Good Luck to Priti for her Rwanda Plan
I’ve known Rwanda since the 1960s when I covered for the Sunday Times the first of the three appalling massacres of Tutsis by Hutu, slipping back to see what became of the fugitives who had escaped the Hutu machetes and being tossed into the Kagera river tumbling from highland Rwanda into Lake Victoria or the Nyabarongo westwards.
My intimacy with that swathe of Africa began in 1954, in the Ruwenzori Mountains – the Mountains of the Moon – some forty miles north of Rwanda, a massif shared by Congo on the west with Uganda on the east. It’s an intimacy accorded no other outsider on earth. I was instrumental in the recognition in 2009 by Uganda of the Bantu “Kingdom of Rwenzururu” by which it was aligned with Buganda and three other long-lived tribal kingdoms that formed the raison-d’être of the new colony of Uganda Anglican missionaries and Lugard had dumped into Queen Victoria’s lap at the end of the 1880s.
The 1884 Treaty of Berlin gave Kenya and Uganda to us; Tanganyika and the twin highland entities west of the big lake, Rwanda and Burundi, to Germany; the Congo to Belgium. None of us European powers was awake to the fact that our arrival on the scene with vividly contrasting colonial regimes had frozen a deep-rooted demographic incursion from further north of one African race into the indigenous territory of another. The Nilotic – alternatively named Tutsi or Hima – cattle-owners, pushing south into Bantu territory over the centuries, were of a marked cultural superiority.
Here was a black-on-black incursion of one African race – race not tribe – on another. The indigenous Bantu had no cattle. They comprised a variety of tribes, each with its territory, oral legend, history and vernacular, and had themselves migrated from Africa’s West during the previous couple of millennia (displacing forest-dwelling pygmies). From the late 1880s we colonising Europeans, with our literacy, Bible, and a Maxim gun in reach of the non-missionary, froze the racial migration. Tutsi authority prevailed in Rwanda and its southerly neighbour Burundi; cattle-owning Masai were firmly embedded beneath the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro and a menace to the Arab slavers from Oman; and a Tutsi (aka Hima) kingdom, Ankole, had ruled in south-west Uganda since the 15th century.
We colonisers froze it, I guess, as Roman authority in Britain froze Celts from bearing down on Picts.
When Germany forfeited its empire in 1918, the League of Nations lobbed Tanganyika to us and a makeshift “Ruanda-Urundi” to the Belgians – or, more specifically, the Flemish component of Belgium’s acrimonious population, albeit scarcely redeemed from their notorious colonial start in Congo in 1908.
The cattle-disciplined Nilotics were taller and darker than the incumbent Bantu. They drank the milk of their cows. Confident men commanded the community. They lacked the bombé forehead and everted lip of the resident Bantu, with a diet was yams, millet, manioc and non-sweet bananas, and whatever goats and chickens could provide – with occasional bushmeat from the forest
Then in 1957 came Harold Macmillan’s menacing “Wind of Change” speech. It heralded the imminent, not to say precipitate, abandonment of colonial rule right across sub-Saharan Africa. The dominant power on the scene, Britain, would predictably be followed by France and Belgium, leaving only the sleepy Portuguese. Only we British had been at work educating our charges, multiplying the population by medicine for all, pest control and skilled obstetrics, and opening the door to elective self-governance.
Would independence bring a brave new world?
For the Belgian territories it was to mean instant chaos. Come 1960 for the Belgian Congo and 1962 for Rwanda and Burundi, readiness for coherent independence was nil. The Congo fell apart on day four, and I caught the first plane out to cover the catastrophe for my newspaper.
Ever since 1954, my other life as a chronicler of remote communities and as novelist had spread word of my intimacy with the Bantu tribe occupying the astonishing massif of snow-peaked Ruwenzori bordering Western Rift Valley, with whom I had lived for months that year, and where I was guided and tutored by the sole northern member of his (Bantu) tribe to have qualified as a schoolteacher. He had resigned his role in outrage at the obligation to teach his fellow tribal primary pupils solely in the language of the oppressive lowland tribe they’d been lumped with for administrative convenience.
“My” people Uganda-side were demanding regional – and tribal – self-determination. Let us mark the broad-brush distinction between the terms “tribal” and “racial”. A Bantu tribesman will readily recognise a member of his own tribe, or of a fellow Bantu tribe, by a range of intangible signals like demeanour and gait, humour, stance and gesture, while aware of a shared pattern of life, of diet, family and clan authority, and life’s expectations: a recognisably comparable factor of Being. Racial differentiation will at once be evident: in the physiognomy for a start – the features of face and pigment of skin. Yet it is no less evident in the field of status , of visible organisational capacity and authority on the part of one ethnicity amid the adjacent community of another ethnicity. A way of life prior to agriculture, for instance – that of hunting and gathering – gives to such as the forest-dwelling pygmies a lesser status among surrounding Bantu. An inherited cattle-herding culture wins the Tutsis, for instance, an instant reputation of superiority among merely agriculturalist Bantu.
Eight years after my 1954 tramp the length of Ruwenzori’s countless habitable gully ridges, the tribe rebelled. More numerous than Kampala was aware, they raised their own flag of independent kingdomhood in the mountains just before Uganda itself was bustled into independence by us British in 1962. Uganda’s first (black) High Commissioner to London knew of my intimacy with the highland tribe, and the Prime Minister of newly self-ruling Uganda, Milton Obote, invited me to enter the scene of conflict and bring peace and a settlement.
