Heart of Darkness:
Part One: “By This Sign We Prosper”
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part Three: Doing the Lord’s Work In Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda
A quarter of all Christians today live in Africa. Moreover, the vast majority of these African Christians are either themselves recent converts, or are the descendants of those who have converted over the last 125 years. These conversions were the handiwork of modern missionaries, from modern, industrialized western nations. The Christianity that these missionaries spread was also modern, bearing the stamp of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.
The conversion of half the population of an entire continent in the span of just over a century is, obviously, considered a great success by those who see the spread of Christianity as a good thing. But is it a good thing? What can we learn about the nature of Christianity by looking at Africa, arguably the place on earth that has been the most dramatically influenced by that religion in modern times?
Throughout sub-saharan Africa, Christian missionaries have played a central role in a process that has been described, by Tor Sellström and Lennart Wohlgemuth of the Nordic Africa Institute in a report they prepared on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide (for more details see this previous post and links and references therein), as “the disintegration, distortion or bastardization of indigenous social and political structures”. The Church was not only involved in the destruction of “indigenous social and political structures”, but also in their replacement with modern, western, European, and Christian values and institutions.
One modern European Christian value in particular played a key role in the civilizing mission of the Church in Rwanda and throughout Africa: scientific racism. Specifically, Christian missionaries promulgated what was known as the “Hamitic hypothesis“, according to which some Africans were viewed as inherently superior to other Africans on the basis of their supposedly greater “racial” proximity to Europeans. Here is how Mahmood Mamdani describes the systematic dissemination of “racial thinking” in Africa by missionaries and other emissaries of western civilization, in his When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda:
The racialization of the Tutsi/Hutu was not simply an intellectual construct, one which later and more enlightened generations of intellectuals could deconstruct and discard at will. More to the point, racialization was also an institutional construct. Racial ideology was embedded in institutions, which in turn undergirded racial privilege and reproduced racial ideology. It is this political-institutional fact that intellectuals alone would not be able to alter. Rather, it would take a political-social movement to be dismantled.
As a process both ideological and institutional, the racialization of the Tutsi was the creation of a joint enterprise between the colonial state and the Catholic Church. Missionaries were “the first ethnologists” of colonial Rwanda. As such, they were the primary ideologues of colonization. For Father Leon Classe, the future bishop of Rwanda and the key architect of missionary policy, the Tutsi were already in 1902 “superb humans” combining traits both Aryan and Semitic, just as for Father Francois Menard, writing in 1917, a Tutsi was “a European under a black skin.” If the Church heralded the Tutsi as “supreme humans” in 1902, the same Church would turn into a prime site for the slaughter of Tutsi in 1994.
The colonial state called upon missionary knowledge from early on. Soon after colonization, the Belgian state ordered a reflection on Rwanda from the White Fathers. The purpose was to elaborate and implement “race policies.” In response, Fathers Arnoux, Hurel, Pages, and Schumacher — Church fathers with expertise — prepared anthropological treatises. A consolidated document was then drawn up by Leon Classe, the head of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, and then presented to government authorities. This 1916 document had a wide readership. Not surprisingly, it gave vent to the kind of race thinking that the Church hierarchy had come to hold as a deeply felt conviction. “Race policy” became such a preoccupation with the colonial power that from 1925 on, annual colonial administration reports included an extensive description of the “races” in a chapter called “race policy.” By then, the Church had become integral to the workings of the state: since 1925, annual colonial reports included sections devoted exclusively to reports written by the heads of the Catholic Societe Belge de Missions Protestantes au Congo (SBMPC, former Bethel mission), Chuch Missionary Society (CMS), and Adventist missions.
It took Belgian rule a little over a decade translate its vision of a civilizational mission in Rwanda into an institutional imprint. Central to that translation was the Hamitic hypothesis. Summed up in Kinyarwanda as other than Rubanda Nyamwinshi — meaning the majority, ordinary folk — Belgian power turned the Hamitic racial supremacy from an ideology into an institutional fact by making it the basis of changes in political, social, and cultural relations. The institutions underpinning racial ideology were created in the decade from 1927 to 1936. These administrative reforms were comprehensive. Key institutions — starting with education, then state administration, taxation, and finally the Church — were organized (or reorganized as the case may be) around an active acknowledgment of these identities. The reform was capped with a census that classified the entire population as Tutis, Hutu, or Twa, and issued each person a card proclaiming his or her identity.
