By Alemayehu G Mariam
Déjà vu 1994 Rwanda in 2014 Central African Republic
Last week, the people of Rwanda began a solemn week of official mourning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide. On April 6, 1994, Hutu extremist leaders in government, their political supporters and organized militiamen coordinated a systematic killing spree, which lasted over 100 days and consumed the lives of more than 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In 1994, Rwanda had a population of 5.5 million, of which 14 percent were Tutsi. Today Rwanda has a population of 11.5 million, of which the Tutsi population is less than 10 percent.
Last week, the people of the Central African Republic (CAR) continued to face their own “Rwanda-esque” nightmare of unspeakable horror. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was so disheartened by the ongoing “ethno-religious cleansing” in CAR that he declared, “The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago… And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the CAR today . . . Some say this is a forgotten crisis. I am here to help make sure the world does not forget… And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the CAR today… Atrocity crimes are being committed in this country. Ethno-religious cleansing is a reality. Most members of the Muslim minority have fled. We cannot just continue to say ‘never again’. This, we have said so many times. We must act concertedly and now to avoid continued atrocities on a massive scale…”
Twenty years ago when Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, died after his plane was shot down, Hutu extremists who opposed a 1993 ceasefire agreement for power sharing Hutus and Tutsis for the creation of a power-sharing government launched their “final war” to “exterminate the [Tutsi] cockroaches.’ The “akazu” (top Hutu political leaders and elites) began hatching a concerted plan to exterminate Tutsis at least a year before the onset of the genocide. They set up their own radio station (Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines) and began a virulent and systematic campaign of demonization of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. At the onset of the genocide in April 1994, they used their radio station to embolden and encourage the killers. They read out the names of people to be killed and directed murderous militias (Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi) to different locations to commit horrific crimes. They repeatedly proclaimed on radio, “In truth, all Tutsis will perish. They will vanish from this country … They are disappearing little by little thanks to the weapons hitting them, but also because they are being killed like rats.” In 1994, there were about 120,000 people living in Nyamata, the largest city in Rwanda located 30 miles from the capital Kigali. In less than a month and a half, only 50,000 were left. Five out of every six Tutsis had been killed.
Today, CAR has exploded into sectarian and communal strife and civil war. In 2013, Seleka militia (an alliance of rebel militia factions that overthrew the CAR government in March 2013) launched “a murderous rampage that started in the north-east and spread out across the country, seizing the capital Bangui and ousting then-President François Bozizé. Over the following 10 months, Seleka forces killed countless civilians, burned numerous villages, and looted thousands of homes.” Although an estimated 90 per cent of CAR’s population is Christian including the ousted president Bozizé, most of the Seleka forces and their leader Michel Djotodia are Muslims. According to Amnesty International, Seleka “abuses spurred the emergence of the loosely organized “anti-balaka” militia (“machete proof” in Sango), made up of Christians and animists. In the last four months of 2013, anti-balaka fighters carried out horrific attacks on Muslim communities, particularly in CAR’s northwest.” The violence has continued to intensify and currently international peacekeepers have “failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in the western part of the Central African Republic.” In the town of Yaloke, less than 150 miles from the capital Bangui, there were an estimated 30,000 Muslims with 8 mosques a year ago . According to Human Rights Watch observers, today there are fewer than 500 Muslims and one mosque left.
For the past year, the international human rights organizations have been ringing the alarm bells over the impending “ethno-religious cleansing”-cum-genocide in the CAR. In October 2013, Amnesty International issued a report warning of the “human rights crisis in CAR is spiraling out of control.” As the violence and carnage increased, a token force of several thousand international peacekeepers (2,000 French troops and some 6,000 African Union forces) was sent to CAR. Last week, the U.N. authorized the deployment of 12,000 peacekeepers to CAR but that force will not arrive until September 2014. Human Rights Watch issued a dire warning indicating that the extreme level of violence in CAR is “forcing entire communities to leave the country. At this rate, if the targeted violence continues, there will be no Muslims left in much of the Central African Republic.”
