West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 1998. Pp. ix; 273.
Mary Ann Tetreault (Trinity University)
Among the most crushing disappointments of the post-Holocaust period are the persistence of genocide as state strategy and the lack of decisiveness and moral outrage in official responses to it when it ocurrs. This is as true for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as for other post-Holocaust genocides in Cambodia and Bosnia. Much of the retrospective analysis of the 1994 events in Rwanda is full of finger-pointing at a whole range of states, organizations, and individuals--sometimes including the authors themselves. Peter Uvin's book can be seen as part of that effort to allocate responsibility among those whose sins of omission and commission contributed in various ways to the bloodbath. Among all that I've read and watched and listened to, Uvin's is the clearest, the most temperate, and the most systematic accounting of what occurred. It doesn't offer a forum in which those caught up in various aspects of the genocide and its aftermath can tell their own stories about what they did and saw and how they feel about it. The voice we hear always is Uvin's as he leads us to think about structures, agents, and events and how they converged to produce disaster. Unlike many who have lived with these events as participants, reporters, and scholars, Uvin avoids the temptation to explain what happened as the result of "human nature" or "evil." Instead, he devotes substantial attention to institutions and practices--things it is possible to do something about--to argue that how we live and what we do can disperse, if not eliminate, constellations of social, economic, and political forces that support genocidal violence.
Uvin has read widely in the literature on genocide and chooses among many theoretical perspectives one that combines structural and psychological factors to explain the genocide in Rwanda. Working from Johan Galtung's research on structural violence (Human Rights in Another Key, 1994), he looks at the situations of various groups in the Rwandan population, and people rarely encountered as contemporary contributors to the genocide, that is, foreigners. He is appalled at how intended and unintended actions of idealists, careerists, and "realists" create inequality, exclusion, and humiliation and thus conditions that lead to violent conflict. He concentrates particularly on the impact of the "foreign aid enterprise," including the scores of mostly well-meaning folk--among whom he counts himself--who administer programs in recipient countries. They come to places like Rwanda as secular missionaries preaching the value of their own societies' approaches to agriculture, health care and its delivery, civil engineering, and a host of similar activities. Like other missionaries, they not only are convinced of the superiority of their own ideas and practices but also oblivious to the damages and insults their projects inflict on indigenous societies and local environments.
Structurally, the aid enterprise is a system of cliency. External resources are transferred to state agents who use as much of them as they can get away with to enrich themselves and shore up their regimes. As clients of the donors, these state agents are required to provide the agents of the patron with access to the minds, bodies, farms, homes, or whatever other resources of the population they demand. Client state agents also must report on the results of this largesse. Thus, agricultural aid also brings foreign administrators driving all- terrain vehicles, wearing designer safari outfits, and typing furiously on their laptop computers. They go off to villages in the countryside, appropriate a convenient lot for construction of their upscale dwellings and offices, and substantial acreage for demonstration projects. The more zealous they are, the less likely to observe and appreciate local techniques. They measure the success of their enterprises by the number of conversions among local farmers from traditional to "modern" methods. They take no responsibility for the unintended outcomes of practices that are not tailored to local conditions and, however effective they might be, probably cannot be sustained once the foreigners have departed to spread their gospels elsewhere.
In addition to temporary disruptions, Uvin notes that the aid enterprise also inflicts lasting harm. Structurally, it shifts power from farmers and village leaders to corrupt governments and their clients, and damages the self-image and self-respect of indigenous inhabitants through what he terms "the humiliation of top-down development." In Rwanda, aid donor requirements for local participation in decision making imported government officials into rural villages, supplanting local decision making arrangements with structures mandated by the donors that increased state power while creating occasions for officials and clients to siphon resources into their own pockets. Meanwhile, aid administrators imported an attractive but expensive and unattainable lifestyle into villages and towns. Superior living quarters, high salaries, and access to cars (all billed to the grant), also were enjoyed by a few privileged natives, among them representatives of the state and project assistants hired by the foreigners. For various reasons, most of the latter were minority Tutsis, reinforcing Tutsi vulnerability to the Hutu rage engendered by inequality, exclusion, and humiliation and then organized for genocide by the political and economic rent-seekers who dominated Rwanda's governing elite.
Uvin incorporates the aid enterprise as one of many factors contributing to the genocide in Rwanda. He does so not only to make readers sensitive to its particular impact but also to highlight what he analyzes as a widespread though rarely perceived consequence of globalization in an essay to be published in New Odyssies in Global Political Economy, ed. Mary Ann Tetreault (Routledge, forthcoming). This is the combination of the structural violence that globalization's exacerbation of inequality produces and the heightened awareness of their deprived and degraded status by those at the bottom of the global status hierarchy. Publicity via such media as radio, television, films, even tourism--all integral elements of globalization--drives the process and ensures that its effects penetrate the consciousness of its most exploited agents and objects. It is naive to assume that resentment is not a natural consequence or that it cannot be mobilized for violent ends.
Uvin is not interested in singling out heroes or villains. Indeed, his examination of the motivations of individual genocidaires, although it incorporates elements of Daniel Goldhagen's analysis in Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), comes to a different conclusion. Uvin argues that structural violence is the primary cause of acute violence, including the genocide in Rwanda. Although there may be evil leaders and local equivalents of Rush Limbaugh fanning the flames, popular acquiescence and participation in genocide comes primarily from the inequality and humiliation that crush the human spirit, and the exclusion that allows one to be convinced that the officially designated scapegoats are justifiable objects of murderous rage.