Re: a query on Rwanda

Stan Yoder (rpsy@ASC.UPENN.EDU)
Fri, 24 Jun 1994 16:26:36 EDT

I can be considered as "ethnographically privileged, as you
put it, since I spent several years doing fieldwork in southern
Zaire. I've never been to Rwanda, only as far a Goma near the border. I too have
been alarmed at the consistent referral to this conflict as tribal or ethnic.
Most of us know the reasons for media us of tribal - it allows us to dismiss
what occurs by fitting the news into the odd-shaped boxes we call stereotypes of
Africa. This way of "understanding" the news suggests that tribalism, or
ethnicity, is always an important factor, perhaps the most important factor in
African political life. It just isn't so. (I use the word tribal here since I'm
referring to the media). There were no problems between Baluba and the rest of
the population in Shaba province two years ago till Mobutu sent Nguz Karl y Bond
(may he be rewarded for his sins) to stir up trouble.

Back to Rwanda. I have a 12 page exert and bib I can send you
if you like from a dissertation that discusses the history of
ethnicity in Rwanda. The distinctions between Tutsi and Hutu,
according to V. Jefremovas, became clear in the 1860s when the
power of the kingdom was consolidated. Gradually those with cattle
all *became known as Tutsi*, and the agriculturalists *became known
as Hutu*. By 1900 most of the elite were Tutsi. The Belgians
favored the Tutsi consistently, as we all know, and so most of the
educated were Tutsi. The forced labor and autocratic control of the
colonial period intensified the difference between the elite and
the rest.
All this to say that the Hutu/Tutsi distinction has been
constructed and manipulated, these are not essentialist categories
that determine peoples' behavior. As for reading, Rene Lemarchand
has written a political history (1977 - Rwanda and Burundi), and
Catherine Newbury (1988) a history: the Cohesion of Oppression:
Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1890-1960. And there's an
article on the Hutu/Tutsi relation by Jean Chretien in a book
edited by Jean-Loup Amselle and Elikia M'bokolo (1985. Au coeur de
l'ethnie: ethnies, tribalisme et etat en Afrique.

Regarding the most recent disaster, it's beyond comprehension. We know that
the President of Rwanda had been building up and arming militias in many parts
of the country for reasons unknown, weapons reported to have come from
France. Perhaps the elite were targeted. But it does not explain the madness.

Stan Yoder