The parallels between 1994 Rwanda and 2014 CAR are chilling. In 1994 Rwanda, the Organization of African Unity and the international community including the U.S. and the U.N. turned a blind eye to the spiraling genocide. In 2014 CAR, the international community is giving lip service and performing window dressing with token military presence as tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred and hundreds of thousands displaced in “ethno-religious cleansing”. For a full year, it was manifest to the African Union and the international community that a backlash in CAR was foreseeable and preventable. Amnesty International noted, “In power for nearly 10 months, the Seleka were responsible for massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, and looting, as well as massive burning and destruction of Christian villages. As the Seleka withdrew, the international forces allowed the anti-balaka militias to take control of town after town. The resulting violence and forcible expulsion of Muslim communities were predictable.”
Doomed by history?
Has Africa learned its lessons from 1994 Rwanda? Does the world care about Africa? Is Africa condemned to live in the long shadow of Rwanda? Are we witnessing Rwanda 1994 in CAR 2014? What is the difference between “ethno-religious cleaning” and genocide (the same difference between tomAto and tomayto)? Is CAR Rwanda redux? Was Rwanda the future of CAR, and CAR the future of Africa?
There is not a single country in Africa that is immune from the Ebola virus of communalism and sectarianism. Like Ebola, the initial symptoms of communalism and sectarianism appear to be not out of the ordinary. Those who claim to struggle against ethnic and religious oppression often proclaim righteousness. When they become the victors, they commit equally or more atrocious crimes that make a travesty of their cause and causes the deaths and suffering of millions. Like the Ebola virus, communalism and sectarianism are a deadly combination in the body politics of Africa. A vaccine must be found soon if Africa is to be spared the scourge of sectarianism and communalism.
The specter of genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa
In his “Communist Manifesto”, Karl Marx announced to the world that “A spectre is haunting Europe — the specter of communism.” In a metaphorical equivalent, “A specter is haunting Africa – the specter of genocide and crimes against humanity.” Marx declared, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Is the future of Africa going to be a struggle against genocide and crimes against humanity?
Article 5 (a) of the Rome Statute grants prosecutorial jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court over the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. Article 6 defines “genocide” to include specific “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” These acts include, among others, “killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
Article 7 defines crimes against humanity which includes “murder, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, rape, and persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender.
Crimes against humanity and mini-genocides are commonplace occurrences in Africa today. With the exception of the international human rights organizations, few Africans (including leaders and members of the African intelligentsia) and fewer Western media and diplomatic communities are prepared to talk about the genocide and crimes against humanity taking place in Africa. In April 1994, when the Clinton Administration pretended to be ignorant of the unspeakable massacres in Rwanda, Susan Rice, President Obama’s current national Security Advisor, casually inquired of her colleagues, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?”
Beginning in 2003, the Sudanese government exploited tribal/ethnic differences in the Darfur region pitting nomadic Arab herders against pastoralist African groups. The Sudanese government armed ethnic Arab militia groups, known as the “Janjaweed,” (not unlike Rwanda’s Interahamwe) to attack the ethnic African groups. As the government rained bombs from the sky, the Janjaweed burned villages, poisoned wells, raped and massacred over one-half million people and displaced millions more. In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other officials for directing a campaign of mass killing, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur. Bashir sneered at the ICC indictment, “Tell them all, the ICC prosecutor, the members of the court and everyone who supports this court that they are under my shoes.” Uhuru Kenyatta, along with other co-defendants including his deputy president William Ruto, is currently facing trial in the ICC for his alleged role in masterminding the post-election violence in Kenya in late 2007 and early 2008. Over 1,100 people are believed to have died in that violence and 600 thousand displaced. Kenyatta is charged in a five-count indictment under the Rome Statute for crimes against humanity including murder, deportation or forcible transfer, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. However, Uhuru Kenyatta will never see the inside of the ICC courtroom in The Hague. Truth be told, it is not only Kenyatta and his partners in crimes against humanity who have escaped justice. Many other “genocidaires” and criminals against humanity in Africa have thumbed their noses on the ICC and other tribunals and gotten away. In southern Ethiopia, the indigenous people along the Omo River valley are facing extinction as a result of displacement and villagization caused by the construction of the so-called Gibe III dam. In August 2012, the world-renowned conservationist and paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey predicted that the Gibe III “dam will produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic to both the environment and the indigenous communities living downstream.” Is the regime in Ethiopia culpable for genocide and crimes against humanity for constructing a dam that certainly damns the indigenous people of the Omo River Basin?
