Rwanda genocide: Untold story of dabbling by East African states on both sides of the bloodletting

11 Apr

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory
by Charles Onyango

This week, Rwanda started ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which nearly a million people were slaughtered.

President Kenyatta, who is the current chairman of the East African Community, formally apologised to Rwanda over the failure by the East African states to try and stop the genocide.

That is the headline story. The details, though, tell a more complex story. Uganda was backing the Rwanda Patriotic Army rebels.

Tanzania was divided. Some elements in Dar es Salaam were on the side of the Rwanda government then, others on RPA’s side.

Kenya dabbled a bit in selling bullets to the extremists, and some Rwandan leaders who were accused of being complicit in the genocide found sanctuary in Kenya.

Perhaps the most famous of them is Felicien Kabuga, who has since vanished into thin air.

Activists like John Githongo criticised the Kanu government’s dealings with suspected Rwanda’s genocidaires in articles in The Executive magazine, and later The EastAfrican weekly.

Though we don’t dwell on these matters much these days, there is a sense in which Nairobi’s chumminess with genocide suspects created a moral deficit for the Moi government, and eroded its international standing further.

That, in turn, was another factor that made it easier for the Kenyan democracy movement to make gains, and eventually defeat Kanu in the 2002 elections.

In that sense, in Kenya at least, the Rwanda genocide was not totally in vain. In fact, there is a view that holds the Rwanda genocide was the shock that led to the Somalia and Sudan peace processes spearheaded by the Moi government.

Apart from the fact that some lessons seemed to have been learnt, it was also an opening for “moral recovery” that Moi was shrewd enough to seize and offer leadership on both the Somalia and Sudan negotiations.

Rwanda’s accession to the EAC also has its seeds in the genocide. It is a small country, and people were getting in each other’s faces. Kigali made two important conclusions.

One, that to find the opportunities to enable Rwanda to pay for the public goods to make its people reasonably satisfied and less homicidal, it needed access to markets beyond its tiny land.

And to get them out of each other’s faces, it needed to open for them a larger space to move in (or at least the illusion of it). The EAC was the answer to both.

More extremist politics

But there has been a strange downside. After the Rwanda genocide, East African governments hastened moves to revive the EAC, and lost the appetite to harbour exiles from each other’s countries.

In the 1979 war against Uganda military dictator Idi Amin, for example, nearly half of the dissident groups that joined up with the Tanzanian army to topple the regime were based in Kenya.

Most of the rest, especially the armed ones, were based in Tanzania.

It is simply inconceivable today that Kenya or Tanzania would harbour armed anti-Museveni groups, or that Uganda would collaborate with anti-Nairobi activists as it did at one point against Moi.

The result is that dissidents preaching regime overthrow of regional governments now have to ply their trade far away from East Africa.

The nearest country of sanctuary is South Africa, where some of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s foes are holed up. The majority, though, are in the West.

Because they are further away from home than their 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s compatriots, they tend to preach a more extremist type of politics against their home governments.

And, again, unlike the 20th Century dissidents, with the Internet and mobile phones, they actually have a reach that is 100 times wider.

Thus when Museveni was a rebel in the 1970s and 1980s, he needed to physically send people into Uganda to deliver messages to collaborators.

These days, a dissident leader seeking to take away Museveni’s job can send his supporters direct messages to their social media accounts — from safe New York.

As a result, today’s digitally-fuelled dissident politics is more venomous than in the past, and therefore the dangers of genocide during regime collapse in 2014 are possibly higher than in 1994.

The “good” thing is that because East African dissidents can no longer operate in a neighbouring country, their chances of success have all but diminished.

Source: The Africa Review

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