Monday, November 07, 2005

Is Genocide Uniquely African?


From 600,000 to 1 million souls slaughtered in just 100 days in Rwanda. Thousands killed, raped and mutilated in Darfur, Sudan. On-going civil war and instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Cote D'Ivoire, Northern Uganda .... is violence and genocide unique to the African continent? Why does it persist? Below, our 2 guest bloggers this week, Sarah G., and Kennan J present their views.
Dr. D.


Sarah G.
There will always be genocide in Africa as long as "tribalism" exists...


"There will be no rescue, no intervention for us. We can only save ourselves. Many of you know influential people abroad, you must call these people. You must tell them what will happen to us... say goodbye. But when you say goodbye, say it as if you are reaching through the phone and holding their hand. Let them know that if they let go of that hand, you will die." -Paul Rusesabagina, Hotel Rwanda. The atrocities of the Rwandan genocide certainly turned heads around the world. In only three months, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in the hands of the Hutu extremist group known as the Interahamwe. On the surface, this massacre appears to be the result of tribalism. However, this is a common misconception as the Rwandan genocide was not the result of tribalism but rather of lingering ideals and policies implemented during colonialism furthered by deficient government and economic disparity. This theory serves as a microcosm of the situation throughout Africa.

Unfortunately, the term "tribalism" usually carries a negative connotation in which society is divided into a myriad of small groups prone to hostility and violence towards one another. While enmity does exist within tribalism, it is often the product of invariable factors such as scare resources and corrupt governance. In fact, it is arguable whether or not the degree of brutality within tribal societies overshadows that of civilized societies. African tribalism parallels the theory of ethnocentricity in the sense that the disparity between in each tribe is the same by which we can all be culturally defined. In other words, the religious, linguistic, and cultural lines that identify a Tutsi or Hutu are no more than what makes someone an Irish Catholic American. In the same ways that large populations have grouped together to form states and nations, so have small ones to form tribes, and in this way is tribalism no more than a sub category of social evolution. Who is to say then, that existence of tribalism cannot be a peaceful one? If tribes of Chinese, Japanese, Italians, and Indians can all make rest in New York City, than why not in Africa? The answer to this question does not point towards flaws in tribalism but rather the faults of colonialism.

The recent situation in Rwanda serves perfectly to link colonialism to genocide. German and Belgian rulers brought with them to Rwanda pre-conceived notions of racial hierarchy and white supremacy. The kindness and elegance of Tutsi tribe, coupled with their European-like features greatly impressed them as they implemented a system of indirect rule. In this case, not only did colonialism create tribal divisions but it also fostered a sense of primacy between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, which led the Tutsi's oppression of the Hutu erupting in the 1994 genocide. "When people ask me, good listeners, why do I hate all the Tutsi, I say, "Read our history." The Tutsi were collaborators for the Belgian colonists, they stole our Hutu land, they whipped us. Now they have come back, these Tutsi rebels. They are cockroaches. They are murderers. Rwanda is our Hutu land. We are the majority. They are a minority of traitors and invaders. We will squash the infestation. We will wipe out the RPF rebels. This is RTLM, Hutu power radio. Stay alert. Watch your neighbours" -George Rutaganda, Hotel Rwanda.

While direct rule may not always be the case as it was in Rwanda, the effects of colonialism and their pertinent link to genocide are numerous and widespread. In his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney examines the way in which European nations economically exploited African resources, creating monocultures that divested national economies. Post-colonial theorist Franz Fanon investigated the psychological effects of colonialism, arguing that years of domination and subjugation led to an overwhelming sense on inferiority and inadequacy, which in turn barred nation's growth following independence. European nation's cherry-picked Africa's wealth, squandering her resources, demoralizing her people, and causing nations to fall into a pattern of dependency. Following independence nations were abruptly forced to fend for themselves. Economically and socially they were weak and divided and politically they were inexperienced and the continent became poverty stricken and politically corrupt. It was this that paved the way for coup d'etats and genocide.

All in all, African tribes do not innately lean toward genocide, but rather has colonialism influenced and instigated them. The peaceful existence of tribes in Africa is completely plausible, but it has been hindered by colonialism's numerous long-lasting effects.

Helpful Links:
http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/Africa/Intro.asp#TheLegacyofEuropeanColonialism
http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20010501fareviewessay4773/jeffrey-herbst/the-unanswered-question-attempting-to-explain-the-rwandan-genocide.html?mode=print
http://floydn.blogspot.com/2005/09/societal-tribalism-in-south-africa.html