Chapter 5: A coup by any other name…
… all on the basis of a single childish accusation, that idiotic bordereau… since almost all the so-called secrets that had supposedly been turned over to the enemy were of no value.
Émile Zola, J’accuse
Émile Zola, J’accuse
One fine spring day in 1998, Philip Gourevitch, staff writer with the New Yorker, was interrupted by the ring of his fax. Some unknown source surprisingly sent him a copy of a document that reporters and investigators had been trying to track down for years. It was the answer from the New York office of the United Nations Peace Keeping Operations to the fax that General Romeo Dallaire sent on January 11, 1994, that supposedly warned UN authorities of an imminent genocide in Rwanda.
In his much celebrated article in the New Yorker entitled “The Genocide Fax”, and then again in his book 54 , Gourevitch attempted to show that the UN leaders knew there would be a genocide because Dallaire had explicitly warned them after obtaining trustworthy information from a “big fish” by the name of Jean-Pierre. He also tried to prove that the same UN leaders chose to do nothing other than inform President Habyarimana and foreign embassies in Kigali. In a nutshell, a “very very important government politician”, to use Dallaire’s word, had put Dallaire in contact with a senior cadre of the President’s MRND party and its militia. Troubled by a guilty conscience, Jean-Pierre apparently decided to spill the beans.
According to his story, Rwandan leaders were planning to provoke a civil war by assassinating selected political leaders and Belgian troops. The informer Jean-Pierre apparently suspected that the same leaders were drawing up lists of Tutsis in order to exterminate them. He also said that with his small staff he could kill up to 2,000 Tutsis in twenty minutes. Weapons were hidden throughout Kigali and could even be found at the MRND headquarters. In return for this information, the mysterious Jean-Pierre only wanted to obtain UN protection for him and his family.
This was the great find. It was the first documentary evidence to be found from the period before April 1994. Finally there was a piece of paper to prove the existence of a comprehensive plan to exterminate Rwandan Tutsis, just as there was the vast documentary evidence of the Nazi’s intention to exterminate the Jews. What’s more, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and his successor Kofi Annan, who then headed peace-keeping operations, were fully informed of the imminent genocide. Instead of taking immediate action as the fax most obviously would have required, both Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan preferred typical UN bureaucratic inaction. They did not even inform the Security Council. As a result of their turpitude, the international community was caught unprepared for the apocalypse a few months later.
Thanks to the intrepid investigations of Philip Gourevitch, the truth is now out and we should all apologize profusely for our inaction during the genocide that was so clearly foretold. Fortunately, President Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for us when they gracefully visited Central Africa in 1998.
That’s the way the “right and proper tale” goes, but what really happened?
“Neither General Dallaire nor I ever met that famous Jean-Pierre,” the fax’s very very important government politician told me in an interview in Brussels. “I told Dallaire about this story I had heard and about the informer. Dallaire sent one of his assistants to meet him and two days later he came and told me that they had found a few guns. The UN was not about to provide protection for him.” That doubly important government politician was Faustin Twagiramungu, leader of the opposition MDR party and prime minister designate.
For Mr. Twagiramungu the tale of Jean-Pierre reveals a terrible contempt for Africa and Africans. “I provided information to the UN Mission in Rwanda, but I never spoke about massacres or extermination of Tutsis. A fax is then sent to New York with reference to the extermination of Tutsis. Nobody talked to me about that. Except for a few words from Dallaire, I heard nothing more about this business for several years.” 55 On February 25, 1998 in Arusha, General Dallaire confirmed under oath that he had never met “Jean-Pierre”.
