Friday, August 29, 2008


The refugee situation is particularly bothersome to me because history repeats itself, and we must learn from the past. When you don’t treat refugees in your country well, you not only mistreat humanity (for we are all human), but you set yourself up for future clashes with those same people. Can we look at a case study?


[Many people are confused about if the Hutus and Tutsis are actually different groups or if they were artificial. The Belgians definitely did measure skull sizes and facial features in order to classify Rwandans as belonging to one group or the other but that was just added categorization on two already existing groups. My guess is that it put mixed people in one or the other category and miscategorized some as well. Tutsis were taller, lighter, and more “European-looking” but those, again, are tendencies.

Ok, I’m going to skip all of details in the history just to focus on the refugee part.]

The Hutus arrived in the area of Rwanda first. The Tutsis were people who came down into Rwanda from Lower Nile (lower meaning lower in elevation but more north) or Ethiopia. By the 15th century they had organized themselves into states. Fast forward again into modern times—well, the 19th century before all the world wars. There was a Tutsi king called a Mwami under whom were Tutsi officials and chiefs. But due to intermarriage, there was relative peace between Hutus and Tutsis.

After the turn of the century (or 1897) German colonists favored Tutsis because they were taller, lighter, assumed to be of Hamitic (you remember Ham, one of Noah’s three sons) descent, etc. They put them in charge (governmentally, administratively) over Hutus. After WWI (Germany lost), Belgium took over and reinforced Tutsi rule increasing the economic/identity/social divide between Hutus and Tutsis. It was the Belgian that did the head/face measuring you saw in “Hotel Rwanda” in the 1920’s.

WWII came, and some reforms were made by the Belgian which some Tutsis saw as a threat to their rule. Regardless the Tutsi king (Charles) in 1940’s abolished the feudal system and started distributing land as the Hutus began to develop a consciousness movement.

Anyway there was more land distribution to all in 1954 which led to his assassination in 1959. The Hutus then revolted against his son King Kigeri V and he was overthrown. He fled to Uganda and Tutsis were killed by the tens of thousands (20,000-100,000). And there were 150,000 Tutsi refugees in nearby countries. This is where I pause.

At this point, if the Tutsis were treated well and welcomed, embraced, and loved in their new countries of residence, it is quite possible that the Rwandan genocide of ’94 would have been avoided. Instead they were not treated well just as the refugees in South Africa are not treated well. And guess what refugees (and really 90% of non-white foreign nationals) tell me, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” “I want to leave as soon as possible.” Instead of finding a home, a family, a community, the hate and resentment against people in your own country is fueled by the hate you receive in this new country and instead of healing and forgetting you plan your return to Rwanda. You plan your payback. You plan your revenge. Hate begets hate, and with the hate you receive in a new place, you grow and nurture your hate.

After the Belgian encouraged the overthrow, independence was declared in 1962 and the few Tutsis remaining were excluded from power. The new president used ethnic ID cards to discourage mixed marriages (BAD IDEA). He was overthrown and there was military rule fro 1973 to 1990. The whole time both groups are holding on to memories of killings or domination in the past. Watch this.

The Tutsis in exile (mostly in Uganda) invade to resolve issues of now half million Tutsi refugees who have been waiting on unfulfilled promises of reintegration. Hutus took this as an ethnic attempt for power. Then in 1994, the president (and the Burundian president) was shot down in a plane. And the Hutus began the genocide we know today. That genocide as well as the past ones were all fueled by what? Fueled by offenses, yes, but they weren’t quenched due to the lack of healing. And neighboring countries like Uganda could have played a part in that. Remember, why were the Tutsis complaining? Their conditions as refugees stunk. They wanted a better life and they did not find it where they were.

Notice that I mentioned mixed marriages. Can I say something briefly on that? When Zambia gained independence in 1964, Kaunda became the first president. He was not perfect but I would like to say that the lack of any strong current of tribalism is quite a wonderful thing. What was the main tool he used? Marriage. He encouraged intermarriages, mixed marriages. He repeated we are one country, one people. He tried to rid the country of tribalism. When appointing governors or officers over the country he made Man from Ethnic Group 1 (EG1) governor over people from Ethnic Group 2 (EG2) in another region. He mixed cabinet members having representatives from all tribes (I know that this acknowledges tribes but perhaps he was trying to start somewhere). He mixed things up. And I think this helped.

(Info from Wikipedia and Zambian friend)


I don’t want to write too much as this is already quite lengthy and you’ve seen the news. I’ll just say that the negotiations did not end by the two week deadline a week and a half ago. And now in the 4th week, they are still working on it though Mbeki reports that they are closer. News reports speculate that the hang up is the concession of power or the splitting of power between the two men. I don’t think it’s speculation; it’s an educated guess. I know Mugabe doesn’t want a purely ceremonial role so there must be some power sharing between the prime minister and president if Mbeki wants to get a compromise to go through.

We mourn what is happening in Georgia and what has happened between Georgia and Russia two very closely related peoples. My mother and father have both traveled to Georgia, my father multiple times. They are short-term missionaries with a heart for people all over the world. They both speak multiple languages (at least 4). Valerie, my dear multilingual international worker (foreign service expert) used to work in Georgia and speaks Georgian having served as an international observer of their last elections. So I have a few indirect ties there. And I can tell you in Africa we know the story going on between the Georgians and the Russians. It is an old story. And we had hoped such stories would end. But they continue.

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