When Victims Become Killers

Mahmoud Mamdani should be on every essential reading list, whether that is African Studies (with When Victims Become Killers), colonialism and colonization (with Citizen and Subject) or political science (with Good Muslim, Bad Muslim). For anyone interested in Rwanda, the genocide, colonization and identity, When Victims Become Killers (2001) is required reading. A detailed history presents a different picture than what was common until this work, which broadened our vision to politics and identity (adding to what was tend a discourse largely focused upon culture and economics). The book can be heavy reading for those not familiar with the country, or not ready to take a deep historical dive. The weight of the arguments rest in this detail.

I will not attempt a review of the book. Parts of it are available via Google Books and a chapter-by-chapter summary is availableA few notes:

In terms of motivations and context, Mamdani explains his "growing discontent with the methodological underpinnings of area studies. The area studies enterprise is underpinned by two core methodological claims. The first sees state boundaries as boundaries of knowledge, thereby turning political into epistemological boundaries. Even when radical area studies linked developments in the colony to those in imperial centers, it did not cross boundaries between colonies. It soon became clear to me that just because the genocide took place within the boundaries of Rwanda, it did not mean that either the dynamics that led to it or the dynamics it unleashed in turn were confined to Rwanda." (p. xii)

On politics: "If Rwanda was the genocide that happened, then South Africa was the genocide that didn't. The contrast was marked by two defining events in the first half of 1994: just as a tidal wave of genocidal violence engulfed Rwanda, South Africa held elections marking the transition to a postapartheid era. More than any other, these twin developments marked the end of innocence for the African intelligentsia. For if some seer had told us in the late 1980s that there would be a genocide in one of these two places, I wonder how many among us would have managed to identify correctly its location. Yet, this failure would also be testimony to the creative - and not just the destructive - side of politics." (p. 185)

On the Church: "Herein lies the clue as to why the violence was marked by a greater fury in the Church than in any other institution in Rwandan society. The Church was the original ethnographer of Rwanda. It was the original author of the Hamitic hypothesis. The Church provided the lay personnel that permeated every local community and helped distinguish Hutu from Tutsi in every neighbourhood: without the Church, there would have been no 'racial' census in Rwanda. At the same time, the Church was the womb that nurtured the leadership of the insurgent Hutu movement. It provided the intellectual and organizational backup for this movement, from talent as ghostwriters to funding for the cooperative movement which oiled the tentacles that ran through Rwandan society like so many arteries through a body politic." (p. 232)

On nation-state solutions: "Those who still think consistently along "nation-state" lines call for a separation of present-day Rwanda into two political entities, one a Hutuland, the other a Tutsiland - or some version of this proposal. The proposal will not solve the problem of a minority in the context of a nation-state. It will only ensure a balance by reproducing the problem. Since it will produce two states out of one - a Hutuland with a Tutsi minority and a Tutsiland with a Hutu minority - it will allow each identity to be a permanent majority in one state while being held hostage as a permanent minority in the other. The idea is that the majority which wishes fair treatment for its cultural brethren who are a minority in another state will have no choice but to treat fairly cultural others who are a minority within its own borders. By institutionalizing Hutu and Tutsi as political identities in the state, the solution makes permanent the civil war between them." (p. 264)

  203 Hits
203 Hits

Does Development Aid Violence?

Peter Uvin's "Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda" (1999), should be read by all students, practitioners and scholars of development studies. The book offers unique perspectives on the linkages between development activity and politics, power, exclusion, marginalization and processes that generally counter the objectives of the development enterprise, and specifically the Rwandan genocide.

The book opens forcefully with the statement that: "Almost none of the foreign experts living and working in Rwanda expected the genocide to occur or did anything to stop it from happening" (p. 2), and "the way development was defined, managed, and implemented was a crucial element in the creation and evolution of many of the processes that led to genocide" (p. 3). This is because "the way development (aid) is defined and implemented interacts with processes of elite reproduction, social differentiation, political exclusion, and cultural change" (p. 6).

Yet, Uvin recognizes the limitations of such broad, general claims: "Another problem is that this book describes the development aid system at large and therefore generalizes and simplifies. It is likely that for any statement I make, there have been agencies and people who acted or thought differently. Any statement about "the development enterprise" is bound to do injustice to some people and organizations. The same holds true, for that matter, for statements about "farmers," "politicians," "Hutu," or "Tutsi." (p. 9).

The international community, Uvin argues, was blind to the processes that led to the genocide: "In its "soft" version – that Rwanda underwent a social revolution and its regime truly represents the masses – there were almost no dissenters internationally. If one reads, for example, project documents, policy statements, and analyses by foreign aid agencies or their employees, one is surprised to find, over and over again, an uncritical acceptance of the merits of the social revolution and the representative nature of the state" (p. 27). Even when racism, ethnic differentiation and marginalization were directly and indirectly apparent "no aid agency has ever pushed the government to change these policies. Alison des Forges, one of the foremost American specialists on the Great Lakes region and a human rights activist (working for Africa Watch), bitterly laments the fact that all foreign aid agencies accepted the continuation of the ethnic IDs and did not pressure the government to abandon them – not even in 1992, when it became clear that they were being employed to target Tutsi for harassment and extermination" (p. 37). Exclusion "was embedded in the functioning of society" in social, regional and ethnic levels, and "it comes as no surprise that exclusion was deeply ingrained in the processes of so-called development (p. 118). "Development aid strengthens processes of exclusion both directly, through its own behaviors, and indirectly, through its acquiescence and implication in other actors' behaviors" (p. 153).

  • "Ethnic inequality; institutionalized, state-organized racism; regional politics; lack of dignity and self-respect; the generalized presence of impunity and fear of the absence of justice; human rights violations; the oppressive presence of the state, and the like are emphatically not parts of this "solvable problem" or of the mandate of development agencies; they are thus evacuated, ignored, considered not to exist. (p. 45)
  • "Ethnic and political amnesia does not make development aid and the processes its sets in motion apolitical; it just renders these processes invisible." (p. 232)
  • "When the large majority of high-level civil servants and project managers in Burundi are Tutsi; where there are legal limits on the number of Tutsi that can enter civil service in Rwanda; when the top positions go disproportionately to people from the president's region and assorted other friends; when the best-paid jobs are always reserved for Bazungu, regardless of competence; when many of the people with well-paid positions in the private aid sector are Tutsi; in other words, when ethnic and regional criteria intervene so crucially in the distribution of the direct benefits of development projects, is the aid system neutral?" (p. 147)
False attacks were utilized to fuel national and international sentiment against Tutsi people, including an all-night attack on Kigali in 1990, staged by the army, and again in 1991, both of which justified mass imprisonment (p. 63-64). At the same time, the trendy and innovative approaches in the development community prioritized governmental ownership and control of aid resources (p. 88), yet Uvin wonders if these policies "reflected any understanding of the disintegration of Rwandan society and its structures of governance" (p. 89). Aid agencies could not, Uvin argues, claim ignorance. "All aid agencies, from headquarters in Western capitals to local offices, were aware of the rapid deterioration of Rwanda's human rights record (from already low levels) and of the rise in racism and violence; similarly, all development experts were daily confronted at the personal level with the fear, hatred, and insecurity that characterized daily life in Rwanda in the 1990s. None of them, though, felt that the development assistance mission ought to be, or could be, fundamentally rethought" (p. 94). Uvin wonders if it really needed to take a genocide to understand that development could not take place without peace, justice, civil society, human rights and conflict resolution (p. 100).

  • "There is no way that the government could implement any policy, coherent or not, without the assistance of the foreign aid community; as a matter of fact, there is no way that significant parts of the government bureaucracy could even exist without international aid. In countries such as Rwanda and many other African countries, development aid is the fuel that allows the government machinery to exist, to expand, to control, to implement." (p. 227)

  790 Hits
790 Hits
Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email