A Rwandan proverb says “Defeat is the only bad news.” For Rwandans living under colonial rule, winning called not only for armed confrontation, but also for a battle of witsand not only with foreigners, but also with each other. In Defeat Is the Only Bad News Alison Des Forges recounts the ambitions, strategies, and intrigues of an African royal court under Yuhi Musinga, the Rwandan ruler from 1896 to 1931. These were turbulent years for Rwanda, when first Germany and then Belgium pursued an aggressive plan of colonization there. At the time of the Europeans’ arrival, Rwanda was also engaged in a succession dispute after the death of one of its most famous kings. Against this backdrop, the Rwandan court became the stage for a drama of Shakespearean proportions, filled with deceit, shrewd calculation, ruthless betrayal, and sometimes murder.
Historians who study European expansion typically focus on interactions between colonizers and colonized; they rarely attend to relations among the different factions inhabiting occupied lands. Des Forges, drawing on oral histories and extensive archival research, reveals how divisions among different groups in Rwanda shaped their responses to colonial governments, missionaries, and traders. Rwandans, she shows, used European resources to extend their power, even as they sought to preserve the autonomy of the royal court. Europeans, for their part, seized on internal divisions to advance their own goals. Des Forges’s vividly narrated history, meticulously edited and introduced by David Newbury, provides a deep context for understanding the Rwandan civil war a century later.
About the Author
Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges (1942-2009) was a Yale-trained historian, a leading activist with Human Rights Watch, and the author of Leave None to Tell the Story. David Newbury is the Gwendolen Carter Professor of African Studies at Smith College and author of Kings and Clans: A Social History of the Lake Kivu Rift Valley.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Foreword by Roger V. Des Forges
Editor's Introduction: Situating the Rwandan Court at the Time of Musinga's Accession to Power
Glossary of Rwandan Terms
1. A Tumultuous Transition: The Accession of Musinga
2. The Catholic Church, the German Administration, and the Nyiginya Court
3. The Missionaries, the Court, and the Local Community, 1904-1910
4. Musinga's Coming of Age, 1905-1913
5. Extending Court Power, 1905-1913: The Conquest of the Northern Regions
6. New Europeans, New Court Tactics, 1913-1919: The Arrival of the Belgians
7. Alliances That Bindand Divide: Belgian Rule and the Court, 1919-1922
8. Divide and Rule, 1922-1925: Emerging Factions at the Court
9. The Rationalization of Power, 1925-1931: The Deposition of Musinga