Daily Archives: 20 May 2011

Kapuscinski on the rise of Habyarimana

From The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. by Klara Glowczewska (Vintage, 2002), Kindle Loc. 2339-66, 2373-92:

In 1972, the Hutus from Burundi, emboldened by the example of their brothers in Rwanda, attempted to stage an insurrection, slaughtering, for starters, several thousand Tutsis, who, in response, killed more than a hundred thousand Hutus. It was not the fact of the massacre alone, for these occurred regularly in both countries, but its staggering proportions that created an uproar among the Hutus of Rwanda, who decided to react. They were further inspired by the fact that during the pogrom, several hundred thousand (a million, they sometimes say) Hutus from Burundi sought shelter in Rwanda, creating an enormous problem for this poor country already periodically beset by food shortages.

Taking advantage of this crisis (they are murdering our kinsmen in Burundi; we do not have the wherewithal to support a million immigrants), the commander in chief of the Rwandan military, General Juvénal Habyarimana, staged a coup d’état in 1973 and declared himself president. The coup exposed the profound rifts and conflicts within the Hutu community. The defeated president Grégoire Kayibana (who would later be starved to death) represented a moderately liberal Hutu clan from the country’s central region. The new ruler, on the other hand, hailed from a radical, chauvinistic branch inhabiting Rwanda’s northwest. (Habyarimana, one can say, is the Radovan Karadžić of the Rwandan Hutus.)

Habyarimana will rule for twenty-one years, until his death in 1994. Massively built, powerful, energetic, he focuses all his attention on erecting an iron-clad dictatorship. He institutes a one-party system. He names himself party leader. All the country’s citizens must be party members from the time of birth. The general now improves upon the all-too-simple scheme of enmity: Hutu versus Tutsi. He will enrich this formula by adding another dimension, a further division—those in power versus those in the opposition. If you are a loyal Tutsi, you can become the head of a hamlet or a village (although not a minister); if you criticize the authorities, however, you will end up behind bars or on the scaffold, even if you are 100 percent Hutu. The general was absolutely correct to proceed this way: Tutsis were not the only ones hostile to his dictatorship; there were also large numbers of Hutus who genuinely hated him and resisted him in every way they could. Finally, the conflict in Rwanda was not only a quarrel between castes, but also a violent clash between tyranny and democracy. In this sense the language of ethnic categories, and the mind-set it stems from, is terribly deceptive and misleading. It blurs and neglects the more profound truths—good versus evil, truth versus lies, democracy versus dictatorship—limiting one to a single, and indeed superficial and secondary dichotomy, a single contrast, a single set of oppositions: He is of infinite worth because he is Hutu; or he is worthless because he is Tutsi.

While strengthening the dictatorship was the first task to which Habyarimana devoted himself, gradual advances were also being made on a parallel front: the privatization of the state. With each passing year, Rwanda was increasingly becoming the private property of the clan from Gisenyi (the general’s small hometown), or, more strictly speaking, the property of the president’s wife, Agathe, and of her three brothers, Sagatawa, Seraphin, and Zed, as well as of a bevy of their cousins. Agathe and her brothers belonged to the clan called Akazu, and this name became the password that could open many doors within Rwanda’s mysterious labyrinths. Sagatawa, Seraphin, and Zed had luxurious palaces around Gisenyi, from which, together with their sister and her husband, the general, they ruled over the army, the police, the banks, and the bureaucracy of Rwanda. So, a little nation somewhere in the mountains of a distant continent, ruled by a greedy family of voracious, despotic petty chieftains. How did it come to acquire such tragic worldwide renown?

In the eighties, the young activist Yoweri Museveni starts a guerrilla war against the horrific regime of the psychopath and butcher Milton Obote. Museveni needs fighters. And he quickly finds them, because in addition to his Ugandan brethren, the young men from Rwandan refugee camps are volunteering: militant, battle-hungry Tutsis. Museveni gladly accepts them. They undergo military training in Uganda’s forests, under the direction of professional instructors, and many of them go on to finish officer-training schools abroad. In January 1986, Museveni enters Kampala at the head of his divisions and seizes power. Many of these divisions are commanded by, or include in their ranks, Tutsis born in the refugee camps—sons of the fathers who had been driven out of Rwanda.

For a long time no one notices that there has arisen in Uganda a well-trained and battle-tested army of Tutsi avengers, who think of one thing only: how to revenge themselves for the disgrace and injury inflicted upon their families. They hold secret meetings, create an organization called the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and make preparations to attack. During the night of September 30, 1990, they disappear from the Ugandan army barracks and from the border camps, and at dawn enter Rwandan territory. The authorities in Kigali are completely surprised. Surprised and terrified. Habyarimana has a weak and demoralized army, and the distance from the Ugandan border to Kigali is not much more than 150 kilometers: the guerrillas could march into Kigali in a day or two. That is what would certainly have happened, for Habyarimana’s troops offered no resistance, and maybe it would never have come to that hecatomb and carnage—the genocide of 1994—were it not for one telephone call. This was the call for help General Habyarimana made to the French president, François Mitterrand.

