Defeat Is The Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1896-1931 - by Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges

Defeat Is The Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1896-1931 - by Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges


Defeat Is The Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1896-931

Foreword by Roger V. Des Forges

Edited by David Newbury

University of Wisconsin Press



Defeat Is The Only bad News is the story of the reign (1896-1931) of Umwami (King) Yuhi Musinga of Rwanda. It is a fascinating account of how a well-organized and independent African country was conquered by, first, the Germans, then the Belgians. Every stage of the path from the soft, stealthy approach by the “Christian missionaries” to the aggressive and ultimately brutal methods of the colonial regimes, culminating in the deposition of the ruler who had welcomed them, is traced with details that make one look forward to the next phase of the story.


The account of the Royal Court intrigues, betrayals, anti-colonial resistance and the transformation of a once proud and powerful monarch into a puppet dressed in oversized European military uniform would be an entertaining read if it was not a tragic story of how Africa lost its identity and soul to a small band of armed men from Europe. 


This is a Shakespearean drama set in Central Africa. Starting with the last years of Umwami Rwabugiri, Musinga’s father, it is a century-old story that sounds familiar to a keen observer of the Courts of some twenty-first century African presidents. To those interested in the story of Muhuumuza muhara wa Nkanza, this book gives an excellent account of the background from which she launched her daring expeditions in South-Western Uganda. 


In this highly accessible book, which was the author’s PhD dissertation (Yale University, 1972), Dr. Des Forges tells a story that debunks the myth that the Batutsi-Bahutu conflicts were founded in centuries-old hatred. She also shows the highly factionalised arrangements within the kingdom and the anatomy of the animosity between the Banyarwanda of the central and southern parts of the kingdom and the Bakiga of the northern mountainous regions.


Published in 2011, two years after the author’s death premature death in a plane crash, the book was a result of extensive oral interviews with more than one hundred informants that she did in Rwanda in the 1960s, a study of the diaries of the Roman Catholic White Fathers who established Christianity in Rwanda during Musinga’s reign, and of some of the Belgian colonial documents. This is history as it should be told – factual, well-researched, chronologically presented, well analysed, placed in the context of the wider world in which the events occurred, and written in easily understandable language. 


I have had this book on my shelf for many years. It is just as well that I did not read it as soon as I bought it, for I have just enjoyed one of the finest historical narrations about a region that is very dear to me. Very highly recommended. 

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