Jean-Pierre’s real name was Abubakar Turatsinze. He had been hired by the MRND as a chauffeur mainly because he was Muslim and would not likely drink and drive. Since “Jean-Pierre” was a good talker and had some success with the youth wing, the MRND gave him certain responsibilities in that area. In Novembre 1993, however, suspecting that “Jean-Pierre” was peddling information to others, the MRND fired him. Soon after, “Jean-Pierre” indirectly informed Faustin Twagiramungu, chairman of the main party opposed to the MRND, that the leaders of the MRND were targeting him for assassination. His authority for such a statement was that he worked for the MRND, even though he had been fired two months earlier. Faustin Twagiramungu suspected a trap was being set to provoke confrontation between his own party and President Habyarimana’s MRND. He was also aware of the danger of circulating unfounded accusations. This prompted him to inform the UN Mission who was responsible for investigating these types of reports.
Romeo Dallaire sent the Belgian who commanded the UNAMIR in the Kigali area, Colonel Luc Marchal, to meet “Jean-Pierre” on January 10 in the evening. Luc Marchal immediately believed “Jean-Pierre’s” story. He raced off to relay the information to Dallaire who sent the famous fax without counterchecking or investigating the story any further.
The promoters of the “right and proper tale” unfailingly forget to mention that the main reason Dallaire sent an urgent fax to New York was to get advice from his superiors. This was fully understandable. Dallaire had no experience in this area, he had reservations about the informer’s credibility, and he suspected a trap. Here are the sections of the fax that have been studiously omitted from the “right and proper tale”.
“THIS HQ DOES NOT HAVE PREVIOUS UNITED NATIONS EXPERIENCE IN SUCH MATTERS AND URGENTLY REQUESTS GUIDANCE.
“FORCE COMMANDER [Dallaire] DOES HAVE CERTAIN RESERVATIONS ON THE SUDDENNESS OF THE CHANGE OF HEART OF THE INFORMANT TO COME CLEAN WITH THE INFORMATION.
“POSSIBILITY OF A TRAP NOT FULLY EXCLUDED, AS THIS MAY BE A SET-UP AGAINST THIS VERY VERY IMPORTANT POLITICAL PERSON.”
It was perfectly normal for Dallaire and Marchal to request guidance from their superiors. Marchal had been in Rwanda since the end of November – one month. Dallaire had arrived at the end of October – two months. How could either of them determine the veracity of detailed information about the political parties in a country they knew little about and in which everything went on in a language they did not understand?
The following day, Dallaire’s superiors in New York advised him in a fax to inform President Habyarimana and to warn him of the risk that the armed militias represented for the implementation of the Arusha Accords. They also suggested that he communicate the same information to the main foreign embassies in Kigali. Nothing that Jean-Pierre predicted came about. If he had spoken about plans to assassinate President Habyarimana, perhaps his predictions would have warranted greater attention. But no mention is made of the upcoming assassination. The advice of Dallaire’s superiors therefore seems simple, reasonable and wise.
The “very very important” Rwanda politician, Faustin Twagiramungu, thinks that the “Jean-Pierre” story is totally false and that there was absolutely no planning of a genocide. What’s more, he told Philip Gourevitch as much before the New Yorker article on “The Genocide Fax” appeared and before Gourevitch published his book on the Rwandan tragedy. The New Yorker staff writer did not bother quoting him even though he was at the heart of the whole story. Was Jean-Pierre just trying to obtain favours in return for information? Did he want a visa for the United States or Canada? Whatever the case may be, his story resembles so many others in every country in the world. It is the story of the clerk, driver or telephone operator who works for important and powerful people and glorifies his role and position to win influence, notoriety and sometimes financial gain.
The story of “Jean-Pierre” is dubious to say the least, but what can be said about the content of Dallaire’s fax and the questions it raises. What about preparations to exterminate Tutsis? What about armed militias and political assassinations? What about President Habyarimana’s loss of control of elements of his own party? And what about the lists? The whole picture is very sinister.
Faustin Twagiramungu never heard of any intentions to exterminate the Tutsis as Jean-Pierre described in detail to Colonel Luc Marchal. 56 Abubakar Turatsinze alias Jean-Pierre undoubtedly knew that a Rwandan politician like Prime Minister designate Faustin Twagiramungu was familiar with the RPF and its tactics as he was with the other Rwandan political formations. He could not be easily fooled into believing such a story. On the other hand, Luc Marchal and Romeo Dallaire who had just arrived were much more gullible. The Belgian peacekeeper later wrote about how he had been “taken in by the RPF’s formidable propaganda” 57 ever since the Arusha negotiations.
