A few days ago, Jeffrey Smith, an American “pro-democracy” researcher in Africa, attributed Rwandan development to the country’s “weaponizing” of the west’s “guilt over the genocide”. This narrative is nothing new, but it has always been disgraceful. It originates from Professor Filip Reyntjens, the genocide ideologue of the Hutu Power regime. Naturally, the intellectually-challenged claim is both logically inconsistent and ahistorical.
For one thing, the idea that the west has guilt over its historical interaction with Africa in general and Rwanda in particular is absurd. It presupposes noble intentions driven by a conscience to which guilt is possible. This is widely contradicted by the conscienceless horrors of slavery, imperialism and colonisation. Without a conscience, guilt is not possible, and one cannot weaponize something that doesn’t exist.
This reasoning is only possible from the perspective of imperialist self-righteousness and education curricula that asks pupils to list the “advantages of slavery and colonialism,” for instance. There are no advantages to oppression. There are no advantages to genocide either. The groundless, invalid and cruel depiction of genocide survivors as manipulators weaponizing an imaginary empathy the west claims to have for Africans should ideally not be honoured and dignified with a response. I say this because I worry that responding to such ridiculous claims would legitimize them, like explaining why the earth cannot possibly be flat could deem the Flat Earth Theory worthy of intellectual attention.
However, the truth is that the mechanisms of colonization and westernization masquerading as globalization have granted perceived credibility to any white graduate who fancies a say on African political affairs. I write for the Rwandans – and other Africans – who may not believe the poor-sport attacks on their development or moral codes but deserve reassurance that their objectivity was never compromised.
The west has played the “self-victimizing” role for centuries with the intention to shift the blame of oppression to the oppressed. In light of this, I strongly contend that the words of the west’s army of Rwanda-bashing provocateurs should be entirely undeserving of a response, if this propaganda was entirely harmless. It is not. There is nothing objective, founded or fair about Smith’s words. They are merely a pseudo-rational condemnation of Rwanda’s decades of efforts towards survival, development and peace. Rwandans, and Africans, therefore, mustn’t let the shamefulness of such words go unmentioned.
A Strange Truth-Warping Pathology
I’m sometimes puzzled by western narcissism. It has been difficult not to notice the avalanche of misinformation on the Rwandan leadership, justice system and democracy, which has recently gushed from western publications and the social media posts of Rusesabagina sympathizers. “Experts on Rwanda” from the Global North have been pulling out vintage tactics from the dusty genocide denial drawer. One, preconized by French politicians in the wake of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, suggests that every Rwandan party involved, from the killed to the killers, bears a degree of fault for the atrocities. It says nothing about French responsibility, certainly because a guiltless and revisionist narrative supported by the West cannot apportion blame to a white nation.
However, there are too many relevant quotes from French officials to demonstrate the absence of guilt: President François Mitterrand’s early proclamation of the double-genocide theory, “De quel génocide, parlez-vous, monsieur? De celui des Hutus contre les Tutsis ou de celui des Tutsis contre les Hutus?” (translating to “What Genocide are you talking about, sir? The one of the Hutus against the Tutsi or the one of the Tutsi against the Hutu?”) and Charles Pasqua’s “Monsieur, il ne faut pas croire que le caractère horrible de ce qui s’est passé là-bas a la même valeur pour eux et pour nous” (translating to “Sir, one shouldn’t think that the horrible nature of what happened over there [in Rwanda] has the same bearing for them and for us”) stand out as some of the most memorable low points.
Unfortunately, one needn’t look too far in the past to see how Rwanda and its current leadership have been blamed for the manner it went about reconstructing post-genocide Rwanda. The recent tweets by Jeffrey Smith, which accused Rwanda of using emotional manipulation to “fund” its development, are as ridiculous as the many other preludes to denial the west has used to warp the narrative. How can one honestly invoke “weaponized guilt” when speaking of genocide victims unless they are battling with the idea of sympathy or empathy for people they believe inherently unworthy of either?
Not Quite the Center of Our World
The victim-blaming vilifying Rwandans for having a history the west finds “uncomfortable” to confront – while heavily involved in its unrolling – points to a misguided western claim on defining reality.
There is really nothing to weaponize. The discourse around the genocide can never centre around the opinions of the western world for two reasons. For one, ex-colonies do not expect sympathy, empathy or even deserved reparations from the west ( all of which require a conscience), for we have an awareness of colonial history and the dynamics of western dominance. Secondly, it is Rwandan lives that were lost, Rwandan freedoms that were stolen, and Rwandan hearts that must heal. The post-genocide dialogue aims to support healthy Rwandan cohabitation and preserve an entire people’s dignity and advancement. It’s a shame that the west would assume that necessary conversation among Rwandans, or leaders of the East African region or even Africa at large, should involve, satisfy or appease them. The western world is not the centre, the necessary observer, nor the immaculate, blank sheet upon which we must inscribe our truths.
When the Gacaca courts, the much-commended community justice system that placed judgment for crimes against Rwandans in the hands of Rwandans, were established in 2001, the west was not coy about its disapproval. Georgette Gagnon, an ex-Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch, described the proceedings as “unfair” under international fair trial standards. “It’s not following what the US would call due process,” she argued, claims which are consistent with her peers’ articles in major western academic publications, such as the Oxford University Press. But following the US due process was never the objective of Gacacas, and swaying mythical western political sentimentalism in our favour is not the focal point of our survival.
Drawing Blood from a Stone
The “guilt weaponizing” trope is no more than the false characterization of “white guilt” as a legitimate western burden, as opposed to a manufactured privilege. Colonialism and global westernization are both erected on white supremacist ideologies, which proclaim the intellectual and moral superiority of the white race. Self-righteousness and guilt cannot cohabitate. If a fight between the two ever pinched the hearts of western political leaders, self-righteousness most likely always won, for Africans have never received financial compensation, stolen artwork repatriation or even a genuine apology after the exploitation, pillage and mass murders of colonization. Western self-righteousness is present at every turn, through the jaundiced critiques of our democratic processes, through international courts’ tendency to assert their “competence” only when it comes to trying African leaders for crimes against Africans, and certainly, through the prejudiced rhetoric they spew online to mislead the global public (such as the one regurgitated by Jeffrey Smith, whose livelihood seems predicated on pathologizing Africa and Africans – for which he is the cure-all)
Guilt Has Been a Weapon of the West
Western familiarity with guilt weaponizing stems from their own tactics to manipulate African political and economic systems. From establishing colonial debt to strong-handing Africans into implementing Structural Adjustment Programmes, the Global North has persistently shamed African countries for bearing the wounds of their oppression and foisted on us their exploitative policies as the solution to our “incompetence”. They have infantilized African leadership and justified their patronizing interference by labelling us incapable of governing ourselves. Guilt and shame are the weapons of the west, and the west has untiringly brandished them to enrich its countries and reinforce its supremacy. But as with every manipulation attempt, the deceitful words of the disingenuous have only as much influence as we grant them by continuing to doubt our known truths. Rwandan dialogue around its traumatic past will never be directed at the west or centred around their opinions. Therefore, the west can keep its mythical guilt to itself.
Africans don’t need it!