Ten years have passed since the genocide in Rwanda, causing many to reflect on what exactly happened. There has been some attention focused on the colonial legacy of manipulating ethnic tensions in order to divide and conquer the people of Rwanda as well as some attention on the Clinton administration's role in the failure of the UN Security Council to enforce the 1948 Convention on Genocide. But the crucial catalyst of the genocide has been missing from the corporate media discourse.
How is it possible that a society could be so destabilized that people who had intermarried and lived in peace for years could suddenly divide along ethnic lines and go on a genocidal rampage, shooting and literally hacking each other to death with machetes?
Back in the late 1980's, just as Starbucks was beginning to expand, the international system of quotas for coffee production started to unravel. In 1989, the US government negotiators torpedoed the International Coffee Agreement at the behest of the large US-based coffee corporations. Negotiators left the meeting in Florida without a plan and within months, coffee farmers in Rwanda were getting half of what they had previously received for their crop.
Seventy percent of rural households cultivated coffee in Rwanda, and coffee exports constituted 80 per cent of Rwanda's foreign-exchange earnings. While coffee was retailing in US supermarkets at 20 times the price paid to Rwandan farmers, the rural Rwandan economy was in a tailspin.
Between 1989 and 1993 the World Bank stepped in to "fix" the problem, utilizing the usual neoliberal intervention recipe of trade liberalization, privatization of state enterprise, shedding of the government safety net, shrinking of government (pink-slipping government workers), currency devaluation, and cessation of all agricultural subsidies. The result was that the Rwandan currency lost half of its value immediately, inflation skyrocketed, public services collapsed. Children in the rural areas started to go hungry. With health workers fired, Rwanda was immediately swept up in an outbreak of malaria.
The World Bank froze coffee prices at the low 1989 price, and Rwandan farmers responded by uprooting hundreds of thousands of coffee trees. When the usual World Bank structural adjustment cocktail failed to turn the Rwandan economy around, the World Bank redoubled its efforts and administered more shock therapy, devaluing the currency even further. Under this "free market" system, neither cash nor crops were worth anything. The countryside descended into total chaos. When the foreign loans started to flow into Rwanda, they were quickly diverted toward the purchase of Kalishnikovs and other arms. Uprooted farmers, wandering youth, and the urban unemployed joined the ranks of the militias. The powder keg had been ignited.
Rwanda must never happen again. On April 23-25, thousands of protesters will descend on WashingtonDC to protest the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (joining the March for Women's Rights on Sunday the 25th). We will be in the streets trying to bring attention to the horrors perpetuated by the World Bank/IMF. Call the Metro Justice office at 325-2560 (or reply to this email) if you want a ride to DC.
Greenbaum is an organizer with Metro Justice.