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Yesterday and Today

On-line version ISSN 2309-9003
Print version ISSN 2223-0386

Y&T  n.12 Vanderbijlpark Dec. 2014

 

BOOK REVIEWS

 

Valleys of silence into the Rwandan genocide

 

 

Jean L Buhigiro

University of KwaZulu-Natal, School of Education University of Rwanda, School of Education leobuhigiro@yahoo.fr

 

 

(Rosebank, Sunday Times Books, 2014, not paginated, e-ISBN (Epub) 978-1-928216-22-3.)
Hamilton Wende

The valleys of silence into the Rwandan genocide is a narrative on the Rwandan tragedy in a journalistic style. Wende, the author went to Rwanda during the genocide to work on a documentary for the BBC's Panorama programme on Rwanda, a country which was almost unknown from Western media at that time. In an attractive style, he takes the reader from his city of Johannesburg, South Africa to the Rwandan darkness of 1994. He keeps leading the reader through the historical and horrendous events mixed with topographical description of different places he crossed to deflect attention of that tragedy on that beautiful place of the African Great Lakes region.

What lies behind dreadful choices that people in Rwanda made in 1994? The first reason for this critical question the author was searching, he found that in part it was history and choices made by politicians and their consequences. Three "tribes", Hutu, Tutsi and Twa started moving and settled in the region between 1000AD and 1400s. Although they were living peacefully, a brutal "feudal system" was forced on majority Hutu who were obliged to work for Tutsi "overlords". The Belgians exploited the historical difference between the two groups, ruling through the Tutsi Mwami (king) and his "lords". The author condemns the Belgians who classified people by "ethnicity" and requested people to carry identity cards with ethnic classifications. He disapproves these humiliating and ridiculous categorizations in as much they were based on facial features, length of the nose, the number of cattle owned and argues that this division was done in the Belgian interests in order to exploit the people and the land.

According to the author, the generally accepted version of Rwanda's history is that when the Hutu started their uprising in the 1950s, after the King Mutara Rudahigwa's death and the murder of Hutu chiefs, Belgians supported Hutu due to the increasingly nationalistic, anti-Belgian Tutsi stand. Independence was achieved after Tutsi massacres by Hutu and others fleeing to Uganda and neighbouring countries. Internal Tutsi became politically impotent and discriminated. When militant Tutsi attacked Rwanda from outside, innocent internal Tutsi were massacred and this 'ethnic' cleansing led others into exile. It is this generation of these refugees who would later form the nucleus of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) based in Uganda.

The author wonders why after independence Hutu continued the system of "ethnic" classification. His view is that, first, they would have been influenced by myths showing Tutsi domination over Hutu and secondly Hutu leaders were seeking support from their majority group and to keep considering Tutsi as scapegoat of all problems. He also mentions problem of land in Rwanda whereby the density was 262 people per square kilometre, added to high birth rates with an average of 8.6 children per woman. For the author, "Rwanda was in part a Malthusian apocalypse - real nightmare of what an overpopulated world could face". When the presidential jet was grounded, the killings started by targeting people on hit lists mainly Hutu and Tutsi politicians. The author notes that "most analysts are convinced that the missile that brought the plane down came from the nearby barracks of the Presidential Guard." Some people argued that Tutsi were killed because RPF had killed their President. In the meanwhile, "the UN had been forced to stop its efforts to preserve civilians in Kigali because of the increased fighting there." Its soldiers witnessed the holocaust and did nothing because of the decision taken by their superior.

Wende visited different places with tangible evidence of Tutsi extermination such as Nyarubuye in the Eastern region of Rwanda where approximately 4, 000 Tutsi gathered to seek refuge resisted to Interahamwe, but one day later they were almost all killed due to the intervention of the army. In addition to this extermination, the effects were enormous and horrendous including the difficult life of Tutsi refugees, many orphans and some of them were mutilated. The effects that he identifies include the deflation of infrastructure by RPG rockets, psychological trauma, massive migration of Rwandan refugees into neighbouring countries, and the devastation of the country by the uncontrolled RPF soldiers who killed religious leaders in Kabgayi. Some of the evidence in the book includes pictures taken by journalists showing, for instance, orphans, the weapons that were used during killings, census forms with ethnic classification, genocide memorial, Tutsi survivors protected by the UN troops, refugee camps in Tanzania which give valuable information on the genocide and its consequences.