‘additional services of common concern’
The process of decolonization after WWII was a complex, protracted and violent business. The French, British, Belgians, Dutch and Portuguese were prepared to fight, and did fight, to try to keep “their” colonies, from Indochina to India to Palestine to Africa. For example, Angola and Mozambique did not win their independence from Portugal until 1979, and even as late as 1982 the British did not hesitate to go to war to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The Americans weren’t about to miss out on the fun, as the seamless hand-off of the Indochinese conflict from the French to Uncle Sam demonstrated only too clearly.
Covert operations played an important, and very revealing, role in the western world’s determined efforts to perpetuate it’s global dominance, even (or especially) as former colonies were able to gain de-facto “independence.” The fact that the Cold War picked up right where WWII had left off greatly exacerbated the urge of western nations to maintain political control of what came to be called the “third world.” Here is how Philip Agee describes “action operations” as they were carried out by the CIA around the world in the 1960’s and early 70’s:
Psychological and paramilitary, known as PP or KUCAGE, operations differ from those of PI or CI because they are action rather than collection activities. Collection operations should be invisible so that the target will be unaware of them. Action operations, on the other hand, always produce a visible effect. This, however, should never be attributable to the CIA or to the US government, but rather to some other person or organization. These operations, which received their Congressional charter in the National Security Act of 1947 under ‘additional services of common concern’, are in some ways more sensitive than collection operations.
They are usually approved by the PP staff of the DDP, but when very large amounts of money are required or especially sensitive methods are used approval may be required of the OCB (Undersecretary level), the NSC or the President himself.
PP operations are, of course, risky because they nearly always mean intervention in the affairs of another country with whom the US enjoys normal diplomatic relations. If their true sponsorship were found out the diplomatic consequences could be serious. This is in contrast to collection operations, for if these are discovered foreign politicians are often prepared to turn a blind eye – they are a traditional part of every nation’s intelligence activity.
Thus the cardinal rule in planning all PP operations is ‘plausible denial’, only possible if care has been taken in the first place to ensure that someone other than the US government can be made to take the blame.
PP programmes are to be found in almost every CIA station and emphasis on the kinds of PP operations will depend very much on local conditions. Psychological warfare includes propaganda (also known simply as ‘media’), work in youth and student organizations, work in labour organizations (trade unions, etc.), work in professional and cultural groups and in political parties. Paramilitary operations include infiltration into denied areas, sabotage, economic warfare, personal harassment, air and maritime support, weaponry, training and support for small armies.
[Excerpt taken from thirdworldtraveler.com]
Agee also describes in detail how the CIA manipulated foreign media, infiltrated youth groups and political parties, recruited foreign military leaders, sought to influence the outcome of elections, engaged in both paramilitary operations and “economic warfare”, and he also discusses the complex ways in which the money to fund all of these activities was distributed around the globe, whether to agents working in downtown Moscow or to “friendly” guerilla forces fighting in African jungles.
Here is an excerpt from the US Senate “Church Committee” report specifically on CIA plans to assassinate Congo president Patrice Lumumba:
In the Summer of 1960, DDP Richard Bissell asked the Chief of the Africa Division, Bronson Tweedy, to explore the feasibility of assassinated Patrice Lumumba. Bissell also asked a CIA scientist, Joseph Scheider, to make preparations to assassinate or incapacitate an unspecified “African leader.” According to Scheider, Bissell said the assignment had the “highest authority.” Scheider procured toxic biological materials in response to Bissell’s request, and was then ordered by Tweedy to take these materials to the Station Officer in Leopoldville. According to Scheider, there was no explicit requirement that the Station check back with Headquarters for final approval before proceeding to assassinate Lumumba. Tweedy maintained, however, that whether or not he had explicitly levied such a requirement, the Station Officer was not authorized to move from exploring means of assassinate to actually attempting to kill Lumumba without referring the matter to Headquarters for a policy decision.
