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Uncle Tom’s Hotel Rwanda

Is the Don Cheedle?Let’s clear something up for the sake of poetic justice. Uncle Tom was a maltreated slave who bore his burden with dignity. He was no collaborator, no stool pigeon, no upper class of black slave that kept the lower savages in order. That “Uncle Tom” is what the term has come to mean: a white man’s black man, owing perhaps to the original character’s civilized humanity which a white reader might not have expected to be a capacity of an African slave. The neo-Uncle Tom is a Tutsi.

I heard the film Hotel Rwanda was just incredible, I’m sure it was. I watched the Frontline documentary to commemorate the anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda and so thought I knew the sad story already. Well I was right and I was wrong, but not about the film.

The mounting trouble in the Democratic Republic of Congo is causing leaders to forewarn of genocide such as Rwanda experienced in 1994. We’re told the same Hutus are marauding today. In addressing the issues of the Congo, do we have an understanding of what happened in 1994, beside the film dramatization?

The question to ask is whether what happened in Rwanda was genocide. That’s not to minimize the killings, but to scrutinize the motives. Was the fighting between Hutus and Tutsis racially motivated tribal warfare, or was it class warfare? Were the events of 1994 components of a peasant rebellion, distinguished by the opposing forces being from different ethnicities?

The distinction is critical. Behind the Hotel Rwanda imagery is the theme that African tribes need to be protected from each other. This happens in the form of UN intervention usually. The storytellers also know that if the narrative is bloody enough, a Western audience is just as ready to throw up its hands. Thus our impulse to join the Peace Corps or Medecins Sans Frontieres is quietly scrubbed in favor of calling in the cavalry. And then, only in the event of genocide.

Someone keeps wanting Westerners to believe that African tribes will continue to kill each other regardless what we do. Is it true? No, the Africans fight because of what we do.

The Tutsi victims of Hotel Rwanda were not just hotel keepers and clerks. The Tutsis were the administrative enforcers of post-colonial central Africa. The Hutus were the oppressed, and rose up against the Tutsis after generations of oppression and killings.

If Africa were let to develop autonomous states from its indigenous populations, its people could put their natural resources to use improving their lives. Instead, our post-colonial tentacles continue to stir up instability. Our business interests make sure that the native Africans never get their footing. We fund strong men to enforce violent rule over the inhabitants. It’s a controlled instability that facilitates the minimal societal infrastructure our traders require. But instability is difficult a balancing act. When the mayhem gets out of hand, peace-keepers are brought in at the people’s expense, to restore the disordered order.

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