Sunday, March 9, 2014

Unity of Rwanda opposition, the issues at stake

By Dr. Jean-Baptiste Mberabahizi
FDU-Inkingi's Newsletter 
March 9, 2014

These last weeks of February 2014, a lot have been said about the unwillingness or even inability of Rwandan opposition groups to unite. Some Rwandans have gone to the extent of calling it a curse on ‘Hutus’ for their supposedly ‘congenital ineptitude’ to unite. One of the shocking things I noted is the laziness of most analysts who tended to ignore the basic principles guiding unity, as far as political groups are concerned. I may risk to revisit one of my past contributions but I can’t help but recalling these principles, for the purpose of helping understand why good intentions end in resounding failures.


Any political group has four main traits that make it different from any other group, apart from the name, the flag-bearers and other visible distinctive signs. The first is ideology. The second is strategy and tactics. The third is structures and their functioning. The forth is discipline which allows it to manage deliberate or unconscious breaches of rules and procedures that can endanger the very existence of the organization or individual members.  
 
Rwandan political groups are also defined by those traits or sometimes by the lack of one or many of those elements. Any talk of unity of opposition groups must first identify those elements that form the identity and the character of the candidates to unity. Therafter, it becomes possible to define the minimum convergence that makes any strategic or tactical alliance necessary or possible.
 
For obvious reasons, I dont find wise to discuss strategy and tactics, organizational issues and discipline in this piece. But surely, the ideological aspect can and ought to be thoroughly dissected. The reason is trivial. It is this trait that defines not what the political group considered is opposed to but what it fights for.
 
Coming to ideology, I’ve noticed that there is a general tendency in the Western government circles to view Africa and Africans only through tribal lenses, as if Africans were a special category of human beings for which normal structured analysis of societal reality cannot apply. Many Rwandan political actors have unfortunately espoused these backward views and tend to reproduce them willingly or unwillingly. And that’s where much of the failure of unity processes stems from, as far as Rwandan opposition groups are concerned.
 
The cause of failure for past and recent experiences of unity is possibly the fact that those who initiated those initiatives disregarded these elements. Very often, groups decided to put their forces together on the basis of the dogma that the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and ended up engaging themselves in stillbirths or shortlived coalitions that added up individual weaknesses instead of adding up their respective strengths.
 
We won’t elaborate very much on this subject because it was addressed in various forms on multiple occasions including in our montly publication. But, let us consider at least the following points relating to ideology that should be carefully discussed before engaging into talks for unity : (1) the ethnic problem, (2) the political problem, (3) the class struggle issue and (4) the national issue.
 

The ethnic problem

 
This question is generally defined as the Hutu/Tutsi question, and wrongly so. It is wrong to describe it that way because the contradiction is not between the Hutus and the Tutsis but between the racists on one hand and the anti-racists on the other hand.
 
This distinction is very crucial. There are racists among Tutsis. Their racism is very ancient and is well discribed by both Rwanda’s popular or official oral tradition. Its current form is supremacism. It’s a kind of tropical Aryanism that considers that « Tutsis are noble,  superior and are born to rule Rwanda ». Contrary to the official narrative, this racism was not imported by colonialists. They found it in Rwanda and for obvious reasons, they exploited it for their own advantage to the extent that they even managed to make Tutsi racists believe that they were actually not even African. This ideology forms the core of the supremacist ideology on which the current regime is founded. As Servilien Manzi Sebasoni, the former RPF spokesperson put it once, it formed the basis of a ‘Tutsi International Power’ that later materialized in the creation of the Rwandese Patriotic Front in the late 80’s. This Tutsi supremacism is at the heart of regional alliances that have plunged the whole Great Lakes region in turmoil for decades.  
 
The other manifestation of racism is the one that is common among certain Hutus. It is based on the belief that they settled on the territory of present Rwanda before the arrival of the Tutsis. For that reason, it considers the former as invaders that should not pretend to rule the Natives. Attached to this core of beliefs is also a psychological inferiority complex that presents Tutsis as very malicious and dangerously more intelligent. It’s for that reason that Tutsis had to be pre-emptively discarded to ‘prevent a return to the precolonial enslavement of the Hutus’.

Rwandans cannot and should not have to choose between these two forms of racism. Just like South Africans didn’t have to choose between apartheid and Black racialism. The real contradiction is the one that opposes racism and anti-racism. All Rwandans opposed to manipulation of ethnicity to gain or retain power ought to be united in an anti-ethnic front. This position constitutes a solid basis for unity. Unity of Hutus against Tutsis would be doomed to reproduce another form of the very evil we fight today.
 
The political problem
 
All Rwandans are subjected to a bloodthirsty militaristic tyranny, irrespective of their ethnic descent. Suppression of all fundamental rights including the right to life hurts all Rwandans, Hutus and Tutsis alike. Critics whether they are Hutus or Tutsis or even foreign nationals are hunted down and killed by the ruling clique’s security operatives, both home and abroad. While Hutus are denied any rights on ground that they are ‘genocidaires’ or proponents of ‘genocide ideology’ and such collectively guilty by association, the ruling Tutsi supremacist clique considers any Tutsi critic as a traitor who deserves death.
 
Active Rwandans are devided between supporters of the status quo and proponents of democratic change.
 