A striking aspect of this book is the role played by Sylvain Nsabimana, the then Prefect of Butare, who managed to protect orphans who were in Ecole Sociale de Karubanda and escorted them till Burundian border. Another group of Tutsi was protected near his office by a group of army officers. By asking the important question about how everyone would have reacted during the tragedy, the book not only shows the challenges of being an activist against evil but also is an interpellation for everybody to question his/her decision. It gives an opportunity to teachers and students to think about the role of learning genocide. In fact, it is not only to know the sequences of events but also to understand how to resist propaganda of hatred and become human rights activists by protecting others' lives as was done by Sylvain Nsabimana even if he did not manage to do it consistently during the whole crisis.

The book raises other information such as the high number of Tutsi killed in Butare, the description of threatening Interahamwe on their roadblocks, some comparison of the Rwandan case with examples from the Holocaust and the South African case. It points out the importance of breaking silence and telling the truth for true reconciliation as a way of healing Rwanda.

By analysing the roots of Rwandan tragedy, the Valleys of Silence into the Rwandan genocide is a good teaching aid for young learners who want to know what happened in Rwanda in 1994 in a journalistic text easy to read and understand. However, the use of some terms in this book is problematic. For example, in some places, the word massacre was chosen instead of genocide. The author preferred to use the term "Rwandan genocide" instead of "genocide against Tutsi". The term "Rwandan genocide" was first used by the UN and implies that all Rwandans were targeted. In reality, with the exception of the beginning when political leaders were killed, for the rest of the period, the Tutsi were the victims.

Furthermore, medieval terms such as lord or feudal do not describe exactly the Rwandan clientship system where the patron and client had a voluntary contract. Another term, tribe, used for Hutu, Twa and Tutsi is itself contentious and seems also displaced for Rwandan case. Some researchers prefer to use social groups/classes because a person could shift from one class to another due to different factors. The Tutsi domination mentioned in the book seems to undermine the participation of other social groups in the ruling of the country during the pre-colonial period as at the top of one district there were three chiefs from all social groups. The identification of the actors in the grounding of the presidential jet also remains a controversial issue, even though the author was careful not to mention anyone.

With regard to migrations which peopled Rwanda, the author seems to accept the settlement of the population according to phases, which is also rejected by some historians basing on archaeological findings and lack of evidence of migrations in "ethnic" terms. The whole document which is not paginated does not give any bibliographical information. In this regard, different statistics mentioned are questionable. It is the case of 100,000 Tutsi killed in Rwanda in 1959 upheaval comparatively to low statistics given by other sources. The author also mentions the killing of several Hutu leaders in 1959 as an immediate cause of the upheaval while, in fact, only one was beaten. Neither does he show his sources for the number of Tutsi killed in Butare (even though the number 250, 000is not very questionable) or the population density in the 1980s. Surprisingly, the information given by people he met from time to time corroborates some written documents. One may be tempted to think that they were either constructed by the author or his informants were trained to answer in that way. Despite the mentioned gaps, Wende made an effort to identify some key issues behind dreadful choices that people in Rwanda have made in 1994. This book can help both teachers and learners to understand the complexity of the Rwandan situation and more importantly for teachers to help their learners to think about the choices they make in life.

