August 1, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Michael McGehee:
For years Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been heralded as one of the great leaders of Africa. A man who stopped a genocide, liberated and brought economic prosperity to the country. Two months ago (this past May) Paul Kagame was in Iowa to receive an honorary doctorate from William Penn University for his so-called “contributions to the humanities and human welfare.” I did an interview with a student from the school who couldn’t believe there was a dark side to President Kagame. The student told me she was interested in doing the interview for the school radio and web blog because the students had never heard anything negative about the man.
But later that month things began to change when a “UN report on Rwanda fuelling Congo conflict” surfaced, and The Guardian UK reported that it was “‘blocked by US.’ ”
American officials tried denying that they were blocking the report viawordplay—they stated they were simply holding up the publication until some questions were answered. Eventually the U.S. agreed to the release of the UN report, which said it had ”gathered evidence of arms embargo and sanctions regime violations committed by the Rwandan Government,” which included:
• Direct assistance in the creation of M23 through the transport of weapons and soldiers through Rwandan territory
• Recruitment of Rwandan youth and demobilized ex-combatants as well as Congolese refugees for M23
• Provision of weapons and ammunition to M23
• Mobilization and lobbying of Congolese political and financial leaders for the benefit of M23
• Direct Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) interventions into Congolese territory to reinforce M23
• Support to several other armed groups as well as Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) mutinies in the eastern Congo
• Violation of the assets freeze and travel ban through supporting sanctioned individuals.
Perhaps the media blitz against Kagame began in late May, when in a rare move, the New York Times referred to President Kagame as America’s “Darling Dictator of the Day.”
I wrote on this article at the time by stating that it “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,” and that “it could be a sign of the Darling’s day having ended,” But I warned that “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.” The weight of this last statement increases with the various news coverage noted below.
Recently Yahoo News! carried an AFP article which claimed: “US in major policy shift in Rwanda,” and accompanied it with this unsavory picture of President Kagame:
|Yahoo! News: “Washington is loosening its ties to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, pictured in a file photo, long a favorite of the donor community, amid allegations his government is stirring violence in neighboring DR Congo, analysts say.”
Photo by Michelle Sibiloni/AFP/File
This “major policy shift in Rwanda” was rapid.
The Guardian UK has covered Kagame’s fall from grace with such headlines as:
Financial Times has also published a number of articles on the matter:
Foreign Policy Magazine recently asked in a headline “Has Rwanda’s Paul Kagame lost his American protector?”
Canada’s The Globe and Mail published this article: “U.S. fires warning shot to Rwandan president over links to ethnic killings.”
The International Business Times used the headline “Rwanda Losing Western Favor On Suspicions Of Congo Rebel Aid.”
South Africa’s Mail & Guardian has reported that “Rwanda loses German aid over DRC unrest.”
UPI has joined the bandwagon with the headline “DRC blame focused on Rwanda.”
Even the Turkish Weekly has noted “Netherlands Suspends Rwanda Aid.”
The Western establishment has turned on Paul Kagame, and it looks as if Mr. Kagame is going the way of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Perhaps in the near future it will be acceptable to correct the history of the Rwandan “genocide,” and talk about the RPF invasion in 1990, their numerous attacks and truce violations, how they did most of the killings in 1994, or how most of those who died were Hutu and not Tutsi, or about their slaughters in Congo from 1996 onward (a tremendous amount of this information is available in the interview mentioned above). Who knows, maybe even George Monbiot will beg forgiveness from Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman and David Peterson for his smear campaign (for more on this incdent please see my article “When it comes to ‘genocide,’ Guardian UK’s George Monbiot has pulled a Hitchens.”)
In a late-June 2012 opinion piece, before Kagame’s descension was in full-swing, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof referred to Rwanda as one of the “most impressive countries in Africa” that the world can do business with. What “undermines” Rwanda, Kristof says, is “their political repression.”
