May 31, 2012 · 0 Comments
Most opposition political parties were barred from registering for Rwanda’s 2010 presidential election, in which Paul Kagame won 93 percent of the vote. Photo: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters
By Michael M’Gehee:
That the New York Times published an op-ed by Marc Sommers calling Rwanda’s Paul Kagame “The Darling Dictator of the Day” is significant. As is the comment that “he does not merit his reputation as a visionary modernizer” because, “The reason is simple: his state is all about force.”
Sommers, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wastes no time in pointing out that, “There’s no question who’s in charge in Rwanda.” Sommers stresses that, “The government’s commanding presence in Rwandan lives is aggressively maintained by Kagame and a clique of other former Tutsi refugees from Uganda.” He even notes that, Kagame’s government asserted its power in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections, when authorities barred most opposition political parties from registering for elections, closed down many independent newspapers, and witnessed the flight into exile of several prominent government officials who said they “feared for their lives.”
There were also three suspicious pre-election shootings. One of the exiled officials, Kagame’s former chief of staff, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot in the stomach in South Africa after openly criticizing the Rwandan government. A Rwandan journalist, Jean Léonard Rugambage, was killed shortly after his article, which pointed to government complicity, was published. The deputy leader of the Green Party, which was among those unable to register, was found not only dead but with his head partly severed.
Probably most important is the comment that, “Soon after the election [where "Kagame garnered 93 percent of the vote"], an exhaustively researched United Nations ‘mapping exercise’ report led the veteran Rwanda expert Filip Reyntjens to state that ‘there is overwhelming evidence of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity’ against Kagame. A foreign expert (who asked not to be named) also reported the disappearance of ‘a large number’ of Rwandan civil society members in 2007.” That the Times published a piece which referenced not only the UN mapping report and Kagame’s complicity is significant. The conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo, which have been steadily going on for nearly twenty years, have been the most bloody since World War Two—with around ten million killed. Noting Kagame’s “overwhelming evidence of responsibility” is an important fact to publish.
This could well signal the end of Paul Kagame’s love affair with America. Like Saddam Hussen, Suharto, Mobutu Sese Seko, and other dictators who lost favor with the American Empire, the media did not begin to acknowledge the skeletons in their closets until after they had become the boogeyman—which was often long after the worst of their crimes and human rights abuses had been committed, and which often had Western complicity in their tyranny sanitized from the record.
Thus, it was common to condemn former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein for “gassing his own people,” but references to how the U.S. government supplied the dictator with chemical weapons, or initially blamed Iran for the Halabja massacre, and so on were not facts the media was prone to point out. In the preface to After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology, the second volume of “The Political Economy of Human Rights” series, writers Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman wrote that, “The Free Press has fulfilled its primary obligations to the state by averting Western eyes from the carnage of the war and effacing U.S. responsibility.”
For now, the New York Times continues to avert “Western eyes from the carnage of the war and effacing U.S. responsibility” in regards to Rwanda. Sommers continues to reinforce certain lies. Chief among them deal with the Rwandan war and genocide. Sommers writes that Kagame led “a remarkable recovery from war and genocide in the heart of Africa,” and that his “government is renowned for reducing corruption, expanding security, addressing genocidal crimes and increasing women’s rights.” Sommers even says that, “Kagame is no Idi Amin or Charles G. Taylor.” But neither of the two men ever amassed the record for murder and genocide like Paul Kagame.
The truth of the matter is that Kagame is the instigator of the war and genocide in Rwandan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the army he led, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that invaded Rwanda in 1990 and carried out extensive acts of terrorism and sabotage; who routinely violated ceasefire agreements; and who assassinated President Habyarimana in 1994 and within two hours conducted a massive military offensive that swept across the country in one hundreds days of genocidal violence. Not to mention the “overwhelming evidence of responsibility” of Kagame’s crimes in Congo, where, again, an estimated ten million have died.
As Sommers notes, “The government’s commanding presence in Rwandan lives is aggressively maintained by Kagame and a clique of other former Tutsi refugees from Uganda.” Here, Sommers is referring to the political and military leaders of the RPF. These men were part of the Ugandan national army, and the RPF was an arm of the Ugandan military. They wore Ugandan military uniforms. And it was this event, the 1990 invasion, that is integral to understanding all of what is transpiring. That, and the subordination to the U.S.—who is not only the main backer of the Museveni regime in Uganda, but Kagame in Rwanda.
When Uganda invaded Rwanda, its goal was to destabilize the government, and then overthrow it. This is what Museveni did in Uganda. And from October 1990 to April 1994 that is precisely what happened in Rwanda via the RPF. This is also what happened in Democratic Republic of Congo, when Museveni and Kagame invaded and overthrew President Mobutu, and conducted some of the most brutal crimes that were committed.
