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Rwanda: How to circumvent twin evils of majority dominance and minority autocracy

September 4, 2010

by Didas Gasana

Didas Gasana
One unique element in Rwanda that has for centuries driven and still drives the political agenda in the tiny central African nation is ethnic bi-polarity. This agenda has all the time led to a cycle of repression and brutal violence.

Before the recently leaked damning U.N. report, many believed the apex of this self-destruction was the 1994 genocide, but fresh investigations indicate the Rwanda Patriotic Front-led government also committed genocide against the Hutu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the inception of the Rwanda Patriotic Front far back in 1987 and the beginning of the Rwanda Patriotic Army’s “liberation” war, one of the core objectives of the RPF was to bring national unity and reconciliation to an ethnically fragmented nation.

Today, President Kagame publicly says Rwandans have reconciled, but he consciously knows the reality is the opposite.

Kagame knows there is such a deep seated acrimony among the Hutu majority that he can’t allow fully fledged democracy.

Kagame shares this thinking with some of his fellow Tutsis. This is the dilemma Rwanda’s democratization process faces, although it is publicly suppressed in favor of the reconciliation rhetoric.

In “Rwanda government critics in fear as election approaches” (The Guardian of London, Aug. 6, 2010), Xan Rice asks one Western diplomat based in Kigali if Kagame can trust the voters not to vote along ethnic lines. “I don’t think he can” was his reply.

This was the subject of my recent conversation with a U.S.-based human rights researcher who happened to sympathize with Kagame and his fellow Tutsi group. And the researcher is not alone in this thinking. Many believe the Tutsi have an existential threat – a fear of the unknown – and sympathize with them.

Yet this simple deduction manifests acute intellectual poverty. First, it ignores why this fear is there in the first instance. Second, it doesn’t provide a way forward. Third, this sympathy only provides Kagame with moral ammunition to hold on to power, at the sacrifice of the tenets of democracy.

To understand ethnic politics and how they drive the political agenda in Rwanda, one needs to understand that the nation’s history has been characterized by one ethnic group dominating the other, in alternation.

This is why Kagame’s most prominent PR point while he was waging the war was to bring an end to this cycle of ethnic dominance, agitating for national unity and reconciliation.

It is here that those who hold this misguided assessment forget Kagame’s responsibility in entrenching this ethnic bi-polarity.

During the war and after Kagame captured power, it is no longer a secret that he killed quite a good number of Hutus – both defenseless civilians and political opponents. Now, how he massacred Hutus in DRC has also been exposed.

How he has excluded the Hutus in administration by appointing Hutus in positions of power, but without executive power, is a glaring reality.

It doesn’t need a political scientist to realize how Kagame has ridden on the fallacy of collective guilt and vague genocide laws to silence and imprison the Hutus.

By this, Kagame has himself created resentment within the Hutu group. By prosecuting the Hutus for genocide when none of his forces has been seriously prosecuted for war crimes against the Hutus, Kagame is only fueling this ethnic hatred.

The only way to avoid this fear of majority dominance, and a probable cycle of violence, would have been for Kagame to create conditions favoring genuine reconciliation – tenets that embody the rule of law. These include, inter alia, justice for all, inclusive politics, respect for human rights, separation of powers, strong institutions, meritocracy and, later, surrendering power to the people to decide how they wish to be governed.

By prosecuting the Hutus for genocide when none of his forces has been seriously prosecuted for war crimes against the Hutus, Kagame is only fueling this ethnic hatred.

With this foundation, there is no reason his group would be worried about having a Hutu president after 16 years. Most importantly, there is no reason why the majority he fears would not vote for him or any other Tutsi president because fears of minority rule harbored by the majority would also be quashed.

However, unnoticed by many, what we have in Rwanda now is not minority autocracy but rather Kagame’s authoritarianism that has killed and repressed both Tutsis and Hutus alike. But the solution to this remains the same.

Kagame’s authoritarianism has killed and repressed both Tutsis and Hutus alike.

