda?

It remains difficult to specifically date the origin of the divisions between the Hutu and the Tutsi ethnic groups. The term of “ethnic group” is even inaccurate in a country where Hutus as well as Tutsis speak the same language, the Kinyarwanda and both share the same customs and beliefs. In the thirties, the Belgian colons initiated the distinction between the two groups in official documents by creating ‘ethnic’ identity cards and giving to the Tutsis the power to rule the country under the tutelage of colonial administration. To the Tutsis was given access to education and power by the Belgian colonizer while the two other Rwandan ethnic groups, Hutus and Twas, were forsaken.

When Rwanda achieved independence, the gulf the colonizer had created turned out difficult to bridge: the Tutsis were more and more targeted in massacres meant to exile them in Uganda, Burundi or DRC. Rwandan exiles from Rwanda attempted several times to take power while fighting under the banner of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Hutu government never took long to strike back with massacres against the Tutsis remaining in Rwanda by way of revenge. On April 4th 1994, the Hutu Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana dies when his plane, which was about to land in Kigali, is shot down by a missile. For the Hutus, the Tutsis of the RPF are the obvious responsible of the attack.

The murder of the Rwandan president triggered a genocide which had been festering for a while. The following day marks the official beginning of the massacres. Organizing themselves in armed militias, the Hutus killed almost a million of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in few months. On July 4th, the Rwandan Patriotic Front enters the capital, Kigali, take power and install a government of national unity which symbolically has a Hutu as Head of State, Pastor Bizimungu. In 2000, the RPF won the elections and Paul Kagame, a leader descending from that generation of exiled Tutsis in Uganda, became President. He launched a process of justice and reconciliation to make all the Rwandan live together again, peacefully. Unity and reconciliation then became real policy objectives: a National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation is created in 1999, the mention of the ethnic origin disappears from the identity cards and the new Constitution explicitly specifies that all Rwandan are equal.[2] The work of the Commission is based on several approaches among which the ‘education for peace’ also known as Ingando, which aims at shedding a new light on Rwanda history, understanding the origins of the divisions among the people, encouraging patriotism and fighting genocidal ideology.

Nonetheless there cannot be no reconciliation neither peace without justice. Hence an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was set under the aegis of the United Nations to bring to justice the perpetrators of genocide and other violations of the international humanitarian law in Rwanda from January 1st to December 31st 1994. The ICTR aimed also at “contributing to the process of national reconciliation in Rwanda and maintaining peace in the region. »[3] For the time being, 65 people have received a final judgment, 10 cases are currently pending and an accused is awaiting an upcoming trial.

Beside the ICTR, another court is in charge of judging the hundreds of thousands people involved in the acts of genocide: the gacaca (pronounced gatchatcha) which are the Rwandan people’s courts. Traditionally reserved to civil litigations, the gacaca is based on the search of guilt admission and forgiveness. A law created in 1996 to better organize the prosecution of genocidal crimes or crimes against humanity attributed jurisdiction between the Tribunal and the gacaca. The former is in charge of prosecuting the planners, the organizers and the leaders of the genocide, those who acted in positions of authority, the renowned murderers as well as people guilty of sexual tortures or rapes (jurisdiction shared with regular Rwandan courts). And it is the gacaca’s responsibility to prosecute and judge the authors or accomplices of voluntary manslaughter or assaults that resulted in the death, and those who wanted to kill the victims but only caused injuries or committed other serious abuses without intending to kill the victims. In other words the masterminds are to be judged by the ICTR and the executing criminals by the gacaca. During the trials, each court brings together defendants and the victims’ families, the debate are open to the public and whoever confesses their crimes can benefit from a reduced sentence or even be pardoned. Whenever there is a sentence, it is often symbolic: the defendants are way too numerous and the prisons way too overcrowded.

The gacaca came to the end of their term on June 18th 2012, with two millions people judged.

As the consequences of this genocide have spread far beyond the Rwandan boarders (Rwanda – RDC: les dessous d’une guerre larvée – L'Afrique des idées ), it is legitimate to ask whether the widely acclaimed reconciliation have kept its promises.


