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Africa's Murderous Professors

December 1, 1996 Topic: Society Tags: Baltic SeaGenocideHutu

Africa's Murderous Professors

Mini Teaser: In his much-praised History of the Jews, Paul Johnson reminds us that through the ages European "anti-Semitism was fueled not just by vulgar rumor but by the deliberate propaganda of intellectuals."

by Author(s): Michael Chege

In his much-praised History of the Jews, Paul Johnson reminds us that through the ages European "anti-Semitism was fueled not just by vulgar rumor but by the deliberate propaganda of intellectuals." This was a pattern that reached its apogee in the murderous mind of the Nazis, whose genocidal impulse was amply decorated and abetted by a phalanx of "scientific" and intellectual justification. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that the Holocaust still exerts a dark fascination over us, for it represented a "civilized" barbarity on a scale that had hitherto been thought impossible.

The phenomenon is not merely historical, nor is it limited to Europeans and Jews. Sub-Saharan Africa is today the site of genocides recently attempted, as well as those in what may be their planning stages. But, it is widely assumed, these matters are different-primitive "tribal" affairs, carried out with spears or garden tools, not gas chambers. While, certainly, there are differences, there are also striking similarities. Conspicuous among these is the key role played by intellectuals, and the active complicity of the most sophisticated strata of several African societies in fomenting, planning, supporting, and participating in mass murder.

This should not surprise us. Barrington Moore pointed out thirty years ago that, under approximately similar social conditions, proto-fascist ideas and their institutional attire could be found in less industrialized societies as well as in modern Western ones. He pointed to the Black Hundreds movement of czarist Russia, the Nohon-shugi movement in turn-of-the-century Japan, and similar, if more feeble, movements in imperial China and colonial India.

On the African continent, South Africa's white supremacist Afrikaner Broederbond-whose stormtroopers marched to the drum of the Hitlerian Brown Shirts in the late 1930s and '40s-and its doctrine of apartheid were instances of this political phenomenon. Eventually, too, black African leaders, their intellectual propagandists in tow, made their own contributions to infamy. Today, there is genuine cultural diversity in the gallery of twentieth-century political demonology, the late arrival of black fascism providing the ultimate testimony that political sin, as with all other kinds of sin and virtue, truly knows no color.

A Rwandan Autopsy

Rwanda, a small, hilly, agricultural country tucked in the middle of the African continent, is composed of two main ethnic groups: Hutus, who until recently made up 74 percent of the population, and Tutsis, who made up 24 percent-the total estimated at 7.6 million in 1993. (What the precise figures are today, it is impossible to say.) Two of the most authoritative sources on the events leading to the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis show clearly that the most effective mobilization tool for the killings was the propagation of a mythology of Hutu ethnic supremacy and supposedly innate Tutsi evilness, spread mostly through radio and a variety of mass-circulation publications. This mythology rested on a pseudo-science of local ethnic stereotypes and African eugenics-the Hutu version of Nazi "science"-propagated by Rwanda's Hutu intellectual elite.

Other factors clearly played a significant role in the catastrophe: a menacing insurgency, population pressure, external arms deliveries to rival sides, chicanery and lack of nerve by leading Western states, and dereliction of duty by international civil servants supposedly responsible for peacekeeping in the country. But none of these factors, many of them present elsewhere where no mass murder has occurred or is likely, explains the Rwandan genocide: a clear case in which a carefully packaged and widely disseminated doctrine of ethnic hatred played the major role.

The background to the Rwandan genocide is not hard to describe. In 1959, rural Hutus mounted a revolution, overthrowing the Belgian-backed, colonial-era Tutsi monarchy, forcing many Tutsi monarchists and loyalists into exile in neighboring Uganda and Zaire. Local elections in 1960 cemented a Hutu majority in the National Assembly, and a 1961 referendum formally abolished the Tutsi monarchy. Then, in 1973, a coup d'etat installed JuvŽnal Habyarimana as president, leading to rule by a predominantly Hutu ethnocracy.