Unity among all Rwandan political groups determined to fight for democratic change is both necessary and possible. The only difficulty is that it must be clear for everyone engaged in such a process that the purpose of unity is not to unseat a Tutsi sectarian regime and to replace it by a twin Hutu regime. Similarly, it must be clear that the purpose of the exercise is not to help get rid of Paul Kagame as an individual but to uproot a autocratic regime and install a genuine democracy.
 
Hence, any unification process that doesn’t take into account the ethnic problem is doomed to fail or to reproduce the very problem that it was intended to solve as it happened to Hutu democratic parties or factions who accepted to enter into alliance with the Rwandese Patriotic Front and contributed to the installation of the current Tutsi supremacist regime in 1994.
 
A repeat of the past strategic mistakes must be avoided. This makes unity, a very difficult process because suspicion of double-talk and hidden-agenda is always very present at the discussion table. Indeed, the memories of past deceptive tactics are very vivid among all the actual actors. In such circumstances, trust cannot be based on talk. It must be part of the process itself as well as mutual guarantees of strict adherence to the result of the unity talks.
 
The class struggle issue
 
The Rwandan society is not a class-free society. But very often and very unfortunately so, this issue is either ignored or denied by most political actors, be they national or foreign. It has anything to do with the prevalent atmosphere of neo-colonial ideology that has infiltrated every corner of African societies since the end of the Cold War. The two previous problems described above don’t take place in a vacuum. They are lived and are the sub-products of intra-class struggles between different reactionary sections of the Rwandan middle class who use ethnicity to coalesce around themselves the forces they need from the working class and the peasantry to capture State power. The aspirations of these reactionary elements of the Rwandan middle class  are to use the State apparatus in order to access ownership of public or private means of production and by so doing capture the wealth created by the Rwandan working class and the peasantry.
 
The specificity of the Rwandan society is that there’s no national capitalist class to talk of. Agro-business, mining and industry are nascent. There are some oligarchs gravitating around the ruling clique who benefited from the privatization of public assets and established joint ventures with foreign capitalists in the last twenty years.  In fact, tea growing and processing, cement production and construction industry concentrate most of the Rwandan working class. Workers of the public sector namely education, health, the military and the police are in terms of numbers the bulk of the working class. This section of the working class is highly ethnicized because of the segregation policy practiced against Hutus. This makes class conscienciousness very slow to take roots while trade-unions become tools of State control of the working class by the Tutsi compradore and military and civilian oligarchs. This kind of class was called lumpen-bourgeoisie in a previous contribution. The military and the police ranks and files are not allowed to form trade-unions and are denied any right to express class-based claims. As a consequence, workers are not allowed to voice their grievances.
 
The biggest class is the peasantry with more than 80% of peasants being small holder peasants. Land is by law the property of the State which gives them only the right to work on it on the basis of a renewable lease contract.  Whereas the peasantry is mixed, the working class, the middle class and the compradore capitalist class  are highly ethnicized with the Tutsis occupying most of the positions in the highest strata of those classes. Ethnic discrimination and poverty are mutually reinforced.
 
For most Rwandan political organizations, this question is very often ignored. In other words, the lack or even the denial of this issue is  the main characteristic of most of them. Unity may be difficult to achieve if not impossible, if talks involve groups who clearly consider themselves as defenders of the peasantry and the working class.
 
The national question
 
Rwanda is no island. Rwanda is part of Sub-Saharan Africa which is also part of the World, a world that is dominated by Western capitalist countries, at least militarily and politically. In the post-Cold War era, with the emergence of new economic peer competitors challenging the old Western world, Rwanda is caught in the confrontation of those two worlds. In fact, this reality plays a great role in the balance of forces among Rwandan contenders, whether it is those backing the status quo or those engaged in the struggle for democratic change.
 
The RPF ruling clique has clearly right from the beginning played the partition decided by certain Western powers. Whereas in the 90’s, in the aftermath of the collapse of the European socialist States, a war of influence broke out between France on the one hand and the US, the UK and Canada on the other hand, nowadays the emergence of China and the renaissance of Russia have changed the global context.
 
For most Rwandan opposition groups, this question is not even seriously discussed. For them, the « traditional » position of Rwanda as a proxy State of certain Western powers is not even questioned. They usually bet on a change of policy of those Western powers. For some, those beliefs are even the basis of their resistance strategy. It’s clearly expressed by their constant call on the « International Community » to exert their influence upon the reigning autocrat in Rwanda « to force it » to allow political ouvertures that can accomodate them.   Therefore, it would be difficult to unite opposition groups whose positions on the issue of national independence of Rwanda are conflicting.
 
To conclude, the quest of unity of Rwandan opposition groups is not as simple as it seems at first sight. It’s my submission that the way they pose certain questions or not, the responses they give to those questions much more than the way the initiators conduct the process or even the power struggles between or within groups are minor issues.
 
The fact that some external actors oversimplify the problem and tend to cast stones at the Rwandan opposition leaders which are  very often also called names instead of interrogating the issues raised above should not overshadow the complexity and the gravity of the questions at stake. Change is necessary. For it to materialize, unity is necessary and possible. But it must be for the benefit of the poor and the working Rwandans. A change of players in the same game in the context of proxy state run by yet another sectarian clique is not worth fighting. We need to learn from the past and build the third republic that is independent, democratic and non ethnic, which will accomodate all Rwandans, especially the poor and working masses.


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