Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Blame where blame's due

Emmanuel Dongala ponders Western apathy in a New York Times column marking the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

During those vicious 100 days, though, Western countries, including the United States, refused to call it a genocide. Using the term would have meant moral and legal obligations.
The killing and subsequent mutilation of 18 American soldiers recorded in "Black Hawk Down" took place mere months before the Rwandan genocide. In light of this, US culpability for inaction ought, if anything, be mitigated rather than singled out in comparison to countries whose troops had not recently suffered such a fate during a humanitarian intervention.
[M]any Africans believed the reason for the denial was that genocide is historically linked to "civilized" people. In Africa, where barbarism was the norm, the Hutu killing spree was just another tribal war. After all, how can one commit a genocide with machetes?
Here Mr. Dongala tries establish a link, however nebulous, to colonialism or racism; however, his own words only a few short paragraphs later hint at another explanation.
Today, I still think the genocide in Rwanda has not been the electroshock that should have jolted me and other African scholars from our "Africanly" correct way of thinking.

Some of our outdated ideological ideas must be challenged. With the backing of the government, Arabs are carrying out a massacre of genocidal scale against black Africans in Sudan, yet many academics and leaders in Africa are reluctant to speak out because of a misplaced sense of solidarity. We are also reluctant to face other unpleasant realities because we are afraid that would project the wrong picture of Africa to the world.
These criticisms do not apply only to African scholars and leaders. There are plenty in the West whom the genocide in the Rwanda should have jolted from their way of thinking. Who in the West is afraid to project the wrong picture of Africa to the world? Who in the West refuses to speak out because of a misplaced sense of solidarity?
In 1958, Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea was the only leader of all the French African colonies to seek immediate independence. Because of this, we refused for a long time to denounce the crimes Toure was committing against his people. And because Robert Mugabe fought for freedom in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe), it is not acceptable to criticize his autocratic rule, for doing so would be siding with the white settlers. As for Rwanda, many people dare not speak against the crimes that Rwandan troops are committing in the Democratic Congo Republic because of the moral legitimacy President Paul Kagame gained by stopping genocide in his country.
If a Westerner, particularly a white Westerner, had spent the spring and summer of 1994 levelling accusations of genocide at Rwandan Hutus, he would have been attacked as a racist, a colonialist, an imperalist by the same people in the West who claim to care the most about genocides in developing countries; not surprisingly, such accusations are precisely how Robert Mugabe has responded to criticisms of his human rights record by Western human rights groups and especially governments.

If we are to stop the genocide in Sudan, if we are to prevent future Rwandas, it is not enough for African scholars to challenge outdated ideological ideas; their intellectual comrades in the West must do the same.