It ended up that the Belgians and their proxies got to Lumumba first, saving the Americans the trouble of killing him. Over 40 years after Lumumba’s assassination, the Belgian government officially admitted “that certain members of the Belgian government and other Belgian participants were morally responsible for the circumstances leading to the death of Lumumba.” Here are the Conclusions, in full, of the 2001 Belgian Commission of Inquiry:
With regard to the exact circumstances of the murder of Patrice Lumumba: after a
thorough analysis, it is highly probable that Lumumba was executed in the jungle on 17 January 1961 between 9.40 pm and 9.43 pm, within 5 hours after his arrival in Katanga (for a more detailed description, the commission refers to the experts’ report).
Regarding the possible involvement of Belgian politicians:
The transfer of Lumumba to Katanga was organised by the Congolese authorities in Leopoldstad, supported by Belgian government authorities, especially the Ministers of Foreign and African Affairs and their colleagues.
Belgian advisors in Leopoldstad collaborated with the organisation of the transfer.
No single document, of which the commission is aware, indicates that the Belgian
government or a member thereof gave the order to physically eliminate Lumumba.
The investigation does not show that the Belgian authorities premeditated the murder of Lumumba when it attempted to transfer him to Katanga.
It is very clear, though, that the physical safety of Lumumba was of no concern to
the Belgian government. It deemed the safety of Lumumba less important than other interests.
By not considering the possible risks of the transfer, not asking guarantees for his
physical safety or insisting on humane treatment and a trial, the Belgian government and especially the Minister of African Affairs showed a lack of forethought and a lack of respect for the constitutional state.
After hearing about the events of 17 January, the government, or at least certain
members of it, acted irresponsibly by opting to spread lies to the public and all its allies.
This attitude inevitably raised doubts about the role of the Belgian authorities.
Considering the preceding, the current norms regarding public morality and, without considering the personal and moral considerations of that time, the commission concludes that certain members of the Belgian government and other Belgian participants were morally responsible for the circumstances leading to the death of Lumumba.
The “Liberation” of the “Hutus”
In 1959, while the Belgians and Americans were beginning to plan the murder of the leader of the anti-colonialist struggle in Congo, next door, in Rwanda (which is directly adjacent to Congo, and which had also been ruled by Belgium ever since the end of WWI), a group of (mostly but not exclusively) Tutsis formed the first western style political party in Rwanda, the UNAR (Rwandese National Union). The UNAR sought to kick out the Belgians and restore what they called “traditional” Rwandese society. The UNAR formed an alliance with Lumumba (while he still lived) and also with Communist countries, including the People’s Republic of China. A group of Hutus (exclusively) formed a counter organization that did not identify itself as “Rwandese” at all, but rather as “Bahutu”: the “Movement for the Emancipation of the Bahutu”, which claimed that “the conflict [was] between Hutu and Hamite — i.e., foreign-Tutsi” and they called for a revolution to liberate the Hutus “from both the ‘Hamites’ and ‘Bazungu’ (whites)”. [see Mamdani’s book, p. 103-104 and references cited there]
According to Mahmood Mamdani, “Unsurprisingly, most of the leading personalities of the Hutu movement were former [Catholic] seminarians.” On the other hand, “Because [the predominately Tutsi] UNAR began to receive money and diplomatic backing from Communist countries … the antagonism between Tutsi and the Belgian authorities deepened ….”
So, basically, the Belgian colonialists and the Church decided to switch sides. Instead of supporting the “Hamitic” Tutsis, they now lent their support to the Hutu groups that explicitly called for nothing short of ethnic cleansing. The Belgians thus succeeded in helping to shape a faux “anti-colonialist” struggle that not only left the “ethnic” division of Hutus and Tutsis in place, but greatly exacerbated that division. And while the Church and the colonial officials claimed to have abandoned the “racial” ideas that were now, with the defeat of Nazism, an embarrassment, they managed a seamless transition in which the language of “democracy” and “equality” was used to strengthen the hatred of Hutus for Tutsis, just as the language of scientific racism had been used to encourage the denigration of Hutus by Tutsis.