Mitterrand was under strong pressure from the French pro-African lobby. Whereas the majority of European capitals had radically broken with their colonial past, Paris had not. French society still includes a large, active, and well-organized army of people who made their careers in the colonial administration, spent their lives (quite well!) in the colonies, and now, as foreigners in Europe, feel useless and unwanted. At the same time, they believe deeply that France is not only a European country but also the community of all people partaking of French culture and language; that France, in other words, is also a global cultural and linguistic entity: Francophonie. This philosophy, translated into the simplistic language of geopolitics, holds that if someone, somewhere in the world, is attacking a French-speaking country, it is almost as if he were striking at France itself.


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Kapuscinski on the rise of Idi Amin

From The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. by Klara Glowczewska (Vintage, 2002), Kindle Loc. 1882-1918:

Amin is a typical bayaye [rootless, urban drifter].

He grows up in the streets of Jinja. The town housed a battalion of the British colonial army, the King’s African Rifles. The model for this army was devised toward the end of the nineteenth century by General Lugard, one of the architects of the British Empire. It called for divisions composed of mercenaries recruited from tribes hostile toward the population on whose territory they were to be garrisoned: an occupying force, holding the locals on a tight rein. Lugard’s ideal soldiers were young, well-built men from the Nilotic (Sudanese) populations, which distinguished themselves by their enthusiasm for warfare, their stamina, and their cruelty. They were called Nubians, a designation that in Uganda evoked a combination of distaste and fear. The officers and noncommissioned officers of this army, however, were for many years exclusively Englishmen. One day, one of them noticed a young African with a Herculean physique hanging around the barracks. It was Amin. He was quickly enlisted. For people like him—without a job, without possibilities—military service was like winning the lottery. He had barely four years of elementary schooling, but because he was deemed obedient and eager to anticipate the wishes of his commanders, he began advancing rapidly through the ranks. He also gained renown as a boxer, becoming the Ugandan heavyweight champion. During colonial times, the army was dispatched on countless expeditions of oppression: against the Mau Mau insurgents, against the warriors of the Turkana tribe, or against the independent people of the Karimojong. Amin distinguished himself in these campaigns: he organized ambushes and attacks, and was merciless toward his adversaries.

It is the fifties, and the era of independence is fast approaching. Africanization has arrived, even in the military. But the British and French officers want to remain in control for as long as possible. To prove that they are irreplaceable, they promote the third-rate from among their African subordinates, those not too quick, but obedient, transforming them in a single day from corporals and sergeants into colonels and generals. Bokassa in the Central African Republic, for example, Soglo in Dahomey, Amin in Uganda.

When in the fall of 1962 Uganda becomes an independent state, Amin is already, because of promotions by the British, a general, and deputy commander of the army. He takes a look around him. Although he has high rank and position, he comes from the Kakwa, a small community and one, moreover, that is not regarded as native Ugandan. Meantime, the preponderance of the army comes from the Langi tribe, to which Prime Minister Milton Obote belongs, and from the related Acholi. The Langi and the Acholi treat the Kakwa superciliously, seeing them as benighted and backward. We are navigating here in the paranoid, obsessive realm of ethnic prejudice, hatred, and antipathy—albeit an intra-African one: racism and chauvinism emerge not only along the most obvious divides, e.g., white versus black, but are equally stark, stubborn, and implacable, perhaps even more so, among peoples of the same skin color. Indeed, most whites who have died in the world have died at the hands not of blacks, but of other whites, and likewise the majority of black lives taken in the past century were taken by other blacks, not by whites. And so it follows, for example, that on account of ethnic bigotry, no one in Uganda will care whether Mr. XY is wise, kind, and friendly, or the reverse, evil and loathsome; they will care only whether he is of the tribe of Bari, Toro, Busoga, or Nandi. This is the sole criterion by which he will be classified and evaluated.

For its first eight years of independence, Uganda is ruled by Milton Obote, an extraordinarily conceited man, boastful and sure of himself. When it is exposed in the press that Amin has misappropriated the cash, gold, and ivory given him for safekeeping by anti-Mobutu guerrillas from Zaire, Obote summons Amin, orders him to pen an explanation, and, confident that he himself is in no danger, flies off to Singapore for a conference of prime ministers of the British Commonwealth. Amin, realizing that the prime minster will arrest him as soon as he returns, decides on a preemptive strike: he stages an army coup and seizes power. Theoretically at least, Obote in fact had little to worry about: Amin did not represent an obvious threat, and his influence in the army was ultimately limited. But beginning on the night of January 25, 1971, when they took over the barracks in Kampala, Amin and his supporters employed a brutally efficient surprise tactic: they fired without warning. And at a precisely defined target: soldiers from the Langi and Achole tribes. The surprise had a paralyzing effect: no one had time to mount a resistance. On the very first day, hundreds died in the barracks. And the carnage continued. Henceforth, Amin always used this method: he would shoot first. And not just at his enemies; that was self-evident, obvious. He went further: he liquidated without hesitation those he judged might one day develop into enemies. Over time, terror in Amin’s state also came to depend on universal torture. Before they died, people were routinely tormented.

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