In western Ethiopia, the people of Gambella have lost their ancestral lands and homes to Indian multinationals. The regime in Ethiopia “leased” to an Indian corporation known as Karuturi “2,500 sq km of virgin, fertile land an area the size of Dorset, England” in Ethiopia for £150 a week ($USD245). To make way for Karuturi, tens of thousands of Ethiopians in Gambella were forced to move and become part of the regime’s villagization program. A UNICEF field study concluded: “ The deracination [uprooting from ancestral lands] of indigenous people that is evident in rural areas of Gambella is extreme. It is very likely that Anuak (and possibly other indigenous minorities) culture will completely disappear in the not-so-distant future.” Is the regime in Ethiopia responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in its use of villagization policy in Gambella?
For nearly a quarter of a century, the regime in Ethiopia has been repackaging an atavistic style of tribal politics in a fancy wrapper called “ethnic federalism.” The regime has managed to segregate the Ethiopian people by ethno-tribal classifications and corralled them like cattle into grotesque regional political units called “kilils” (literally means “reservation”; semantically, the word also suggests the notion of an exclusion zone, an enclave). The ideology of “kililism” shares many of the attributes of Apartheid’s “Bantustanism” (“black African tribal homelands”). Both ideologies aim to concentrate members of designated ethnic groups into “homelands” by creating ethno-linguistically homogenous territories which could ultimately morph into “autonomous” nation states. “Kililistization” is “villagization” on steroids; it reduces Ethiopia to a bunch of glorified villages. “Kilils” are basically a kinder-and-gentler form of Apartheid-style Bantustans. Is “kililism” the seedbed of genocide and crimes against humanity? Is the regime in Ethiopia responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity for its “kililization” policy? For over a decade, the regime in Ethiopia, despite claims of “ethnic federalism”, has mounted an indiscriminate counterinsurgency campaign in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia to suppress the Ogadenis basic demands for autonomy. The regime has adopted policies aimed at starving the Ogadeni population and economically blockade Ogadeni towns and villages. The regime has indiscriminately strafed and bombed Ogadeni civilians and cut off humanitarian aid to the region. Massacres, torture, rape and disappearances have been used as weapons of war by the regime against Ogadenis. Human Rights Watch issued a 130 page report entitled, “Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region” documenting the regime’s crimes. Is the regime in Ethiopia responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Ogaden?
In 2005, the regime in Ethiopia orchestrated the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the aftermath of parliamentary elections in May of that year. Police and security officials under the personal and direct command and control of the late Meles Zenawi and his top officials coordinated the massacres. An official Inquiry Commission appointed by Meles documented the extrajudicial killing of at least 193 unarmed protesters, wounding of 763 others and arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 30,000 persons. The Commission’s evidence further showed that nearly all of the 193 unarmed protesters were killed by the regime’s sharpshooters. The Commission further documented that on November 3, 2005, during an alleged disturbance at the infamous Kality prison near Addis Ababa, guards sprayed more than 1,500 bullets into inmate cells in 15 minutes, killing 17 and severely wounding 53. Was Meles personally responsible for crimes against humanity? Are those officials currently in the regime or others who participated but are no longer in the regime responsible for crimes against humanity in the 2005 massacres?
In May 2012, Meles hectored his rubberstamp parliament to justify his forced expulsion (or as some have described it “ethnic cleansing”) of Amharas from southern Ethiopia and zapped his critics for their irresponsibility in reporting and publicizing it. Meles said the “Amharas” or as he described them the “sefaris from North Gojam” (how humiliating to be called a “safari” or “squatter” in one’s own country!) had to be removed from their homesteads in the south purely out of environmental conservation concerns. There was not a scintilla of evidence that the removal was justified by environmental concerns. Was Meles personally responsible for crimes against humanity for forcibly removing thousands of “Amharas” from the southern part of their country?
