'Making Rwanda a more tragic place than it needs to be'

Stephen Smith in The London Review of Books:

I am not arguing that we should all know everything there is to know about Rwanda. My point is that we don’t seem to want to know what happened in 1994, or what’s happening now. We’ve learned the wrong lesson from the organised massacre of 800,000 people, which we failed to prevent. Eager to pay off our moral debt, we’re blinded by guilt. The near total lack of media coverage of the ICTR [the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in neighboring Tanzania] trials and findings suggests that we’re happy to waive our best chance of grasping the inner workings of the genocide. We clamour for international justice but the detailed proceedings of the tribunal don’t interest us. At the same time, the denial of freedom and rights under the previous regime in Rwanda impels us to shower [Paul] Kagame with leadership awards and aid money even as he denies them again. We are hypnotised by the 1994 genocide, and oblivious to the atrocities of a regime we regard as exemplary. Aid, we say, must be conditional on good governance – but post-genocide government is an exception. La Francophonie is at best ridiculous and at worst a vector of France’s influence, but the Commonwealth is honourable as it embraces a dictator who favours English over French. Democracy is a precondition of peace – but not in a post-genocidal state. Justice, truth and reconciliation heal – but not the wounds of exterminatory hatred. The invasion and plunder of eastern Congo are criminal – but not when they’re carried out by genocide survivors. Hutu power is bad, but Tutsi chauvinism is acceptable. We hold these opinions not because they’re right but because they put us on the right side. This makes Rwanda a more tragic place than it needs to be.

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