Inkontanyi by Christophe Cotteret is a detailed film about the history of internal conflict in Rwanda up to its situation today.
The world premiere of Christophe Cotteret’s Inkotanyi in the DOK Leipzig festival presented us with a work of exhaustive research into understanding the complexity of Rwanda’s recent history. Required is a profound reflection on the limits and possibilities of political systems, including our so-called “democratic” ones. Understanding “without abbreviations”, as Cotteret explicitly claims, means to go back to the middle of the last century–to Belgium’s colonization of Rwanda and its ambiguous strategy of “divide and rule”–which marks the starting point of all subsequent catastrophes, using highlighted ethical differences for political purposes.
Presenting complex realties also requires uncovering the perceptions of ongoing political, cultural and military movements in neighbouring countries, referring to Pan-Africanism and its historical reasons for claiming a certain independence from Western influences. Their leading voice is Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current president.
In “classical” documentary style, Cotteret combines archived images with present-day encounters and interviews with key protagonists (including Belgian and French) and simple witnesses questioned in situ of past disasters. Intensely informative Inkotanyi delivers a reconstruction of the largest genocide in human history. A project like this takes time, two hours and six minutes to be exact, but that time is not felt by the viewer.
«In “classical” documentary style, Cotteret combines archived images with present-day encounters and interviews with key protagonists.»
Brought to light is the historical background of the most efficient killing machine in the history of humanity. In 100 days, between April and July 1994, one million Tutsi were executed, mainly by Hutu extremists but with active support from the population, with 500,000 machetes bought in China and distributed to the Hutu population. Cotteret presents the story of continual failures, misunderstandings and manipulative strategies from the Belgian and French governments, historically the two main foreign powers present in Rwanda.
The Red Thread
The red thread of Cotteret’s narrative is a long interview with Paul Kagame, whose political concepts are strongly criticized by the West. He claims, “We don’t need to be enlightened…No one has the right to despise us.” During this declaration, Cotteret’s camera shows soldiers and civilians singing and dancing on a platform.
Paul Kagame entered the limelight as a leading figure of the Inkotanyi–a politico-military movement founded in 1987 that also has the official name Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)–which put an end to the genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsi. Today, he is one of the most secretive and controversial Heads of State. Cotteret had to wait two years before an interview was granted.
In 1959, the first wave of massacres between the then ruling Tutsi and the Hutu claimed the lives of 20,000 Tutsi. The Vatican and the order of “the White Fathers” supported this “social revolution”. In actual fact, it was a simple organized act of social revenge for the artificial suppression of the Hutu. The Tutsi were forced to flee the country for nearly three decades, exiled in different surrounding countries, many finding refuge in Uganda. Cotteret followed their exile in detail.
«The principle: no impunity, no revenge, no pardon, no asking for forgiveness.»
Again, French and Belgian governments only acted after the Inkotanyi’s military action became successful. In the frame of a diplomatic offer, the Tutsi got access to key positions in Rwanda’s newly formed government and military. The exiled population returned, only to be victims of a new outbreak of violence on the dawn of 1994, after Rwanda’s moderate Hutu president was assassinated on his way to signing a contract against Hutu extremists.
The rest is history, as we know it. Note that the escaping Belgian forces even neglected to protect a small group of Tutsi who were evidently condemned to death near the airport on their way back.
Only after 75% of the Tutsi population had been exterminated, and only after the Inkotanyi won military ground and pushed the Hutu government to Zaire’s frontiers, the French government, realizing their allies had lost the battle, launched “Opération Turquoise” in June 1994. The claimed humanitarian objectives were to provide security and protection to displaced persons, a necessity that was “a question of hours” according to President Mitterrand. However, French ex-militaries confirm in front of Cotteret’s camera that the Tutsi population received no protection–the military’s actual goal was to find its soldiers.
How to stop the spiral of violence was the key question. Kagame’s answer on every revenge killing was harsh punishment, including executions of his own soldiers. Cotteret asks, is there another choice other than the so-called “politic of terror”?
«Today, racism in the official political sphere in Rwanda isn’t an opinion but a crime.»
The terror was accompanied by reconciliation efforts. On every hill in Rwanda, local tribunals, the so-called “Gacaca courts”, became active. Amnesty would only have encouraged impunity. Around two million people were condemned. The principle: no impunity, no revenge, no pardon, no asking for forgiveness.
On the other side, the leading minds of the genocide (mostly exiled but later captured) were prosecuted in international courts marked by negotiation strategies. The manipulation of menaced witnesses was common. The defence of the genocide killers received considerable resources from the UN.
Today, when women are still washing thousands of human bones on the hills of Rwanda, it becomes clear that throughout history all western interventions have failed and have caused irrevocable damage. Kagame’s return to a Pan-African model is more than understandable. His popularity is evident. Rwanda represents relative stability and security today in the face of the ongoing chaos and ethnic massacres in neighbouring countries.
Cotteret warns against “hasty conclusions” from a western perspective, which considers Rwanda a dictatorship. No doubt there is a strong authoritarianism, so for example, the media are under strict scrutiny–they played a devastating role in the past. Voices spouting ethnic rhetoric are immediately imprisoned. Today, racism in the official political sphere in Rwanda isn’t an opinion but a crime.
The leading opinion: Social advancement is seen as the best way of ensuring peace. Women are represented in Parliament; children have access to education and health care. Some regret the return of an imposing Tutsi minority. Others believe that Rwanda is preparing for a post-ethnic era, where everybody is equal before the law.
It is important to know how political opponents today are treated, especially in prisons–in other words, if torture is applied in state institutions. Cotteret doesn’t touch on this subject in Inkotanyi. He just points out the inappropriateness of simple judgement from Western perspectives by delivering an impressive amount of key information about African challenges today.
For its Portuguese premiere, Inkotanyi was awarded the Main Award for Documentaries at Lisbon’s “Signos da Noite” festival.