Last week was set aside to commemorate twenty years since the Rwanda genocide begun.
We all know the background.
Ethnic tensions fuelled by the Belgian colonialists and carried on as means to retain power by post-colonial governments, flared for what was not the first time but hopefully the last, leaving about 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu dead in a 100-day killing orgy. The trigger for the latest Rwanda genocide was the death of then president Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash outside Kigali.
We heard personal testimonies of the terror, we celebrated unsung heroes and our breath was taken away – as it is every year, when we are reminded of the sheer scale of the tragedy. And even after all this time we shake our heads in wonderment at what kind of hatred of one for another, could have driven tens of thousands to turn on their friends and relatives with such bloody abandon.
The commemoration of the genocide should be a continental affair.
"It should serve as a reminder to us that we play on a global field where decisions about our wellbeing can be made thousands of miles away, our lives can be signed off with the stroke of a pen and that we can be at the gates of hell and those with the means to pull us back can look away with pointed indifference...
“Who will guarantee the future of Africans?” President Yoweri Museveni once asked. Israel’s existence is guaranteed by the west, he said, who will guarantee ours.
The Rwanda genocide should be cause for soul searching in all the continent’s capitals.
Jared Diamond asked the question in his book “Guns, Germs & Steel”, why are some parts of the world developed and others (Africa) not?
His conclusion was that for various reasons the west was able to produce a food surplus, allowing them to pay their thinkers and fund standing armies, which could then be used to project their will around the world for their benefit.
In trying to get to the bottom of the same issue Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in “Why Nations Fail”, discounted this conclusion and suggested that what made the difference was whether the elite in these countries run them for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of the general population. The former nation of course being weaker than the latter and vulnerable to implosion or outside interference and manipulation.
At the heart of the problem is the continent’s leadership but more broadly the elite. Our inability to appreciate that no one will look out for our interests better than ourselves and that we can only do this to the extent that we are strong and organised into credible entities can guarantee our won existence.
Because yes, this is an existential question.
"One view has it that the world cannot provide for all of us if we all consumed at the level of western economies, hence the push for family planning on the continent, essentially to slow the growth in our needs because the west is unwilling to moderate their consumerism. Population growth rates in the west are in decline Africa is the problem. The fewer of us around the better....
Guaranteeing our future does not mean stocking our arsenals for an old fashioned invasion of our coastlines, but means harnessing our vast human and natural resources for our own benefit.
We will do this by having far sighted, inclusive governments working towards erasing the artificial borders that are hampering free movement of goods, capital and people.
That we find it comfortable to remain in our individually unviable nations is no mistake. The diabolical genius of the colonial project was that even after we had got independence we committed to retaining these divisions that would ensure we would continue to remain vulnerable and malleable.
If you went to any border on the continent you would be hard pressed to trace its route as there are no painted lines on the ground, barbed wire fences or concrete walls to separate one country from another.
We have enforced the artificialness of these boundaries as the experience of Rwanda shows.
Rwanda’s neighbours did not go to its aid when the going got tough even when the bodies floated down our rivers and the refugees streamed across the borders.
"We have got into the habit of laughing out of the room anyone who examines the colonial context of our current predicament, Rwanda should remind us that we do this at our own peril.