There is no doubt that Rwanda is known for cracking down on human rights organizations, the media, and any form of dissent, but there are a number of things missing from the articles above.
For starters, where have these journalists been for the last twenty years? One of the Guardian pieces by David Smith refers to the West’s relationship with Kagame as a “humiliating affair,” but a browse through Smith’s other articles on Rwanda does not match the language and tone of the piece at hand.
When the U.S. was backing Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army in their quest to overthrow the government in Uganda, these media outlets were not sounding the alarms.
Likewise, when Museveni’s military intelligence chief, Paul Kagame, came to Fort Leavenworth for military training, there was no uproar. Nor when Kagame and other Rwandan exiles formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front, invaded Rwanda in 1990, assassinated President Habyarimana in 1994 and carried out the final offensive to overthrow the government—which killed hundreds of thousands of people.
And there certainly were no outrages, warnings and suspension of aid when Rwanda and Uganda was committing genocide in Congo, and stealing away with the country’s natural resources. In 2010 when the UN reported that Rwanda committed serious war crimes, and possibly genocide, and noted in particular:
These attacks resulted in a very large number of victims, probably tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, all nationalities combined. In the vast majority of cases reported, it was not a question of people killed unintentionally in the course of combat, but people targeted primarily by AFDL/APR/FAB forces and executed in their hundreds, often with edged weapons. The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces. Numerous serious attacks on the physical or pyschological integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. Very large numbers of victims were forced to flee and travel long distances to escape their pursuers, who were trying to kill them. The hunt lasted for months, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of people subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading living conditions, without access to food or medication. On several occasions, the humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked …
—there was only scant coverage in the mainstream media.
Then there is the political repression in Rwanda. Most mainstream media outlets failed to cover the human rights reports from organizations likeAmnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
And finally, the praise of Rwanda’s economic growth yet to be revealed as bogus because of two fronts, one of which is right in front of their faces: the extensive aid Rwanda receives from foreign countries, and which is now being suspended.
The other factor behind Rwanda’s economic prowess. Western journalists have marveled at Rwanda’s economic growth for several years but almost never attributed it to the wholesale robbery of Congolese natural resources.
There is a particular reason why Rwanda is destabilizing Congo. Herman Cohen, a former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs who served from 1989 to 1993, recently wrote that, “To put the current conflict into perspective, it is important to note that what happens in the eastern Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu is of vital importance to Rwanda’s economic and political security.” Cohen gets down to it when he writes that, “North and South Kivu are rich in mineral resources, some of which are vital to telecommunications, and are imported in massive quantities by American and European equipment makers.”
The wars in Congo that began with the (U.S.-backed) Rwandan and Ugandan invasion in 1996 have claimed the lives of somewhere between six to ten million people. The question the mainstream media are avoiding in their effort to throw Kagame under the bus is: Why is Rwanda so eager to hang on to South Kivu that it is willing to send recruits, money, arms and training to rebels? The answer may be in this recent UN media release: “[Congo's] untapped mineral reserves are of global importance and are estimated to be worth US$24 trillion.”
The problem with the ongoing coverage in the mainstream press is not that they are getting it wrong in noting that Paul Kagame is a genocidal mass-murderer, but that they are failing to report that he was always a creature of the U.S. Kagame’s rise to power, and the worst of his crimes were committed with tacit U.S. support, and in service to the West. Furthermore, Kagame’s criminal record is not a new development. And it is this, coupled with the media silence on Kagame’s usefulness to the West, that makes the ongoing coverage so deceptive. David Smith’s portrayal of Western support for Kagame as “humiliating” implies that the West is innocent, and that Kagame acted solely in his own interests. The West is not humiliated, but culpable. It must be an amazing coincidence that the “darling dictator of the day,” that the West backed for so long, happened to occupy and exploit a region in Congo “rich in mineral resources, some of which are vital to telecommunications, and are imported in massive quantities by American and European equipment makers.”