Monday, April 18, 2011

Remaking Rwanda: only Rwandans can do it: By Joseph Rwagatare

Another book on Rwanda by non-Rwandans is now on sale in bookshops and on the internet. Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by Lars Waldorf and Scott Straus, was officially launched yesterday.
The book is a collection of articles by a group of people who have made it their mission to shoot down anything that the government of Rwanda does.
The new book should be seen as the latest project of an association of what may be appropriately called “Genocide Deniers Inc.” and “Hate Rwanda Ltd”. The editors have brought together the works of a wide array of members of these two groups.
They include self-confessed enemies of the Rwanda Patriotic Front like Filip Reyntjens, habitual accusers as Kenneth Roth and perpetual gripers like Carina Tersakian.
There is a long list of people who have arrogated themselves the role of interpreting Rwandan history to Rwandans. This group includes Timothy Longman, Sarah Warshauer Freedman, Harvey Weinstein and Karen Murphy.
Others like Eugenia Zorbas, Jason Stearns and Federico Borello visit the failures of the international community in the region on Rwanda and hope that will absolve them of guilt.
Then there is a whole collection of people who thrive on the “Hate Rwanda” industry.
Their articles in this book are not different from what they have written about Rwanda in the past and can easily be dismissed as a rehash of past criticism that does not take into account current developments.
Nonetheless, Remaking Rwanda is significant. However, its significance does not lie in its accurate historical, political or economic analyses of today’s situation in Rwanda. It does no such.
Most of the so-called analyses are dated or outright lies. Rather, it commands attention as a devious attempt by the editors and contributors to remake Rwanda to suit their preconceptions.
Indeed the writing displays a bias and deliberate distortion that can only be evidence of the authors’ frustration that it is Rwandans and not they who are remaking the country and taking it in a different direction.
The intention of the editors comes out clearly in the title of the book. They avoid calling the killing in Rwanda in 1994 by its proper name – genocide – but prefer to refer to it as “mass violence”.
This blanket and non-definite reference to a specific, definable event allows them to smuggle into this period other forms of violence with the aim of equating them to the genocide and thereby reducing its magnitude.
The same bias (actually, dishonesty) is evident in the nature of the research into the articles and their publication.
Most of the articles in the book were presented in London in March 2009 at an event organised to pay tribute to Alison Des Forges.
It does not need much imagination to notice the close resemblance between the theme of the event, “Reconstructing Rwanda, fifteen years after the genocide: a tribute to Alison Des Forges” and the title of their new book.
This similarity is no coincidence. Des Forges had turned into one of the most outspoken detractors of Rwanda before she met her tragic end. The tribute to her was a sort of celebration of her attitude and ideas on Rwanda.
Naturally the presentations were slanted towards her thinking. It is for the same reason that presentations at the March 2009 London event that did not fit into this pattern of thought were not included in the present book.
As pointed out earlier, some of the authors have a vested interest in distorting the situation in Rwanda.
For instance, Filip Reyntjens was one of the intellectual architects of the Habyarimana regime.
He was responsible for creating a powerful one party state that excluded significant sections of the population and giving the president extensive powers. The present government is sworn against foreign intellectual manipulation and has undone his work.
And so because Reyntjens cannot penetrate it and exercise the sort of influence he had previously, he has chosen to undermine it, and by some miracle now plays at being an enlightened champion of democracy and political inclusion.
Kenneth Roth is staking out his claim as heir to Alison Des Forges.
Historians, led by Timothy Longman, distort history out of pique. Their Rwandan colleagues in a project to design a history course for Rwandan schools rejected their incorrect interpretation of Rwandan history.
None of these can be disinterested writers on Rwanda.
Contributors to Remaking Rwanda are a self-serving and self-advertising lot.
The literature that informed their research is narrow and restricted to the circle of writers that contributed to the book. What comes out is a mutually reinforcing book of similar recycled views.
It is clear from their present and past work that the contributors to Remaking Rwanda have a strong aversion to the RPF government. They accuse it of an ambitious, but untenable social engineering project.
They criticise everything, from imihigo (performance contracts) to poverty eradication strategies; gacaca to land ownership and use; agricultural practice to human settlement policies; education and health insurance to self-sufficiency in many aspects of national life.
To be fair they admit that there has been progress since 1994, but quickly add that it is unsustainable and predict it will all unravel and the country once again explode into violence.
This may be dismissed as wishful thinking. But it also betrays the desire and even calculations of the contributors to the book. Remaking Rwanda certainly expresses the wishes of its writers. On the ground, however, Rwandans have moved to remake their country in a way that expresses their aspirations.
Twitter: @jrwagatare

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