Globe: The Epic of Rwanda

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The story is that of Homeric epic: Rwanda, a tiny nation in east Africa, breaks free from the chains of colonialism only to suffer through the genocide of an ethnic minority. It is from this genocide that the persecuted minority returns to power, and launches a campaign that blurs the line between justice and revenge. In this pursuit, the tiny nation of Rwanda successfully invaded neighboring country significantly larger than its own...twice. The second time launched a regional crisis.

In the collective imagination, the name “Rwanda” conjures that of one terrible moment of its history: the genocide of the Tutsi minority. Like other places that are associated with flashpoints in history, Rwanda has been defined by the tragedy of its past. But Rwanda is not a footnote to history, nor is it just a chapter in the larger narrative of the human epic. Rwanda is a drama of its own: and it has a story that follows the genocide.

In the European geopolitical struggle for Africa (the so-called “Scramble for Africa”) Rwanda fell into the hands of Belgium, and thus became a colony of that monarchy (the brutality of which inspired the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness.) In the post-war era, in which the skeletons of the once European empires began losing their territory in Africa, Rwanda gained independence from Belgium and the Tutsi minority that held the reigns of power were overthrown by the Hutus majority.

The Hutus began spread hate propaganda targeting the Tutsi. Propogandists exploited physical and economic differences between the two groups, in addition to the demonic associating the propagandists promoted. Hutus who did not comply with the execution orders were collaborators, and thus were ordered to be murdered along with the Tutsi. The genocide began.

Though machetes are the weapons of choice associated with the genocide, manufactured weapons of all sorts were utilized – including clubs with modified with nails. An estimated 500,000 died in the genocide. But Rwanda escaped self-annihilation, largely in part to the man who took charge of Rwanda and ended the genocide

The leader of post-genocide Rwanda is Paul Kagame, a man whose life is as compelling and as controversial as the nation he leads. Born into a Tutsi family shortly before independence, the Kagame family fled Rwanda shortly after the withdrawal of Belgium and the beginning of the anti-Tutsi pogroms that would preceded the genocide. Like many Tutsi refugees, the family settled in Uganda. As an adult, Paul Kagame pursued a career in the military, a vocation that he would repeatedly prove to be exceptional at.

In Uganda, he would be instrumental in the overthrow of brutal ruling regime. Four years later, Kagame joined a group of Tutsis who defected from Uganda to combat the Hutu regime in Rwanda, which was becoming increasingly repressive of the Tutsi. Eventually, Kagame came to lead a small outnumbered force in Rwanda, but used his skill as an officer to overcome that fact and rose to power in Rwanda, ending the genocide.

The perpetrators of the genocide, the genocidaires, fled into eastern Congo, then called Zaire. The genocidaires launched raids into Rwanda, so Kagame retaliated by invading Congo – which is 27 times the size of Rwanda in geographic terms, and ten times the size in population. Zaire failed to resist the Rwandan invasion adequately, as the leader if Zaire was unpopular and incompetent, and his army was not willing to fight. The Rwandan invasion eliminated their target (an estimated 200,000 were killed by the Rwandan invaders) and installed a leader of their choosing as the head of Congo. When the installed leader failed to do Rwanda’s bidding and began assisting the genocidaires, Kagame ordered another invasion. The second invasion resulted in a regional crisis that lead to Angola and Zimbabwe intervening in Congo, sparking another series of bloody wars.

Paul Kagame still holds power in Rwanda and is popular with both foreign leaders and the people. That is not to say Mr. Kagame has been sparred of controversy. Rwanda under Paul Kagame is hardly a nation that has a free press; human rights groups are known to be banned there. There is also political intimidation of political opponents to Mr. Kagame and his party. Internationally, Mr. Kagame and Rwanda have faced controversy over a trade disputes.  

Rwanda aspires to be the “Singapore of Africa.” If Paul Kagame will become the African Lee Kuan Yew remains unseen. Though Rwanda has made some significant strides in terms of growth, it is still one of the poorer nations in poverty- stricken Sub-Saharan Africa. And though Mr. Kagame finds strength in foreign support of his domestically controversial regime, the Rwanda leader is not afraid the annoy foreign leaders when it comes to his own economic ambitions for Rwanda.

One of the more recent controversy centers on, of all things, used clothes. Rwanda plans to cut off the importation of used clothes within two years, and aspiration that the Rwandan government, along with other governments in East Africa, have held for years. Rwanda imports about $18 million worth of used clothed – primarily from the United States and the United Kingdom.

There have been a couple of reasons for the ban – one stems from an argument for economic “dignity,” but the primary argument used by Paul Kagame centers on developing a textile industry in Rwanda – which used clothes importations undermine. The ban does not come without resistance – the United States is not pleased with having millions in exports to Rwanda cut off, and is threatening economic retaliation.

American trade representatives stated that there will be a review of economic benefits given to Rwanda and other East African nations as punishment for the hardships it will cause the U.S. used clothing industry. Paul Kagame is unmoored by the threats, and has stated that he intends on proceeding with the ban, despite the trade consequences.

Rwanda today is more than the nightmare that has defined perceptions of that nation. in a continent plagued by civil unrest, Rwanda is unusually secure, although it is a tepid security. In a continent suffering from economic turmoil, Rwanda is improving the economy; although it is still catching up to its impoverished neighbors. In a continent with rampant political corruption, Rwanda is led by a former military leader that plays the role of the technocrat. Although corruption does exist, and a free political system does not. In Rwanda, with all the Conradian horror associated with that nation, there is a glimmer of progress, but an etiolated progress at that.