Centre for African Studies (LUCAS)

Centre for African Studies
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT

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african-studies@leeds.ac.uk

LUCAS Schools Project coordinator

Richard Borowski
R.Borowski@leeds.ac.uk

Supernumeraries of the Human Race? Reflections on the African ‘holocaust’ – Morris Szeftel

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[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 69 (2007), pp. 25-47] [The Annual African Studies Lecture, Leeds University Centre for African Studies, 2 May 2006]

Supernumeraries of the Human Race? Reflections on the African ‘holocaust’
by Morris Szeftel

In 1972 I was one of several thousand people who managed to cram into the Manchester Free Trade Hall to listen to a speech by Amilcar Cabral, the agronomist then leading a revolution against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea-Bissau. Explaining why they were fighting their revolution, Cabral remarked that “we are fighting to recapture our own history”. It’s a comment that has always remained with me. Not only did it encapsulate the hopes generated by the struggle for African independence but it also reflected a particular moment of great optimism in Africa’s history (and with it in African studies), an optimism that began in 1957 with Ghana’s independence and was to last, probably, until the middle of the 1970s. Within a year of that speech, Cabral was dead, assassinated by dissidents within his own movement. Within four or five years, Africa was in the throes of a massive debt crisis in which it remains locked to this day and which has undermined most of the modest economic and social gains made in the 1960s, producing chronic political instability and turmoil.

As a result, the expectation we shared with Cabral back then, that Africa’s independence would bring development, democracy and a restoration of national sovereignty, has proved largely illusory. Fifty years after Ghana’s independence, Africa has not reclaimed its own history (however we would measure it). Instead, we are faced with a continent ravaged by high levels of poverty, inequality, disease and violence produced by economic and political forces over which Africans have little or no control. Millions lead lives at the margins of existence, lives afflicted by brutality and suffering, lives that are precarious and insecure. The contrast with Cabral’s vision of a reclaimed history could not be more stark.

In 1994, Colin Leys summed it up, perhaps as well as anybody has.[1] In an article published just as the Rwanda genocide unfolded, Leys wrote:

“What is happening in Africa is a perhaps irreversible decline towards that capitalism-produced barbarism of which Rosa Luxemburg warned. …What it comes down to is that in sub-Saharan Africa most people are facing a future in which not even bare survival is assured: to use Andre Gorz’s term, they are being made into the supernumeraries of the human race.”

In the decade since, although there have been some changes and even some meagre improvements, it is very hard to be much more optimistic than Leys was back in 1994. During that decade, millions perished in conflicts across the continent and millions more became refugees. Even where conflicts did not erupt, poverty, hunger and declining mortality rates have been all too normal (in Zambia, the country of my birth, to take one example, the country’s Human Development Index score declined annually for 15 consecutive years; and, despite its being the world’s third largest exporter of copper, more than 80 per cent of the population live on less than $2 a day).

What Leys’s formulation indicates are two aspects of the problem that informs this lecture today. One is this idea of barbarism, which Luxemburg saw as a distinct likelihood where there was no agency to promote fundamental change at the moment of deep capitalist crisis.[2] In similar vein, I take Leys to mean that the crisis of peripheral capitalism in Africa, in a situation where there is no agency to promote transformative change or greater social justice, has produced a barbarism of debt, hunger, famine, disease, warlordism and so on. The brutality that Africans endure leads directly to the second aspect of the problem set out by Leys: that this crisis results in them becoming supernumerary as far as the rest of the world is concerned, in some way ‘superfluous’ or irrelevant, not worth counting. It calls to mind a comment made in the 1970s in South Africa by the then Deputy Minister of Bantu Administration, one Blaar Coetzee, justifying the eviction of African women and children from the towns: they were, he said, ‘superfluous appendages’ and these superfluous appendages, some three million of them, were removed to rural areas to suffer malnutrition and tuberculosis. It was one of the great crimes of the apartheid period.[3] In the last three decades, increasing numbers of Africans throughout the continent have seemingly become ‘superfluous’ – and there is not apartheid for us to blame it on.

It is this combination of brutality and of indifference to people’s suffering, this sense that they don’t count, that it doesn’t really matter what is done to them or what happens to them, that concerns me today. Since that speech by Cabral, few of us have much hope that development, democracy or a restoration of sovereignty are achievable in Africa for the foreseeable future, or even that they are still on the agenda. And, because Africa’s immediate future looks so bleak, the complacency many of us displayed in the 1960s and 1970s about such levels of suffering is no longer excusable or acceptable, if it ever was. Back then, it was possible for us to tell ourselves, and to believe, that we were on the way to something better, that cruelty and violence were part of the pain of building a new Africa, that such suffering was regrettable but that there would be something better at the end of it. We know now that there isn’t something better, that there is often something worse, and a consequence of that realisation must be that it is – or should be – an absolute value that Africans ought not to die or suffer in the numbers that they do and that the present situation is intolerable and inexcusable. We can debate what kind of government is or is not appropriate, what distribution of resources are needed, what economic policies should be followed, or who should rule, but not this principle. Despite those who currently suggest that killing ordinary people can be morally justifiable, most of us accept that it is not. Yet the indifference with which the world responds to what is happening in Africa is something that needs to be confronted.

My concern here is not with the motives of those who kill. I’ve little interest in how those with power and the means of violence justify their contribution or indifference to human suffering, why mass murderers say they murder or why armed groups terrorise civilian populations. Their reasons are usually self-serving. More importantly, they are invariably ludicrous when set against the injury being inflicted. Those who commit atrocities or implement policies that inflict suffering on others invariably offer ‘reasons’ for what they do as if their cruelty or barbarism was somehow ‘reasonable’, the consequence of reason. As Jean Renoir put it in 1939: “the terrible thing is that everyone has his reasons.”[4] There is a danger that when we become wrapped up in such “reasons” we render their actions somehow reasonable and thereby become complicit in them.

Much more important, it seems to me, is to ask why people tolerate what is happening, why they do not stop it, why they even sometimes excuse it. This last week, as I prepared the final parts of this lecture, one television news bulletin after another has brought news from Darfur and described the kind of suffering going on there. Westerners visiting the region have returned shocked, horrified that such things can be done to innocent people. And yet it is a suffering which is tolerated year on year. If Tony Blair is right that “Africa is a stain on the conscience of humanity”, then humanity, it seems, is living fairly comfortably with that conscience. As citizens and as intellectuals we have a responsibility to question why it is allowed to continue. The difficulty is that once we pose such a question, it becomes clear that the grim events that have unfolded since Leys wrote his article are not new in Africa; indeed, that there is a long history of suffering and indifference to it. Any understanding of the ‘supernumerary’ treatment of Africans must necessarily be rooted in that history.