Most dangerously, Kagame’s authoritarianism not only cannot be sustainable but will also erode with greater repercussions. The only hope is that he has seven years to change the course of history. Unfortunately, there is no sign that he will. Over to you, Mr. President

Didas Gasana is the Deputy Managing Editor of The Newsline, where this commentary first appeared. He can be reached by email at or by cell phone at (+250) 788305549.

38 thoughts on “Rwanda: How to circumvent twin evils of majority dominance and minority autocracy

  1. therisingcontinent

    I agree with the author about Kagame's missed opportunities to make things right. Though most Rwandans put on his shoulders the consequences of the RPF war of 1990/94, they were ready to move on after July 4, 1994. Unfortunately, what his guerrilla group started on October 1st, 1990 with the invasion of Rwanda from Uganda, doesn't seem to end.
    What the majority of people are generally interested in when it comes to political leadership, they want to be enabled to access opportunities, to have the freedom to take chances in pursuing their destiny. Any leader Hutu, Tutsi, white or black, who can offer them that would be well appreciated.

  2. Paulbatak

    I appreciate the courage of this editor, being aware of the repression he might expect especially if he is not hiding. I want to add one thing, perhaps, the only positive and smart that the Kagame's government has done and which if enlarged will lead to the solution of the Rwandan ethic problem. Unlike many African countries, Kagame has allowed multiple citizenships. Rwandans can hence hold as many passports as they wish without for that reason being accused of betraying their nationalism.

  3. Paulbatak

    The solution to the Rwandan ethnic problem will come from relativizing the sense of national belonging and allowing to melt in the bigger African pot. But that cannot be achieved without the support of the surrounding countries. Rwanda cannot get itself out of the intricancies wherein it has been bathing. The paradigm has to be changed otherwise whatever efforts will simply repeating the mistakes of the past and even aggravating them. It is said that the solution to a problem comes from an awareness higher than the one that has created the problem itself. Perhaps only the thought of a United States of Central Africa – wherein those two groups would be scattered in the thousands existing ones will pave the road to a vision of power that is not an occasion for vindication. Of course, the idea and its materialization are not supposed to emanate primarily from either of the two.

  4. Ann_Garrison

    Didas, you write:

    "During the war and after Kagame captured power, it is no longer a secret that he killed quite a good number of Hutus – both defenseless civilians and political opponents. Now, how he massacred Hutus in DRC has also been exposed."

    Then you say:

    "The only hope is that he has seven years to change the course of history. Unfortunately, there is no sign that he will. Over to you, Mr. President."

    How can you invest any hope in a war criminal of such epic, historic scale? The only hope might seem to be pressuring Obama and Cameron to face the UNHCHR report and withdraw support, but, they need their mercenaries, don't they?

    And of course our Hope'n Change President Obama invaded Congo, with his Rwandan proxies, on his Inauguration Day, drone bombed the Swat Valley in Pakistan within days of taking office, left 50,000 U.S. troops, apart from all the mercenaries, in Iraq, and called it peace, opened a new front in the War on Terror in Yemen, and escalated in Somalia, with Ugandan and Burundian mercenaries, and put more troops on the ground than Bush ever did. I never had any hope for Obama, but that's just to highlight all the contradictions of asking one epic war criminal, Obama, to take his distance from, or stop funding, another, Kagame.

    You yourself then say that there is actually no hope, or "no sign" that Kagame will change the course of history in the next seven years, and, Didas, I can't even imagine Kagame would know how. This is one difference between Kagame and Obama. I think that Obama understands what real democracy is supposed to be, how it might be achieved, and why it won't, or certainly not with his help.

    But, having studied Kagame's behaviour and utterances, I can't imagine he'd even know how.

    1. jon

      Ann….Rwandese dont believe/listen your BS anymore,just shut up and mind your own business,ur a big liar and propaganda tool of FDLR and his likes,Ann kigali we re moving ahead and people like you will never hold us back,we know, you dont care or believe about anything ur writting,you re just making a living for writting your non sense…keep up the good work!

