Pope and Genocide

by Okello Oculi, Ph.D Executive Director, AFRICA VISION 525


The May 21, 2005 editions of the New Statesman magazine (which is published out of London), carries a picture of the late Pope John Paul II holding an African child. The child has dark sad eyes. He had pressed his left cheek onto that of the boy. Bags under his eyes show his fatigue and suggests his pain at the tragic awareness of the fate that awaits the boy. Since the article which carries the photograph was sent in by a Nairobi correspondent of the magazine and it indicts the Pope for leaving a trail of death from HIV/AIDS all across Africa (by condemning the use of condoms), we must assume that the sad little black boy is probably both an AIDS orphan and is also infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

In the wake of Pope John Paul's death, and the succession of Pope Benedict XVI, one is bound to revisit, by historical association, two important events: that of the 1904 and 1994 genocides in South West Africa (now Namibia) and Rwanda, respectively. Pope Benedict XVI , both as a German and one who was recruited in Hitler's military youth brigade (but later defected), is directly, even if remotely, associated with the stain of the  Namibian event. As a senior Cardinal at the Vatican when the 1994 genocide happened in Rwanda, it has a more immediate resonance for him.


 For a start, the Catholic Church had played a most prominent a role  in the historical strategies it adopted in building the hatred between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. The church, in collaboration with the Belgian colonial administrators, had first allowed only privileged access to school enrollment and access to jobs in the civil service to Tutsis. In the late 1940s this policy was reversed in favour of the Hutu but was accompanied with, on the one hand,  encouraging the Tutsi minority ruling group to demand for independence while they held monopoly positions, and on the other hand, in encouraging the Hutu leaders to reject this political situation. In 1959 the first genocidal attacks on Tutsis took place.

In the 1994 event, the Church encouraged the Hutu victors of 1959 to defend their power. It is now known that some Church leaders took direct part in the massacres and opened their churches to Hutu killer-gangs hunting down Tutsis who had herded themselves into churches for protection. The Church leadership was part of a cabal which deliberately set out to decimate a group because of traits they had no control over; and merely happened to share it with an armed group of Tutsi invaders who were children of those who had in 1959 fled into refugee camps in Uganda and Tanzania. Those decimated in 1994 were not being slaughtered because of political acts they had done, or were doing, against the government of Juvenal Hyabyelemana, but  because of who they were by ethnic coincidence. The Hutu "moderates" were, at least consciously pushing for a multi-ethnic form of governance in pre-1994 Rwanda.

Pope Benedict XVI must surely be helped, by the Catholic leadership and followers in Africa, to call for a 'mea culpa mea maximaculpa' and a raparations/ social reconstruction conference over the Rwanda genocide.

Adolph Hitler is reported to have said in 1939:"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians." He was referring to the 1915 slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Turkish colonial troops. This comment is of interest to Rwanda and Africa, as we long to ensure that nothing like the slaughter of 800,000 persons in Rwanda in a period of one hundred days, would never happen again. There is a danger that this wish would be a pledge engraved and churned in the hearts of a vengeance-animated Tutsi military and political elite. This would be a form of cancer of hatred ever waiting to shed Hutu blood in a sleepless political vigilance. A more positive, humane, and creative orientation would be one which Pope Benedict XVI must be encouraged to play a proactive part in nurturing in Rwanda by convening a penitence conference and "talking out the bitterness" of 1994. Others who should take part in this process are in Uganda (between Banyankole and Acholi/Langi); Creoles and various upcountry groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia, between Arabs and the Fur and Shilluk in Darfur and neighbouring areas, various groups in eastern DRC, etc.

Pope John Paul II avoided to raise the label of "genocide" over the HIV/AIDS pandemic which is ravaging Africa; and insist on its political parentage even  when radical groups in North America  had in the later 1970s pointed accusing fingers at its Cold War military roots. There are claims now that up to 83 million Africans will die of HIV/AIDS between 2005 and 2015. There is currently a statistical pornography in the western media over this matter, as commentators and alarmists throw arithmetics of death at the moral status of peoples of Africa. Be that as it may, Pope John Paul II hugged doomed AIDS orphans in Africa but failed to call on the world's scientists and politicians to ask and answer the question: "WHOSE SCIENTISTS and POLITICAL LEADERS have INVENTED AND EXPORTED this virus to African peoples ?".

This is not a trivial matter. It is to the credit of an official British delegation at a United Nations conference held in Geneva, that in 1983 it raised the alarm over the prospect of new forms of biological warfare through the use and manipulation of genes. African delegates at the conference, and political leaders they may have brought back reports to, apparently ignored how deadly serious the British government was. Other minor incidents, such as that of university students in Sweden raising alarm over their conviction that a Danish medical professor researcher had deliberately infected pregnant mothers in Zimbabwe with the HIV/AIDS virus as part of a secret research project, was never taken up by the African media and officials. The accusation by Libya that Bulgarian nurses working in Libya's hospitals had been caught infecting patients with HIV/Virus never received much attention either. Likewise, the admission by "Dr. Death" (the white racist South African scientist who testified at that countries Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings that they had been working on diseases which singled only black peoples), was denied the hysterical attention which President Mbeki's remarks about the cause of HIV/AIDS received in the Western media; as well as by funding organisations like the Bill Gates Foundation with money to support its interrogation for possible linkage with the HIV/AIDS species which is rampant in Africa.

Pope Benedict XVI has rejected what he calls the "tyranny of moral relativism". This HIV/AIDS tragedy is one area in which he must call for a moral fundamentalism which rejects indifference by the Catholic world in the industrially developed countries to a viral genocide which is expanding at a geometrical rate against African peoples; just like that economic virus called "compound interest" is at the core of what Professor Adebayo Adedeji has called the industrialized world's  "social and economic warfare against African peoples". What remains is the urgent responsibility to react against this terrible reality. Pope Benedict XVI should travel that extra step beyond the footprints of his predecessor on behalf of moral fundamentalism against genocide and socio-economic warfare by ruling groups superintending over globalisation, and as his special gift to Africa and what he calls the world's "inner deserts".