We see this pattern of brutality well documented from the beginning of colonial conquest, for example in the case of the Belgian Congo. In King Leopold’s Ghost,[5] Adam Hochschild brought together a wide range of source materials to present us with a powerful and disturbing history of how Leopold II of Belgium and his agent, Henry Morton Stanley, annexed one-thirteenth of the African continent in the Congo basin as a private colony of the king, and proceeded to set up a militarised state which extracted its wealth through what Hochschild calls ‘officially sanctioned terror’.[6] Tens of thousands of Africans were pressed into service as porters. Linked to each other by a chain around their necks,[7] they marched long hours, to take Stanley from one place to another, to move goods around what came to be called Stanley Falls, or to move inland from the river. They became a transmission belt for disease. They also died in vast numbers. Ivory, the initial source of Leopold’s wealth in the Congo, was generally collected by agents using armed raiding parties and then transported through the conveyor belt of porters to the coast. Joseph Conrad’s classic account of a journey up the Congo River in search of one such company agent, Mr. Kurtz [8] (transformed into the renegade Marine officer in Vietnam in the movie Apocalypse Now), describes him as positioning human heads on sticks around his house to remind local people of the cost of disobedience. Hochschild suggests that Conrad modelled Kurtz on an actual Belgian official named Rom.[9]

Ivory was soon eclipsed by rubber and with it by a regime which was, if anything, even more brutal. The wild rubber vines, which grew thick in the Congo rain forest, required exhausting manual labour to extract the rubber by cutting a nick in the vines to tap the rubber – dangerous work with a high mortality rate. Not surprisingly, the local population were unwilling to undertake it and so force was used to make the men work. Soldiers pressed them into service and, to ensure their obedience, also rounded up the women in the villages and held them hostage until the men returned with their quota of rubber. Where they failed to make their quota, they were sometimes flogged, sometimes shot or, sometimes, the women were shot.[10] The practice of amputating the hands of defaulters was institutionalised. Where whole villages resisted:

“State or company troops or their allies sometimes shot everyone in sight, so that nearby villages would get the message. But on such occasions, some European officers were mistrustful. For each cartridge issued to their soldiers, they demanded proof that the bullet had been used to kill someone – not wasted in hunting, or worse yet saved for possible use in a mutiny.”[11]

The standard proof was the right hand from a corpse. Or occasionally not from a corpse: sometimes, one officer told a missionary, soldiers who had used a cartridge hunting animals then cut off the hand of a living man. In some military units, there was even a ‘keeper of the hands’.

The death toll in this system was staggering:

”Many men were worked to death, while the women hostages were starved. Not surprisingly, the birth rate plummeted. Few able-bodied adults were left in villages to harvest food, hunt or fish. Famine spread. During two decades of widespread but unsuccessful rebellions more people died. Others fled the forced labour regime, but they had nowhere to go except to more remote parts of the forest, where there was little food or shelter. Years later, travellers would come upon their bones. The greatest toll came as soldiers, as well as caravans of porters and large numbers of desperate refugees, moved through the country, bringing new diseases to people with no resistance to them. … All these caused the death of millions.”[12]

In l920 a Jesuit missionary estimated that perhaps 80 per cent of the Bakongo had died in this process. In l919 a Belgian commission of inquiry thought that perhaps half of the overall population of the Congo in l879 perished as a result of this political economy. Hochschild in various places estimates that between five and ten million people died under this regime [13] until, eventually, international protest forced the Belgian parliament to end Leopold’s private ownership of the Congo. For Joseph Conrad what he saw of Leopold’s enterprise was “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”.[14]

Nor is this dreadful story all that unique. Within a decade of this system being introduced in Congo:

”…similar forced labour systems for extracting rubber were in place in the French territories west and north of the Congo River, in Portuguese-ruled Angola and in the nearby Cameroons under the Germans. For the concession companies in the Cameroons, ‘the “model” from which they professed to derive their inspiration’, writes one historian, ‘was … that of King Leopold II’s ventures in the Congo Free State, the dividends of which evoked admiration in stock-broking circles’. In France’s equatorial African territories … the amount of rubber bearing land was far less than what Leopold controlled, but the rape was just as brutal. … Forced labour, hostages, slave chains, starving porters, burned villages, paramilitary company sentries and the chicotte were the order of the day. … The population loss in the rubber-rich equatorial forest owned by France is estimated, just as in Leopold’s Congo, at roughly 50 per cent.”[15]

Around the same time, also, faced with a stubborn anti-colonial rebellion in Namibia, the German general von Trotha took to trying to exterminate the Herero. Mamdani suggests that in l904 alone perhaps 80 per cent of the Herero were killed.[16] If other colonial regimes in Africa were less brutal, they nevertheless imposed a huge cost on African society: hunger, low life expectancy and coercion were features of most of them.

In hindsight, that moment of optimism that we might ‘reclaim our own history’ now seems to be no more than a 15 year interlude in a long and continuous history of brutality in which African lives have counted for little. The end of imperial domination did not bring a post-colonial peace; instead Africans have become the victims of inexorable global economic forces and of brutal, rapacious and incompetent internal political forces. Thus the Rwanda genocide unfolded as the ink dried on Leys’s article. Its ‘model’ (if one were needed) was the slaughter of some 200,000 civilians in communal violence in Burundi in 1972.[17] Since Rwanda, we have seen the RUF’s atrocities in Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor’s crimes against humanity in Liberia. Similar warlord predation is ongoing in Chad, Uganda and Ivory Coast. The conflict in southern Sudan has claimed the lives of untold numbers of non-combatant civilians over some forty years (and seems likely to re-ignite when the question of southern secession is taken up again). And then there is Darfur, from where eye-witness accounts are such as to make one wonder if the dead have not been more fortunate than some of the still-living.[18] And, as if the people of Congo had not suffered enough, civil war and foreign incursion after the death of Mobutu may have accounted for another 2 to 4 million dead.[19] In the Kivus of eastern Congo, where private armies replace the state and plunder local resources, the issues of the Rwanda genocide are still being fought out. Even in countries which are not disintegrating, the human costs are high: in March this year, for instance, a Nigerian government document estimated that 3.4 million people had been displaced by communal violence in Nigeria.[20] These are not isolated atrocities, therefore; nor are they small atrocities. Looked at historically, it is peace rather than conflict that is unusual, suffering rather than human happiness that is normal.

