Sunday, January 6, 2008

Report 10 part 1: Kenya and the Rwandan Genocide

January 6

Dear All,

Kenya and the Rwandan Genocide

When the church was burned in Eldoret on New Year's Day, there began to be many comparisons made between the situation here in Kenya and the Rwandan genocide. Moreover a number of the politicians here in Kenya have been using the term "genocide." Any comparison at this time between what is happening in Kenya and what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is ridiculous.

Let us start with the church burning. In Rwanda churches were not burned. Rather the Tutsi who took refuge in the churches--sometimes by the thousands and even tens of thousands--were hacked to death by machetes. The church was surrounded by others so that anyone who tried to flee was killed. In Kenya, at the church in Eldoret, there were hundreds of people inside when it was burned down. Most fled. While the papers indicated 35 to 50 people were burned to death, the Red Cross now puts the numbers at 17. Clearly unlike the situation in Rwanda, the intention of the attackers was not to kill the people in the church.

The papers state that 355 people have died since the election. While I think this is an underestimate, at least 850,000 people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. The official total here in Kenya is .04% of the numbers killed in Rwanda.

Also, in Rwanda the specific intention of the genocedaries was to kill Tutsi. They hunted them down for one hundred days. If the Kenyan looters had the intention of killing Kikuyu and others, the death toll would be magnitudes higher. Rather, here in Kenya, the intention of the rioters is to destroy Kikuyu property--vehicles, shops, animals, farms, and houses.

The most important difference is that in Rwanda the government in power at that time organized and implemented the genocide. This is one of the criteria for genocide--it is the government itself which implements genocide. In Kenya there is no doubt that the Kenyan Government is not organizing any killings. Government security forces are trying their best to restore order and stop the destruction of property. The fact that they have failed for so long is of major concern, but this has nothing to do with genocide. While the Orange Democratic Movement has been accused by the Government of promoting the violence, I see no evidence that ODM is organizing it and in fact, I think, that they have no ability to stop it. The ODM leaders have asked for the end of the violence, but this has had no effect.

I myself try never to use the term "genocide" unless it completely fulfills the legal definition of genocide as in the case of Rwanda. In Darfur there is a major debate whether the situation there is genocide or not. This, to my thinking, is a complete distraction from the real issue of solving the problem in Darfur. If you are killed, you are dead regardless whether it is genocide or not. It is the deaths from violence, whether by a government or rebel groups, which we must focus on and attempt to end.

In the case of Kenya, the term "genocide" should not be used by anyone. If you hear the term being used, then you know it is propaganda.

Dave Z

1 comment:

Alec Macpherson said...

If I can, I would like to offer a possible rationale for the use/non-use of the g-word in various contexts.

It is rightly considered one of, if not, the worst crime which can be committed. In turn, the act for which it was coined - the (Jewish) Holocaust - represents both the zenith and nadir of organization skills, and the absolute horror at and pity for one population group's suffering we feel.

As such, over the past six decades it has been co-opted in by other groups. Sometimes with reason, when their plight was being ignored, and sometimes to present (undoubtedly) brutal and nasty local conflicts as the worst of crimes in which there were clear villains and victims or for ulterior motives. Propaganda, as David said. Genocide has become simply killing a lot of people in a short period of time.

Conversely, because of the legal obligations to prevent genocide, sometimes we witness attempts to mitigate genocidal acts. "Ethnic cleansing", another freely used term, was originally an anodyne phrase used to fudge the horror of internicine killings and irrendentist nationalism, i.e. the break-up of FYR, which hadn't been seen on European soil for over 40 years. David mentioned the doubt of the genocidal intend re Darfur. I believe it is taking place - although, of course, even otherwise it remains unacceptable (just as, say, the West African wars of the 1990s were) - and, to avoid conceding responsibilities in opposing genocide, we hear from some quarters quite gobsmacking comments that it is a resource war being fuelled by climate change.

Likewise, I consider the events of 1994 in Rwanda to have been genocide. Although, I disagree with David's other excellent missive in that it need not be governments which carry out genocide. Obviously, they tend to be the actors most likely to be able to enact one, but the CPPCG definiton makes no such specification.

By branding the protestors and/or rioters as genocidaires, Mwai Kibaki - a man previous known to my family as gentle and alturistic, and now well into his Mr. Kurtz moment - to tar them with this most toxic of brushes.

And so it goes. Or, an' sic it jees, as Robert Burns might have said if he'd ever read Kurt Vonnegut.