Hutu rule was first threatened in 1990, when the offspring of the Tutsis exiled to Uganda in the 1959 revolution organized an insurgency in the north. The corrupt and demoralized Rwandan National Army was no match for the growing Tutsi guerrilla forces-the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-as they drew closer to the capital, Kigali, and briefly occupied the second largest city of Ruhengeri in January 1991. Reluctantly, the government was forced to the conference table with the rebels. Negotiations might have ended in a compromise in October 1993 but for the determination of a group of Hutu intellectuals and extremists to keep the Tutsis out of power at all costs.

The catechism of the madness that soon overtook Rwanda was authored not by some African magician extolling the supremacy of the Hutu race in ancient "tribal" wars, but by accomplished Rwandan professional historians, journalists, and sociologists at the service of a quasi-traditionalist and genocidally inclined cabal. Composed of the Akazu faction of the Hutu ruling class, from President Habyarimana's Gisenyi region, this elite group was hell-bent on resisting the liberalizing effects of a nascent democratic pluralism that had raised the level of individual liberties and free enterprise in recent years-but that had in so doing threatened Akazu power.

The Akazu's resistance to that threat was sufficiently persuasive and sophisticated to mobilize for murder otherwise genial Hutu peasants, with shrill calls for Tutsi extermination disseminated via the print and electronic media. Under the editorship of one Hassan Ngeze, the newspaper Kangura listed the "Hutu ten commandments" that decreed social isolation of the "evil" Tutsis, and abominated cross-ethnic marriage for polluting "pure Hutu." "By the way", mused the Hutu-edited La Medaille magazine in February 1994, "the Tutsi race could be extinguished."

The most virulent and effective incitement to hatred and violence, however, was repeatedly broadcast by Radio/Television Libre des Mille Collines, and was commissioned by Hutu extremists with official connivance in July 1993. By early 1994 the Hutu propaganda mill was requesting that its sympathizers "reach for the hatchet" in order "to fill the unfilled graves with yet more Tutsi" bodies. Incitements to kill were spiced with "history lessons" of "well-known" Tutsi treachery and exploitation of the Hutus. The radio's intellectual braintrust was made up of Ferdinand Nahimana, a professor of history at the Rwandan National University at Butare, and Casimir Bizimungu, the articulate multilingual foreign minister of a former government, and the manager of this "independent" radio station. Indeed, so strong was the academic input in these writings and broadcasts that, after the massacres, Emmanuel Bugingo, the new and irreproachable rector of the Butare campus, confessed that "all the killing in Rwanda was carefully planned by intellectuals and those intellectuals passed through this university."

Once known as the Astrida Research Center, the Butare campus was founded in the early 1950s as the official think tank of Belgian colonial policy in Rwanda. As colonizers of what were then the territories of Rwanda-Urundi and the Congo (now Zaire), Belgian authorities engaged scholars-Europeans and a few Africans-to map out the sociological and cultural attributes of the African peoples they ruled. The Tutsi-Hutu distinction in particular was an enduring obsession of the Belgians, one that generated grand intellectual fantasies about the Tutsis. Some maintained that they were descendants either of ancient Egyptians or the "Tibetan Magi" (whose other branch supposedly headed for Iceland!); others argued that they were survivors of the lost continent of Atlantis; most concluded, erroneously, that they were early immigrants from Ethiopia. As for what to do about the Hutu-Tutsi divide, the Belgian authorities took a blatantly pro-Tutsi position, extolling the sophistication of Tutsi traditional aristocrats and proclaiming their innate cognitive superiority to the Hutus and other Africans-though not, of course, to the Belgians.

By the early 1990s, however, the question of government policy toward Hutu-Tutsi ethnic relations that engaged Belgian colonials in the 1950s had come full circle. Particularly interested in these questions were professors Leon Mugesira and the aforementioned Nahimana, both national historians in good standing at Butare, and faculty member Vincent Ntzimana. Their solution for Rwanda's 1993-94 crisis, and the manner in which they spread it, would have impressed Joseph Goebbels. Working with the extremist Akazu faction that enjoyed the patronage of the president's wife, Agathe Habyarimana, the professors manufactured doctrines of Hutu ethnic supremacy depicting all Tutsis as a malignant cancer in the nation's history that deserved to be excised once and for all. As Mugesira told an extremist gathering in November 1992, "The fatal mistake we made in 1959 was to let the Tutsi get out. . . . We have to act. Wipe them all out!" They also recycled the fallacy that the Tutsis were originally immigrants from Ethiopia who had overstayed and abused Hutu hospitality, and that it was time to "ship them back home" via the Nile, dead or alive. Since the Hutus were a "sociological" majority, they argued, such a resolution of the problem would be democratic.

With these intellectual preparations as background, the orders to commence the killings came via the Radio Mille Collines, not long after Habyarimana's death on April 4, 1994 in a still-unexplained aircrash at Kigali airport. Though not party to the Akazu plots, Habyarimana had shown extreme indecisiveness in the 1991-93 negotiations with the RPF. The Hutu extremists' fear that he might agree to a constitutional compromise with the Tutsi rebels may have cost him his life. Be that as it may, in death he became an instant Hutu martyr, a victim of supposed Tutsi treachery. The flow of mutilated bodies in the Kagera River, televised worldwide during the rest of that month, was testimony to the effectiveness of the Hutu extremist message. The Kagera empties into Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile, one of whose tributaries rises from the Ethiopian highlands. Thus were the Tutsis "shipped back home" as planned, a point that eluded Western media coverage.

It was not just naive rural peasants who answered the call of what Mille Collines' propaganda had told them was an ethnic patriotic duty. In April 1994, organized Hutu militia under various noms de guerre-"Unified Assault" (Interahamwe) and "Response to Patriotic Battlecry" (Ipuzamugambi)-went to work with military assistance and ammunition. As the violence spread, Colonel Theoneste Bagasora (now one of twenty-one persons under indictment for crimes against humanity by the UN War Crimes Tribunal) and his colleagues in the defense ministry opened armories to the militia, providing them with weapons and ammunition. Also incited by repeated exhortations of Radio Mille Collines were the teeming urban unemployed, composed of itinerant vendors, laborers, criminals, and assorted hangers-on, who would get drunk and take to arms looting and raping Tutsi women before killing them. The weapon of choice in the elimination of the Tutsis was the garden machete, but hoes and garden forks were also used. The Hutu perpetrators of this mayhem drew support from nearly the entire Hutu population.

It was all over in a matter of weeks. The swift and savage elimination of some 850,000 Tutsis-close to half their Rwandan population-reveals the elaborate execution of the genocide undertaken by the extremist wing of the ruling Hutu elite. The organizers thought of mass murder in terms of a dirty but necessary preliminary business, required to usher in the millennium of a happy and morally pure Hutu commonwealth, cleansed of every living Tutsi and, by inference, all social evil. As with the Nazis in their genocide against the Jews, special emphasis was placed on eliminating Tutsi children in order to forestall any resurgence of the Tutsi gene.

In the end, however, the Hutus failed in their effort to create an ethnically pure paradise for themselves. Under the command of American trained Major Paul Kagame, the Tutsi RPF launched an assault that took the capital in May, driving the rump Hutu government into exile. The world watched, courtesy of CNN and the major world television networks, as nearly a million self-exiled Hutu refugees trekked to Tanzania and the Zairean towns of Goma and Bukavu in the spring of 1994 to avoid Tutsi retaliation. At least sixty thousand of these, most of them perpetrators of the Rwandan mayhem, were to die from thirst, dysentery, cholera, hunger, and exhaustion before international aid arrived.

By the end of 1994, Rwanda's morbid tale seemed over, but it was not. The Hutus in their refugee camps in Zaire continued their anti-Tutsi campaign, partly by operating para-military operations into Rwanda and Burundi, partly by proseletizing their anti-Tutsi venom among ethnic groups of eastern Zaire. Those Zaireans, already resentful of the local Tutsis-called Banyamulenge by the locals-began a campaign in early September to oust the Tutsis from Zaire. The Tutsis fought back successfully, and the Rwandan government took advantage of the situation to clear out the Hutu refugee camps that had been causing them such trouble. With the defeat of the Hutu militias in mid-November, half of the roughly one million refugees were repatriated within Rwanda and Burundi. But with eastern Zaire in revolt, Zaire and Rwanda still stood on the verge of open warfare. The juggernaut of horror set in motion by Hutu intellectuals at Butare had thus produced its antidote: an unforgiving Tutsi force determined to settle scores with the 1994 Hutu extremists and their sympathizers in Zaire.

Kenya: A Horror to Come?

The current Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government of Prime Minister Paul Kagame has provided human rights groups with the names of some 463 surviving ringleaders of the 1994 genocide. This list was intended to hasten their arraignment before the Rwanda court of the UN War Crimes Tribunal, whose cash-strapped African operations are based at Arusha, Tanzania.

As it has turned out, many of these 463 have been traced to Kenya, where publications such as Kangura, which had been prominent in inciting initial Hutu hatred of the Tutsis, continue to operate with impunity. In October 1995, Kenya's president, Daniel arap Moi, threatened to arrest the international tribunal members who were intent on pursuing these well-heeled Hutu exiles into his country. At the University of Nairobi's Chiromo campus, Charles Nyandwi-number 35 on the Rwandan government's list of war criminals-was appointed in 1995 to teach applied mathematics. His erstwhile colleague Charles Nzabarageza-number 52-a self-described "intellectual", operates on behalf of the Hutu cause from Heron Court Hotel, not far from downtown Nairobi.

Professor Nyandwi and his colleagues are in good company. The Kenyan government has been repeatedly accused by Amnesty International of the systematic torture of its political opponents. Amnesty also cites local doctors for complicity in the fabrication of medical records to disguise evidence of torture. Worse, as in Rwanda, Kenya in 1992-93 witnessed state-sponsored violence directed against ethnic Kikuyu, Luo, and Luhya farmers who had migrated to the Rift Valley-President Moi's home province-and then voted for parties opposed to his Kanu Party, which is associated in the main with Moi's own Kalenjin tribe and its allies. The perpetrators of the violence-window-dressed as "Kalenjin warriors"-attacked wearing uniform T-shirts and shorts. With faces concealed, they conducted Klan-style night rallies and vowed to cleanse the Rift Valley of the baleful "Kukes." Use of guns, bows and arrows, and nighttime firebombing of homesteads, Christian churches, and Kikuyu businesses were standard procedures. Firebombs by the phantom militia were planted in those newspaper and human rights offices in Nairobi that dared to publicize the ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley. Some fifteen hundred people-mainly Kikuyus-perished in these pogroms, while about three hundred thousand others became, and remain, internal refugees.

On the official propaganda front in Kenya, the ethnic bogeymen have been the Kikuyus, the largest of more than three dozen black ethnic communities (although they represent only 23 percent of the country's twenty-six million population). The Kikuyus have distinguished themselves in commerce, farming, and education, an achievement that has given rise to a protracted campaign in which the ideology squad of the Moi regime has accused them of waging a "conspiracy to dominate" the country. "Evidence" of Kikuyu "crimes" fit the classic mode of politicized bigotry: their numerical dominance in business, local banks, commercial farming; migration and settlement outside their homeland; a lead in acquiring "alien skills" (read: Western education); and disproportionate representation in the professions.

The Kikuyu are also guilty of hoping for better government. But their high-profile demands for multi-party rule, the rule of law, a free press, and public appointments based on merit have been interpreted by Moi's intellectual supporters as a bid to "grab" power. The regime has been busy in recent years formalizing such interpretations into an ideology. Democratic and meritocratic values are depicted as impersonal and "foreign", polluting allegedly pristine African communal relations, social "cohesiveness", and the "sharing of our wealth" through ethnic quotas. In alliance with intellectuals on the government's gravy train, ruling party apparatchiks denounce individual enterprise as a combined Kikuyu and foreign ruse to accumulate the wealth of others. Responding to the German ambassador's 1994 recommendation to close the "moral deficit" with more accountable governance in Kenya, President Moi said, "Moral standards in Africa and Kenya particularly were much higher than in Europe . . . where moral decadence had set in . . . [due to] . . . perversion and other unnatural acts. . . . Any degree of immorality that had crept into Africa was due to the decadent influence of the West." Left unsaid, but clear to all Kenyans, was the implication that the Kikuyus constituted the agent of the foreign menace. Addressing his Kanu parliamentary group caucus on September 30, 1996, Moi was reported as saying that, should he depart from the political scene, "this country will be just like Rwanda."

Does all of this mean that a genocidal attack on the Kikuyus is a possibility? It does. Indeed, as far back as 1991, the intellectual directorate of the Moi regime-boasting the full spectrum of Ivy League and Oxbridge alumni-started down a path that could very well lead to such an attack. Since then, anti-Kikuyu propaganda has risen steadily in the government-run electronic media, and in the pages of the ruling party newspaper Kenya Times and the supposedly independent Weekly Review. The former minister of information and broadcasting (that is, propaganda), one Burudi Nabwera, told his constituents that the new Kikuyu-led opposition Democratic Party was "the Kikuyu devil (shetani) . . . which you should not allow into your house." The official policy of "willing buyer, willing seller" in the land market, under which many Kikuyus had purchased farms in the Rift Valley, has been portrayed in a landmark publication by law professor (and Berkeley J.D.) Arthur Eshiwani as part of a gigantic ethnic plot, secretly hatched in the 1960s, to steal land-a plot that allegedly stretches into education, the banks, commerce, and public service. In a blitz of hate articles pursuing the same theme in the ruling party newspaper, history professors Henry Mwanzi and Eric Aseka Masinde railed against Kikuyu "greed", "grabbing" of land, and "love of money." With Mwanzi seated on his side, the fiery local government minister William Ntimama pontificated to the press in 1993 on the theft of Rift Valley lands by the Kikuyus. Earlier he had warned the Kikuyus "to lie low like envelopes" or else be "cut down to size like the Ibos of Nigeria", the widely dispersed entrepreneurial group of that country that suffered massacres in 1966. In August 1995 the ruling Kanu Party accorded Professor Mwanzi the fitting title of director of research and propaganda.

As in Rwanda, the Jim Crow American South, Nazi Germany, and apartheid South Africa, Kenya's pro-government intellectuals and their acolytes share the crowning phobia of extreme rightists: miscegenation, which is habitually associated with moral laxity and sexual promiscuity. Pursuing the Kikuyu devil into the bedrooms, in mid-1993 history professor William Ochieng-an associate of Mwanzi and Aseka-wrote in the widely read Sunday Nation that the racial complexion of the Kikuyus had been wholly adulterated as a result of interbreeding with immigrant groups. He cited no evidence or sources. And as befits this era of gender sensitivity, Professor Ochieng and then-Kenya Times editor Philip Ochieng repeatedly gave Kikuyu women backhanded compliments for the reportedly high incidence of prostitution among them-which they attribute to Western values and capitalism. Kenyan "eating and sexual habits have greatly been influenced by the Kikuyu", William Ochieng claimed, but without specifying how.

By the time the December 1992 multi- party elections were held-the first since 1966-sections of Kenyan academia had become dedicated to the rationalization of dictatorship as an African "fourth branch" of government, the defense of human rights violations, and the fabrication of "documents" proving the dangers of political pluralism. A supposed 1991 petition by one hundred local scholars opposing multi-party elections-published in the Weekly Review-was the handiwork of the then-vice chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Philip Mbithi (Cornell Ph.D., class of 1971), "and one or two other leading dons." Even as the Rift Valley militia went into action, the pro-government professoriate was organizing lobbies to root for its political patrons: Professor Chris Wanjala's "Operation Toroitich to Year 2000" (Toroitich being Moi's middle name) was one example. By the time the 1992-93 massacres were fully revealed internationally, William Ochieng and Mwanzi were writing-mimicking the quintessential response of the anti-Semite-that the Kikuyus had brought it on themselves by their clannish behavior, and by moving into and prospering on other peoples' lands at local expense. In a Kenya Times column William Ochieng asked the Kikuyus to quit whining about being treated "like the Ibos or Jews of Kenya."

