SOMALIA WAS HARD enough to explain to my students, even though the facts were fresh in my mind. The chaos that erupted in Rwanda late in my first Warburg year was much harder. Id been away from Rwanda for nearly two decades, and while I thought I still had a good fix on the countrys basic dynamics, I found I had much to unlearn when reports of genocide reached us.
|GENOCIDE IN RWANDA|
|Rwanda had been a very special experience for me a sort of three-year escape to Shangri-la. The country was breathtakingly beautiful, its fauna fascinating, and its people simply the sweetest and most decent I had met anywhere. I knew we all knew that Rwanda had serious underlying problems: in GNP per capita terms, it was among the poorest in the world, the most densely populated and fastest growing in Africa; its politics were dominated by a single socialist-style party, and its ethnic tensions were held in check by a no-nonsense military ruler. But we had not yet learned to despise African socialism or enlightened despots, and in the 1970s, Rwanda seemed to be making its way forward.|
As you might imagine, then, when my students and colleagues began asking questions about the violence erupting in our African Shangri-la, I was short of satisfactory answers. At a brown-bag lunch session in the dining hall, my wife and I described the Rwanda we had known earlier and attempted to offer some some reassuring perspective on the awful reports that were reaching us in Boston (for lack of anything insightful to say, I recall demonstrating Tutsi warrior dance steps!). To their credit, the large crowd of students and others who attended were unimpressed:
Not just a little chagrined, I felt compelled to do some long-postponed research into Rwandas social and political history. With the help of the Simmons library staff and some personal contacts in Washington and New York, here is what I learned:
First, that differences between Rwandas Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups were far older, deeper, and more complex than they had seemed to me. (In this regard, I must mention a particularly insightful book entitled The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda, by Jacques J. P. Maquet, which may be found in the stacks of the Simmons library.)
Second, and more unsettling, I learned that the U.S. and its European friends had indeed been quite active perhaps too active behind the scenes in Rwanda before the slaughter began, obtaining promises from the Rwandan president and ruling party of political and economic reforms, promises that may themselves have ignited the explosion of ethnic fear, violence, and murder.
Third and this should not have been a surprise I learned that Washington had no intention whatever of becoming further involved in Rwanda, so soon after its embarrassing fiasco in Somalia and its controversial intervention in Haiti. (Some months later, however, it was prevailed upon to fly relief supplies and personnel into the Kivu province of Zaïre next door to aid Rwandan Hutus who had swarmed there as refugees.)
|'WORLD WAR' IN THE CONGO|
|It was evident even as refugees from Rwandas nightmare were flooding across the border into the eastern reaches of the Congo that the rising tide of ethnic conflict in the smaller neighbor was threatening to upset the always-precarious balance of Congolese politics.|
Rwanda, after all, had been a mere footnote to the huge Congo, tacked onto King Leopolds colonial domain (along with its twin neighbor Burundi) as a prize for Belgiums role in defeating Germany in World War I. Even during the Congos worst days, its leaders and the rest of us regarded Rwanda and Burundi as insignificant by comparison. So it was astonishing to me to watch the Congos own strongman president Mobutu sese Seko whom we had installed in power thirty years earlier himself fall, his regime collapse, and his nation practically fall apart at the crest of a wave of change that began in Rwandas hills.
Once again, the Warburg chair and the Simmons library were good to me, enabling me to dig more deeply beneath the news headlines. I had been aware that the Congos mountainous eastern reaches were populated by people who were close kin of the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, and I had got to know some of their chiefs and leaders when I served there many years earlier. I was vaguely aware too that these border areas had been used for a generation as a staging area for Tutsi guerrilla groups seeking to overthrow Rwandas Hutu majority and recapture the feudal kingdom they lost at Independence early in the 1960s.
But I was surprised, as others were, by the flood of Hutu refugees more than one million of them who poured out of Rwanda into the same border region of the Congo during that awful summer of 1994, inevitably bringing with them the virus of ethnic hatred that had devastated their own country and that soon spread rapidly across the eastern third of the Congo.
Which they shortly did, to almost everyones astonishment. But the story did not end there, either where indeed do Africas continuing crises end? for the virus of ethnic conflict spread even beyond the Congos broad borders to neighboring Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville, and the Central African Republic, involving all of them in what has been called Africas own World War. And although there is now a truce in that conflict, the virus has by no means expired.
|FIVE AFRICA LESSONS FOR WOULD-BE PEACEMAKERS|
|I believe there are lessons here that should apply as we consider what Americas global security role should be at the turn of the century, particularly in response to Africas ongoing world war. For me, these are among the most important:|
First, we cannot disengage from Africa, no matter what the hard-liners say, because Americas own roots run too deep there and because we as a people are too deeply touched by the fate of Africans.
Second and just as important, we outsiders cannot solve Africas problems or end its continuing crises ourselves, either by imposing our own value systems through force of arms or by pouring our wealth and technology into its development. Africans must be allowed (and trusted) to discover their own solutions, whether by mining their old traditions or by inventing new ones.
Third, and closely related to the first two, we must avoid playing the role of bwana mukubwa the arbiter and decision-maker in African disputes. A century of authoritarian colonialism did colossal damage to Africas social and political traditions, especially its conflict resolution systems. With diplomatic tough love, we must allow Africans to work out their differences without appealing to powerful outsiders.
Fourth, and still in the same vein, we need to shape our future relations with Africa more modestly, steering a careful course between callous indifference and take-charge involvement. This is hard for Americans, impatient and self-confident as we are; but our solutions are not always the right ones for others, no matter how well they may work for us.
And finally, we must try ceaselessly to understand these people much better than we do. After three decades of flying through the Third World by the seat of my pants, I learned at Simmons that there is no substitute for studying more, reading more, questioning more, and probing deeper into the culture and history of the nations we deal with, no matter how much first-hand knowledge we may think weve accumulated on the job.
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