Last April, the regime in Ethiopia authorized the forced removal of “Amharas” from the Benishangul-Gumuz region (one of the nine “kililistans” in Ethiopia) in act widely described as “ethnic cleansing”. Prof. Yacob Hailemariam, a prominent Ethiopian opposition leader and a former senior Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda commented that the expulsion of members of the Amhara ethnic group from Benishangul-Gumuz was a de facto ethnic cleansing. “The forceful deportation of people because they speak a certain language could destabilize a region, and if reported with tangible evidence, the UN Security Council could order the International Criminal Court to begin to examine the crimes.”
Large swaths of Ethiopia today are afflicted by famine and starvation which the regime has kept secret for a long time. In February of this year, the regime bureaucratically announced that 2.7 million of the 91 million people in Ethiopia are starving and in need of humanitarian aid. The total food requirement (which in the past the regime has low-balled) is estimated at 388,635 metric tons. The regions most affected by famine include Gambella (16.7%) , Somali (13.8%), Tigray (11.3%) and Afar (10%). The regime has budgeted only $51.6 million dollars, which represents only 12.8 percent of what is required. As the alarm over the impending famine was being broadcast, Hailemariam Desalegn, the ceremonial prime minster, was crowing about a “double digit economic growth”. Thousands of Ethiopians are dying from starvation every month unseen and unregistered because the regime maintains a complete chokehold on information coming from famine afflicted areas. Is the regime in Ethiopia responsible for genocide for the famine deaths by benign neglect and depravity for failing to properly budget when it had had full advance knowledge of the impending food catastrophe?
Since the regime in Ethiopia took power in May 1991, it has been engaged in inflammatory ethnic talk demonizing “Amharas” and others. As recently as a few months ago, the regime was coordinating and orchestrating a full-court press demonization and vilification campaign against Atse Menelik II, the Nineteenth Century Ethiopian emperor whose centennial is being celebrated this year (Ethiopian calendar). The regime was using Menelik as the straw man to methodically organize a campaign to incite hatred and ill-will between members of ethnic groups. The incitement campaign was conducted largely through regime lackey-proxies, stooges and puppets. Through its minions, the regime has used the most loathsome words, inflammatory rhetoric and repugnant imagery to describe Menelik’s alleged brutality. One hundred years after his death, the regime has tried to resurrect Menelik as the devil incarnate. What is the purpose of such propaganda? Is inflammatory rhetoric calculated to stoke the fires of ethnic strife a crime against humanity?
The late Meles Zenawi was a man of much intelligence (if his foreign cheerleaders including Susan Rice and Clare Short are to be believed) and little wisdom and common sense. He liked to play with the specter of genocide as much as little children like to invoke the mythical bogeyman to scare each other. In 2010, Meles not only defiled and desecrated the memory of the Rwandan Genocide victims but also tried to take political advantage by resurrecting through inflammatory rhetoric the ghastly ghosts of Rwanda comparing the Voice of America Amharic Service to Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda. Meles said, “We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.” Zenawi used the bogus “genocide” excuse to spend millions of dollars to jam broadcasts of VOA Amharic into Ethiopia, precious resources that could have been used to aid famine victims and provide health care and education.
Such were the outrageous words that dripped from Meles’ mealy-mouth.When Meles said “the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines”, what was his real message, the message between the lines? Was he asserting that the Amharic service has called for a “final war” and the “extermination” of some Ethiopians like “cockroaches”, “vermins” and “rats”? Who are the “genocidaires” in the country being mobilized by the VOA transmissions? Was he saying that the Amharic service is directing and coordinating murderous militias and groups for genocidal activities to make sure that some Ethiopians “will perish and vanish from the country.” Meles was intentionally using the Rwanda Genocide for political purposes; in effect he was trying to convince Ethiopians and his foreign bankrollers that without him and his regime Ethiopia will be another Rwanda. Any regime that seeks to cling to power by invoking the specter of genocide must eternally be opposed!
