Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: south africa

The Arrest of Gerry Adams

This article was published in Ceylon Today on May 14 2014.


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The police force of part of the UK arrested a member of parliament of a separate nation in connection with a crime committed 40 years ago. The PSNI (Police Services of Northern Ireland) arrested Gerry Adams, MP for Louth in the Republic of Ireland, under the Terrorism Act 2000, and questioned him for four days at Antrim police station. Adams leads the party that jointly governs Northern Ireland. He was one of the key brokers of the accord that ended what had been a brutal 30-year war.


They were investigating his alleged involvement in the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. The IRA dragged Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, from her west Belfast home and executed her, claiming that she was an informer. Her body was found in August 2003 buried on a beach in County Louth. Forensic tests showed she had been badly beaten and shot in the back of the head.


Adams said: “I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family”. The PSNI released him without charge.


Boston College


Boston College interviewed several former paramilitaries about the Troubles on the understanding that they would not publish transcripts until the interviewees were dead. PSNI subpoenaed Boston College in 2011. A provision of US law forced them to hand over the evidence, which they did after two years of legal battles. A court last year ordered the project to hand over the tapes to PSNI.


Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre ran the project. McIntyre is a former IRA life sentence prisoner. Moloney is a Belfast journalist who published A Secret History of the IRA, twelve years ago. Moloney revealed that in the early 70s Adams had established a unit in the Belfast IRA called the “unknowns”, which conducted several “disappearances”, including that of McConville.


Adams and the IRA


In interviews for the project, two former IRA operatives, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, confessed to involvement in Jean McConville’s murder. When former IRA commander Brendan Hughes, died in 2008 it emerged that on the tapes he alleged that Adams was a senior IRA leader during the Troubles and had ordered Mrs McConville’s killing.


Adams said: “Both Moloney and McIntyre are opponents of the Sinn Féin leadership and our peace strategy and have interviewed former republicans who are also hostile to me and other Sinn Féin leaders.”


Moloney says: “…the Sinn Féin leader chose to lie about his past, saying he was never in the IRA. That claim is so absurd, and to many of his former comrades so hurtful, that some were bound to protest.” Brendan Hughes in his Boston interview: “[When Adams denies IRA membership] it means that people like myself … have to carry the responsibility for all those deaths, for sending men out to die and sending women out to die, and Gerry was sitting there … trying to stop us from doing it? I’m disgusted by it because it’s so untrue and everybody knows it.”



Isn’t Northern Ireland ‘Sorted’?



Someone asked me: “Isn’t Northern Ireland sorted?” This is not a surprising reaction. When people outside the island of Ireland think about Northern Ireland at all, which is probably rarely, they are comfortable in thinking that the old problem has been “sorted” by the hard-won Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Tony Blair and New Labour and Bill Clinton presented the Northern Ireland peace process as a resounding success in bringing centuries of ‘ancient hatred’ to a close and providing a model for the rest of the world’s ethnic trouble spots to follow.



I suspect that many in Sri Lanka would see Northern Ireland as a model, like South Africa, for the reconciliation process in this country. The Adams case shows that Northern Ireland is not “sorted”. Why have the hopes invested in the Good Friday Agreement not been fully met, sixteen years after it was signed?



Ongoing Strife



There is likely to be a further plunge in turnout at this month’s municipal and European elections, reflecting growing disillusionment with the dysfunctional administration at Stormont. A recent newspaper survey of young people in Northern Ireland found that two thirds did not believe they enjoyed peace and the same proportion wanted to leave to pursue their aspirations.



Adams and Mandela



Adams cynically exploited the global wave of emotion surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela to create the impression that he was Ireland’s Mandela. Mandela openly acknowledged his role in orchestrating the campaign of violence against the repressive apartheid regime. His admissions, and similar acknowledgments of culpability from leaders on both sides of the South African conflict to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were fundamental to helping the country move from the horrors of the past.



Adams has actively concealed the truth of his past and sought to discredit those who have sought to bring light to the subject. Adams told members of the McConville family “Thank God I was in prison when she disappeared.” In fact, Adams was free at the time of the killing.



Justice or Peace?


There are lessons in this affair for other post-conflict situations. Who can argue with victims’ commissioner Kathryn Stone, when she says, “There can be no sustainable peace in Northern Ireland until every victim has true peace of mind”?


Ruth Dudley Edwards recently wrote: “The reluctance to dig into the past that has enabled both sides to continue their habit of what in Northern Ireland is called ‘whataboutery’ – in which any allegation by a member of one tribe is answered by a counter -allegation from the other.”


Others argue that those who did not live through the horrors of the Troubles do not appreciate the hard bargains that had to be struck to bring the relative peace enjoyed today. Official amnesia allowed fringe figures on the Loyalist side, such as firebrand bigot Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, to acquire legitimacy in order to achieve an ostensibly democratic administration in Belfast. Robinson was convicted in a court in the Republic of Ireland of unlawful assembly, having led an incursion across the border during frequently violent Protestant protests against an intergovernmental agreement between London and Dublin in 1985.


Impunity or Therapeutic Amnesia.


In the years after the IRA ceasefire, the Irish government had an unofficial policy of playing down IRA violence. Just two years after the 1994 ceasefire an IRA unit shot dead Jerry McCabe, a police officer, in Co Limerick during a botched robbery. The attempt to cover up the IRA’s role in the McCabe murder caused outrage among the Garda Síochána.


In March 2014, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly stated that 187 people had received letters assuring them that they did not face arrest and prosecution for IRA crimes.


Only a day before Adams’s arrest, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers ruled out inquiries into the British Army Parachute Regiment’s killing of ten mourners at a funeral in Ballymurphy, in August 1971, and the IRA’s killing of 12 people in the La Mon House firebomb massacre, in February 1978.


There is little doubt that Adams, whatever the truth of his connections with the IRA, played a large role in ending the conflict. If he was not in the IRA, how did Adams have the authority to persuade the IRA hardliners to agree to peace? Today, people of violence on both sides sit down and discuss sewage plans, pension problems and how to invest in infrastructure. As Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland secretary, said: “Adams and [Martin McGuinness] have been indispensable in moving Northern Ireland from the evil and horror of the past to the relative tranquillity and stability of today.”


In the Good Friday Agreement, approved in 1998 in referenda north and south of the border, there was no amnesty – only a concession to the perpetrators of Troubles-related crimes that if found guilty, they would serve only two years in jail.


How does Northern Ireland confront its past without undermining peace? Should politicians from all parties in Stormont, Dublin and Westminster to talk seriously about whether they can establish South African-style truth and reconciliation hearings, in which individuals can publicly declare their crimes and express contrition, in exchange for freedom from prosecution?



Is South Africa’s TRC an example to follow?

This article was published in Ceylon Today on April 9 2011.

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I was interested to read in the March 30 2014 issue of Ceylon Today that “senior lawyer, Gomin Dayasri is to head TRC”.

President Rajapaksa had told the South African High Commissioner in Colombo that he was planning to set up a Sri Lanka Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of the South African TRC. South African High Commissioner, Geoffrey Quinton Michael Doidge, promised President Rajapaksa South African expertise and technical assistance. The President invited suggestions for a head of the TRC and eventually plumped for Gomin.

At the CHOGM in November last year South African President Jacob Zuma offered his country’s support if the Sri Lankan Government decided to appoint a TRC. A Sri Lankan delegation led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva visited South Africa to discuss the proposed Commission with the South African authorities.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) captured public attention, provided a model for other countries and generated a vast bulk of scholarly literature. TRC hearings started in Cape Town in 1996. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as to promote reparation and rehabilitation. South Africa’s TRC seemed to break new ground in that it went beyond truth finding to promote national unity and reconciliation.

To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. Apartheid’s servants still dominated the state, so Nuremberg-style trials were not an option if the country was to achieve democracy without a coup. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the ruling African National Congress. Perpetrators had to face the individuals they tortured or the families of those they killed. There had to be some acceptance of the ostrich tendencies of the white middle class who did not want to admit complicity in systemic torture. Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked, “It’s very difficult to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep.”

Did the South African process live up to its reputation? Hugo van der Merwe, project manager with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was not enthusiastic. “Despite all of its flowery language around reconciliation, it really had very limited impact in terms of providing healing and justice for survivors and providing reintegration into communities for perpetrators. Those dynamics are ones which stay with society and that require further engagement by government and civil society.”

Together with Audrey R. Chapman, van der Merwe edited a study of the TRC entitled, Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Did the TRC Deliver? Chapman and van der Merwe spent eight years compiling this and had access to a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data. Most of the contributors concluded that the TRC did not deliver. Chapman contends that truth commissions are best suited for establishing “macrotruth,” which involves assessing contexts, and patterns of human rights abuses with a view to identifying structural causes and intellectual authors of political violence. Nearly all truth commissions take this as a central goal. Many also seek “micro-truth.” – to gather evidence on individual cases. A number of commentators have observed that the TRC’s final report down-plays and even obfuscates the question of how apartheid operated as a system, focusing instead on extreme acts of violence committed by individual actors.

A study by Jay and Erika Vora indicated that the TRC proceedings reminded people of the horrors that had taken place in the past when they preferred to forget such things. Some viewed the proceedings as flawed because many people lied to get an amnesty. There was a feeling that the process discriminated in favour of high profile victims. A 1998 study by South Africa’s Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation & the Khulumani Support Group found that most believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and that the TRC had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.

William Kentridge, a South African lawyer and director of Ubu and the Truth Commission, said, “As people give more and more evidence of the things they have done they get closer and closer to amnesty and it gets more and more intolerable that these people should be given amnesty.” Steve Biko’s family described the TRC as a “vehicle for political expediency”, which “robbed” them of their right to justice.

The story we believe today is that South Africa became a democracy in a peaceful transition. The violence on both sides has been airbrushed out of the picture. This was part of the deal agreed. There would be no punitive justice.

John Pilger criticised the TRC for allowing the easy transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism, and for failing to cause the trial of criminals, particularly murderers. In 1994, South Africa chose a neoliberal path. There was no redistribution of resources. The white minority still controls 80 percent of the best agricultural land and owns the country’s mines. Racial inequality has grown since 1994. An OECD report says: “South Africa faces a number of long-standing economic problems that still reflect at least in part the long-lasting and harmful legacy of apartheid”. A report by Statistics South Africa shows two-thirds of young people live in households with a per capita income of less than 650 rand a month (around £47). White South Africans still take home six times more pay than blacks do.

A survey covering 1998–2000 compiled by the UN, ranked South Africa second for assault and murder per capita and first for rapes per capita in a data set of 60 countries. South Africa was tenth out of the 60 countries in the dataset for total crime per capita.

South Africa’s national budget is USD 167 billion. In the fiscal year 2011-2012, USD 103 million was lost to financial misconduct. Only 13 per cent of the money lost to corruption is recovered. While 88 per cent of people tried for financial misconduct are found guilty, only 19 per cent are dismissed. Forty-three per cent get final written warnings. Many escape by resigning and getting another government job offering the opportunity to carry on stealing.

Jacob Zuma made a State of the Nation address on February 12 2014, stressing the high points of his time in office ahead of elections on May 7. An Ipsos poll published on February 12 found his approval rating has fallen from 77 per cent in 2009 to just 46 per cent today. In 2009, 54 per cent of South Africans felt the country was moving in the “right direction” – today just 34 per cent feel the same.

President Zuma was charged with rape in 2005, but was acquitted. He fought a long legal battle over allegations resulting from his financial advisor Schabir Shaik’s conviction for corruption and fraud. Zuma still has allegations hanging over his head that he received 783 corrupt payments totalling Rand 4.1 million (nearly £300,000). Two wealthy Indian brothers known to have close ties to Mr Zuma borrowed the country’s biggest military airport to fly in guests for a family wedding. A report by the public watchdog criticised Zuma for spending £12.9 million of public money on “security” upgrades to his private estate.

This year’s parliamentary elections in South Africa will be the first in which children born after the 1994 transition to democracy become eligible to vote. How has that reconciliation thing worked for them? Children born 20 years after the end of apartheid will be faced with a two-tiered education system — a functional one for the wealthy and a dysfunctional public system for poor blacks. In Limpopo province 1.7m children in were deprived of textbooks for almost a year because of local government corruption.

Emulating the apartheid regime, police killed 34 striking miners and then charged the miners themselves with murdering their colleagues. There is an average of 32 protests each day, mainly over a lack of basic services. The number of police-related deaths in 2012 totalled 797, more than double levels ten years ago, according to figures from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. Deaths of police personnel on active service totalled 92.

How do you like that for truth and reconciliation? Can Sri Lanka learn from the South African experience? How does the South African experience compare with the Sri Lankan experience? The most obvious fact is that in the old South Africa, the majority was oppressed by the minority. That is not the case in Sri Lanka. Whatever injustices there may be, there is less apartheid in Sri Lanka than there is in Louisiana. Ask yourself, Dear Reader, where you would rather live today – Sri Lanka or South Africa?


South Africa after Mandela

This article was published in The Sunday Island on July 7 2013 but did not appear on the paper’s website.

It is sad to see Nelson Mandela’s family squabbling in an unseemly fashion around his death bed and shuffling around the bodies of his offspring. Is this a symbol of today’s South Africa?

Rainbow Nation

It would take a heart of stone not to feel  emotional about Nelson Mandela. In my more sprightly days, I took part in anti-apartheid marches, singing along to Jerry Dammers’s song “Free Nelson Mandela”. Walking along the South Bank past the Festival Hall, I would nod reverently to the sculpture by Ian Walters which was commissioned by Ken Livingstone when he was leader of the Greater London Council. It was unveiled in 1985 by ANC president Oliver Tambo. Livingstone said: “The commissioning of this statue was symbolic of the wide support that existed amongst Londoners for the struggle against apartheid at a time when many in the media and the British government regarded Nelson Mandela as a terrorist”.

Like many, I experienced tears of joy when a beatifically smiling Mandela embraced Francois Pienaar, the Springbok rugby captain, with both men wearing a number six captain’s jersey. Whoever could have thought that the evil fascist apartheid regime could fade away without bloodshed and that Mandela and de Klerk could work together?

Mandela’s Legacy

Bob Dylan sang: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters”. It is dangerous to venerate any human being. Less than perfect civilians  like to see in leaders, or even mere celebrities,  qualities they would like have themselves. Mandela and  Aung San Suu Kyi are mere humans who have to operate in the real world of politics. The Economist feels it can write about her, “the halo slips” among foreign human-rights lobbyists, disappointed at her failure to make a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority.

Mandela has himself tried to discourage people viewing him as a saint or a hero. “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”FW de Klerk last year described Mandela as “brutal and unfair” as a political opponent: “I do not subscribe to the general hagiography surrounding Mandela.  He was by no means the avuncular and saint-like figure so widely depicted today”.

Ethics of Violence

Mandela was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – Spear of the Nation – the ANC’s armed wing,  which launched guerrilla attacks on the racist government, only disbanding in 1990. In his statement at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Those sound like noble words but Mandela did not die then and neither did the vile racists governing the country. MK’s main aim initially  was sabotage rather than murder. Mandela did not object to later attacks on burger bars and amusement arcades and refused to repudiate the armed struggle in 1985 when he was offered his freedom. As with  Provisional IRA, Hezbollah  and LTTE attacks, most victims were not politicians or military but  women and children. MK’s violence did not speed the dismantling of apartheid.

Mandela got a difficult job done with the tools at his disposal. His great achievement was that power was handed from the minority to the majority without a bloodbath. What kind of nation will he leave behind?

Truth and Reconciliation

Although apartheid had been defeated, its minions still dominated the police, army, and civil service. Transition had to be handled cautiously if civil war was to be avoided. The majority of whites refused to acknowledge the systemic nature of government brutality. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “It’s very difficult to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep.”

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) captured public attention and provided a model for other countries. The  TRC mandate was to go beyond truth-finding to promote national unity and reconciliation, to facilitate the granting of amnesty to those who made full factual disclosure, to restore the human and civil dignity of victims by providing them an opportunity to tell their own stories.

Steve Biko’s family described the TRC as a “vehicle for political expediency”, which “robbed” them of their right to justice. John Pilger criticised the TRC for allowing the easy transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism, and for avoiding trying criminals, including murderers.


The transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism means that today  there are eight million black South Africans with an adequate income, and at least 20 million poor: one in four does not get enough to eat. An (OECD)   report says: “Despite considerable success on many economic and social policy fronts over the past 19 years, South Africa faces a number of long-standing economic problems that still reflect at least in part the long-lasting and harmful legacy of apartheid” .

A report by Statistics South Africa shows two-thirds of young  people live in  households with  a per capita income of less than 650 rand a month (around £47). The first census done in a decade indicates that white South Africans still take home six times more pay than blacks. The country’s black middle class is now the same size as the white South African middle class, helped by the country’s employment laws which were drawn up to redress decades of inequality and unfairness by previous white regimes.


A survey covering 1998–2000 compiled by the UN, ranked South Africa second for assault and murder per capita and first for rapes per capita in a data set of 60 countries. South Africa was tenth  out of the 60 countries in the dataset for total crime per capita.

A study commissioned by the government attributed this to a number of factors:

•    Normalisation of violence allows it  to be seen as a justifiable means of resolving conflict;
•    The criminal justice system  is seen as  inefficient and corrupt;
•    There is a thriving subculture of violence and criminality;
•    Poverty, unstable living arrangements, inconsistent and uncaring parenting, enhance the chances that children will become involved in criminality and violence;
•    High levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation.


South Africa’s national budget is USD 167 billion. USD 103 million was lost to financial misconduct by workers in national and provincial governments in the fiscal year 2011-2012, up from USD 38.5 million in 2009-2010. Only 13 per cent of the money lost to corruption is recovered. While 88 per cent of people tried for financial misconduct are found guilty, only 19 per cent are dismissed. Forty-three per cent get final written warnings.  Many escape by resigning and getting another government job offering the opportunity to carry on stealing.
Financial forensics expert Peter Allwright,  author of a report called The Real State of the Nation, said: “Corruption is rampant. And the dedicated units that have been created to fight financial misconduct are in essence fighting a losing battle”.  An insufficient investigative capacity in the public service means nearly two-thirds of cases take more than 90 days to investigate. “You can give 30 days’ notice and leave, and the public service office then often abandons the investigation,” Allwright said.

President Zuma himself Zuma was charged with rape in 2005, but was acquitted. He  fought a long legal battle over allegations resulting from his financial advisor Schabir Shaik’s  conviction for corruption and fraud. On 6 April 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority decided to drop the charges against Zuma, citing political interference. Zuma still has allegations that he received 783 corrupt payments totalling Rand 4.1 million (nearly £300,000) hanging over his head and no-one has been prosecuted for that “political interference”. Mr Zuma’s popularity rating,  according to a recent poll , has dropped to an all-time low.

In his book, Zuma Exposed, investigative journalist Adriaan Basson forensically unpacks the charges against Zuma and “reveals a president whose first priority is to serve and protect his own, rather than the 50 million people he was elected to lead”.  Jackie Dugard, head of the Johannesburg-based Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, which lobbies for access to social and economic rights in SA, claims that Zuma’s salary itself places him ahead of most world leaders: “It reflects a huge divide between himself, workers and poor unemployed people”. Jacob Zuma is a polygamist who has been married six times and has (at least) 20 children. Activists complained about the amount the state paid to support Zuma’s wives, especially in the context of the country’s widespread poverty. In 2009/10 Zuma received a budget of £1.2m for “spousal support”. Politicians’ families are a rich source of embarrassment. With such a large family the risk is exponentially exaggerated. One son in particular seems a liability. Nkwazi Mhango commented: “Like any prince in a corrupt Africa, Duduzane is a source of wealth for any con man that’s able to fix and use him.”

Human Rights

The number of police-related deaths last year totalled 797, more than double levels ten years ago, according to figures from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. Deaths of police personnel on active service totalled 92.

On 16 August 2012, at  Marikana platinum mine, owned by the British-based company Lonmin, police opened fire on striking miners killing 44 and wounding 78. This was the worst of a series of violent incidents in the mining industry. The massacre represented “probably the lowest moment in the short history of a democratic South Africa”, wrote Cyril Ramaphosa, a senior figure in the African National Congress and a former mining union leader. Most of the victims were shot in the back,  many victims were shot far from police lines, suggesting summary execution.

In April 2013, MPs passed widely condemned protection of state information bill, dubbed the “secrecy bill” by its opponents. Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance, argued that the proposed laws had been “tabled within the context of a revived securocrat state”, citing the secrecy surrounding the Marikana massacre and use of public funds on President Zuma’s homestead.


Reconciliation in Rwanda

Divide and rule

I have said before (and will certainly say again) that the road to hell is paved with false analogies. Nevertheless, one cannot help but note that in the colonial project it was not uncommon for the imperial power to take advantage of, or even create, ethnic conflicts in pursuit of a divide and rule strategy. Britain did this with Jews and Arabs in Iraq, Tamils and Sinhalese in Ceylon, and in Kenya, Kikuyu and Luo.

Rwanda was colonised first by Germany and then by Belgium. The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory covered by Rwanda and Burundi to Germany as part of German East Africa. The territory was administered as a German colony from 1897 to 1916.

Early explorers had found a monarchical society governed by a class of people who seemed so clever and sophisticated that they did not fit existing European stereotypes of Africans. These were the Tutsi, who made up about 15 percent of the population and ruled a land where the large majority was of another group, the Hutu. Europeans took this as proof of simplistic  racial theories that were then in vogue. Gerard Prunier writes that Europeans were “quite smitten with the Tutsi,” finding them a “superior race” of people who were “meant to reign,” possessed “a refinement of feelings which is rare among primitive people,” and had “an absolutely distinct origin from the negroes.” The Hutu, by contrast, were seen as “less intelligent, more simple, more spontaneous, more trusting…extroverts who like to laugh and lead a simple life.” Ignorant of the complex web of mutual obligation that had bound Tutsi and Hutu together for generations, European colonizers placed one group in direct control of the other.

The Germans did not significantly alter the social structure of the country, but exerted influence by supporting King Kigeli Rwabugiri and the existing hierarchy and delegating power to local chiefs. Tutsi patrons ceded cattle, and therefore privileged status, to Hutu or Tutsi clients in exchange for economic and personal service.

Both the Germans and the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy, considering the Hutu and Tutsi different races, a view not universally accepted today. When the Belgians took over they used detailed physical measurements  that they believed would allow them to place every Rwandan in a racial category. In 1933 they made the fateful decision to issue identity cards classifying every Rwandan as Tutsi or Hutu. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes (or races). Scholars disagree on the origins of and differences between the Hutu and Tutsi; some believe that they are derived from former social castes, while others view them as being races or tribe. In 1994 these ID cards helped Hutu to identify hundreds of thousands of Tutsi and kill them.

In the 1950s, as the decolonization of Africa was approaching, the Belgians changed their Rwanda policy. Moved in part by new egalitarian impulses that made them see Tutsi domination as undemocratic, and also by fears that educated Tutsi were turning toward Marxism, they encouraged a rising sense of Hutu grievance. Finally they decided, in the words of John Bale, author of Imagined Olympians, “to switch their support to the educated Hutu.” After ruling for generations through the Tutsi, they reversed themselves and made the Hutu masters of Rwanda just before granting the country independence in 1962.

Hutu militancy increased, as did opposition to the monarchy. The existing system of Tutsi supremacy  was challenged. It was now Hutu who increasingly felt they could re-write history.  They represented Tutsi as Aryan “immigrants” or “invaders.”  The power base had shifted to the Hutu elite. This was a turning point in the political history of Rwanda.  One can thus view the subsequent ethnic cleansing and genocide as horrendous extensions of the trend that began in the 1950s.

Belgium continued to rule Rwanda as a UN Trust Territory after World War II with a mandate to lead the nation to independence. Tension escalated between the Tutsi, who favoured early independence, and the Hutu emancipation movement, culminating in the 1959 Revolution. Hutu activists began killing Tutsi, forcing more than 100,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, including Uganda. In 1962, the now pro-Hutu Belgians held a referendum and elections in which the country voted to abolish the monarchy. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and became  independent in 1962. Cycles of violence followed, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi.

After independence, government-sponsored Hutu gangs carried out periodic massacres of Tutsi. Many Tutsi fled the country. Those who remained were given a subservient status much like that imposed on blacks in South Africa. They became second-class citizens and were denied full rights to education, employment, and travel. Whenever extremist or corrupt Hutu politicians needed a scapegoat, or wished to divert attention away from their misdeeds, they attacked the Tutsi minority.

In 1973,  Juvenal Habyarimana seized power in a military coup. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued, but there was greater economic prosperity and violence against Tutsi diminished.


In 1994, during  100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks ordered by  the interim government which took power when  President Habyarimana was assassinated on 6 April. In January 2012, the key findings of a four-year-long expert investigation, commissioned by French judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux, were released to the world’s media. Most commentators thought the findings vindicated  the ‘official version’ of the Rwandan genocide, which holds that the plane shooting was the opening move by Hutu extremists in their carefully planned genocide of the  Tutsi population. Barry Collins, a writer on African affairs and author of Obedience in Rwanda: A Critical Question,   disagrees. [i] The Tutsi RPF gained  control of the whole country by mid-July. When the RPF took over, two million Hutu fled Rwanda,  in particular to Zaire (now Congo) fearing reprisals.

This definitely meets the criteria of genocide. Victims were chosen because they were Tutsis or Hutus sympathetic to Tutsis. The true numbers of dead will never be known  – some estimates go as high as five million but the figure generally used is 800,000.

The killing of Tutsis by Hutu tends to eclipse the massacres and reprisals carried out against Hutus by the RPA in Rwanda and in IDP camps in the Congo.

How has Rwanda dealt with the aftermath of genocide?

The new government had the  huge logistical problem of dealing with the vast number of  people accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government carried out more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand arrests by 1997. By 2001, Rwanda’s prisons and communal jails were bursting at the seams with 120,000 alleged genocidaires. Rwanda’s courts were shut down for more than two  years after the genocide.  Amnesty International estimated that after the genocide there were only ten lawyers left in the country.  The government calculated that it would take another 110 years to prosecute all the prisoners.

Philip Gourevitch wrote: “Nobody ever talked seriously about conducting tens of thousands of murder trials in Rwanda. Western legal experts liked to say that even the lawyer-crowded United States could not have handled Rwanda’s caseload fairly and expeditiously”.

From time to time, the government conducted mass releases. After  2003, between fifty and sixty thousand inmates were set free and  on February 19, 2007 eight thousand prisoners were released. Those  released are seldom welcomed back into their communities.

A good start was not made to the process of reconciliation. Punishment and retribution  was the reason, in 1998, for the public execution of 22 prisoners, some of them high ranking officials. The executions drew huge crowds overtaken with blood lust. This was not a way to end the cycle of revenge.

Gacaca court system

To speed things up, Rwanda implemented the Gacaca court system,  often translated as “justice on the grass”. This is a method of transitional justice designed to promote healing and a new start, with justice to some extent being placed in the hands of the victims. Cases have usually  involved cows or land or water and could be remedied by reparations or a heartfelt apology.

The man who inspired Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, wrote:

“The two aggrieved men were required to share a gourd of banana beer as a sign of renewed friendship …. Whether you were the victim or the aggressor you had to strip yourself of pride and recognize the basic humanity of the fellow with whom you were now sharing a banana beer …. Everyone who showed up to hear the case was invited to sip the banana beer too, as a symbol of the accused man’s reconciliation with the entire people.”[ii]

Genocide survivors and the bereaved face the accused and acknowledgement and apologies are encouraged. Confessions are only accepted if they give all information about the crime, including incrimination of co-conspirators.

The system has been criticised because of  survivors being targeted for giving evidence. There have been false accusations as well as intimidation of witnesses. The acquittal rate has been 20%, suggesting a sizable number of cases have not been well-founded. There is a strong chance that witnesses’ memories will be unreliable. Also, there is less protection for defendants than in conventional courts because there are no lawyers – suspects will have to represent themselves. Back in 2005,  Alison des Forges of Human Rights Watch wrote: “Obviously the problem of delivering justice after the genocide is an overwhelming problem. Gacaca may not be ideal but there is at this point no alternative.” Lists of suspects compiled in preparation for Gacaca, indicated that almost as many took part in perpetrating the genocide as were killed.

The courts are based on a traditional way of resolving disputes, in which villagers elect “people of integrity” to hear the evidence and reach a verdict. There are nine judges for each court, and they have the power to impose penalties of up to life in prison. They will deal with major crimes including murder and assault, though rape will still be dealt with by conventional courts.

Jeanette Ayinkamiye, a 23-year-old seamstress, lost her mother, her father and seven brothers during the Rwandan genocide. When interviewed by French journalist Jean Hatzfeld she said: “We forget the details, confuse the dates, mix up the attacks, make mistakes… Over time we still have very precise lists of memories; they become more and more truthful, but we hardly know anymore how to order them in the right way.” According to psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, the accounts of ‘truth’ given by victims and survivors are not about facts. They are about the impact of facts and “the continuing trauma on their lives created by past violence”.

Stephen Kinzer wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2007: “Political and religious leaders are urging people to forgive those who attacked them. An amazing number say they have”. “In a remote and dusty village in Mbyo district, near the border with Burundi, I met a man and woman who were longtime neighbors. In 1994 the man, Xavier Nemeye, hacked to death the husband and four children of the woman, Rosaria Bankundiye. He tried to kill her as well, but she escaped with machete wounds in her skull. She told me that an itinerant Protestant pastor convinced her to forgive Nemeye.  “Through God, we had the blessing of being able to reconcile with those who committed these acts,” she said, speaking slowly and with evident pain. “I don’t wish anything bad for him. If someone kills him, it will not be me.”  There was a long silence after she finished. Then her assailant began his account. “Considering what I did, if I had to sentence myself, even killing me would not be enough,” he said. “This was collective crime. I am guilty, and the government was guilty. The government planned the killing. I killed.”

International justice

Gacaca was Rwanda’s own approach to the aftermath of genocide. There was also international intervention. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was set up in November 1994 by the UN Security Council in order to judge people responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of international law in Rwanda or by Rwandan citizens in nearby states, between 1 January and 31 December 1994. The new Rwandan government came to view the tribunal as an assault on both its legitimacy and sovereignty

From 1995,  ICTR has been sitting at Arusha in Tanzania. Through several resolutions, the Security Council called on the tribunal to complete its investigations by end of 2004, complete all trial activities by end of 2008, and complete all work in 2012. These targets were found to be unrealistic and the Security Council called upon the tribunal to finish its work by 31 December 2014 to prepare for its closure and transfer of its responsibilities to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals which will begin functioning on 1 July 2012. To judge from the ICTR website, like all areas of  modern life, genocide provides lucrative employment for western ‘consultants’. Each of the ICTR’s  few convictions has cost more than $60 million.

There has been much animosity within Rwanda against the ICTR for its slowness, incompetence and alleged rampant corruption. The UN has a bad name in Rwanda because of its failure to intervene during the genocide.

The retributive nature of the ICTR discourages honesty from the accused in the dock. Georges Rutaganda argued that “It is not Hutus who are guilty of this so-called genocide. We are convinced there was no genocide. It was a situation of mass killings in a state of war where everyone was killing their enemies …. There are a million people dead, but who are they? They are 800,000 Hutus and 200,000 Tutsis. Everyone was killing but the real victims are the Hutus. So they’ve got this so-called genocide all wrong”.

Kohen, Zanchelli and Drake[iii]  argue that restorative justice initiatives have moved Rwanda  closer toward reconciliation than retributive measures, such as those taken by the ICTR. However, they also suggest that the Rwandan government has not shown a serious commitment to healing the wounds that persist between either individual Rwandans or groups. They argue a  case for the importance of pairing a comprehensive search for justice with a commitment to truth-telling and accountability by the victims and perpetrators of the genocide, as well as by current government officials.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch says: “Accurate accounts of the genocide must establish in all their complexity the roles of the leaders, the followers, and the dissidents within Rwanda as well as the parts played by various international actors. This is essential both for assessing fairly the behavior of individuals and for creating strategies for the future. We must find ways to increase the numbers and effectiveness of resisters against such crimes, whether within or outside the society at risk. We must understand how local and international protest can resonate back and forth to create the swell of outrage that will prevent or halt future genocides.

This work is one of the many that must come to establish the historical record, to lay the groundwork for justice for Rwandans and accountability for all others who failed to respond to the bonds of our common humanity. The story must be told.”

What is Rwanda like today?

Rwanda is a small country with 8.8 million people packed into a land about the size of Maryland. The population is young and predominantly rural, with a density among the highest in Africa. The climate is moderate, there are  few jungles, and slave traders never penetrated into Rwandan territory. Rwanda is landlocked, and for much of its history it was isolated from the world; the first European did not arrive until 1892. It has neither great mineral wealth nor space for large-scale agriculture.

The capital of Rwanda, Kigali,  is considered by many observers to be the safest city in Africa today, and Rwanda one of the safest countries in the world. An international school opened for the  children of  foreign investors and entrepreneurs flocking to the country. Rwanda has low corruption compared with neighbouring countries. Many outsiders believe that no other poor country is embarked on such a promising campaign to improve itself, and are thrilled with what President Kagame is doing.

“How can I forgive, when my livelihood was destroyed and I cannot even pay for the schooling of my children?”[vi] Many have argued that poverty fed the violence. Kagame is addressing the problem of poverty.

During the 2000s Rwanda’s economy, tourist numbers and Human Development Index improved rapidly. Between 2006 and 2011 the poverty rate reduced from 57% to 45%, and child mortality rates dropped from 180 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 111 per 1000 in 2009.

In 2007, Stephen Kinzer reviewed  several books on Rwanda and discussed his own experience of the country in the New York Review of Books. Kinzer quoted Josh Ruxin, the former director of a health programme at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, who was  so enthusiastic about Rwanda’s prospects that he moved there to run  a “Millennium Village” project in a rural part of the country. “I’ve worked in fifty countries and I think this is the only country on the planet that stands a chance of migrating from extreme poverty to middle income in the space of the next fifteen years.”

Human rights

Despite the apparent success in recovering from the genocide, the Rwandan government has been criticized by human rights groups. Before the 2003 presidential election, the man who would have been Kagame’s principal opponent was jailed on corruption charges. Political parties are prohibited from appealing to group identity, and public statements promoting “divisionism” are forbidden. The authorities have used these limitations to imprison critics.

Philip Gourevitch has written extensively about Rwanda (and Sri Lanka) in the New Yorker and elsewhere.[iv] He defended himself in the Columbia Journalism Review against charges that he was pro-Kagame. The were some interesting comments on the article from bloggers. An anonymous commenter  wrote: “Gourevitch has never been a shill or sycophant. Gourevitch is right to press his criticisms of the international aid community and the botched humanitarian efforts that have enabled killers as much as rescued victims and survivors. What is even more surprising is how France remains marginal to the  story even though they, more than any outsider, were the chief enabler of the Hutus and who continue to bungle its involvement and the events on the ground”.

The editor of an independent Rwandan newspaper, Shyaka Kanuma, said  that for years he saw Kagame as “a power-hungry, self-serving guy.” However he acknowledges that: “Some of the things he did to suppress opposition were necessary. We have people in our country who would do absolutely anything to get power.”

“Media have had a destructive role in the history of Rwanda. The use of the media by powers especially in the preparation and execution of genocide has had harmful effects on their credibility in our society. We still have in mind the notorious Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, as well as Kangura newspaper. How can we make of media instruments of peace and not hatred?”[v]

Human Rights Watch has pointed out the deficiencies of the Gacaca system. “Many individuals accused of very serious crimes—such as multiple murders—can now be tried by Gacaca in seeming contradiction to its original purpose.”  HRW concedes that the present iteration seeks to establish offender accountability while also serving the government’s goal of catalyzing the slow-moving genocide trials.” The government had to do something about the huge prison population. Human rights campaigners were complaining about cruel and inhuman treatment. Releasing prisoners and using the Gacaca system means that a lot of guilty and dangerous people are on the loose. It is unsurprising that the government does what it can to impose a firm hand and regards western ides of human rights as a luxury in this situation.