Africa and the Holocaust

Reflecting on the human cost of Leopold’s African colony, Hochschild suggests that it represents “a death toll of Holocaust dimensions”.[21] It is this allusion to the Holocaust that was, in many ways, the trigger for this lecture, in that the Holocaust informs fundamental intellectual and personal issues for me – as for so many. The Holocaust is the lens through which I came to see Africa and the world. Both the stories and the experience of the Holocaust were the stuff of my childhood and their lessons shaped the way in which I have understood political issues as both academic and activist. Long before I was able to engage with African politics in the colonial society in which I grew up, my opposition to racism and colonialism was formed out of the moral lessons of the Holocaust. With your indulgence, I would like to make a few brief points about this intellectual and personal legacy which have relevance for my subject today.

Setting aside those in denial, there have been two kinds of response to the Holocaust. One is that it is unique, sui generis, and as such there is nothing to learn from it about any other atrocity. The other is its seeming opposite, namely that the Holocaust is not unique, that there have been similar atrocities in which just as many people have died and that, therefore, there is no need to give undue moral significance to the Holocaust.[22] Both views seem to me to cut off the Holocaust from the rest of history and thus to limit our ability to learn important lessons from it. As Zygmunt Bauman [23] has suggested:

”There are two ways to belittle, misjudge, or shrug off the significance of the Holocaust for the theory of civilization … One way is to present the Holocaust as something which happened to the Jews; as an event in Jewish history. This makes the Holocaust unique, comfortably uncharacteristic, and sociologically inconsequential. … Another way – apparently pointing in an opposite direction, yet leading in practice to the same destination – is to present the Holocaust as … another (however prominent) item in a wide class which embraces many ‘similar’ cases of conflict, or prejudice, or aggression. At worst, the Holocaust is referred to the primeval and culturally inextinguishable, ‘natural’ predisposition of the human species … At best, the Holocaust is … dissolved in the broad, all-too-familiar class of ethnic, cultural or racial hatred and oppression ….”[24]

I would suggest that we can learn about Africa from the Holocaust precisely by understanding its uniqueness rather than diminishing it in an attempt to make it ‘fit’ other concepts and paradigms more comfortably. The Holocaust was, and remains, unique. There is no other case in history where the technology of an advanced industrial economy and of a modern state administration were put to work for the purpose of exterminating an entire people (indeed, two peoples): not to subordinate them, not to punish them, not to expropriate their possessions, not to injure or torture them, not even to ‘ethnically cleanse’ them; but, instead, to exterminate them. Only in the case of the Rwanda genocide of 1994 do we find an African case where the intentions were similar. And even then, Mamdani [25] notes that:

”Unlike the Nazi Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide was not carried out from a distance, in remote concentration camps … [it] was executed with the slash of machetes rather than the drop of [gas] crystals, with all the gruesome detail of a street murder rather than the bureaucratic efficiency of a mass extermination. … Whereas Nazis made every attempt to separate victims from perpetrators, the Rwandan genocide was very much an intimate affair.”

So the Holocaust is different. The millions who died as a result of the exploitation of the colonial economy and brutality of the colonial state were the victims of very different policies and processes than those operating in the Final Solution. We cannot slap the label of ‘Holocaust’ on these other crises, at least not without distorting and destroying its meaning and doing disrespect to the suffering of their victims.[26] And yet, I want to suggest, there is a sense also in which Africa’s atrocities are comparable with the Holocaust: in the scale of human suffering, in the cruelty of those inflicting suffering, and above all in the indifference exhibited to this suffering – these things are often comparable. Further, even where the differences are marked, there are still lessons to be learned. Moreover, when we go beyond the military-bureaucratic apparatus employed for the extermination of Jews, to events on the ground and in more remote localities, or to killings that occurred before the full apparatus of extermination had been set up, we see that the killing often did have the face-to-face cruelty, the ‘intimacy’ of which Mamdani writes with regard to Rwanda.

And this brings me to the personal factor in my interest in the Holocaust and Africa. To explain, I need to tell a little of my family story. Ivye (sometimes Iwie), in what is today Belarus, is a small town of no great significance, other than that it stands at the junction of several regional economic routes. From the 16th Century, Ivye was transferred from one country to another as boundaries were adjusted by various treaties; it belonged successively to Lithuania, Russia and, when the Holocaust came to it, to Poland. This gave it a mixed population of Polish Catholics, white Russian Orthodox, Lithuanians, Muslim Tatars and Jews, who had become 76 per cent of the district population in 1921, largely as a result of people being displaced there by Russian purges, pogroms and ‘ethnic cleansing’; by 1938, there were just over 3000 Jews, most of them poor villagers.[27] In July 1941, the area was invaded by the Nazis who quickly ghettoised the Jews and won over the rest of the population by organising a violent pogrom in which the local participants were rewarded by being able to loot Jewish possessions. About six months before I was born, on 12 May 1942, the SS and Gestapo, supported by Lithuanian collaborators, surrounded the ghetto, separated out various families (mainly according to skill: medical personnel being among those spared, for example) and marched the majority out into a forest nearby. They were made to dig a mass grave, and then shot so that they fell into it. The accounts of survivors (mostly those detailed to cover the grave) indicate that babies were not shot so as to save bullets and fell into the grave in the arms of their mothers to be buried alive. The wounded, too, were buried whilst still alive and members of the burial detail who tried to reach them were shot. Today a monument at the spot records the death of 2524 Jews; the necrology of Ivye lists among them my grandparents, an aunt and various other relatives.[28]

The Ivye massacre was a small one compared, for instance, with that at Babi Yar where more than 100,000 were shot over a period from 1941. But it illustrates the way in which the Holocaust, on the ground and at the periphery, resembled much more the ‘intimacy’ of violence and cruelty to which Mamdani refers. Reading the descriptions of witnesses, there are clear echoes of what happened in Ivye in the massacre conducted by Portuguese troops in Mozambique at Wiriamu in December 1972.[29] There, too, Africans were made to dig mass graves, before being shot and thrown into them. In the early l980s, the Fifth Brigade conducted a campaign of state terror in western Zimbabwe, in consequence of which mass graves were later uncovered (this time the victims all had their hands bound).

In all these cases, the cruelty of the tormentors is matched by the helplessness of the victims, their sense of isolation, and the inevitable psychological damage which is created among the survivors, and which is irreparable. As I grew up I came to realise increasingly that those around me were often severely damaged people. It is impossible for me to begin to imagine how one lives with the experience of genocide or with the guilt of being a survivor, or with the knowledge that there were (are) people who thought one needed to be exterminated, or even with the knowledge that those around you did not feel all that bothered about your possible extermination.