Every African man and woman must struggle to invent a thousand and one reasons to hope
Genocide and crimes against humanity in any African country must be regarded as genocide and crimes against humanity in every African country.The Rwanda genocide is an African genocide. It is not a crime inflicted against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. It is a dastardly crime committed against all Africans and humanity. It is a crime that has left deep and indelible scars on the soul of every living African. Africans must remember, not despair. To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate, “All Africans must remember the killers. Each African must remember the victims, even as they individually struggle to invent a thousand and one reasons to hope. Because we remember, we despair. Because we remember, we have the duty to reject despair. Hope is possible beyond despair.”
The crucible for genocide and crimes against humanity is the human heart
The genocide in Rwanda did not begin on April 6, 1994 when machete-wielding thugs began roaming the streets. The seeds of that genocide were planted decades before in the hearts of misguided and spiteful Rwandans regardless of ethnicity. Hate and bigotry have neither race nor religion. Genocide slowly germinates in the minds of men and women who nurse hatred and anger and silently sizzle in frustration. Like mushrooms that grow in the darkness of the cave, the seeds of the genocide mushroom in the darkness of the heart. Africans must not despair; they must remember the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Only the sunlight of truth can illuminate the dark heart.
Silence and indifference are the oxygen of genocide and crimes against humanity
Genocide and crimes against humanity are quintessentially crimes of silence and crimes of indifference. The great powers were silent witnesses to the genocide in Rwanda. They knew exactly what was going on beginning on April 6, 1994. They chose to remain silent. The African Union, the U.N and the European Union chose to remain silent, but they knew. The slaughter continued for over 100 days and cost the lives of 800 thousand people because those who could have stopped it did not care. Africans must not wait for others to save them. They must save themselves from themselves. That is why all Africans must be of a single mind in condemning those who promote ethnic hatred and religious intolerance; they must actively resist those who demonize individuals and groups on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender or any other pernicious classification.
Truth and justice before reconciliation
Jean Bosco Mutangana, a Rwandan prosecutor in charge of that country’s international crimes unit recently said, “In our lifetime we shall continue to pursue them, and those who come after us will continue to pursue them. You cannot have reconciliation without real, true justice being done.” That is a message for all Africans. Justice and truth/reconciliation are two faces of the same coin. Whichever way the coin is tossed, it shows only one face of human rights. Nelson Mandela said, “Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.” Past injustices are what cast long dark shadows on the future and fate of Africa.
The responsibility to educate
Commemorating the victims of genocide in Rwanda and Darfur and condemning “ethno-religious cleansing” in CAR is not enough. Africa’s young people must be educated about genocide and crimes against humanity. Such information must be part of the curriculum in every African school, college and university. Ignorance is the fertilizer of genocide and crimes against humanity. Ban Ki-moon told the people of Rwanda, “We must not be left to utter the words ‘never again’, again and again”. These are empty words that come too late to aid the innocent men, women and children of CAR who have already lost their lives and those desperately fleeing to save their lives.
Instead of criticizing and antagonizing the international human rights organizations, African leaders should invite and challenge them to help create human rights education for young Africans who could in turn use their training and knowledge to empower their peer groups and communities with knowledge, skills and attitudes that promote universally recognized human rights principles. Human rights education is the sine qua non and a prerequisite for the resolution of conflict in Africa. Those who do not learn from the genocide and crimes against humanity of the past are doomed to repeat them.
Africa’s short men and their long shadows
Scholars say the problem of governance in Africa is “Big Man” rule where leaders privatize the state and use state resources to service their clients in the general population who in turn help them cling to power. I believe the problem of African governance is the opposite. An old saying teaches, “You know it is near sunset when short men cast long shadows.” There are too many short men in high offices in Africa pretending to be Big Men and great leaders. The short men of Africa are in fact leaders of wolf packs who prey on the people. They are small men of little intelligence and boundless malevolence. They are short men with little vision and infinite power obsession. They are small men with little compassion; they brim with hate and aggression. These short men in Africa are not only bad leaders but also bad men, bad human beings. They cast long shadows and have made Africa a “dark continent”. “Old sins cast long shadows.” The sins of the small men cast long dark shadows of war, genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa. It is the duty of every African to stand tall over Africa’s short men and obliterate their long dark shadows with the bright sunlight of love, truth, tolerance, harmony, justice and reconciliation.
I remember Rwanda 1984. I remember the Central African Republic 2014. Hope is possible beyond despair.
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: