Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ascribing Blame

Rene Lemarchand seems to be a fair voice in the otherwise politically charged area of the Great Lakes Region. I read his 1994 book on Burundi. In it, he explains the arguments of Hutu extremists and Tutsi extremists. He puts their arguments into context. It's a really well-written book.

His 2009 book on political violence in the region was less effective. He's writing in the context of the West's guilt over the 1994 genocide committed by Hutu against mostly Tutsi victims. His point is that the Tutsi-led RPF has committed massacres and those need to be condemned as well. It's a fair point.

But Lemarchand's book has two fundamental problems. One is a question of sloppiness. His book is really just a collection of essays written over several years. The problem is that he never mentions that fact. As a reader, you are forced to guess when the chapter was written based on the events he discusses. Sometimes, he has evidence that Paul Kagame is responsible for the shooting down of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane, but other times, no one knows who is responsible and we may never know. Lemarchand should've mentioned that it was a collection of essays from over the years and labeled each chapter as such or updated all of his essays.

The worse problem is that he ascribes partial blame for the genocide to Paul Kagame. He argues that because Kagame led the RPF invasion, which enhanced the Tutsi threat in the eyes of the Hutu, Kagame also deserves responsibility for the killings committed by the Hutu militias. While the RPF invasion is important in order to contextualize the genocide, the RPF did not engage in the genocide, though they did kill Hutu civilians during the civil war, and thus cannot be blamed for it.

Kagame and the RPF must be held responsible for their own human rights violations, but not those of Hutu Power. It is irresponsible of Lermchand to insinuate Kagame has any responsibility to the interahamwe's murder of Tutsi civilians. it is the difference between context and justification. To mention the RPF invasion in the same sentence as the 1994 genocide is to provide context. To argue that without the RPF invasion in 1990, the genocide would not have happened, is plausible if irrelevant. But that is different than assigning blame for the genoocide to Kagame. When blame is given to Kagame, that gives justification to the genocide because the Hutu militia are suddenly not fully responsible for the murders they committed.
(more at HQT-IE)

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