Pro-RPF publications abounded with accusations similar to those made by Jean-Pierre. The RPF goal was to prepare Western public opinion to accept and support resumption of war since the RPF could never win power democratically. During the period prior to Jean-Pierre’s meeting with Luc Marchal, pro-RPF publications such as Isibo 58 ran articles closely resembling descriptions made by Jean-Pierre. Nine years after the events and despite long and detailed trials of alleged génocidaires in Arusha and elsewhere, absolutely no evidence of the planning or intention of exterminating Rwandan Tutsis has been found or presented. Philip Gourevitch who is one of the RPF’s main cheerleaders explicitly recognizes this fact when he insists that his “genocide fax” from Dallaire was the most important documentary evidence of an extermination plan.
What about the weapons and the armed paramilitary militias in Kigali and elsewhere? It was widely known that youth groups made up mostly of young thugs were armed and often paraded as members of political parties or militias. These light weapons including grenades were available in public markets. There was also some debate about the possibility of arming the population in the areas near the territories occupied used by the RPF and used to launch incursions. No decision to this effect was made.
RPF combatants had also infiltrated Kigali and other important centres in Rwanda. These brigades had weapons and were not afraid to show them and use them. As the number of weapons in urban areas increased, so did rumours about weapons and ammunition. People inevitably felt more and more obliged to take all necessary means to ensure their own security. Hence, weapons of all kinds proliferated in Kigali and throughout Rwanda. This proliferation was in fact another symptom, albeit more visible and threatening, of the breakdown of Rwandan society that had been provoked by the cumulative effects of war and imposition of new economic and political models.
Romeo Dallaire’s UNAMIR mission was to disarm the militias and the RPF combatants infiltrated throughout Rwanda, and especially in Kigali. To carry out that mission successfully, the Rwandan population had to have confidence in the fairness and the neutrality of the mission and its commander. Unfortunately, the UN mission and and its commander General Dallaire were both perceived to favour the invading army of Rwanda Patriotic Front.
It is difficult to comprehend the Rwandans’ profound distrust of UNAMIR without taking into account an event that took place before the mission arrived in the country. On October 21, 1992–Dallaire arrived on October 22 - Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected, Hutu president in neighbouring Burundi was savagely assassinated by Tutsi officers who dominate the Burundian army. Ndadaye’s assassination was greeted with joy by pro-RPF Tutsis in Rwanda. Shortly thereafter, the RPF reinforced its links with the Burundian junta, especially regarding military issues.
“Burundi had been an example for us,” a Rwandan from Montreal told me. “Here was an elected president in Burundi. We all thought that there was a chance that similar things could happen in Rwanda. Maybe we could do as they had done. But Melchior Ndadaye’s assassination shot down all our hopes and aggravated ethnic tension in Rwanda. It became obvious to us that the Tutsis did not want democratic rule. From that moment on, opposition parties began to share the fears of President Habyarimana’s party. We were not only afraid that the Tutsis would take power. We also began to fear the way they wanted to rule Rwanda. Ndadaye’s assassination and the massacres in northern Rwanda since the invasion on October 1, 1990, gave us a pretty good idea of how they wanted to run the country. Looking back now and seeing what the RPF has done, I can say that our fears were well founded.”
Following the assassination of the Burundian president, 375,000 Hutu refugees fled to Rwanda and joined one million internal Rwandan refugees that had been displaced by the war since 1990. At the same time, RPF and Burundian military leaders met to co-ordinate activities and to convince Rwandan Tutsis living in Burundi to join the RPF army. 59
UN peacekeepers with their large Belgian contingent thus arrived in Rwanda at a time when mistrust and suspicion of the RPF and its mainly Tutsi supporters had reached an all time high. Their arrival also coincided with the departure of French troops that the anti-RPF parties had counted upon. Thus Belgian troops who were perceived to be pro-RPF replaced French troops considered to be pro-Habyarimana.
