American Tribalism: Road to Rwanda Redux

by @zizii2

I have been spooked these last 10 days by the insanity that erupted here in the US since the Paris terrorist attacks. I wanted to give words to my thoughts. But I froze. Then I rediscovered this piece I began writing in April 2013, but had abandoned for being too alarmist! If only I knew….

Here is the piece completed with a few edits…


Rwanda: A Haunting Lesson

April 6 marked the (21st) anniversary of the launch of the genocidal nightmare in the central African country of Rwanda that ended 100 days later with 800,000 people dead, and a nation scarred deeply. That was 11.4% of the total population of 7 million. Nearly three-quarters of those massacred were Tutsis who comprised 14% of the entire population.

The word “anniversary” seems inappropriate because although it is technically a neutral term it still invokes positive associations and anticipation. No one should anticipate a genocide nor look forward to marking milestones in its aftermath. Yet mark, we must. The lessons are not simply framed in dog-eared history tomes or award winning films about a bygone tragedy. The lessons are here. With us. Today.


In societies wracked by mass economic, social and political faultlines the signs are always there for a Rwanda Redux, or a Srebrenica. Hate Radio. Divide and conquer. Nihilism. Opportunistic politicians and cultural loudmouths. Group resentment. Grievance. Silence and apathy from the majority population. Now, all of these do not a genocide trigger. But they exist to be manipulated if conditions ripen.

“The Rwandan genocide resulted from the conscious choice of the elite to promote hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda. Then, faced with RPF success on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, these few power holders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide. They believed that the extermination campaign would reinstate the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace. They seized control of the state and used its authority to carry out the massacre. (UnitedHumanRights.Org)”


The images many of us remember from Rwanda in 1994 are the International News montages of decapitated bodies loaded onto construction trucks, machete-wielding “tribesmen” chanting death to their enemies, in-between commentary from western Reporters. To our glazed eyes, all we heard were “Hutu”, “Tutsi” “tribal conflict”, “United Nations”, “evacuating Westerners”.

What we never fathomed was how eerily familiar the political soundtrack in the run up to that horror would become for us here in the US two decades later.  Sure, the United States and 1994 Rwanda are structurally and culturally different. We like to think the former possesses more resilient political institutions and robust public spaces for exercising dissenting opinion, than the latter. The point here is not whether the fear mongering being spewed by politicians and radio shock jocks will lead to Americans hacking each other down with machetes. It is about the capacity for unfiltered HATE to saturate the public sphere without consequence for the peddlers, to the point of being rewarded with political ascendancy. We naively thought those things belonged elsewhere or in history books.



What caused the Rwandan genocide? The short-form media narrative was that the conflict began in 1992 after the Rwandan President Habyarimana, was killed in a plane crash, alleged to have been shot down by Tutsi Rebel forces RPF (Frontiere Patriotic Rwandais – Rwandan Patriotic Front)

Cold blood, with a shot of motivating fear, was what the planners wanted: the Interahamwe weren’t fuelled by drink, drugs or mindless violence, but by fanatic dedication to a political cause. (PPU.Org)


This “fear” got normalized. Not only normalized, but became the ONLY permissible form of public discourse. Ordinary people began to doubt their own social and moral compass and ask: “Who is my neighbor?” “Who is my brother/sister?” Hatred for the “other” jumped the realm of abstraction and became the filter for making sense of EVERYTHING PERSONAL. “What happened to the chickens in my coop? The enemy did it.”


If one had any doubt about whether such thought was rational. The public airwaves reinforced the irrational. The sluice gates were opened wide for anyone to act out their baser instincts uninhibited. The mob ruled. Machetes, guns, snitching on a longtime neighbor to the rulers of the day became the daily arsenal for survival.

In reality, very few of those who participated in the orgy of massacres saw any personal benefit, such as a political appointment, business deal, or career advancement. Yet they partook by acts of commission or omission. Within a gory 100 days, hacking off neighbors and family members’ limbs and heads was the new norm.

Two Media stations were at the heart of the propaganda – Radio Rwanda and Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM)
From late October 1993, the RTLM repeatedly broadcast themes developed by the extremist written press, underlining the inherent differences between Hutu and Tutsi, the foreign origin of Tutsi, the disproportionate share of Tutsi wealth and power, and the horrors of past Tutsi rule. The RTLM also repeatedly stressed the need to be alert to Tutsi plots and possible attacks. It warned Hutu to prepare to “defend” themselves against the Tutsi. After April 6, 1994, authorities used the RTLM and Radio Rwanda to spur and direct killings, specifically in areas where the killings were initially resisted. Both radio stations were used to incite and mobilize populations, followed by specific directions for carrying out the killings.

The RTLM had used terms such as inyenzi (“cockroach” in Kinyarwandan) and Tutsi interchangeably with others referring to the RPF combatants. It warned that RPF combatants dressed in civilian clothes were mingling among the displaced people fleeing combat zones. These broadcasts gave the impression that all Tutsi were supporters of the RPF force fighting against the elected government. Women were targets of the anti-Tutsi propaganda prior to the 1994 genocide; for example, the “Ten Hutu Commandments” (1990) included four commandments that portrayed Tutsi women as tools of the Tutsi people, and as sexual weapons to weaken and ultimately destroy the Hutu men. Gender-based propaganda also included cartoons printed in newspapers depicting Tutsi women as sex objects. Examples of gender-based hate propaganda used to incite war rape included statements by perpetrators, such as, “You Tutsi women think that you are too good for us”, and “Let us see what a Tutsi woman tastes like.” (Rwanda Genocide)


All this sounds familiar? The incessant dehumanization of groups using metaphors of “infestation,” is an old strategy from antiquity for defining the “Other” that works ALWAYS like clockwork. Why? Because it employs the metaphor of an easily abhorred domestic menace to define the “other.” It then moves from metaphor to literal naming. Vermin, Rodents, termites, cockoaches etc. need no introduction. Even the most pacifist people in society draw a line when it comes to pests. Everyone HATES them, and the immediate response is “ELIMINATE!” Bring out the Raid™, Doom,™, Terminix™ Man, Orkin™ Man. No hesitation. No gray areas.


For demagogues that liminal response without exception, by the populace to any mention of an infestation, is music to their ears.  The target “other” is suddenly made menacingly familiar, even to the politically unengaged. Few cues are needed to prompt the desired reaction. Public decorum gets tossed out the window. War chants grow louder.

The war weary caution: “But it’s not that easy”…

The Mob: “Kill ’em all!!! in growing unison.”

The War Weary: But “this corrupts our values. There’ll be blowback.”

The Mob: “Who cares…it is either them or us!” Vermin!!!

A hundred days after the national orgy, carnage everywhere.

And when:

… Asked to use its hi-tech skills to get the génocidaire radio off the air, America replied, ‘the traditional US commitment to free speech cannot be reconciled with such a measure’, on this occasion. France, a backer of most French-speaking African governments, had been backing the genocidal government: it was one of their generals who advised the Hutus to ‘improve their image’ (hence, perhaps, the order to keep corpses out of the sight of cameras)

Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and some were even told they could appropriate the land of the Tutsis they killed. (BBC News)”


To salvage our global cowardice in the aftermath, we looked furtively for redemption in the midst of horror. We latched onto the blockbuster film Hotel Rwanda and its Schindler’s List-esque portrait of Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina’s heroic acts to save over 1000 Tutsis at the Hôtel de Mille Collines. The difference in scale between the genocide and acts of kindness is the real scandalous story of how good people through INERTIA and myriad RATIONALIZATIONS, let terrible things happen to other people. And then the cycle catches up with them….


An important film that refuses to let anyone off the hook, and brings that stark moral dilemma into clearer relief, is award-winning Haitian filmmaker, Raul Peck’s Sometimes in April (2005) . If you can, do watch the full 141 minute film (free legitimate viewing).


This film makes me fearful about Trumpism and the Koch-Topus in America, which is not the beginning but the unvarnished coda to decades’ long revival of “Brown-Shirt-ism.” Fascism is no longer an abstraction in this country. It is knocking down the doors of our country. It’s harbingers are ruthless, brazen, well funded, and wield unparalleled propaganda machinery. They exploited our very constitutional freedoms, to hollow out our Commonweal. Now like Pied Pipers they summon their armies of  tribal intolerance.



It isn’t that we used to be better than this. The American system was built on inherent inequality. Some groups were ALWAYS excluded from the national pie & full citizenship rights — slavery, Jim Crow, Social security only passed after FDR excluded mostly minorities, farm workers, etc; Medicare pegged the eligibility age at 65 at a time when minorities had a lower lifespan.


The only reason it seems really shocking today is that the plutocrats have decided to ditch the pretense and dismantle the COMMONWEAL wholesale, damn whoever gets screwed. A very sobering comment on Jonathan Cohn’s website on April 5, 2012 sums it up for me:

“today’s America is very different from yesterday’s: (1) we are ethnically, economically, religiously, and every otherly way a much more diverse nation, so my tribe is much less likely to be your tribe, making me less willing to pay taxes to support public benefits that most likely will go to members of another tribe, and (2) we are in an economic decline rather than an economic ascent, making me less inclined to be charitable to the less fortunate, who are likely to be members of another tribe anyway. Republicans understand this change, and they use it to their advantage.”


But the deeper motivation for the wealthy classes to exploit Tribalism and the unleashing of the baser instincts of many people in this country, is the desire to engineer a permanently compliant electorate that gives them unquestioned control. The lesson the wealthy learned from the French Revolution, and FDR’s New Deal, is to never allow the people breathing room to foment any dissent. An astute comment I saved from RickB on Dailykos in 2012 captures WHY  conservatives are hellbent on dismantling our government

“A modern industrial nation requires a mobile workforce which is very educated (making universal public education a necessity.) This creates relatively uniform mass markets for businesses to serve (well paid consumers), it creates a work force which can operate the businesses those markets need to serve them, and the science that goes along with it creates the continual improvements required to cause the economy to continue to grow. But this requires a strong central government to coordinate the very highly specialized workers such an industrial economy requires.

Conservatives hate the continual change and diversity such an industrial economy demands, so they want to go back to the pre-1930’s model. Only that was a rural agricultural economy and a much, much smaller population. That traditional economy cannot feed today’s American population.

It doesn’t matter. The conservatives want to destroy the modern industrial and urban America and especially its culture of education, diversity and tolerance. They blame the federal government for forcing them to modernize their slow-moving mostly unchanging agricultural states (i.e the South and Midwest, as well as southern Illinois and Ohio.) The Constitution gives these small states an effective veto in the Senate.

Do you begin to see the pattern? The Republican Party has been taken over by the John Birchers and their like-minded angry people who demand an end to social changes.

…Also, this is tribal warfare to the conservatives.”


So We either wring our hands or fight back to salvage whatever little there is left of this country. How? Stay tuned for my next post.


A More Perfect Union…..


91 Responses to “American Tribalism: Road to Rwanda Redux”

    November 25, 2015 at 10:40 am


  2. 2 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Powerful piece zizi!

  3. 4 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 10:46 am

  4. 5 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 10:49 am

  5. November 25, 2015 at 10:55 am

    You are on point, zizi.

    I’m glad folks are calling this for what it is, and are not backing down.

    The only way to fight it IS to call it out,.

  6. 9 MightyPamela
    November 25, 2015 at 11:04 am

  7. November 25, 2015 at 11:14 am

    ohhhh myyy goooodness…zizi….

    extraordinary anlysis…thank you so much for it…i understand the why….i look forward to seeing the how…

  8. November 25, 2015 at 11:23 am

    MSNBC said POTUS will be speaking at 11:40am.

  9. 13 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 11:25 am

    This looks good, although I’m happy to say I have no Republican uncles! 😃

  10. 14 Vicki
    November 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Zizi—awareness is growing in America that the Trump in-your-face hatred is dangerous. Awareness is a good first step on the road to change. And people becoming aware and willing to discuss what is happening is where some hope may lie.

    Yesterday, while doing my laundry in my large downtown NYC building I chatted with one of my neighbors. He is a Haitian immigrant who has lived here with his family for decades. (Not germane but interesting is that his daughter works in the WH on the Legal team and the Dad and Mom went to the Inauguration.)
    I asked him what his thoughts were these days and what he told me was that he has never been as worried as he is now.
    The gist of his remarks was that the damage done to the US by Trump is so great and so frightening and irreparable that we have been set back by 100 years.
    When I tried to be positive by saying The Donald will not win, he made me understand that win/or not win is hardly the issue.

    The vermin otherizing point you made, Zizi, is true too. In 1939 the term Judenrat was used and it means exactly what you think it does—-Juden is Jewish in german.

  11. 15 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 11:52 am

    This guys TL from a couple days ago shares some insights that a lot of people need to be aware of…

  12. 16 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 11:52 am

  13. 19 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 11:55 am

  14. 28 No Child Left Behind
    November 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm


  15. 29 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 12:01 pm

  16. November 25, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Hello Folks, thanks for your comments. The threat of Trumpism is all sobering.

    Sadly I’m in mourning today. I lost my Mother-in-Law in the wee hours of this morning. So I’ll not be available here to respond to comments as I would like to. Have a Blessed Day y’all.

  17. 44 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm

  18. 52 No Child Left Behind
    November 25, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    The jackasses couldn’t wait for the President to finish to yell stupid questions!

  19. 54 otter44
    November 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Der ZIZI

    Thank you for your thought provoking essay. I send you healing thoughts on the passing of your MIL. Prayers for your family.

  20. 55 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    • 56 0388jojothecat
      November 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      I hope Rahm Emmanuel never runs for office again so that PBO will never have to support him in any political pursuit. He is a cancer on Chicago and needs to resign. This man has done more harm than good for the city.

  21. 57 otter44
    November 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    oops I meant dear

  22. 59 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Glad to see PBO come out and reassure the people about the nation’s security and reminding them to speak up about anything that seems suspicious. Thoughtful, responsible.
    Best President Ever

  23. 60 Dudette
    November 25, 2015 at 12:18 pm


  24. November 25, 2015 at 12:22 pm

  25. 64 sjterrid
    November 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Zizi, thank you for posting this powerful essay.

    So sorry about the loss of our MIL. May she RIP. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  26. 65 0388jojothecat
    November 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Zizi thank you for this eye opening post that shows America can be heading in this direction if we don’t condemn and shame these so-called politicians and their followers. Point out exactly how unpatriotic and cowardly they are. So sorry about your MIL may she rest in peace.

    Also thank you Dudette for posting the tweets from “Everything I’m Not”:……This is what so many AA young men have been treated for decades. The police arrest them for no reason so they have a record, can’t find real work, so they have to resort to selling drugs if they continue to live in these so-called high crime areas. Thank GOD none of my brothers as far as I know were subjected to this treatment but so many were.

  27. November 25, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you, zizi; This is a stirring and frightening comparison.I think tribalism is the correct lense through which to view our situation now. I thought the quote about how, in a diverse, nation, it is easier to focus on disadvantaging the other ‘tribe even if it means your ‘tribe’ will be disadvantaged too’, rather than seeing the other flourish, even though it means you will flourish with them. I wonder if there are examples of people, societies, successfully breaking through or standing strong against this tribalism

    • 67 kid kanga
      November 25, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      Excellent point. I can think of many examples of such, but just the most recent GOP election in KY will suffiice. One tribe there would rather lose their healthcare as long as it means ‘the others’ lose theirs too. yikes.

  28. November 25, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Also zizi, my deepest condolences on the death of your mother-in-law. Peace and strength to you and your family.

  29. 69 JER
    November 25, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Sharing the table at Patti’s Wynnewood home will be none other than the Los Angeles YouTube blogger known as James Wright Chanel, whose ode to Patti’s Pies, the sweet-potato pie she’s selling exclusively at Walmart, have had the desserts flying off store shelves. The video had more than 3.2 million views as of yesterday.
    Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/celebrities/20151125_Patti_s_thoughtful_Thanksgiving.html#KUlooV6mwbiS2ey3.99

  30. 70 JER
    November 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

  31. November 25, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    “Lorenzo Davis was fired for refusing to change reports that found that cops were at fault for shooting and killing black civilians.
    Davis is a former supervisor at the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and previously served 23 years with the Chicago Police Department. He investigated the shootings of six people in the past eight years and determined that police were not justified in any of those shootings. In three of those incidents, the people died.

    “Bad shootings,” Davis said.

    IPRA boss Scot Ando told Davis to reverse his findings, and when Davis refused, he was let go.
    “He made it clear that supervisors there serve at his pleasure,” Davis said. “He doesn’t have to have a reason to fire us.””

  32. 72 Neena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Hello TOD. The Hello Video with Jimmy and Mr Linoel was great. I 😆 with tears. Thank you.
    Congrats to all the Gold ⭐ winners. starting with this post and 2/3 back.
    Great post Zizi2. I am so sorry for the passing of your MIL. May she Rest In Peace.
    I see Amk is back. Glad to see your comedic talents missed Nothing. Thank you for the laughs.
    Rock on, Doc Bobfr on that awesome large Tweet.
    Here’s Pres Obama’s address to the Nation today.

    Thank you TOD for being the perfectly safe oasis…….that it is.
    🍸 to Chips!

  33. November 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you everyone for your prayers.
    My sister will be coming home this afternoon.
    She is a lot better.

  34. 76 Neena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    BREAKING? Not!
    Since when is a wishful suggestion, BREAKING News?

  35. 77 Neena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm

  36. 78 Neena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Talk is Cheap so saith the Wise.
    GW Bush yes did talk. Trump does now.
    Funny when Pres Obama says what he has done……the News Media shrugs and calls it Bragging………while failing to actually Report the News with context.

  37. 81 Nena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    • 82 0388jojothecat
      November 25, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      America was tired of the Bush Admin and voted for PBO because he was everything GWB was not. These people who write this crap are crazy.

  38. November 25, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    We who voted for Barack Obama twice didn’t vote for a George W. Bush likeness. We voted for Barack Obama and would vote for him again if he could run again. So excuse my English, but to hell with the critics. Happy Thanksgiving to them.

  39. 85 Nena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:40 pm

  40. November 25, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    What If Trump Wins?
    Republicans may have another Goldwater on their hands.
    November 24, 2015

    On Monday, the John Kasich campaign released a remarkable video in which one of the Ohio governor’s supporters, Colonel Tom Moe, a Vietnam veteran and former POW, speaks against Donald Trump by paraphrasing Martin Niemoller’s famous “First they came” speech about the dangers of apathy in the face of Nazism. “You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with their government because you are not one,” Moe says with Midwestern calm. “And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it is okay to rough up black protesters, because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you are not one. But think about this: If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you, and you better hope there is someone left to help you.”


  41. 87 Nena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Harris Faulkner used to be Lead Anchor locally here in MN on ABC. She was also a guest host for Wendy Wilde on the AM950, a Liberal Station. It is amazing how she has turned 180 working for Fox.
    And now this? It serves her right. That is her daughter there.

  42. 88 Nena20409
    November 25, 2015 at 2:56 pm

  43. 89 jackiegrumbacher
    November 25, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Zizi, you have once again given us a brilliant insight into a horrific moment in history–one that sheds a harsh light on what may be happening right before our eyes in the US. Every one of your posts makes us smarter, more insightful and better informed citizens. That you did all this while mourning your MIL is just astounding. You are a woman of amazing intelligence and courage. Bless you.

    • November 25, 2015 at 8:32 pm

      Hello Jackie, thanks so much for your perceptive comments. Actually I wrote this piece yesterday before my MIL passed today. Either way writing (though I have not been doing it as often as I should, stretches my thoughts in unexpected ways. Some, sobering. This was one of those difficult ones. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  44. November 25, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    MAGNIFICENT zizi2!!!

Comments are currently closed.







Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.



RSS Obama White House.gov

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS WH Tumblr

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Steve Benen

  • Joe: There is no post-truth world when it comes to the court system
  • Former Labor Secretary warns of banking dangers and recession possibility
  • Air Mail: George Santos, Boris Johnson, Restoration Hardware and Putin 
  • 'White supremacist genius': GOP resort to anti-semitic, racist attacks to defend Trump prosecution
  • The paradoxical relationship between America and poverty



Blog Stats

  • 43,345,235 hits
November 2015

%d bloggers like this: