Zimbabwe should learn from Rwanda's political crisis, genocide

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Each year from April 7, and for the next 100 days thereafter, Rwanda commemorates the 1994 genocide that claimed close to a million people, mainly those from the minority Tutsi ethnic group.

Rwandans from the majority Hutu ethnic group, deemed to be politically moderate, were also massacred.

The genocide was perpetrated by the military and other security organs, militias and civilians.

The United Nations Security Council and Western powers such as the United States, France and Belgium this year took time to reflect on the mayhem that shocked the world.

The mass killings only stopped after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (then a rebel group) over-ran the Hutu administration accused of masterminding the genocide.

By then close to a million people had been killed in circumstances that were chilling.

Other African countries took time to reflect on this dark chapter with marches being held in the capitals of east African countries.

The same was done in Europe and Canada.
Next door in South Africa activities were held to remember the genocide victims.

While some countries in Africa and beyond took time to reflect on this callous episode it was business as usual in Zimbabwe.

Perhaps because Rwanda is considered far flung Harare did not bother to also take time to reflect on what went wrong in Rwanda.

Most ordinary Zimbabweans also do not seem to care about events in this tiny country whose major tourist attraction are its mountain gorillas.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are not aware of the 1994 tragedy or perhaps they just read about it in passing without giving it any thought.

But when one looks at the events in Rwanda, before the genocide, it is easy to draw parallels between the chaos that swept through the central African country and the political developments in Zimbabwe.

It will be interesting to note that some of the factors that led to violence in Rwanda bear similarities with the situation in Zimbabwe.

While it may appear over the top to suggest that the situation in Zimbabwe is anywhere close to pre-genocide Rwanda, it will be foolhardy to think such madness cannot happen here or anywhere for that matter.

A stitch in time saves nine.

Former United States President Bill Clinton, while visiting Rwanda in 1998, said genocide can occur anywhere where intolerance exists.

“We have seen, too — and I want to say again — that genocide can occur anywhere. It is not an African phenomenon and must never be viewed as such.

We have seen it in industrialised Europe; we have seen it in Asia. We must have global vigilance.

And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence,” Clinton said.

Just like in Rwanda before the genocide Zimbabwe has a power-sharing government, negotiated in bad faith and also constantly undermined by hardliners not ready to accept any limits to their power and privileges.

It is common cause that it would be catastrophic if the power – sharing government holding in Zimbabwe were to collapse abruptly.

The following bore similarities with the pre-genocide Rwanda.

The power-sharing government in Zimbabwe may have managed to stabilise the economy and resuscitate key institutions of governance but it has evidently failed to rein in hardliners from Zanu PF who pose a threat to its existence.

The military’s top command and other service chiefs undermine the power-sharing government by refusing to recognise the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as the country’s prime minister.

Some of them have vowed never to salute the prime minister.

This has resulted in security institutions demonstrating bias towards one political party, Zanu PF.

Human rights groups say Zanu PF activists appear to enjoy immunity from both arrest and prosecution.

Zanu PF continue to have a stranglehold on the public media which constantly spews hate messages against MDC officials in structures of government and perceived political nemeses.

The healing and reconciliation process to unite communities that were torn apart by the 2008 presidential run-off violence has failed to yield any substantial results with violence escalating in the rural areas.

There are also reports of retribution by MDC supporters who, given a little opportunity, hit back at their political opponents in Zanu PF.

The political situation is further complicated because, amid the failure to heal and reconcile communities, ordinary people in the townships and countryside throughout the country easily identify each other with their political affiliations.

There are two dominant political parties. President Mugabe’s Zanu PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC.

With elections likely to be held soon and political temperatures beginning to boil, caution must be exercised to avoid politically motivated violence that can spill into the unimaginable.

One of the UN security council members during the pre-genocide Rwanda was New Zealand.

Its ambassador on the Council, Colin Keating is on record saying “country reports” out of Rwanda were not alarming.

Keating later told one radio journalist: “The country reports were fairly positive. They were saying the parties were genuinely committed to peace, that the UN peacekeeping mission would make a difference, and we should actually go along with it.”

He said he was taken aback when the genocide erupted.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai has already sent warning signals by calling for an international force to be deployed in Zimbabwe for a free and fair poll to be held. He is right.

Sadly, Zimbabwe’s situation does not require a peace-keeping mission because unlike Rwanda there is no civil war going on here.

But Tsvangirai knows that the political temperature will boil to unprecedented levels when Zanu PF sees that its grip on power is loosening.