Translated by Ndeye Mane SALL

Read the second part of this article.

[1] Dans le nu de la vie, Jean Hartzfeld






Nigeria: Mister Goodluck and President Jonathan

Terangaweb_Goodluck JonathanGoodluck Jonathan is at the moment in a tight spot.  The past few months, the Nigerian president has been subjected to a fierce opposition amidst his very own party, The People's Democratic Party (PDP) which has been reigning since the establishment of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Leading a gigantic country in terms of economy and demography (Nigeria is the most populous country of Africa with 170 million inhabitants), President Jonathan has been in power since the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010 and is becoming more and more unpopular. In addition to a questionable management of the clashes with the Boko Haram sect, he is suffering from a considerable lack of legitimacy in his party.

37 MP from PDP have joined the ranks of the opposition on last December 18th. This rebellion resulted in Jonathan losing his parliamentary majority, an unprecedented situation in Nigeria’s political history. Its consequences are unpredictable. On the one hand, it remains difficult to know how President Jonathan will govern without a majority at the Parliament; on the other hand the future is uncertain as to the presidential elections of 2015. This important setback is one more step leading to the mutiny firstly opened in September 2013 by six governors from the Muslim North who created the New PDP. The bone of the contention: the former President Olusegun Obasanjo made things worse when he stepped in the turmoil and wrote a scathing letter to his successor, accusing him of invigilating his political opponents along with hundreds of Nigerians using the State services. Even worse, police officers assaulted locals belonging to the same states as the mutinous governors, who consider those confrontations as bullying, and denounce dictatorial methods.

President Jonathan now finds himself in a very difficult situation, and the stake is the future of Nigeria, way beyond the future of PDP. Indeed, the present revolt against Jonathan is linked to the main political issue in Nigeria since the independence, namely the fragile and volatile balance between the Muslim North and the Christian South of the country. When PDP took power in 1999, the leaders of the party agreed on an informal sharing of the power: the president could only pretend to two consecutive terms (8 years) , the deal was that every two-term period of time, a Muslim president had to vacate the power for a Christian successor and vice versa. It was a tacit political alternation based on the religion and the region of the pretenders to the throne. Thus, after Obasanjo, a Yoruba from the South who reigned from 1999 to 2007, it was Umaru Yar’Adua (former governor of Katsina, a northern state) who took the lead. But his sudden death in 2010 jostled that subtle arrangement: Goodluck Jonathan, the vice-president from the South then became president; he was re-elected in 2011 and is now wanting to run for the elections of 2015. If he was to win the elections, he would govern until 2019, which means a presidential mandate of almost ten years. To put it bluntly, the power would have been to the North for only three years (2007-2010) on the twenty years of the PDP reign (1999-1919). It is merely unacceptable for most politicians from the North.

If Goodluck Jonathan maintains his authoritarianism, he takes the risk to worsen the bleeding of the PDP, which could lose the elections in 2015. However, it is still possible for him to limit the damages by winning back the militants, who have already started to leave the ship, and save the essential: the political unity of the party and the stability of Nigeria. The best he can do is not to run for a re-election in 2015.

We should pay careful attention to the political struggles going on in Nigeria because they have ethnic and religious overtones in addition to the economic stakes surrounding oil (Nigeria is the first African producer of oil). Goodluck Jonathan is facing a great social discontent since he took power in 2010. The increasing fuel prices rekindled the tensions between Muslims from the North and Christians from the South, tensions he failed to handle efficiently by the way.

The successive defection of the governors and parliamentarians who joined the APC (All Progressives Congress), the main opposition coalition, is a severe blow for President Jonathan. That is why he should pay great attention to the way he will handle this new situation while avoiding any measure of authoritarianism. He ought to win back those PDP leaders who joined the opposition and dispel any ambiguity on his potential candidature to the elections of 2015. The Boko Haram sore is way too crippling for Nigeria to enter a new cycle of violence. Especially if they come with ethnic and religious dimensions in a continent already scarred by that kind of conflicts.


Translated by Ndeye Mane SALL