In his interview of 18th November 2009 with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Joseph Sebarenzi states that the root cause of the genocide against Batutsi is “a political struggle of power between Hutu and Tutsi.”
For a man with the knowledge of the history of Rwanda that he has, that is an absurd assertion.
However, if you are surprised that Sebarenzi can make such absurd assertions, it’s because you don’t know that the man himself is bizarre in the extreme. And to understand his bizarre nature, you need to try and understand the man, even if it is an effort in futility! Sebarenzi was about 20 years old when he attached himself to other Rwandans in exile as the sole way of accessing university education. From then he lived as a refugee in a number of countries before joining the exodus of his countrymen to return home after the 1994 genocide. As a man who was born in 1963, that should have prepared him for an understanding of his country. It is therefore not that Sebarenzi does not know the negative impact colonialism had on the unity of Rwandans.
He knows that colonialists instituted a divide-and-rule strategy that stratified Rwandans into hierarchical “races” (as they called them) that first favoured Batutsi as “being superior” and later favoured Bahutu as “being oppressed”. Sebarenzi knows that this state of affairs was perpetuated by the subsequent regimes that followed independence; that of Kayibanda and that of Habyarimana after him. He knows that, apart from cementing that divide, these regimes set about completely dehumanising Batutsi and projecting them as vermin or, as they called them, “snakes” or “cockroaches”. Batutsi in exile had no access to power that they could struggle for, just as those inside the country had no voice and, therefore, could not struggle for power.
When a group of Rwandans attacked the country from outside in 1990 to reclaim their rights, the plan to exterminate Batutsi had already been perfected by the Habyaraimana extremist regime. The genocide against Batutsi of 1994 was in no way a result of a power struggle between Bahutu and Batutsi.
However, Sebarenzi spews too many absurdities in his interview and quoting them here is according him undue attention. Isn’t it a waste of breath, for instance, to try to refute his claims that he was removed as speaker of parliament because he was trying to strengthen institutions? If truth be told, this is a man whose only achievement as speaker was to erect a miniature statue of a dove in the parliament building gardens!Unfortunately, Sebarenzi now bases himself on the strength of that achievement to assert that establishing security, improving the economy and bettering general wellbeing, easing access to education and health services, achieving gender parity, and others, as the Rwandan government and people have done, “are easy things to do.”
Easy things, yet they have eluded many countries, not only in the region but on the African continent!
As I said, however, we need to go into the futility of understanding the man. In constructing that dove monument, for instance, the man was answering the call of his church sect members. Remember, as soon as he was plucked out of an obscure non-governmental organisation and placed on the prestigious seat of speaker of parliament in 1997, Sebarenzi took to frequenting a certain church sect as a ‘born-again’ Christian.It emerged later that the adherents of the church sect had revealed to him that he had been God-anointed to lead the country into blissful peace. And so he set out to achieve that by first and foremost trying to cultivate the support of all church leaders and their faithful, and opposing government policies. From there, he started shifting and switching alliances with various groups in a spirited bid that was aimed at propelling him to the top notch up from his second position.
After all, he reasoned, the constitution provided that in case of incapacitation of the President, the speaker of parliament acts as president of the country. Clearly, his aim was to strengthen himself as an institution!When in 2000 fifty eight parliamentarians signed a petition to remove him, Sebarenzi was shattered. After he was shoved off the seat of speaker, he grudgingly went but could not contemplate a life back in obscurity.
It is for this reason that he tried to create new alliances, even one time going to Kinshasa with Kajeguhakwa to seek the support of ex-FAR/Interahamwe in D.R. Congo!Joseph Sebarenzi is a man whose bitterness will colour his life and his conversations for as long as he lives.
Luckily for CNN viewers, Phillip Gourevitch, author of “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families”, provided a voice of reason during that interview.
But for Phillip Gourevitch, Joseph Sebarenzi would have had his way, as he is wont to in VOA and BBC Kinyarwanda programmes.