The first important action of the UN military mission, which included more than 400 Belgian troops, was to escort a battalion for 600 armed RPF soldiers from the RPF headquarters in Mulindi to Kigali. They also had to supervise their settlement, sometimes described as “triumphant”, in the parliament building, the Conseil national du développement (CND), in Kigali. This operation known as “Clean Corridor” left an image of a Belgian-dominated UNAMIR escorting the invading army to a symbolic and strategic position in the country’s capital. Upon arrival, RPF soldiers immediately dug trenches around the building which was not exactly a gesture likely to herald in a peaceful transition.
The image of a pro-RPF UN mission coincides with most observations gathered since the tragedy. Both the commander Romeo Dallaire and the UNAMIR forces were unacceptably close and in collusion with the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
“Romeo Dallaire was very close to the RPF”, says Gilbert Ngijol, political assistant to Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh. “He let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”
The Secretary Generalâ€™s Special Representative to Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh confirmed this when he broke 10 years of silence regarding Rwanda in an interview published in Africa International. “In the field, he abandoned his work as military commander and got involved in politics; he violated the principle of UNAMIRâ€™s neutrality and became the objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.” 60
A Rwandan refugee living in France recalled that “Romeo Dallaire was always at the home of Hélène Pinske, a Quebec woman married to a Tutsi minister by the name of Landoald Ndasingwa. Unlike Landoald, who knew that the minority could never democratically govern the Hutu majority, Hélène never hid the fact that she hoped the RPF would win. ‘By the will of God, we’re going to win’, she declared when the RPF arrived in Kigali.
According to James K. Gasana, Rwandan Defence Minister until July 1993, the UNAMIR behaved just like another military faction.
“It [UNAMIR] was always extremely amenable with the RPF and even agreed to let it get wood from Mulindi (RPF military headquarters in northern Rwanda), even though there was wood near Kigali. These supply trips to the north escorted by UNAMIR peacekeepers and vehicles enabled the RPF to transport infiltrators and new recruits from the northern area to Kigali. Another illustration of this collusion is that in January 1994, upon an RPF request, UNAMIR decided to shut down one runway at the Kanombe airport that enabled landing and takeoff over Kigali.” 61
The closing of that runway at the Kigali airport meant that there was only one direction for airplanes to land when arriving in Kigali. This greatly facilitated the assassination of President Habyarimana as he arrived in Kigali on April 6, 1994.
Even if Romeo Dallaire, Luc Marchal, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh and the others had wanted to stop the increasing take-over by the RPF and effectively disarm it, foreign embassies in Kigali were operating as thought the RPF had already taken power. Leaders of the president’s party, the MRND, continually received ummistakable messages before April 6, 1994, to the effect that President Habyarimana had to go. James Gasana points out that “from a diplomatic standpoint, most business involving Rwanda’s relations with Western countries and particularly the United States was handled with Paul Kagame at RPF headquarters in Mulindi.” 62 What’s more, the IMF followed suit. It even called meetings at the invading army headquarters in Mulindi and expected the Habyarimana government to send representatives to them.
It matters little now whether Romeo Dallaire and his UN mission were following orders from the UN in New York not to invconvenience the Rwandan Patriotic Front in any way, or whether they were simply pursuing the policy adopted by Western embassies, and particularly by the American Embassy. The overall effect upon the Rwandan people was the same.
For UN peacekeepers to be able to disarm both the militias and RPF infiltrators, an agreement on procedures would have had to be negotiated. No such agreement came about. More importantly, the UN mission and its commander had to demonstrate unwavering neutrality and determination in their efforts to disarm both parties fully and equitably. Nobody believed that they would or could do that in 1994, and nobody believes it now.