Kagame argued that some Westerners define “human rights” too narrowly, defending rights of personal expression but underestimating the importance of stability and economic progress. Kagame’s defenders argue that too much democracy too soon will split Rwanda apart again. Texan agronomist Tim Schilling told Kinzer: “It’s necessary to have a little repression here to keep the lid on” while Kagame’s economic development program takes hold.

Foreign intervention

Another Rwandan  reader of Gourevitch’s CJR article commented: “What Rwandans need to ask themselves, what Africans need to ask themselves, is for how much longer will we base our apparent differences on things written from a western perspective? How much longer will we hate each other because of things written by the west? Because it is only them who write historical facts about how different we are!”

Another commenter, Mikhaila Cupido wrote: “Currently the good guy seems to be Hutu. And no one takes into consideration how hard the country is working on getting rid of these colonial references to the Rwandan people. And these rantings remind me of the colonialists  and their once great love of the Tutsi and when they couldn’t benefit from it anymore they swapped sides to the Hutu.”


Rwanda is covered with memorials to the genocide. Some killing sites were left intact with the bones of victims on display. Because the country is densely populated, Rwandan citizens see these memorials every day. There is a national day of mourning every year in April and the president leads a ceremony which is broadcast nationally.

In spite of this enforced “remembering” there are also “silences”. No history is taught in schools because there is no consensus on what to put in the national curriculum.[vii] There has been a pragmatic failure to investigate crimes committed by the RPA. This has given fuel to Hutu ideologues attempting to raise ethnic consciousness.

Kohen et al: [viii]“The lack of honest, public discussion about ethnicity in Rwanda poses serious problems for the process of political reconciliation. If these ethnic terms are wholly suppressed, it seemingly becomes impossible for the victimized group to forgive the offending group. For if the government was to undertake the difficult work of identifying prominent victims who might offer forgiveness to the Hutus as a group—or if Kagame, himself a refugee of Hutu-led violence, were to act as Rwanda’s Mandela—these statements would be in direct contradiction of policies of ethnic re-education. Further, the loose interpretation of terms like ‘genocidal Ideology’ and ‘divisionism’ discourage any sort of public dialogue on the role that ethnic identity can or should play in Rwandan society. This discourse could potentially be very useful in setting the stage for political reconciliation, as it could establish a common understanding between Hutus and Tutsis collectively. Taken together, these policies not only move Rwanda further from a comprehensive attempt at political reconciliation, but make it virtually impossible for Hutus and Tutsis to begin rebuilding the trust that was so violently broken by the genocide.”

The world might see the Hutus as monsters in the genocide but they can still see themselves as victims. Kohen et al:“The continued emphasis on Hutu victimization encourages offenders to view their participation in the genocide as legitimate action in the face of their own potential victimization while clearly discouraging an apology to those Tutsi whose families were murdered or who were themselves in grave danger. This feeling of  victimization is furthered by the perception amongst Hutu that members of the RPF are not held accountable for crimes they committed, as neither the ICTR nor the gacaca courts have jurisdiction to try these crimes.”

Govier[ix] points out, “A group’s acknowledgment of its own victimization poses dangers of a cult-like and ceremonial sharing of group pain. In the ‘we-ness’ cultivated under the ethnic tent, a sense of victimhood may be created all too easily, and may too readily displace efforts to understand the complexities of the past.”  Jeremy Sarkin[x]  suggests what is needed is  “a properly constituted, totally independent, non-government appointed commission in Rwanda,” without which “anger, resentment, hatred, and revenge might be the order of the day.”

[ii] Rusesabagina’s  autobiography entitled An Ordinary Man was the basis of the film Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina has called Kagame a war criminal and alleges “Rwanda is today a nation governed by and for the benefit of a small group of elite Tutsis…Those few Hutus who have been elevated to high-ranking posts are usually empty suits without any real authority of their own. They are known locally as Hutus de service or Hutus for hire.” He has also criticized Kagame’s election to president.

[iii] Personal and Political Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda. Social Justice Research March 15, 2011

[iv] We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Gourevitch (1998)

[v] Institute for Dialogue and Peace

[vi] Ervin Staub , Healing, reconciliation, forgiving and the prevention of violence after genocide or mass killing: an intervention and its experimental evaluation in Rwanda Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2005, pp. 297-334

[vii] Eugenia Zorbas Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda, Journal of African Legal studies.

[viii] Personal and Political Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda, Ari Kohen, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Michael Zanchelli, Washington, D.C. ,Levi Drake Washington, D.C.

[ix] Govier, T. (2002). Forgiveness and revenge. London: Routledge.

[x] The Tension between Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Politics, Human Rights, Due Process and the Role of the Gacaca Courts in Dealing with the Genocide, Jeremy Sarkin, Journal of African Law, Vol. 45, No. 2 (2001)

Jeremy Sarkin, Journal of African Law, Vol. 45, No. 2 (2001)

Basil D’Oliveira

Cricketer Basil D’Oliveira has died at the age of 80. He was picked to play in the England team touring South Africa in 1968. The  apartheid South African government did not like this as Basil was of a dusky hue. Private Eye did this cover.

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