      1. Ann_Garrison

        Jon, why bother being so thoroughly rude as to tell me to "shut up" if Rwandese don't even listen anymore? And, since I talk to quite a few Rwandese people, I'd like to know what qualifies you to speak for all of them? I thought that Paul Kagame was the one elected with 93% plus of the vote, a figure thoroughly implausible in any real multi-party democracy.

        But I certainly won't suggest that you shut up. Please continue enlightening the rest of us here at the San Francisco Bay View, National Black Newspaper, as to the nature of the Kagame regime and its most fervent adherents like yourself.

  5. Macumu


    What you are not telling anybody is that you and Kabonero's abusive tabloid got you into problems because you were being sued left and right by Rwandans you were trying to denigrate. You know on that you can't blame the government.

    Otherwise, of course you have to give reason why you are living on people's charity and why you need their accommodation. Hutus died, of course, as did Tutsis. But then what is the difference? You don't want to say it but you that the Hutus who died it was due to inevitable crossfire during the war. In this way, Hutus died also. But then there is the additional fact of a systematically planned and executed genocide against Tutsis by the then government of Rwanda. In Rwanda and in D.R. Congo, there was no such planned genocide against Hutus but war victims. Even the UN knows this but you kinow France's hand and influence and know the successive leadership of Boutros Boutos-Ghali and Kofi Anan at the helm of the UN. Why do you think the UN never intervened in the 1994 genocide.

    Rwandans are working together for the first time and they can do without self-seeking pseudo-analysts of your cheap self to keep raising the ghosts of yesteryears. You'd do better educating your audience that there are three ethnic groups. Htutu, Tutsi and Twa. They are trying to work towards a reconciliation and they have hope.

    Do something useful for a change. Survival does is not only possible through deceit.


    1. Ann_Garrison

      Also, re this remark addressed to Didas Gasana:

      "Gasana, What you are not telling anybody is that you and Kabonero's abusive tabloid got you into problems because you were being sued left and right by Rwandans you were trying to denigrate."

      (Didas Gasana and Charles Kabonero were sentenced to prison for "denigrating" a government official, but no one is sentenced to prison consequent to a civil suit. Only criminal courts can do that anywhere; only the state has the power to imprison.)

      1. Maktub

        I'm no Rwandan Legal Scholar, and I'm quite sure you are not Ms. Garrison. But I'm quite sure in Rwanda a person can sue you and the court can decide to hand out a prison sentence. There is this little thing called sovereignty that allows nations to decide their own legal system. There is a general framework from which most countries base their laws (if for no other reason then convenience of not having to start from scratch) but there is no rule controlling how they organize their legal system. Singapore can cane people to their hearts content, the US can kill all the convicted murders, the Thais can have a monarch who acts as judge-jury in court cases. Rwanda has set up its own legal system in which people are charged, judged and sentenced according to the constitution.

        So please don't tell the Rwandans what they can and cannot do. You can advise and suggest, something I believe the government is open to. But if you tell people what they can and cannot do, when they can and do, you are simply wasting your time.

        1. Ann_Garrison

          If the Rwandan state wants to sentence people to prison for judgments in civil actions, that's the Rwandan state's authority, but once prison sentences are meted out, these are no longer civil actions or judgments; they're criminal judgments. In any nation with a real division between state and civil society, this would not happen.

  6. Raouuuul

    Oh Please, Ms Garrison, do some actual research before you pull out such "damning evidence". The date of the alleged broadcast is May 20th. You do realise the genocide began in April, right? You have testimony from General Dallaire who was heading the UN military mission in Rwanda expressing how the UN tied his hands and prevented his forces from intervening and stopping the genocide. So the RPF was to halt it's advance and let the killings continue unabetted because the UN, who were doing nothing to stop it, said so? What sense does that make? You must know all this. At best you're betraying your ignorance. At worst you are deliberately mis-representing events to further your characterisation of the man. Either way, I humbly suggest, you'd be best served seeking some balance.

    1. Ann_Garrison

      Why don't you get angry at Reuters, a much more powerful target? It's their report. And, re the May 20th date on Reuters story, your own official story is that the killing ended during the first week of July. Sounds like you yourself might be guilty of the dreaded "revisionism" crime in the genocide ideology statutes.

      1. Raouuuul

        The killings started in early April and went on for 100 days. The May 20th date is smack in the middle of it. By that time, there would have been over 400,000 people who had lost their lives. It has been purported that killings stopped with the advancement of the RPF army; i.e. as the RPF took control over more territory. Reuters simply reported what was (supposedly) exchanged between the RPF and the UN. Granted they didn't provide the background to the warning, but those were confusing times for the UN who were still dithering over whether to classify what was going on as massacres or tribal spats despite the UN military forces' reports. Reuters' ommission may be understandable. You, on the other hand, have the advantage of hindsight to place it into context yet refuse to use it nor to perform your due diligence.

        1. Ann_Garrison

          So why didn't Kagame accept the UN's help "smack in the middle of it"? Why did he threaten to fire on UN peacekeepers?

          Also, your claim that the killing went on for 100 days, that this was smack in the middle of it, and, that therefore 400,000 of 800,000 people would have been dead by then, is quite a curious claim.

          1. Raouuuul

            Once more. Allow me to spell it out.
            "So why didn't Kagame accept the UN's help "smack in the middle of it"? Why did he threaten to fire on UN peacekeepers?"
            The UN wasn't stopping the genocide. The security council refused General Dallaire's troops to engage the Interhamwe and stop the bloodshed that was going on in the former Rwanda Government areas, instead restricting Dallaire and his men to their barracks. The RPF was advancing on Rwandan Government forces so they could bring order and halt the bloodletting. What the UN (ostensibly French forces) wanted to do was stop this RPF advancement at the front lines. What this would have done is bought more time for the killers to keep on with the genocide.

          2. Raouuuul

            "Also, your claim that the killing went on for 100 days, that this was smack in the middle of it, and, that therefore 400,000 of 800,000 people would have been dead by then, is quite a curious claim. "
            Not sure what you're insinuating here. It takes time to capture territory in a war. In the 3 years prior to the genocide, the RPF had only advanced to control a certain part of Rwanda. The final push that started with the onset of the genocide and saw them rout the former government forces and eventiually establish control and stability over the whole of Rwanda took some time. Doesn't happen overnight. So, genocide starts in April goes on till early July (100 Days). RPF manages to ouster government forces thus limiting the slaughter to 100 days. UN wanted to stop the RPF advancement in the middle of this action which would have meant the carnage continues for much more than 100 days. RPF issues warning that if the UN is not willing to intervene, they should step aside and let them do it.

          3. Raouuuul

            The figure of 400,000 I extrapolated from the fact that 1 million people died in 100 days, meaning 10,000 a day. Whether the figure is actually 800,000 or what the exact number that had been killed by May 20th is besides the point.

          4. Raouuuul

            Stop deflecting. That's not what we were debating in this instance. You were trying to insinuate that Kagame stopped the UN from intervening in the genocide. Atleast admit you were wrong before shifting the goal-post to something else.

          5. Ann_Garrison

            Here is the Reuters report, May 20th,1994, word for word:


            Rebel forces in Rwanda warned peacekeeping officials on Friday (May 20) they would treat United Nations (U.N.) forces as the enemy if the organization attempted to come between them and government troops.

            Rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Deputy Vice Chairman Denis Polisi warned if there was any interference by the U.N. they "would be engaged".

            Senior U.N. officials are heading for Kigali to try to persuade warring parties to cooperate with peacekeeping forces.

            The U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda is currently made up of 470 troops, shortly to be bolstered by the 2,500 additional troops ordered by the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

            Meanwhile the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) are operating feeding centres and medical clinics in the North Rwandan town of Mulundi.

            In Tanzania many refugees caught up and wounded in the violence in Rwanda have found safety in the Benaco camp, but some continue to die from their previously inflicted wounds.

            Those who die are buried just a few metres (yards) from the camp perimeter in shallow graves."

            I do not assume that the Rwandan Patriotic Army was coming to stop the genocide against the Tutsis. Nor do I assume that genocide against the Tutsis was the project of the Rwandan army, the FAR. The ICTR has ruled that there is no evidence of a genocidal plan or conspiracy with the Rwandan government or military.

          6. Raouuuul

            Whether there was a plan or not (and I and many others believe and could point to evidence that there was one) doesn't detract from the fact that there WAS a genocide. Don't get it twisted, unless you are arguing that the ruling you quote means there was no genocide. Everyone knew what was happening after April 1994 but the RPF were the only ones willing to put an end to it. The UN troops were barracked in their quarters by the Security Counci. The FAR by and large were busy battling the RPF on the front lines trying to prevent them advancing. Most of the killings were being perpetuated by civilian militia groups trained by FAR and other elements behind FAR lines. Some FAR units were also deployed to assist these militias. RPF advancement was stopping the killings. The UN wished to stop the RPF. These are the facts, and this is what we are discussing.
            I'd suggest you pause on this rabid line and look over the thread once again. All the answers are there. You're obstinately refusing to see it. So you'll probably ignore my advise and come back with some other inane point that doesn't advance your argument.

          7. Ann_Garrison

            "Everyone knew" and "These are the facts" are not compatible statements. Criminal guilt for the massacres in Rwanda in 1994, and before and after, and those in Congo, can only be determined in a court of law.

          8. Maktub

            So for Ms. Garrison shooting at UN solders when they attempt to stop you from stopping a genocide is a war crime? If this is the case, then I feel most moral people would be willing to commit the crime.

            Second, I'm not sure what Ms. Garrison meant by "Also, your claim that the killing went on for 100 days, that this was smack in the middle of it, and, that therefore 400,000 of 800,000 people would have been dead by then, is quite a curious claim." Did you go to Rwanda in 1994 Ms.Garrison? Did you see the bodies? Even some of the RPF's biggest critics, like the late Alison Del Forges, didn't deny that hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed because of genocide. Do you not think that many people can be killed in that period? If so why not? What makes you assessment better than everyone elses? Give evidence to counter the endless mass graves. I am willing to see actual proof this did not happen.

            This whole Hutu civilians being killed needs to be addressed. We can all agree that there has not been enough investigation into some of these, and even the President has accepted that there were a few (a very small group) that needed to be reprimanded for what is often called 'revenge killing'. THIS HOWEVER WAS NOT GENOCIDE. It was a crime committed by angry and aggrieved soldiers who came back and found they're communities decimated. While they deserve to be punished, we must never characterize them as genocideres. Again, even Alison Del Forges the leading 'independent' researcher on Rwanda was clear that these acts did not constitute genocide.

            Lastly Ms. Garrison's statement of "I've read many arguments and seen evidence that members of the RPF themselves were killers, long before the incursions into Congo." would be humorous in its naivety but is sadly indicative of western investigation into the third world. A recent report by Amnesty International claimed Rwanda's Genocide laws were repressive, "after three visits from 2009". An African or Asian would be chastised for saying they visited New York three times and understood America. Ms. Garrison you can read many books and come to many conclusions. Ex 1) many people read books and conclude Barack Obama is a Muslim. Ex 2) many people read books and believe women shouldn't have the same rights as men (bible, koran). So please don't attempt to enter an intellectual debate with something that is simply baseless. The general consensus and opinion on all sides is that there was a genocide by a Hutu population (organized by a small elite group) against an innocent Tutsis population. That was the genocide. Anything else is another story, period.

            Lol at Raouuuul tell you to stop deflecting.

  7. Maktub

    You make a good point, which only goes to negate even bring all this up, Rwanda has the authority to organize its legal system in any way it chooses provided that it protects the interests of its people (I'm sure you disagree with the last part, but that's not what's being debated here). Rwanda set up a system that has been accepted and functions.

    You, Ann Garrison, have the right to your opinion regarding the separation of state and civil society. That does not mean that your above comment is infallible. Some may argue that there can be a separation of state and civil society, even in an integrated political, judicial and legislative system. But beyond that who is to say that, what you might claim is important, separation is even necessary or desirable. If this is what has been decided allow Rwandans to speak out against it.

