Is There Any Oppression that is not Deliberate and by Design?

Nelson Mandela

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

The icon of the struggle against oppression , Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, passed away today December 5, 2013. As the South African President Jacob Zuma said, Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.

The death of Nelson Mandela should be an occasion, not only to mourn the loss of the person who epitomizes the success of overcoming oppression, but also to reflect on our own struggles against oppression, wherever it is and wherever and whoever we are.

While thinking about Mondela’s struggle against oppression, one question came to my mind: “Is there oppression that is not deliberate or by design?

The question came to my mind, perhaps because,  lately, I read two converging opinions on the nature oppression in Rwanda, coming from leaders from opposing sides: the Rwandan President General Paul Kagame and Dr. Gerald Gahima, one of his current staunch  opponents.

For Kagame: Oppression of Hutus is by Default, not by Design

In an interview by Jeffrey Gettleman,  the East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, published in New York Times on September 4, 2013  under the title The Global Elite’s Favorite Strongman, Jeffrey Gettlemen wrote:

When I asked Kagame about this, he first tried to convince me that Tutsis actually don’t dominate politics or business. When I presented specifics: the health minister, defense minister, foreign minister and finance minister are all Tutsis, along with some of the richest men in the country, he acknowledged that Tutsis might enjoy a few advantages here and there, but this was “by default and not by design.” Many Tutsis like him had lived outside Rwanda, where there were more advantages. When I was openly skeptical, he finally said, “This Hutu and Tutsi thing, if you get lost in it,” he said, getting exasperated, “you get lost in the pettiness of the past of our history, and you end up in a mess.””

So, for General Paul Kagame, most of the Rwandan  top government  and  military positions are occupied by Tutsis. Most of the businesses are owned by Tutsis, and almost anything of value is dominated by Tutsis who represent, based on official statistics, close to 10% of the population, while 85% of the population,  the Hutus, remain in abject poverty, can hardly get a position within the government, are excluded from the military, the police, and from owning strategic businesses. For General Paul Kagame, it is by default, not by design. 


For Gerarld Gahima, Oppression of Hutus is not a Deliberate Policy

Then,  independent journalist Jennifer Fierberg published an interview she had with Gerald Gahima, a former leader of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front and  Rwandan Attorney General, before he was forced into exile by General Paul Kagame.

In the interview, Gerald Gahima said:  “Unfortunately, though, it is evident resources allocation and control of political power aligned. Poverty in Rwanda has an ethnic dimension. There is an imbalance of power toward Tutsi in Rwanda as well as economic inequalities. I do not agree that there is a deliberate policy to impoverish the Hutu people but there is no doubt that Hutu are discriminated against as well as marginalized in political representation.   Economic inequalities between rural and urban population are quite glaring. A disproportionate percentage of the urban population is typically Tutsi. Urban dwellers have better access to state provided services and a better quality of life where as rural communities, who are predominantly Hutu, live in abject poverty. Relatives of people in power get differential treatment over the children of peasants in terms of access to employment and business opportunities. This is not unique to Rwanda. It happens in democracies as well. There is a historic precedent of ethnic division of economic factors.


There are glaring problems with Gerald Gahima’s arguments. First, the arguments surprisingly support General Paul Kagame’s  premise of “ oppression  by default, not by design”.

For Gerald Gahima, because political power is aligned to Tutsis, then  it is normal that  riches and spoils go to Tutsis.  Since the Tutsis are mostly city dwellers, then they are richer.

Gerarld Gahima  later appears to contradict himself:  Hutus are systematically discriminated against, but there is no deliberate policy to impoverish the Hutu.   

Gahima’s argument begs a question: If Hutus are systematically excluded from all the positions of power, in the government, military, education, businesses, how is not this a deliberate policy of exclusion?

He adds that this is not unique to Rwanda. Granted. It was the same in South Africa’s Apartheid regime, America during slavery, Burundi during the Tutsi reign, and France during  the monarchy.

In Apartheid, the Blacks were excluded to Bantoustans, from government positions, businesses,  best schools, etc.  In Rwanda, Hutus are banned from residing in some areas in the cities, government positions, the military, from receiving grants or scholarship to study in the best schools or abroad. If that is not a deliberate policy, then what would it be called?

Incidentally, Gerald Gahima says that Tutsis were deliberately discriminated against under General Habyarimana’s and Gregory Kayibanda’s regime. 

This then raises another question: did Tutsis become city dwellers after the RPF took power, or were they also the richest under the previous  Hutu dominated regimes,  since they were also mostly city dwellers?



Oppression is Deliberate and by Design

My point here is not to single out Gerarld Gahima, not even expand the already inhumane divide among the Hutu and the Tutsi brothers and sisters.  Instead,  I would like to encourage everybody fighting oppression, in Rwanda or elsewhere, to free themselves from ethnic or group bias and shackles, and face  the reality surrounding oppression.  

Oppression is deliberate, regardless of who is the oppressor or the oppressed.  I believe that there is no such thing as oppression that is not by design. Oppression can only be based on a deliberate policy. In the pre and post independence Rwanda, any ethnic and political oppression could only be the policy of the ruling elite. Currently, the ruling elite appears to be from the Tutsi minority that is oppressing the Hutu majority and other Tutsis that dare to challenge the ruling elite.