The second-in-command for United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, Col. Luc Marchal told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR): “From my experience, my conclusion is that the RPF had one goal, seizing power by force and keeping it to themselves.” Marchal also stated that, “Not once, never have I sensed the desire to make concessions, to smooth rough edges, to reach a consensus.” He told the court that, “It was almost a daily struggle, and I received remarks because of the violations of the agreement”, and that, “All these elements led me to the conclusion that their goal was certainly not to concretize the peace process.” Marchal believes it was Kagame who assassinated President Habyarimana. He is not alone in this regards.
There is also James Lyons, an FBI agent who came to the same conclusion.
Another UN investigation headed by Michael Hourigan, came to the conclusion as well. It’s report buried.
And former Rwandan genocide prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who was removed from her ICTR duties after she insisted on prosecuting Kagame for the assassination and various other war crimes.
Robert Gersony, an American consultant hired by the UN, concluded that Kagame’s RPF committed genocide. He reported a “scene of systematic and sustained killing and persecution of civilian Hutu populations” by Kagame’s forces. Like Hourigan, his report was buried.
It was during this time, and acting on Gersony’s report, that UN forces were blocking refugees from returning. This was reported in the New York Times in late September of 1994:
the United Nations has stopped encouraging Rwandan refugees to return and is refusing even to assist those who wish to go home because of a report that the new, Tutsi-dominated Government in Rwanda has killed thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group.
The timing of this is important because earlier that month George Moose, a State Department official, sent a memo to Secretary of State Christopher Warren in which it was noted that the “RPA and Tutsi civilian surrogates had killed 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the RPA accounting for 95% of the killing.”
Spanish and French courts have even ruled on various matters related to the Rwandan and Congo conflicts (more so for the Spanish court), and both found the RPF responsible for the assassination of President Habyarimana, and the genocide that followed. And issued warrants.
It is for these reasons, and more, that it is unfathomable for Sommers to claim that Kagame is “addressing genocidal crimes” when Kagame’s crimes, and that of the RPF he commands, have gone unpunished. And it is cynical beyond belief for Sommers to imply that punishing the victims of the RPF—the government Kagame overthrew and those accused of “genocide”—makes the case. But not once has any RPF soldier been indicted at the ICTR or ICC. As noted, Carla del Ponte made an attempt to do so, but was systematically removed.
The ICTR has yet to find a plan to commit genocide in Rwanda. After nearly twenty years they have not uncovered a conspiracy to commit genocide. They have also refused to consider a RPF conspiracy, which there is significant evidence of.
And if you look at their biggest trial of top military personnel—Bagosora, et al—the ruling is revealing. For one, all were acquitted on conspiracy to commit genocide, the gravest charge.
The court acknowledged that “a cycle of ethnic violence against Tutsi civilians has often followed attacks by the RPF,” and that “[f]ollowing the October 1990 RPF invasion, there were mass arrests as well as localised killings at the time and in subsequent years in several northern communes,” and the court ruled that “the alternative explanations for the events have added relevant context to a few allegations against the Accused.”
The ICTR judges admit that the military preparations by the Rwandan government were “consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle,” and that “in the context of the ongoing war with the RPF, this evidence does not invariably show that the purpose of arming and training these civilians or the preparation of lists was to kill Tutsi civilians,” and that “in the context of the immediate aftermath of the RPF’s violation of the cease fire agreement, it does not necessarily show an intention to use the forces to commit genocide.” What it shows is an intention to use the forces to stop the RPF’s efforts of overthrowing the government by military force—i.e. defend Rwanda against RPF aggression.
This is backed by what a couple of American analysts who closely studied the conflict found. In their piece “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Christian Davenport and Allan Stam write that,
Perhaps the most shocking result of our combination of information on troop locations involved the invasion itself: The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased. The data revealed in our maps was consistent with FAR claims that it would have stopped much of the killing if the RPF had simply called a halt to its invasion. This conclusion runs counter to the Kagame administration’s claims that the RPF continued its invasion to bring a halt to the killings.
Furthermore, the statement that Kagame is “increasing women’s rights” is disputable in one name: Victoire Ingabire. Here is a Rwandan woman who ended her exile by coming back to be a political opponent and fight for national reconciliation and democracy. A mother, she now sits in jail awaiting the conclusion of a kangaroo court trial that will surely convict her of Rwanda’s so-called “genocide ideology laws” that Human Rights Watch has warned is “a broad and ill-defined offense [which is used] as a tool to silence independent opinion and criticism.”
While there are a lot of important details missing from Sommers op-ed, and not all of his comments pan out, it still is an extraordinary development at the “paper of record” that Paul Kagame would be called the “Darling Dictator of the Day” who is clamping down on dissent at home while committing serious crimes in Democratic Republic of Congo. But again it could be a sign of the Darling’s day having ended, and if this is indeed the case, it is important to not only hold Kagame to account, but also U.S. officials who have facilitated him, backed him, and quite possibly directed him.