That’s the great thing about “divide and conquer” – both sides always lose. It doesn’t really matter at all whether the Tutsis come out on top or the Hutus. When Rwanda was an outright colony it proved convenient to support the Tutsis in order to strengthen the hold of colonialists, but it later proved just as convenient to support the Hutus in order to weaken Rwanda as an independent nation, and to thus perpetuate the dependence of Rwandans on their former colonial masters.
Of course any attempt to describe the situation in Rwanda in 1959 in a few sentences, or even a few pages, will be an oversimplification. But what is not in any way an oversimplification is the simple fact that the colonialists and the missionaries systematically encouraged the deep divisions that grew ever wider between Hutu and Tutsi. The result was that the so-called “social revolution” that occurred in 1959 was marked by the massacre of tens of thousands of Tutsis, and by the expulsion of over 100,000 Tutsis from Rwanda.
So by the time Rwanda gained formal independence in 1962, the nation had already experienced its first wave of mass killings, and it was also embroiled in an ongoing armed conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. That same military conflict would provide the pretext, in the 80’s and 90’s for systematically creating the infrastructure for genocide, just as it would, in 1994, provide the pretext for finally unleashing that infrastructure. That genocide merely sought to implement what had been called for in 1959 under the guise of “liberating” the “Hutus”.
Here is how another author, Gerard Prunier, characterized the events of 1959 in his book The Rwanda Crisis:
But this was a very strange ‘revolution’ indeed. The break between the Belgian authorities and their long-coddled Tutsi elite had come about only because the colonial administrators felt betrayed by their erstwhile proteges. They now considered them a mixture of backward traditionalists and revolutionary communists, an unlikely combination which was not dissimilar from how the British then regarded the Mau Mau movement in neighboring Kenya. What would later be touted as a ‘social revolution’ resembled more an ethnic transfer of power …. In fact, under the banner of ‘democratic majority rule’ on one side and ‘immediate independence’ on the other, it was a fight between two competing elites, the newly developed Hutu counter-elite produced by the church and the older neo-traditionalist elite which the colonial authorities had promoted since the 1920’s ….
In January of 1960 Colonel Logiest (in command of Belgian military forces in Rwanda) declared: ‘Because of the force of circumstances, we have to take sides. We cannot remain neutral and passive.’ So forward he went. Sporadic fighting continued and houses were burned down. The Tutsi were getting the worst of it …. Starting in early 1960, the colonial government began to replace most of the Tutsi chiefs with new Hutu ones. These immediately organized the persecution of the Tutsi in the hills they now controlled, which started a mass exodus of refugees abroad, which eventually took some 130,000 Rwandese Tutsi refugees to the Belgian Congo, Burundi and Uganda by late 1963.
The Hutu regime that came to power by this ‘social revolution’ backed by the former colonialists and led by former seminarians was — surprise! — very friendly to the West, as Prunier describes here
At a time when the African continent was talking about socialism, revolution and development, Rwanda was strangely silent. Anticolonialism was out of the question, since after their help during the 1959-61 ‘democratic revolution’ the Belgians were seen as heroes. The only values that were repeatedly emphasised were the intrinsic worth of being Hutu, the total congruence between demographic majority and democracy, and the need to follow a moral Christian life and the uselessness of politics, which should be replaced by hard work …. Rwanda was a land of virtue where prostitutes were punished, attendance at mass was high, and hard working peasants toiled on the land without asking too many questions. An egalitarian racial ideology buttressed an elitist and secretive authoritarian government in ways which echoed those of Vichy France or Salazar’s Portugal. This created an atmosphere much approved by Christian Democrats, who in Belgium and Germany were the regime’s most steadfast supporters.
In the next post in this series I’ll write about the direct role of Christians in the systematic preparation for, and execution of, the Genocide in 1994. But the ‘social revolution’ of 1959 was when the stage for genocide was really set. Jesus is reported to have said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” The fruit born by the “joint enterprise” of colonialism and Christianity in Rwanda was summed up by a soldier who participated in the liberation of Kigali in 1994:
When we captured Kigali we thought we would face criminals in the state; instead we faced a criminal population.