    1. Ann_Garrison

      Rwandans like yourself are being allowed to speak out however they please here in the San Francisco Bay View, as neither Rwandans nor U.S. citizens are allowed to in Rwanda's "The New Times, Government Supporting Daily," which does not publish comments.

  8. Raouuuul

    I notice you called what happened in 1994 "massacres". Just to be clear, there was a genocide of ethnic Tutsis in 1994. Moderate Hutus were also killed by the Interhamwe perpetrators.

      1. Raouuuul

        Again, you're steering us into a new direction unrelated to what we have been talking about. I take it we've exhausted this particular discussion. Alas you refuse to consider you may be wrong despite all the arguments.

        1. Ann_Garrison

          This whole discussion is way off Didas Gasan's topic, which was "Rwanda: how to circumvent twin evils of majority dominance and minority autocracy." It was not, most fundamentally an argument about the history of the genocide, though he did say that the Rwandan Patriotic Army must accept some of the responsibility for what happened within the context of Rwanda's tense ethnic bi-polarity. It's an argument for inclusion, real democracy, and multi-party political pluralism, but we stopped talking about that a long time ago.

          I put my best understanding of the history of the genocide into this piece in Fog City Journal, written in April this year: "Rwanda Genocide: Honoring the Dead without Honoring the Lies," If you want to argue about the history of the genocide, I suggest taking your arguments there.

          1. Paulbatak

            It is good to remind that…and try to pull back the discussion to its initial goal. Any clarifications of the past should aim at proposing remedies so that history will not be repeated. As it is said, those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat. And what a shame, if it is a past loaded with crime, massacres and genocide.

          2. Raouuuul

            You have to be accountable for what you claim. You started this whole thread with:

            "The UN never intervened in 1994 …….
            This 16-year attempt to blackmail the world over what Kagame himself did is over. " Or whatever misguided claptrap asinine propaganda you wished to push.

            I called you on it. You couldn't defend it. You refuse to admit you may be wrong which speaks more about strength and integrity than someone wishing to remain anonymous and debate on the merit of your standpoint.

            Indeed, let's get back to the main topic.

          3. Ann_Garrison

            As far as I'm concerned I defended everything I've said as well as can be in this context. I have not agreed with any of your arguments or evidence, but if you want to declare some kind of victory for yourself here in the margins of the SF Bay View, no one's going to stop you. I referred you to my piece Honoring the Dead without Honoring the Lies,, but you seem unwilling to go there.

          4. Raouuuul

            You're damn skippy. Jokes aside, this was supposed to be an exercise for you to see your error on this ONE particular point. That you haven't seen it means we all lose. (Though I won really).

  9. Ann_Garrison

    The BBC reported the beginning of what we know as the Rwanda Genocide on April 6, 1994, with the shooting down of the plane carrying Habyarimana and Ntaryamira home from Arusha.

    "Heavy fighting has already been reported around the presidential palace in Rwanda after news of the deaths spread."

    Yet Kagame's Rwanda adamantly, officially commemorates the genocide as beginning on April 7th. Why?

    But Raouuuuul, this is going nowhere and I can't spend any more time arguing with someone who doesn't even have the courage or integrity to identify himself. Who are you?

    1. Raouuuul

      We're debating the veracity of what you wrote. I believe I called you out on your ludicrous claim that the UN didn't stop the genocide mainly due to the RPF threat to its troops. My identity is neither here nor there. You have finally said something we can agree upon; this discussion's going nowhere. The purpose of debate is to try and win the other over using arguments based on the topic. But you've put your flag and the ground and refuse to see reason. You have offered no real counter-arguments and instead have tried to open up different fronts. What the deuces has officially commemorating the genocide on the 6th or 7th got to do with anything? Oh, wait, perhaps you want to posit the notion that the bringing down of the plane was what really set off the genocide, so Kagame is culpable after all? Ehhhhh, different debate.


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