Peace I brought for a bit, since my my former tutor and companion was none other than instigator and leader of the rebellion. But settlement – no.
Simultaneously, some forty miles southwards the highland territories of Rwanda and Burundi were unleashed into independent statehood from colonial rule by Belgium. Disaster was in the offing. As with the Congo, sheer common sense was absent. Belgium resolved to launch the republic of Rwanda on the unchallengeable formula of one-adult one-vote. How did the people vote?
Race for race. Hutu for Hutu. Tutsi for Tutsi. Dear God.
Hutu had never known power before, knew not what Power was. They went collectively mad, at speed. Those once accepted as ethnic superiors were re-cast as the enemy which would deprive them of this mythic Power. It dizzied them. A collective agoraphobia engulfed them. By December 1963 I was back in Rwanda to report on the macheted corpses of Tutsi cascading down the Kagera into Lake Victoria. Wherever they could, Tutsi fled for their lives.
Among the fugitives was six-year-old Paul Kagame and his family. They fled across the northern border to their kinsmen in Uganda, the people of Ankole, since they were Tutsis too, under the name of Hima, with their 600-year old kingdom. Mark the name. This very Paul is President of Rwanda, outstandingly today’s most successful former colony in sub-Saharan Africa.
Back in Uganda, of which Ankole was a part, Obote became by the mid-1960s destroyer of the constitution bequeathed him on independence, promoted the barely literate Idi Amin (whom as a Captain in Uganda’s army I’d befriended in Ruwenzori) to command his armed forces. He was instructed to bombard the ex-Grenadier Kabaka, Buganda’s tribal ruler, out of his palace. (Freddie Kabaka escaped to Rwanda to catch a plane to London – where Obote’s emissary had him poisoned to death.)
In 1971, at a Commonwealth conference in gleaming Singapore, Obote was coup-d’état-ed by his Commander-in-Chief, Idi, who spectacularly mis-ruled his country until 1979, when an invading army from Tanzania made way for the return, in due course, of Obote. Paul Kagame was in his teens. But a new figure of ambition and confidence was soon in evidence. Yoweri Museveni. a Tutsi from Ankole, had recruited a guerrilla army to take over Uganda Castro-style, piece by piece. The young Paul joined. By 1985, Uganda duly became Museveni’s. with the outstandingly able Paul Kagame, 27, rising to the key role of head of military intelligence, vitally active in the Rwanda Patriotic Front guerrillas at war with Rwanda’s chaotic, murderous Hutu regime.
At Rwanda’s third, and most appalling, massacre of 1994, in which some 800,000 Tutsi died, the international community suddenly awakened to intervene to reverse Hutu ethnic authority and install the Tutsis in power. Paul Kagame was a natural vice-President. By 2000, at 42, he was President. Here was a man with a vision: to make Rwanda, under benign implacable ethnic paternalism, unfailingly to grow his citizens’ prosperity, as the “Singapore of Africa”.
Life teaches that demographic differentiation, with one culture with a mere edge of superiority, cannot be countered. Look no further than Belgium itself and ask a Walloon.
Today in his mid-60s, Kagame runs country with no natural resources beyond coffee, whose economy has grown seven per cent annually for the past two decades, and GDP five percent annually. There has been a two-thirds drop in child mortality, and life expectancy has doubled. Women occupy 61 per cent of the seats in the national assembly. To police corruption Kagame has established the National Tender Board and the Office of the Auditor General on behalf of transparent vigilance.
Rwanda has the backing of the World Bank and is a favoured recipient of investment from the UK’s generous aid structure (DFID), since by and large it meets targets and fulfils promises. Rwanda remains at peace, albeit a tough peace. Himself undeniably Tutsi, Kagame’s governance is cross-race and hence, remarkably, consent is manifest. Sheer economic advancement, and assured peace, have won Hutu allegiance.
Across the border in Uganda, a Tutsi (Hima) Museveni may hold power, if tremulously, and rigging his elections. Having recognised my adopted Ruwenzori Bantu tribe’s right to their once-rebel kingdom of Rwenzururu in 2009, Museveni took fright at the spectre of an imagined cross-border Bantu tribal federation challenging his Tutsi hegemony. In 2016 he let loose his Tutsi-officered army to burn the Rwenzururu palace, and so to slaughter by machete and bullet 87 loyalists who had taken refuge there. The tribe’s king had already been taken into custody with his family, and have now been held without charge or trial for five and a half years, and the king going blind with advancing diabetes.
Museveni’s one-time protégé in Rwanda, Kagame, is now his potential rival for dynastic authority destined for a post-colonial community comprising Rwanda, Burundi, Tutsi-governed Uganda, plus the mineral-rich Kivu province of Congo (where covert civil war is in train).
Meanwhile Rwanda soars away. Kagame will not let it go. His regime is becoming the exemplar of the new Africa.
Priti Patel’s agreement will stay in operation for as long as any threat of illegal Channel-crossings remain. On the instant of its implementation the global psyche of the would-be economic migrant into welfarist Britain will have been shafted, the smuggler’s spiel invalidated with the intending Channel-crosser anticipating “finishing up in equatorial Africa”. Yet indeed, they won’t finish there; in respectable and civilised surroundings they will be swiftly processed, and either re-patriated or, as justified migrants, admitted. Priti deserves to have her day.