The Politics and Ideology of Genocide, By Owei Lakemfa
The Republic of South Sudan, the young, land-locked African country which became independent of Sudan on July 9, 2011 is edging closer to genocide. The conflict which began in December 2013 when President Salva Kirr accused Vice President Reik Machar of trying to overthrow him, has claimed over 300,000 lives and displaced 3.5 million of the 12 million populace, 1.5 million of them in exile. It has degenerated into an ethnic war in which Kirr’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer groups are trying to wipe out each other employing massacres, rape and starvation.
Genocide – the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, national, racial, economic or religious group, is not new to humanity. But there is a general assumption that this was possible only in the past.
Genocide can even be intra-ethnic, such as the wiping out, between 1835 and 1933 in New Zealand, of the Moriori by their brothers, the Maori.
It could be a mix of race, colonialism and territorial expansionism, such as the French’s vicious reduction the Algerian population of three million in 1930, to between 500,000 and one million within three decades. In the Algerian War of independence, the French drowned the country in rivers of blood, with two million Algerians wiped out. Belgium practiced the same methods in the Congo.
The British genocide against the Aborigines in Australia were in two phases. The Aborigines had lived in Australia for over 65,000 years before the British arrived in 1788. The latter, which met a population of 1.5 million, had by 1901 reduced the Aborigines to less than 100,000, through massacres, poisoning and biological warfare. The second phase, which ended in 1970, was seizing Aboriginal children from their parents. These children are referred to as the “stolen generation.”
The Spaniards carried out genocide in the Americas, including the extermination of the Aztecs of Mexico in order to steal their gold and precious stones. When, from 1846 to 1852, the potato blights led to food shortage in Ireland, the English occupiers exported the available food, leading to the death by starvation of over one million Irish.
While the world’s attention was diverted during the First World War, the Ottoman Turks wiped out 1.5 million minority Christian Armenians. Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Serbians fell on the Bosnians and Croats, executing and beheading the Muslim minorities. Then there was the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 in which over 850,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were massacred in 100 days.
Genocide can also be ideological. The ultra-left Khmer Rouge, which in 1975 seized power in Cambodia, decided to ‘re-educate’ the middle and upper classes. Within four years of this programme, 1.7 to 2 million people were killed in what became known as ‘The killing Fields’.
To carry out genocide, the perpetrators claim or convince themselves that their insane actions are justified; for instance, the killers in Rwanda convinced themselves that their victims were ‘cockroaches’ and not human. In seeking to exterminate the indigenous Indians, the Americans believed it was the right thing to do. General John Milton Chivington who led a 700-man massacre team said: “Damn any man who sympathises with Indians!… I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honourable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians… Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”
To understand the guiding ideas of those who perpetuate genocide, we can examine the arguments of three German leaders who carried out genocide. Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II, who ruled from 1888 to 1918, believed he had a divine mission to make Germany great and crush all its enemies. “I look upon the People and the Nation as handed on to me as a responsibility conferred upon me by God, and I believe, as it is written in the Bible, that it is my duty to increase this heritage for which one day I shall be called upon to give an account. Whoever tries to interfere with my task I shall crush.”
He argued that Jews should be wiped out. “A Jew cannot be a true patriot. He is something different, like a bad insect. He must be kept apart, out of a place where he can do mischief – even by pogroms, if necessary.”
When he sent German soldiers to contribute in putting down the Chinese Boxers Revolution, the Emperor told them: “Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.”
In 1904, Wilhelm II appointed Lieutenant General Lothar Von Trotha, a veteran of the Chinese massacres to lead German troops against the revolt by colonised Namibians. He carried out the first genocide of the 20th Century. Trotha gave a written Declaration to the German troops in Namibia: “Within the German borders (in occupied Namibia) every Herero (the largest ethnic group), with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will no longer accept women and children, I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at…I believe that the (Herero) nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this was not possible by tactical measures, have to be expelled from the country by operative means and further detailed treatment.”
Justifying the genocide he was carrying out, General Throtha told his troops: “My intimate knowledge of many central African tribes (Bantu and others) has everywhere convinced me of the necessity that the Negro does not respect treaties but only brutal force… I destroy the African tribes with streams of blood and streams of money. Only following this cleansing can something new emerge, which will remain.”
Thirty two years later, German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler justified why the Jews were being massacred: “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator; by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
Ironically, the Jews who lost an estimated six million people in the Hitler genocide are today claiming the same race superiority as Hitler did, except that this time, they are not the victims. In fact, they are the perpetrators, while their Palestinian neigbours are the victims.
There will always be reasons to justify genocide. However, it is for humanity to reject genocide, no matter its claimed justification; it is a crime perpetrated against humanity.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.