Tag Archives: ethnic violence

Rwanda: The Untold Story

This week, the Rwandan government under Paul Kagame passed a measure suspending all BBC radio broadcasts in the most common language, Kinyarwanda, to protest the news organization’s recent documentary about Rwanda’s genocide. You can read more on the story at The Huffington Post.

The documentary in question, “Rwanda: The Untold Story” relies on recently uncovered evidence, detailed fieldwork and research, and the firsthand accounts from many in Kagame’s inner circle to debunk a myth central to the entire genocide story in Rwanda. All the evidence points clearly to the fact that, while hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed at the hands of Hutus, hundreds of thousands of Hutus were also killed. To make this claim in Rwanda is illegal because the official genocide story, designed and controlled by a powerful Tutsi government, portrays only the Tutsis as victims of the genocide. To say Hutus were targeted by Tutsis (and other Hutus) is to be a “genocide denier”.

The most serious claim made by the documentary is that President Kagame not only had intimate knowledge of the planned attack on the plane carrying the former presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, he orchestrated it. The attack on Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane is frequently cited as the spark that ignited the genocide.

Kagame has accused the BBC of bringing together genocide revisionists in order to distort the facts about the mass killings and the Rwanda government has called for the BBC to apologize.

I watched this documentary several weeks ago and my immediate thought about the producers and crew and everyone interviewed was: “Well, they just got blacklisted from Rwanda.” In my PhD program I am concentrating on comparative politics in Africa and my main region of study is the Great Lakes. For a while I considered focusing my work in Rwanda, but the more I see how limiting the freedom of speech is in the country under Kagame, the more I worry about my academic future were I to become a Rwanda specialist. So many great researchers with a deep love and respect of Rwanda and its people have been blacklisted form the country, meaning they can no longer enter, because of the type of research they conducted and the conclusions they came to. As a scholar of political science and peace, I am naturally drawn to exploring contentious political topics. This is very difficult in a country where the government is so powerful and so protective of their image.

I applaud the makers of this documentary and all those who dared to be interviewed, particularly the native Rwandans, and hope that they remain safe while BBC deals with the fallout from the Kagame government.

You can watch the full documentary “Rwanda: The Untold Story” here: 

Since posting this, a response by Davenport and Stam, the two US scholars interviewed for the documentary, was brought to my attention. In their response, Davenport and Stam address the three main criticisms leveled against them and their research: 1) playing down the number of Tutsi victims, 2) accusing the RPF of shooting down the plane, and 3) playing down the crimes of the Hutu militia. Davenport and Stam tackle each criticism. You can read their response on their website, GenoDynamics.

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People Were Not Made to Live in Cages

ROHINGYA-MT-7-622x414The Rohingya are a small Muslim minority forced to live in modern day concentration camps in Myanmar (Burma) along the Thai-Burmese border. Locked within the camps, the Rohingya are deprived of jobs, schools, and basic access to food, water, proper sanitation, and healthcare. This reporter found a young pregnant woman laboring for over 20 hours with a breached baby. There were no hospitals and no doctors to aid her. Driving her across the camp to a small clinic, the only nurse in residence said she could do nothing to help. When asked the nurse said plainly, “Yes, she will die.”

It’s like we are being in jail. Like birds in the cage. Like in the ghetto.

How did this happen? The current ethnic violence plaguging the country can be traced back to the 2012 Rakhine State Riots in northern Rakhine State. Tihs was a series of ethnically charged conflicts between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims. Since June of 2012 there have been more than 200 deaths and at least 100,000 people ahve been displaced.

One of the biggest problems is that the Myanmar government has done nothing to stop the violence perpetrated by the Rakhine Buddhist monks who spread hate and fear of the Rohingya. In fact, a number of government officials actively support the violence and internment of the Rohingya. One official explained:

To me, the situation isn’t so bad. Don’t worry…. The first thing I want to say is that when you are here in [our] state, don’t use the word ‘Rohingya.’ There’s no such thing as the Rohingya ethnicity in our country.

Wirathu-Time-225x300As NYT reporter Nicholas Kristof argues, “How can there be progress for the Rohingya when the officials deny their very existance?” One of the worst perpetrators of hate speech is the Buddhist monk Wirathu. Speaking with Nicholas Kristof, he explained:

Muslims are like African catfish. They breed rapidly. They have violent behavior. And they eat their own kind, and other fish.

You can see how far his ideology has spread throughout the Buddhist monastic order. The abbot of a remote rural temple told Kristof, “When there are a lot of Muslims, they start waging jihad. It happens everywhere.” When asked about his responsibility as a religion leader to stem this violence, the abbot said, “Buddhism is not a violent religion. But if someone attacks us, we can’t just lie down and take it.”

Until prominent government and religious leaders in Myanmar recognize the Rohingya as a people and stop spreading violence and discord, the desperate situation for this country’s nearly one million Muslims who are living in the squalid camps will remain a major concern for peace and stability.