Now one sees similar kinds of psychological damage in the faces of some African survivors. Just this weekend, I watched television news-footage of a woman in Darfur who had suffered multiple gang rapes; every time the janjaweed arrived on their horses and destroyed her village, she and her daughters were raped. She sits mute in this newsreel, unable to speak to all the Western journalists pottering about around her and trying to extract some comment from her. Her suffering has reached a point where she is absolutely silent and there is instead a resignation, an exhaustion and a rage. How will she endure these memories in the years to come? I recall a report of girls at a school near Kigali requiring mass counselling. They had heard the sounds being made nearby by actors portraying the Interahamwe during the filming of Shooting Dogs and become seriously distressed. And I remember some years ago seeing video footage of a people’s court session in Rwanda involving a Hutu man who had taken a machete to his Tutsi wife and their children, killing the children and leaving the wife for dead. Now, having completed a period of imprisonment and re-education, he asked to be allowed to rejoin the village. His wife, on the other hand, wants him to be executed for what he did (though this is not an option before the court). As the court debates the matter, we see the two protagonists. Neither is able to speak much: he is silenced by shame and contrition; she is mute with anger as the villagers and court over-rule her and grant the man his request.

It seems that this crime was not unusual during the Rwandan genocide. Mamdani [30] records that in Ntarama in April 1994, about a third of Tutsi women were married to Hutu men. The Interahamwe insisted that these men first kill their wives, to prove their loyalty, before going on to the rest of the genocide; those that refused or argued were themselves killed. Shaharyar Khan, the UN special representative appointed immediately after the Rwanda genocide wrote that “even the killing fields of Cambodia and Bosnia pale before the gruesome, awful depravity in Rwanda”. He describes how the Interahamwe would kill children in front of their parents by slowly dismembering them, and then kill the parents after they had been forced to watch their children die.[31]

The damage done by such atrocities is not ended by the restoration of peace or even by bringing them to judicial account. Against such suffering, the banalities of ‘reconciliation’ and ‘counselling’ are of small value. People cannot simply ‘move on’, however impatient bystanders are for them to do so; these are things that people carry with them for the rest of their lives. It shapes the way history unfolds subsequently. And that makes it even more urgent that the world not tolerate such cruelty.

What my grandparents in Ivye and the victims in Africa have in common most of all is that the world stood by, in silence, and allowed them to be massacred. It is a complicit silence: sometimes it is a silence of helplessness, sometimes of indifference, sometimes even of approval. But it is always a silence that facilitates the killing and dying. All too often the silent take refuge in the prejudice that the victims have brought their suffering on themselves.

The Indifference of the Bystander

I have been greatly influenced by the work of an old and close friend, Norman Geras, who has explored the philosophical implications of the Holocaust with much distinction. One of his books [32] examines the lessons of the Holocaust precisely from the perspective of this question of the bystander as a silent and complicit figure. He describes situations in which people were marched off to the death camps whilst onlookers stood by, some of them passive, some jeering or laughing or spitting, some so appalled at being unable to do anything that they turn their backs and go away. Geras refers to this as “this mental turning away”, a process that leaves for the victims “the loneliness of the doomed, their own sense also of having been abandoned”. [33] For the Holocaust to have been possible, he notes, it was necessary for the German people to be indifferent to what was taking place, and for a process to occur which, in Bauman’s words, increased “the physical and mental distance between the purported victims and the rest of the population”.[34] Today it is rather more difficult to remember that few if any noticed or cared or knew the names of those people in Ivye when they were shot down. That we now do know something about them is, in fact, one of the points of my story – a point to which I will return later. But this idea of a ‘mental turning away’ from people at the moment they most need help is at the heart of the African malaise also. It is a process that, I would suggest, continues even now, even with our knowledge of the atrocities that have occurred and are occurring. If the self-styled ‘international community’ can spring into action, however belatedly, over Bosnia or Serbia, it remains reluctant to do so over Somalia or Darfur or Zimbabwe.

Now there is an obvious objection to what I have been saying. It is that, in arguing that the world doesn’t care that Africans die, I completely ignore, or belittle by implication, those who have struggled all their lives to awaken the world’s attention and so end suffering. In every catastrophe, there are those who resist and work to save lives, usually at the risk (or cost) of their own lives. One of the most moving sections of the remarkable Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem honours ‘the righteous among the nations’ who worked to rescue people from the gas chambers. The film, Hotel Rwanda, pays tribute to Paul Rusesabagina who saved some 1200 lives in terrifying circumstances. And we should never forget that a quarter of the 800,000 slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994 were Hutu ‘moderates’, so-called presumably because they did not go along with the excesses of Hutu Power. In the international community, too, there is a line of people, from Wilberforce on, who have spent their lives in struggle against the sort of events we have described here. In the case of the Congo, for instance, there is E.D. Morel, an employee of Leopold’s, who noticed that ships arriving in Antwerp brought ivory and rubber but returned to the Congo loaded with soldiers, guns and ammunition; that there was no trade, only plunder. He began a world-wide movement, joined by Roger Casement, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad, among others, which was ultimately to end Leopold’s personal control of the territory.[35] Today a multiplicity of NGOs work tirelessly in Africa. And what of those who went to Darfur to look after the suffering, trying with few resources to keep people alive? What about the people who campaigned to ‘make poverty history?’ What about all of them?

I have no wish to diminish such efforts in any way. On the contrary, I regard the contribution of many such ‘bystanders’ as heroic, deserving of all honour. Sometimes, where movements or groups have articulated a clear message and objective, as in the Anti-Apartheid Movement or in Morel’s campaign, they have even changed history. But, in response, I would still insist that, overall, widespread indifference prevails. Firstly, for all the valuable and remarkable effort of all these people, they remain a tiny minority. The vast majority go on with their lives and do not notice or couldn’t care. We honour a Wilberforce, a Morel, a Rusesabagina precisely because they are so unusual. Secondly, there is a tendency for support for victims, even where aroused, to be fleeting, to evaporate all too quickly. Hochschild observes that, once Leopold had been stripped of his control of the Congo, support for Morel’s campaign quickly dissolved (despite the fact that little had changed on the ground), to be followed by what he calls “the great forgetting”.[36] Morel bemoaned what had happened to the campaign: the Belgian parliament took over the ownership of the Congo, removing the worst excesses, but the same illiberal policy went on.

”[He] considered the Belgian takeover of the Congo only ‘a partial victory’. He knew that the system Leopold had set up would not be quickly dismantled; it was too profitable. The same men who had been district commissioners and station chiefs would now simply get their paychecks from a different source. The Force Publique didn’t even bother to change its name. The new Belgian minister of colonies was a former official of a company that had used thousands of forced labourers to build railways in the eastern Congo. … As long as there was big money to be made from rubber, white men, with the help of the gun and the chicotte, would force black men to gather it.”[37]

To the end of his days, both as MP for Dundee [38] and after he left parliament, Morel fought for land to be restored to Africans, insisting that they could not have a viable future otherwise. But the world had long since had enough of the Congo.[39] And, finally, thirdly, I would suggest that, at the level of officials and functionaries, whether of governments or multilateral organisations, one too often finds cynicism and indifference. All too often there is a tendency to move on an issue only when the public is sufficiently agitated about it, and then as minimally as possible and only insofar as it will draw the teeth of the protest. Sometimes, and here I would go further than Geras, indifference actually becomes embedded in the process of intervention itself – as in Rwanda.