 


 

Understanding and Teaching the Vietnam War (The Harvey Goldberg Series)

 

 

Kevin A Garcia

Michael Mount Waldorf School kgarcia@michaelmount.co.za / kagrc73@gmail.com

 

 

(Madison Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013, 334 pp., ISBN 978-0-299-29414-4 (pbk.), 978-0-299-29413-7 (e-book))
John D Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin

Harvey Goldberg was a well-respected lecturer and teacher of history at the University of Wisconsin and at Ohio State University, in the United States of America. In honour of him, the University of Wisconsin Press has begun publishing the Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History, of which this volume, on the Vietnam War, is the first instalment. Consisting of an introduction and eighteen essays, this guide to understanding and teaching the war brings together much of the most recent scholarship on the war and a collection of strategies for teaching about it, at several levels.

The introductory essay by the editors, presents a summary of many of the most recent debates about the war. This essay helpfully traces the history of the interpretation of the war and summarises its historiography. They begin with the first sceptical scholarly writing about the war by such authors as the French writer Bernard B. Fall (who was killed on a Vietnamese battlefield in 1967), and then examine the so-called orthodox interpretation of unnecessary US involvement, or indeed, of US aggression, by such historians of the "Wisconsin School" as William Appleman Williams and Lloyd C. Gardner (an undergraduate lecturer of this reviewer). They then move on to the revisionist historiography of the 1980s and later, which defended American motives in entering the war, and was critical of political interference in the military conduct of the struggle. They conclude this section by evaluating the revisionist project as a failure and the current consensus as being dubious about the motives and outcome of the war. They also take account of recent historiographical trends which expand the traditional America-centred focus of historical writing and teaching. These include a politico-geographical extension ofinterest, to balance US coverage with more information about, and interpretation of Vietnamese (both communist North and anti-communist South) motives and actions, before, during, and after the war. Also of greater recent concern are the French colonial roots of the later "American" war. This essay helpfully sets the stage for later chapters, about the role of communism and nationalism in the war, the French antecedents of the American effort, and the Vietnamese side of what was, after all, the Vietnam War.

This is then followed by two essays of reflection on long careers of teaching about the war, at university level. One of these is by George Herring, the author of one of the standard texts on the war, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. Herring's career spans many of the historiographical transitions mentioned earlier, and he demonstrates how this new material and these new approaches affected and moulded his teaching at the University of Kentucky.

The second part of the book is a series of essays on methods and strategies of teaching about the war, including the use of movies, music, literature, the Internet, and other materials. Many useful approaches are discussed in these chapters. Kevin O' Reilly's ideas about placing students in the position of the US decision-makers, to better understand their thinking, and Mitchell B. Lerner's contribution on the use of the so-called White House tapes, are suitable for advanced undergraduate or post-graduate students. Hugo B Keesing, on Vietnam era music, Scott Laderman, on movies about Vietnam, and Richard Hune Werking and Brian C Etheridge, writing about the use of the Internet, all provide a wealth of resources which are useful in secondary, as well as undergraduate classrooms.

The final section of this book covers specific topics of content which may be the focus of classroom teaching at any appropriate level. These include the place of the war in the Cold War, the role of nationalism and colonialism in the development of the war, the Vietnamese side of the war, and the Tet Offensive in the classroom and lecture theatre. The essay on the anti-war movement is less useful than it might have been, due to the author's seeming personal concern to vindicate the movement against recent criticism.

The concluding essay "Teaching the Vietnam War in Secondary Schools and Survey Classrooms" by Stephen Armstrong, an experienced high school teacher and university lecturer, presents useful approaches for instructors at any pre-graduate level of teaching. While some of this essay will be of little interest to the South African high school teacher (he gives a measure of attention to American standards for teaching the subject of the war), much of the essay is devoted to the development and application of ideas presented in the earlier chapters. Here the classroom teacher will find more specific strategies and suggestions about the use of music and films, both documentary and theatrical, and textbooks, in the high school classroom.

As with all such anthologies, the lecturer and teacher will find the quality and usefulness of these essays uneven. Taken together however, this collection will serve to update South African educators about recent issues and debate surrounding the Vietnam War and will stimulate their thinking about how best to teach this topic. High school educators, in particular, will want to consult this volume before the Vietnam War becomes a focus of their grade 12 teaching about the Cold War, in 2016.

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