One-Size-Fits-All Stereotypes

Rwanda and Kenya are not isolated examples. Similar words to those just quoted from the Kenya Times were used against the Kasai-Luba, another entrepreneurially-minded group, as it suffered pogroms and expulsions in Zaire's Shaba province in 1991-92. As in Kenya, prospects for genocide are real in Zaire, as they are in Nigeria and elsewhere. And yet, while neo-fascist ethnic extremism is widespread in Africa today, it is also true that Africans in ever greater numbers favor ethnic and racial tolerance, the rule of law, the sanctity of individual rights, and a role for free markets in reviving their derelict economies. The world saw a striking manifestation of this in April 1994 as voters waited patiently in lines that stretched for miles to cast their first ballot in a democratic South Africa. This scene has been repeated in Mozambique, Malawi, Sierra Leone-virtually everywhere that a peaceful transition to democracy has been offered.

But most fine distinctions about Africa tend to be obscured by the one-size-fits-all stereotypes of "African states" and "Africans" common both to the Western media and the pan-African rhetoric of African politicians themselves. Other distinctions fall victim to academic chicanery. At one extreme, committed Africa-bashers present all black intellectuals as incompetent-willful and irresponsible partisans in the self-destructive chaos sweeping the continent. At the other extreme, represented by uncritical Western admirers of mythical Africa and the self-styled "Afrocentrist" school, African elites appear as innocent victims of colonialism and Western racism, a group not sinning but sinned against-a position that is unsustainable given the "achievements" of Rwanda's university-bred propagandists.

This specious dichotomy fosters double standards-particularly those applied in judging African development and academic programs-that obscure real dangers lurking in many African countries. For the sake of avoiding yet more bloody catastrophes, African intellectuals must be held to objective professional standards of performance and responsibility in the generation and dissemination of political ideas; the condescending attitude toward African institutions and peoples represented by the phrase "good by African standards" must go. As the Rwandan genocide tragically demonstrated, tolerating such activities within universities can conceal and abet new African disasters waiting to happen. For years Rwandan extremists received Western aid even as they spoke of decimating "cockroaches" in the same vein that Holocaust deniers in the West have written of "lice" elimination in Dachau.

From Auschwitz to Rwanda, Bosnia to Kenya's Rift Valley, the pattern of made-to-order bigotry is depressingly familiar. Only the reluctance to include Africa in the discussion-a kind of reverse racism-is different. In June 1996, the proto-fascist brigades under Vladimir Zhirinovsky used the term "hyenas" to describe Russia's new "Westernized" capitalists; it is exactly the same word (translated locally as nyang'au) used by the ruling circles in Kenya to describe the Kikuyus. But whereas in Moscow Western diplomats and reporters single out Zhirinovsky for criticism, diplomats in Nairobi characterize the Kenyan regime's rhetoric as just another example of African "tribalism." But "tribalism" is clearly a misnomer when applied to the electronic-age strategies of the Rwandan, Kenyan, and Nigerian professoriate and the pro-government pressmen who hold their own on the internet against their best Western counterparts. Hate-mongering in Africa is an acquired skill; it does not come with the territory any more than it does elsewhere.

The fraternity of Western governments and multilateral development agencies charged with aiding African economic and institutional recovery must take this truth to heart. Yet in Warren Christopher's high-profile October 1996 visit to Africa to drum up support for local peacekeeping, not a word about the intellectual origins of ethnic conflict was mentioned. So far, the West's stock-in-trade policies for responding to the dismal conditions facing African universities and intelligentsia have been neutral sounding notions of "capacity building", "cost sharing", and "structural adjustment of the educational sector"-whatever all this means.

The weakness of the Western approach lies in its inclination to submerge all ethical criteria, particularly the need for a demonstrated sense of vocation on the part of African clients, under a deluge of technical computations. But if money, institutional capacity, Ph.D. faculty, and libraries were what truly counted, then Butare, with its fine buildings and flowerbeds, would have been a world-class campus in 1994 instead of another Rwandan killing field-and the universities in Nairobi, Kinshasa, Lagos, and Yaounde would not still be the derelict, faculty-short institutions external donors know them to be, tens of millions of Western aid dollars later.

In the end, of course, it is up to Africans themselves to put their own house in order by raising the alarm against the scourge of hate speech and arbitrary rule directed against their most vulnerable. But non-Africans should at least avoid making bad situations worse by providing excuses and explanations for the behavior of murderous African intellectuals.

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