The Obscenity of Indifference in Rwanda

We see this problem starkly illustrated in the Rwandan genocide and, particularly, in the failure of the international intervention that took place. Here we are fortunate to have the chronicle of the Canadian general who was in charge of the UN peacekeeping mission to the country at the time.[40] General Roméo Dallaire’s harrowing account, Shake Hands with the Devil, is an attempt on his part to make sense of what was going on around him. It provides an agonising description of events as, day after day, the violence continued and, day after day, his efforts to end the killing proved futile. Dallaire is a soldier rather than a politician or social scientist; his book often lacks the analytical eye which either could have brought to the situation. But, precisely because of that, he is able to provide us with an unvarnished record which illuminates the magnitude of “the failure of humanity in Rwanda” (his sub-title). One sees, at every level, the kind of indifference that I have been talking about, the sense that Africans don’t matter all that much, the mental turning away that took place once it was clear that Rwanda was a difficult problem.

Dallaire starts with a mea culpa:

”I was unable to persuade the international community that this tiny poor, overpopulated country and its people were worth saving from the horror of genocide – even when the measures needed for success were relatively small.”[41]

Subsequently, Dallaire was to go through a long period of depression, attempted suicide and alcoholism; the book was written, to some extent, as part of his own rehabilitation. But once the self-recrimination is dealt with, what emerges is an indictment of the UN effort and the UN system that is so shocking as to be almost unbelievable. Almost, but not quite. First, the UN officials handling Rwanda failed to provide any real leadership or enterprise in confronting the crisis. The group around the Rwanda desk officer during the genocide, one Kofi Annan, proved unwilling to respond to Dallaire’s appeals for help and even berated him for trying to mediate rather than maintaining an observer’s brief (the general came to be seen as a loose canon who needed to be replaced). Their unwillingness to annoy the permanent members of the Security Council compromised the peace-keeping effort from the start and eventually ensured that there was no peace. And the career diplomat in charge of the UN mission in Rwanda emerges as a buffoon, seemingly impervious to what was going on (Shaharyar Khan was only appointed once the killing had stopped).

Second, the resources given to the UN force were grossly inadequate. Dallaire asked for 5,500 troops to police what was supposed to be a peaceful reconciliation between two warring sides and the formation of a government of national unity. Instead, he had to settle for 2,500 – not enough to patrol the whole country and not all of whom ever arrived. When peace disintegrated and the genocide began, instead of bolstering this force so that it could cope, the Security Council, pushed by the US and Belgium (and supported by Britain), reduced the 2,500 to 250 (some of whom, notably from Bangladesh, had little combat capability). Although Dallaire managed to keep some troops there against the express wishes of their governments, he was left with a force of 400 soldiers spread across Rwanda. Third, during the genocide, the UN consistently acted to weaken rather than strengthen its presence. The Security Council reaffirmed rules of engagement which required the soldiers not to act to prevent the killing. It debated events (and worried about costs) endlessly but resisted any call for concrete action (Dallaire’s use of the BBC to tell the world what was happening was angrily resented). Generally it sent the wrong message to the gėnocidaires – for instance, by announcing that, if the killing did not stop, it would withdraw its forces entirely. Given that the extremists wanted the UN to leave, and resented what little protection the UN soldiers were able to offer a small number of people, many connected with the aborted interim government of unity, this simply encouraged further killing.

Yet is on the international community and the great powers, rather than the UN, that Dallaire focuses his anger. If the genocide was “the ultimate responsibility of those Rwandans who planned, ordered, supervised and ultimately conducted it”:

”The international community, of which the UN is only a symbol, failed to move beyond self-interest for the sake of Rwanda. While most nations agreed that something should be done, they all had an excuse why they should not be the ones to do it. As a result, the UN was denied the political will and material means to prevent the tragedy.”[42]

He is particularly critical of the roles played by France and the United States. France’s part in the tragedy was particularly reprehensible: it trained the Rwanda army and the Presidential Guard, much of which joined the extremists in conducting the genocide; and once it was clear that the Hutu extremists were in retreat, it intervened military to provide a shield behind which they could conduct their retreat west (eventually into eastern Congo where they remain to this day), to give them a safe haven and to evacuate Europeans and some leading gėnocidaires.[43] Protected by French forces, and with the complicity of international aid agencies, the killers were able to move into the refugee camps in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo whilst retaining their weapons; they quickly took control of some camps and set themselves up as a warlord army. Thus, the present continuation in Congo of the Rwandan civil war, which is in turn a significant part of the conflict in that region, was put in place with international assistance.

The American role was less direct but still decisive. As noted, the US (through Madeleine Albright) led the call to reduce the UN presence in Rwanda when there was need to expand it. Moreover, for a long time, it continued to deny the events on the ground, even though they were taking place in full view of its embassy staff in Kigali. There is a notorious interview given by Christine Shelley of the US State Department, in which she insisted that while acts of genocide were occurring, there was no evidence that a genocide was going on (part of this interview features in Hotel Rwanda). But perhaps nothing expresses American – and international – indifference to the loss of African life as well as this encounter reported by Dallaire:

”As to the value of the 800,000 [dead] in the balance books of Washington, during those last weeks [before the end of his tour of duty], we received a shocking call from an American staffer … He was engaged in some sort of planning exercise and wanted to know how many Rwandans had died, how many were refugees, and how many were internally displaced. He told me that his estimates indicated that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier. It was macabre to say the least.”[45]

It would be cause for some optimism if the world had learned the lessons of Rwanda. But the evidence is that the ritual chanting of ‘never again’” has not been matched by any new commitment, that the mental turning away continues. As noted, the Rwanda civil war has been displaced to the eastern Congo with the help of the international community.

”From the Rwandan exodus in 1994 until genocide broke out again in 2003, it has been estimated that four million human beings have died in the Congo and the Great Lakes region … Five times the number murdered in Rwanda in 1994 have died and, once again, only when the television cameras … captured the event were nations embarrassed into sending a half-hearted temporary mission to try and stop the killing.”[46]

Needless to say, the killing has not stopped – despite endless meetings and resolutions. And then there is Darfur. For years now, the Security Council has met, debated, and warned Sudan that this time it is serious, this time it intends to act. Token peace forces, without resources, suitable mandates for action or numbers, have been inserted – as they were in Rwanda. Not even the Rwanda genocide, it would seem, has moved the conscience of the world.