Our concrete Proposition For Ending Oppression in Rwanda

Now, the question remains the following: how can we overcome this oppression, deliberately designed by the ruling minority? By following the example of  Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, after his liberation. Jacob Zuma summarized Mandela’s example very well while announcing the death of the icon: Let us commit ourselves to strive together — sparing neither strength nor courage — to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous” Rwanda.

That is why in my April 26, 2013 discourse I titled:Do not politicize Memories, Honor and Rebuilding”, I urged Rwandans, politicians and others, as they carry on and rebuild, to: “

• not allow divisive politics affect the faith in ourselves, neighbor, and our country;

• rebuke politicians, neighbors, and others who encourage people to fear or mistrust each other just because of the diversity in their backgrounds;

• not let pain overcome humanity:  each one’s loss of the loved one is as precious as the neighbor’s;

Because, at the end, our faith in each other and the country, the hopes for a better tomorrow, and the sense of common purpose are the surest path to a better tomorrow for all and for the generations to follow.”

To  General Kagame, despite his belief in and policies that encourage ethnic dominance,  our political organization, National Democratic Congress, which is a coalition between Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUD) and Rally for the Rwandan People (RPR) made concrete propositions  aimed at building an harmonious Rwandan society.



The balance between urgency and pragmatism has led NDC to put forward a phased approach that includes immediate and long term actions:

Action 1: Commitment to  building a  Rwandan society where everyone is truly and feels welcomed, beyond political speeches and rhetoric

Action 2: Voluntary and peaceful disarmament of Rwandan rebels and combatants and potential repatriation and/or resettlement. This action requires a process agreed upon among the  Rwandan government , the leaders of Rwandan refugees, and the DRC Government and the Representative of the UN Secretary General.

Action 3: Democratization process within Rwanda. An Inter-Rwandan dialogue will kickstart the process with the aim of ensuring the participation of all Rwandan citizens in the political, social, and economical management of their nation.

Action 4: Regional integration

The NDC stands by the agreement  NDC leaders signed with the DRC Government representatives during the 2008-2009 Rome and Kisangani process. Since 2008  NDC addressed communications to or contacted Government officials, members of  the UN Security Council, NGO, and Human Rights organizations close to the situation of refugees in the Great Lakes Region,  exhorting them to adopt a proactive approach.

In January 2008, after NDC leaders visited the DRC and its government, we challenged General Paul Kagame, in our 24 January 2008 statement in Kinshasa on peace in the Great Lakes Region, “for reconstructing the Rwandan nation on a model [not] based on the failed past, but into a future Rwanda where our descendants will rise above what has until now divided Rwandans; a Rwanda where our children and our descendants will not live in the confrontation but rather would spend their time exploring and putting into practice solutions for the development of Rwanda.

When leading the disarmament of RUD and RPR combatants in Kasiki, on Juy 31, 2008, we  made a clear call to General Paul Kagame and we invited General Paul Kagame to open the doors for the Rwandan refugees to go home in peace. We invited him, first  as a human being, second as a former refugee, and third as the president of Rwanda.

This peaceful challenge to general Paul Kagame has been the constancy of our calls and we expressed on several occasions our willingness to meet him anytime under the facilitation from genuine mediators.



Emulating Mandela’s Example.

Referring to Mandela, in my May 19, 2011 discourse: “When Seeking Peace Becomes Terrorism, I wrote:

We have presented General Paul Kagame with two choices: either he is a leader, then he will have to move beyond bitterness, psychological frustrations, and retribution, or he remains a man whose tragic life would only be remembered as the untamed source of a river of blood and suffering. Yes, he spent 30 years in exile. But, Mandela spent close to those years in jail, with daily forced labor. Long before his liberation from prison, Mandela, a great leader, chose to free himself from the venom of hatred. As soon as Mandela came to that decision, he became a free man. If he had not made that decision, no one can fathom what would have become of South Africa after he became president.”

General Paul Kagame, in his tribute to Mandela published in Time Magazine  on December 5, 2013, he  concludes:

But Mandela’s life’s work was, ultimately, politics. He worked for decades to advance his cherished political party, from exile to government. He defied his political enemies for 27 years, but did not hesitate to sit down with them when the time came to negotiate. He understood the power of his celebrity which he used to great and lasting effect. He never stopped striving towards concrete political ends; never missed a chance to plead his case or cause; never wavered from the struggle.

To point out that Nelson Mandela was, above all, a politician is not to diminish his remarkable legacy, but rather to remind the world that politicians are capable of remarkable things.

If  General Paul Kagame meant what he really says, then he needs to apply Mandela’s lesson to himself.  Paul Kagame failed to emulate Mandela when he took power in 1994. Unlike Mandela, he chose to remain the prisoner of his hatred for the other ethnic groups and the ensuing vices, and mounted on the back of a baby tiger. For 19 years now he has been sitting on the back of a growing tiger. He should not wait until the tiger becomes a monstrous beast that ultimately would devour him. 

He should strive for “remarkable things”: it is time to negotiate and he should not hesitate to seize the opportunity. Mandela’s passing is a great reminder to all of us that negotiated peace for the unity and prosperity of our people and country should be the paramount.


Felicien Kanyamibwa, PhD

New Jersey, December 5, 2013