Anarchy in Rwanda's grisly events

April 21, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

SEVERAL years ago, I was having dinner here with a young minister from Guinea on the West Coast of Africa, and I asked him what Sekou Toure, the Guinean leader of independence, had left behind.

The young minister was one of the hopeful new economic men of Africa, while Sekou Toure was one of Africa's great fighters against colonialism.

"He left the mobilization," the minister finally said sadly, "Guineans now stand in line."

That expression, by a young man hoping against hope that Africa still could make it, seemed to me then to be the quintessence of the first stage of the continent's post-independence.

Now, in the last two weeks, we have the essence of the last stage, the carnage in Rwanda, where tall tribesmen massacre short tribesmen with a savagery not even seen in colonial times; where not even tribal divisions and hatreds make sense anymore; and where we may have reached the final Hobbesian realization of the "war of all against all."

My respected journalistic colleague and historian Robert D. Kaplan recently took a revealing trip through West Africa by foot and by bus. He mingled with crowds, and talked with the omnipresent hordes of uneducated and unemployed young men who seem to be everywhere, donning makeshift and often ribald "uniforms" and massacring any group at whim.

He tallied the problems like a string of evil pearls: "The withering away of central government, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war."

Moreover, Mr. Kaplan maintains, "West Africa's future, eventually, will also be that of most of the rest of the world."

How did it all come to this point?

Rwanda was one of Africa's ancient traditional kingdoms, ruled by chiefs and kings of the Hutus. Adjoining Burundi was ruled by the Tutsis or Watusis. But when King Leopold of Belgium forcibly colonized the kingdoms in the late 19th century, tradition first began to unravel.

After the colonizer-Belgians left in 1962, Rwanda was independent and hopeful. It was the same hour as Sekou Toure's Guinean independence. It should have been a great hour for all Africa, but it was not.

By empowering the minority Tutsis (15 percent of the population both Rwanda and Burundi), first the German and then the Belgian colonists helped the Tutsis oppress the much shorter Hutus, and massacres followed, ironically increasing after independence.

For the saddest part of all in this African independence saga is that, as Professor George B.N. Ayittey writes in his ground-breaking book, "Africa Betrayed," "a far more insidious invasion began under black neocolonialism . . . a new wave of invaders struck Africa."

The terrible denouement of colonialism was that these promising young "new men" of the "New Africa," gone abroad to study, brought back alien ideological systems, such as Marxism or secular democracy or just plain greedy and murderous dictatorships, which were far worse than the colonialists. They altogether destroyed what was left of the traditional patriarchal, tribal cultures.

As the Ghana-born Professor Ayittey, of American University here, who is one of the world's pre-eminent specialists on Africa, wrote this week of these new massacres:

"An attribution of the carnage to ancient tribal rivalries . . . is unsatisfactory. These rivalries would always exist. The real cause is the exploitation of ethnic differences by autocratic governments to maintain their grip on power. The colonialists did this but, in the post-colonial period, despotic African heads of state refined this strategem with relish."

What, then, do these grisly and sorrowful events in Rwanda say?

They say that, as Kaplan so direly predicted, in areas of the world we are beginning to reach the point where murderous gangs are taking over; where the forces of order and security are simply being overtaken by new forces of anarchy and chaos.

They tell us that the international and humanitarian organizations, faced with more Liberias, Somalias and Rwandas, are already facing not only compassion fatigue, but nervous breakdown.

And this should serve as a warning to countries such as the United States, where similar forces of criminality and gang warfare are beginning to predominate over the forces of order." In the era to come, the "order" we once took for granted will in much of the world be a rare visitor indeed.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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