The Underpinnings of Indifference

Popular explanations for this inaction in the face of African suffering tend to focus on immediate, contingent factors, such as America’s failure in Rwanda stemming from it’s experiences in Somalia or, less charitably, from Rwanda’s lack of oil reserves. Yet, whatever momentary factors might be in play (and there can be little doubt that economic crisis over 30 years has been important), any historical perspective suggests that the persistence and regularity of atrocities are more deeply rooted in structures and beliefs. It is not possible here even to begin to explore them; instead I would merely suggest three (interrelated and interdependent) areas that need to be part of any agenda for further research.

First, Africa’s integration into the modern global economy and the capitalist world-system was, from the very start, characterised by the implicit assumption that African life was expendable. The human cost of the slave trade is too well known to need rehashing here. It inspired what might be regarded as the first truly international protest movement; but it was also defended fiercely, on moral and practical grounds, for over half a century (at least in the west). We have seen, also, that the colonial economy that developed in central Africa, much admired for its profitability and ‘civilising mission’ in its early years,[47] may well have killed half the people exposed to it. If the Belgian colonial government subsequently moderated its worst excesses, the system remained in place in its essential features until the middle of the twentieth century and was, moreover, institutionalised in the plantation economies under French and Portuguese rule where there was no international outcry and hence less pressure for reform.

If the plantation economy represents colonial oppression at its worst, the political economies set up throughout colonial Africa all had built in to them the assumption that African life was cheap and almost infinitely replaceable. Agricultural export production, in all its forms, made no provision for the decline in food security which followed the diversion of family farming to cash commodities. The migrant-labour economies of southern Africa ensured that business obtained large supplies of low-paid workers whilst keeping their families confined to rural areas. By dividing families in this way,[48] wages could be set at the level of the individual worker’s subsistence rather than that of the family. And the costs of social provision, of housing, education and health services, could be minimised or even avoided. Thus, Marx’s dictum that wage levels would never fall below the cost of subsistence and reproduction of the working class as a whole could be set aside. High mining profits, and the dividends accruing to their investors in London and New York,[49] were underwritten by the poverty of rural African families left to fend for themselves, many suffering hunger, malnutrition and tuberculosis. Everywhere on the continent, life expectancy was low, work safety minimal, and mortality rates and malnutrition and its associated diseases high.[50] It is difficult to believe that the mortality rates on which Africa’s contribution to the global economy rested would have been politically tolerable anywhere else outside of prison labour camps.

Second, these political economies rested on a conception of state power which was authoritarian, at best, and brutal, at worst. Without the force of the state, it would not have been possible to sustain economic processes so wasteful of human life. Political power had to be exercised with the assumption that African life was expendable if these system of extraction were to be profitable. We have already seen that the rubber economy of the Congo rested on militarised state force and what Hochschild called “officially sanctioned terror”. If the terror was later lifted by the demise of Leopold’s rule, it was replaced by a highly authoritarian, coercive and racially discriminatory political order in which, in Mamdani’s formulation, Africans were never entitled to citizenship but were excluded permanently from any participation in society other than as conquered subjects.[51] In southern Africa, the migrant labour system was maintained by vast administrative and judicial structures which regulated the movement of African workers and families between rural labour reserves and the (usually urban) centres of the colonial economy. Inevitably, driven by increasing poverty and hunger in the reserves, families evaded the controls and managed to settle in the towns; where they did so in South Africa, however, there was always a Blaar Coetzee to deport such supernumeraries to the rural backwaters and the astronomic levels of malnutrition and disease that awaited them there. More recently, we have seen a return to the economics of plunder, usually by warlord gangs; thus expressions like ‘conflict diamonds’ and looted coltan have become part of the Africanist’s vocabulary.

Nor, unfortunately, did the end of colonialism end political oppression as Cabral and so many others had hoped. If anything, the post-colonial state has proved as authoritarian as its colonial predecessor and, at times, as brutal as anything Leopold and Stanley devised. The weakness of post-colonial elites, unable to deliver development, dependent on public resources for their own personal welfare, and low in democratic legitimacy, has meant that democratic institutions have been rendered nugatory and that power, what there is of it, has been held by force. Coupled with economic crisis and debt, this abuse of power has hastened the disintegration of political institutions, leading to the steady retreat and erosion of the state. In the worst vases, power has fragmented, creating space for armed warlords and criminal gangs and even reducing the formal state rulers to being one warlord among others.[52] As they have fought and looted, civilians have been put to the sword, beaten, raped and otherwise brutalised, subjected to horrific crimes which often cannot be absorbed by the imagination. It is difficult to find ‘reasons’ which exonerate Africa’s political classes, so lacking in conscience or contrition, from culpability for the crimes we have been discussing. All too often, confronted by the evidence of abuse, African political leaders round on critics and friends alike with cries of ‘imperialism’ and ‘racism’ instead of confronting their own collaboration with foreign interests or their own ethnic prejudices. The psychological distance between the political class and the civilian victims of brutality seems as great as in colonial times. As Crawford Young has noted, the colonial state did not just disappear; instead it has had an ‘afterlife’ in the post-colonial state.[53] It is interesting that Bula Matari, the name that the Bakongo gave to Henry Morton Stanley in recognition of his brutality, (it means “the breaker of rocks”)[54], became the name by which they came to refer first to the colonial and then the post-colonial state. The exercise of power in Africa, like the realisation of profit, has always held African life in low esteem.

Third, and finally, economic and political processes rest on, and have helped to create historical experiences and deep-rooted cultural beliefs and prejudices which underpin the indifference of bystanders and entrench the mental distance between victims and others. If racial prejudice against Africans is not quite as old or as deeply-embedded psychologically as anti-Semitism, it is nearly so. The history of slavery, plunder, conquest, colonial rule and administrative practice have all acted to produce racial stereotypes which increase the mental and physical distance between victim and tormentor and between victim and bystander. One has only to put the caricatures of Jews and Africans alongside each other (as found in European language, idiom and popular print, even in science), to see similar processes at work. Deeply-held beliefs about racial superiority and inferiority readily surface to offset conscience, permitting a mental turning away in times of crisis. We see this at play everywhere in the ideological simplifications about Africa that abound in western academic, political and media narratives.

One example is the constant reduction of African affairs to problems of corruption and tribalism, Without minimising the seriousness of these two problems in any way (my own work has been about them to a large extent), it is a device which legitimises indifference, a mantra asserting that African problems arise from inherent African failings. This reductionism conveniently excludes the contribution of bystanders themselves to the continent’s malaise. Moreover, since it also ignores the forces that give rise to corruption and ethnic conflict, it thereby strengthens the impression that, rather than being historically specific or transitory phenomena, they are somehow defects within the African personality itself.[56] It is a means of blaming the victims for their own suffering.

Such cultural stereotypes and prejudices facilitate international inaction, allowing the world to abandon the victims in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia or Darfur, to death or suffering in much the way my grandparents were in Ivye. For all the distance between Ivye and Darfur, the victims might be forgiven for feeling that all that is different is that now there are international organisations where the comfortable and prosperous people meet, deplore what is happening, and do nothing or nothing much. It is this mental turning away that leads to the belief that 85,000 Rwandans have to die before a single western life might be risked. Too few leaders stand trial for their crimes before international courts; too many escape into comfortable exile provided by fellow leaders with an interest in limiting culpability. All too often, conflict resolution brokered by the international agencies is predicated on reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. This reinforces assumptions that the victims are of little account and that punishment for serious crimes is not regarded as a necessity. There is little international support for local judicial processes despite the fact that these give victims and local communities some measure of ownership of the post-conflict settlement.[57]

Conclusion: The Need to Change the Moral Climate

The scale of the African tragedy and the speed with which it has spread since Leys wrote his article indicates the urgency for action to protect the poor and weak. But it is difficult to see from where international action might come. The grand plans articulated at various gatherings, within the continent and abroad, about new deals for Africa, seem strangely divorced from what is happening on the ground. The five great powers consistently act cynically in ways that undermine international law, and most states, large and small, persistently ignore the principles enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights when dealing with their own citizens. The UN and the international system generally have been shown to be incapable of acting outside the limits set by national governments. Little could more starkly exemplify what Geras called “the loneliness of the doomed”.[58]

There needs to be a change in the moral climate to challenge this prevailing indifference. If it is to happen it will have to happen through committed groups and individuals walking in the footsteps of people like Morel. Here, by way of conclusion, let me suggest one small way in which this might begin to be done. It is the last lesson I want to draw from the Holocaust and it is this. One of the greatest achievements of the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants was to hold the world’s conscience to account for the horrors of the death camps. A core element in this was the historical exegesis and reconstruction of what happened, the naming of the guilty, the identification of the victims, and the restoration of their existence as people rather than numbers. It is difficult to recall that those people in the mass grave in Ivye died alone, abandoned and unknown; it was the construction of a necrology and a history after the war which restored their names and thereby ascribed a value to them as human beings. The world did not always enjoy this holding-to-account (Holocaust diminishers have been plentiful) but it bought their descendants almost 50 years of relative peace and freedom from the discrimination and pogroms of the pre-Holocaust world.

By contrast, Africans die in the numbers they do because it remains easy for them to die, easy to kill them. In one atrocity after another, they die alone and abandoned, almost always anonymously; often their own relatives are not sure of what has happened to them. In Kigali today, there is a small monument to the ten Belgian soldiers killed by the Rwandan gėnocidaires, their names inscribed on a plaque. No such monument or necrology exists for the 800,000 African victims. There are piles of skulls in a church but no names and nothing else. African lives are accorded value only in the mass, not as individuals. Similarly, those buried in the mass graves at Wiriamu and all the other victims of whom we have spoken here died abandoned and unknown. There is a need to do for them all what was done to mark the Holocaust; a need to identify them, to give them individual worth by marking their names, and to name and mark their killers. It is a step towards creating a culture in which mass murder is held to account and the value of every life is asserted. It is something that must be done by Africans, not by foreigners, as a way of asserting their rights and worth as citizens over those with guns and machetes who regard them as expendable. It is a step, perhaps, towards Africa beginning to reclaim its own history.

Morris Szeftel

Morris Szeftel is a senior lecturer of Political Studies at the University of Leeds and a member of the ROAPE editorial working group and joint Reviews Editor. His research includes the politics of developing countries, the role of the state in development, business and government, political corruption and conflict. He has published on elections and problems of democracy in Africa, the one-party state, conflict and repression, the crisis in the third world, violence in South Africa and corruption in Zambia. He is editor of the ‘Leeds Studies in Democratization’ series.

Footnotes

[1] Colin Leys, (1994) “Confronting the African Tragedy” New Left Review 204, March – April, 33-47.
[2] The alternatives for her were “socialism or barbarism”. See especially Rosa Luxemburg, “The Junius Pamphlet” in Mary-Alice Waters, ed., (1970) Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, New York, Pathfinder, 257-331.
[3] See Laurine Platzky & Cheryl Walker for The Surplus People Project, (1985)The Surplus People: Forced Removals in South Africa, Braamfontein, Ravan Press.
[4] La Rėgle du Jeu, (The Rules of the Game), Nouvelle Edition Francaise, 1939, directed and scripted by Jean Renoir. The film can be read as a sardonic commentary on French society as European fascism gathered force and the remark, spoken by Renoir’s own character in the film, as a comment on the tendency in democracies to mistake ideological self-justification for principle.
[5] Adam Hochschild, (1998) King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, New York, Houghton Mifflin.
[6] Ibid., 121.
[7] In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad describes the labourers building Stanley’s railway thus: “each had a collar on his neck and all were connected together with a chain”. The novel, he wrote, “is experience … pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the facts of the case”. Quoted in Hochshild (1998), 143.
[8] Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Penguin, 1973, first published 1902.
[9] Hochschild, (1998), 145-9
[10] Ibid., 161-2, 230-32, 236-7, 250.
[11] Ibid., 165
[12] Adam Hochschild, (2005) “In the Heart of Darkness”, The New York Review of Books, 52 (15) 6 October.
[13] Hochschild, (1998) especially 232-5.
[14] Ibid., 4.
[15] Ibid., 280
[16] Mahmood Mamdani (2001) When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press, 10-12; and see Hochschild (1998) 282.
[17] Renė Lemarchand (1994) Ethnic Conflict and Genocide, New York, Columbia University Press. See also Mamdani (2001), 215, 235-6, 287.
[18] The systematic use of mass rape as an instrument of terror against the local population is too well-reported to be doubted. What kind of people do these things still remains to be revealed.
[19] On Kivu and the Congo, see: Renė Lemarchand, (2002) “The tunnel at the end of the light” Review of African Political Economy (29) 93/94, 389-98 and that issue generally; Mamdani (2001), ch. 8; and Human Rights Watch reports which are constantly updated – http://hrw.org/africa.
[20] The Independent (London) 15 March 2006.
[21] Hochschild (1998), 4.
[22] If numbers of victims are our concern, for example, more people may have died in the Congo than in the Holocaust and more died during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Such evidence can be, and has been, used to ‘diminish’ the Holocaust among some sections of the Left. Why that should be so is not easy to explain but, among some groups, it may have owed something to Stalin’s personal anti-Semitism which then became intellectualised through the Comintern and transmitted through satellite parties throughout the world.
[23] Zygmunt Bauman, “Sociology after the Holocaust”, The British Journal of Sociology XXXIX, 4, 469-97.
[24] Ibid., 470.
[25] Mamdani (2001), op.cit., 5.
[26] Because of this I have used the term with some caution, referring to the African ‘holocaust’ in my title, rather than to the African Holocaust, which would be a misnomer. The current tendency to appropriate words to promote a political cause, regardless of how inappropriate they might be, is not one I wish to join.
[27] Meyshe Kaganovitsh, ed., (1968) In Memory of the Jewish Community of Iwie (Ivye, Belarus) http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/ivye/ivye.html, ch. 1
[28] Ibid., “Necrology for Ivye”. Unsurprisingly, various members of my family had different experiences. A small group of younger people led by an uncle of mine, and including his wife and youngest sister, escaped the roundup to hide in the nearby Morin Forest. Here they eventually became one of the partisan groups attached to the Alexander Nevsky Brigade of the Soviet Army and, at the end of the war, the two aunts were among the four survivors of this group and were decorated as ‘Heroes of the Soviet Union’. Another uncle survived in Auschwitz, though his wife and two daughters did not. Another aunt spent the war interned in Siberia with her daughter; her husband did not survive detention. None of the experiences was good.
[29] The massacre carried out at Wiriamu by the Portuguese army on 16 December 1972, was described by Domingos Ferrao, a Mozambican Catholic priest and published in London in The Times by Adrian Hastings.
[30] Mamdani (2001) op,cit., 4-5.
[31] Shaharyar Khan, (2000) The Shallow Graves of Rwanda, London, IB Tauris, quoted in Romėo Dallaire, (2003) Shake Hands with the Devil: the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Toronto, Vintage/Random House, 461-2.
[32] Norman Geras, (1998) The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy After the Holocaust, London, Verso
[33] Ibid., 6, 8.
[34] Ibid., 18, quoting Ian Kershaw and Zygmunt Bauman.
[35] Hochschild (1998). See especially Part III.
[36] Ibid., ch. 19.
[37] Ibid., 271.
[38] He was elected in 1922 after being released from prison for refusing to support the war effort. He defeated Winston Churchill, one of the ministers who had had him interned.
[39] The Congolese, however, did not forget. At independence in 1960, there was an upsurge of rage against the white settlers in the mining areas of Katanga, many of them being forced to flee to (then) Northern Rhodesia as refugees.
[40] R Dallaire (2003), op.cit. See also, for an equally disturbing account of the genocide, Peter Gourevitch (1998), We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
[41] Ibid., 515.
[42] Ibid., 515-6.
[43] Ibid., especially ch. 14. And see also the report by Stephanie Maupas, Le Monde, 7 April 2005, which alleges not only that some gėnocidaires were given asylum by France but also that documents lodged with the International Criminal Court in Arusha indicated that extremists had met in the French embassy after Habyarimana’s death to plan setting aside the interim government of unity. France’s unsavoury role in Africa has a long history, going back to the rubber trade in the Congo, as we noted.
[44] In 2004, former President Clinton attended a ceremony in Kigali to commemorate the dead in the genocide. He apologised publicly for America’s inaction, saying that they would have done things differently had they known what was happening. Yet it was impossible for them not to have known and so the apology would seem to be almost as cynical as the indifference exhibited by Clinton’s administration at the time. This ceremony, in 2004, was the one at which the French delegation walked out in angry protest at President Kagame’s criticism of their role in the genocide. Subsequently, some right-wing French sources in Paris began a campaign to smear Kagame with responsibility for the genocide.
[45] Dallaire (2004) op.cit., 498-9. By this accounting, America should have contributed 9.5 soldiers rather than none to the UN force.
[46] Ibid., 518-9.
[47] Hochschild (1998) op.cit., especially ch.1-6.
[48] See, for instance, Colin Murray, (1981) Families Divided: the Impact of Migrant Labour in Lesotho, Cambridge University Press.
[49] In the South African mining industry, probably the most technologically advanced in the world, company investment was low. Even into the 21st century, miners strikes remain as often about the lack of safety as about the persistence of low wages.
[50] See, among many, Charles van Onselen, (1976) Chibaro: African Mine Labour in Southern Rhodesia, 1900-1930, London, Pluto; Harold Wolpe (1972) “Capitalism and cheap labour power in South Africa”, Economy and Society 1; Michael Burawoy (1976) “The functions and reproduction of migrant labour: comparative material from South Africa and the United States”, American Journal of Sociology, 81, 5; Ruth First (1983) Black Gold: the Mozambican Miner, Proletariat and Peasant, Sussex, Harvester; Robin Cohen (1987) The new helots: Migrants in the International Division of Labour, Aldershot, Gower; and Robert Miles (1982) Racism and Migrant Labour, London, Routledge.
[51] Mahmood Mamdani, (1996) Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of Late Colonialism, London, James Currey.
[52] Among many contributions, see Chris Allen, (1995) “Understanding African Politics” Review of African Political Economy 65, 301-20, for an attempt to theorise the malaise of the post-colonial state.
[53] Crawford Young, (1994) The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective, Yale University Press, esp. ch.9. In the Senegalese film, Xala, Ousmane Sembene depicts a ritual in which African personnel replace Frenchmen without anything else changing.
[54] Hochschild (1998) op.cit., 68
[55] Young (1994) op.cit., esp. ch.1.
[56] It was my practice, in teaching a course on African politics to British students, to present them with a report from a most respected English newspaper about Zambian factional conflict in the 1960s. In it the late Arthur Wina was described as ‘the leader of the Lozi tribe’. Students were invited to discuss the images which this label suggested to them. They were then told that Wina was also the holder of a postgraduate degree in economics from UCLA, the country’s first African finance minister, the director of several companies (including membership of the local boards of a number of international banks) and that he flew his own private aircraft. They then discussed the profound ways in which this readjusted their images.
[57] It is interesting that there has been widespread approval of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and little or no approval of the people’s courts which have tried low-level criminals for their actions in the Rwanda genocide. The TRC had no judicial function, imposed no sanction on those who committed atrocities and, because it was unable to call more than a few, voluntary witnesses, did not even suffice as a truth-telling exercise. Whilst it did provide a legitimation process for the transition from apartheid, universal approval stems largely from the fact that the only pain it caused was to the victims who had hoped for retribution and reparation. See E.N. Isaac (2005) “A Critical-Theoretic Study of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, Ph.D. thesis, University of Leeds. In contrast, critics of the Rwandan Gacaca courts focus on their retributive role and often deplore what they see as a ‘settling of scores’. See, for instance, A. Corey and S.F. Joireman, (2004) “Retributive justice: the Gacaca courts in Rwanda”, African Affairs 103, 73-89. It seems to me that there are scores to be settled and that it is important to establish that such crimes will be punished.

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