This Mozambican Shonas’ proverb is rich of echoes during the current events. While the political presidential campaign makes fire and flames, the African issues are as always the forgotten ones in the United States’ public political opinion. However, breaking news comes to refresh the memory.
One of such a news event was reported a few weeks ago. "The Customs Brigade intercepted, on Friday August 21, 2020, several packages of coltan minerals during an attempt to cross to Rwanda at the important frontier in the Congolese city of Goma. There are 22 packages, including 15 packages of white coltan and 7 other packages of black coltan weighing a total of 585.5 kg."
And soon Congo, and the untold story of Rwandan genocide, once again had me by the throat. The quote is from Judy Rever’s book "In Praise of Blood. The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front", published by Random House Canada in 2018.
I received it a few months ago as a gift from a friend with whom I shared a great time in Burundi, back in 1969-70. Memories sink into the earth of oblivion. However, they continue their course in the thickness of time, and reappear here and there, invincible, unalterable, such in these days when news flows slowly through the screen of my old computer.
"Hero or torturer: the double truth about Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the film Rwanda Hotel", questions the truth of his heroic story. Then an article in Le Monde, Le petit Pays. When shared among our group of former Burundi friends it provoked some deep reactions. The article did all its best to forget all the tragedies of Burundi as the background of Rwanda 1994’s conflict.
Then the event, via zoom, of IRAdvocates on the Cobalt DRC Case. “IRAdvocates filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of 14 Doe Plaintiffs who are either guardians of children killed in a tunnel or wall collapses while mining cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo or children who were maimed in such accidents.”
It revives the accusation against Apple, Microsoft, Tesla for profiting from child labor in cobalt mines. All that the US and its Presidents do “against” Africa seems to weigh in choosing in which party stands. Yet…
"By 1999, Rwanda and Uganda, longtime allies, were competing for control of the mineral resources and other riches in northeastern Congo – writes Judy Rever-. Their armies turned on each other and began tearing apart Kisangani, which was economically strategic, situated as it was on the Congo River, and rich in diamonds, coffee and timber. In a six-day battle between the two armies in June 2000, more than 1,200 civilians were killed and thousands were wounded."
With Judi Rever’s words there rose a tide in me, having me again by the throat. I had just arrived in Kisangani three days before the war broke out. The facilities of our philosophical Institute for the religious was destroyed. We underwent all the bombing of those unending 6 days without any resource to food, water or electricity. On Saturday afternoon, we were out in the town under the gunpoint of a Rwandan soldiers' patrol. I saw everywhere Rwandan and Ugandan corpses of soldiers rotting on the roadsides and, among them, empty and full crates of weapons all with the inscription US Army on top. At that time, Bill Clinton was in power and his Secretary of State was Madeleine Albright who provided the arms to both sides while those sides in turn were destroying the DR-Congo.
Rwanda and Uganda had created the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RDC, a political party) to control the territories rich in coltan, a mineral from black mud used in the manufacturing of electronics and aeronautics.
“The battle over ownership of mining rights and trading relationships became the motor of the war.
As the price of coltan rose spectacularly from $65 per kilogram in late 1999 to a peak of around $530 in late 2000, profits from its sale contributed to the continuation of the conflict (that had started in 1998) in eastern Congo. The Rwandan army, RCD-Goma and other armed groups that effectively controlled the trade sustained their forces on the profits they made, and killed and tortured local people, as well as driving them from their land or forcing them at gunpoint to work in coltan mines,” reports Judy Rever. This conflict killed millions of people, also through starvation and war-related diseases. Soldiers and militia raped women and girls, shoving rifles, knives, wood, glass, nails and stones into the victims.
"By late 1999, Rwanda's army was reaping revenues of at least $20 million a month from the export of coltan alone”, the United Nations stated. In 2001, the Rwandan army had made at least $250 million from coltan over a period of eighteen months.
Theogene Rudasingwa is a Rwandan dissident, “who for years had headed the Rwandan Patriotic Front Secretariat,” the Kagame government's political authority. He and his colleagues, “were constantly surprised when the United Nations estimated its Congo revenues in millions, when Rwandan commanders had already sucked out ‘a billion dollars' worth’ of coltan, diamond, gold, tin and copper along with the revenue from timber and extortion networks," Judy Rever reports.
The first time I met Theogene Rudasingwa I dared to ask two questions. He met my surprise answering in a very open way. “When and why did you decide to leave Kagame?" The answer was, “When and because I realized he is a killer minded man." Then, “Who struck down, near the airport of Kigali (the Rwandan Capital) the craft in which Habyarimana, at that time the Rwandan President was flying back in from Arusha?” The answer, “We, the Tutsi did. Kagame himself told me when I asked.” That aircraft accident lit the fuse that ignited the 1994 war in Rwanda.
Nowadays, from every sides, people caution about fake news, double truth and even the double weight in judging the events, and they are right to do so. However, seldom, too seldom, they caution against the background, the law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”. Because, “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late,” wrote Jonathan Swift.
The Tutsi in Burundi and Rwanda learned the lesson very well. Even though, they would accuse it of revisionism, The Commodification of Genocide. A Neo Gramscian Model for Rwanda by William R. Woodward Professor Department of Psychology University of New Hampshire Durham, is welcome. Reflecting “on the nature and uses of historical narratives,” the author tends to describe the Rwandan genocide through the lens of a clash of social class.
All that is hidden must be brought to light (Mémoire de singe et paroles d'homme (1983) by Remo Forlani) if we want to ill the wound of history. This should be a good advice also for the current conflict on the US political arena. Otherwise, all the skeletons hidden in the wardrobes of the two big competing parties would come out like in the Shakespeare’s tragedy, Richard III.