Since UN peacekeepers were unwilling or unable to disarm militias and infiltrated combatants, they could not prevent the presence of paramilitary groups from aggravating the anarchy that increasingly plagued Rwanda between January and April 1994.
Now what about the lists “Jean-Pierre” mentioned? Faustin Twagiramungu who headed the first government sworn in after the RPF take-over dismisses stories about lists, saying that the only lists he ever saw had no more than a few hundred names. A few hundred names on lists in no way indicates the intention of one group to eliminate a large part of the Rwandan population. “People should be wary of dubious documents planted in certain books,” 63 he declared in testimony before the Belgian Senate.
Nothing could be more normal or legitimate for a government at war than to collect the names of people suspected of spying for the enemy. For the record, we should recall American campaigns in the First World War. The very official Creel Committee invited citizens of the United States to denounce people suspected of favouring the Germans. “Report the man who spreads pessimistic stories, divulges - or seeks - confidential military information, cries for peace, or belittles our efforts to win the war. Send the names of such persons, even if they are in uniform, to the Department of Justice, Washington.” 64Closer to home, consider Virginia’s Senator John Warner’s advice given on CNN’s Larry King show on November 7, 2001: “You must think of yourself as an agent, not to spy on your neighbour, but to judiciously report anything that looks suspicious.” 65
What country at war has not drawn up lists of possible spies? Such practices do not prove in any way that there was a will to exterminate part of the population.
How and why did the so-called genocide fax become one of the main elements of the “right and proper tale”. Romeo Dallaire’s fax to his superiors in New York remained more or less confidential until November 1995 when it was mentioned in the London Observer. A copy of it then appeared in a Belgian publication and several questions about it were raised during the inquiry conducted by the Belgian Senate. Though nobody had a copy of the reply from UN headquarters in New York, the contents of the reply were known.
For former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali “that story of the fax is greatly exaggerated. There was not only one fax. Every day the UN would receive faxes saying ‘We heard thereâ€™s a plot afootâ€¦’” He added that if there was a plot afoot, Security Council member countries were much better informed than the UN Secretary General because, unlike the UN, they have intelligence gathering services. “Whatâ€™s more, they refuse to share their information!” 66
Late in 1997 and early in 1998, the United States was being severely criticized for its role in the Rwandan tragedy and in the Congo. Hearings in the French National Assembly and the Belgian Senate led to irritating headlines and pointed attacks on the Clinton Administration. In spring 1998, in Washington, the House Committee on International Relations wanted to question the Administration about Washington’s inaction during the Rwandan tragedy in 1994. Neither the State Department nor the Defence Department deigned to appear at the public hearings held by the House Committee. Their refusal angered members of Congress.
Philip Gourevitch’s fax astoundingly happened to ring at that moment and out came the much sought-after UN reply to General Romeo Dallaire. Gourevitch published his “scoop” in the New Yorker the very week that hearing were being held in Washington about the United States’ role in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Here’s how Gourevitch explained it all. After quoting UN spokesman Fred Eckhard to the effect that the UN was getting “a bum rap on this”, Gourevitch wrote that “Somebody with access to UN files disagreed with Eckhard, and one day my fax machine rang and a copy of the missing …” 67
People have not asked Mr. Gourevitch how and why he happened to receive the missing reply, and he has volunteered to tells us, since it undoubtedly came from his brother-in-law, Jamie Rubin, Madeleine Albright’s senior press attaché and right-hand man.
Jamie Rubin is the man who, in March 1996, Washington asked to devise a plan to prevent Boutros Boutros-Ghali from obtaining a second term as Secretary General of the United Nations. He had contacts in all the major media in Washington and New York and never hesitated to use them to leak information to attack Boutros-Ghali within the UN. His guiding strategy however was to protect and promote Madeleine Albright. 68 Moreover, Jamie Rubin confirmed his tight relationship with Philip Gourevitch to New York Times reporter and author Howard French. In a 1997 press briefing while he was accompanying Madeleine Albright in Rwanda and the former Zaire, he said to French: “Actually a lot of my take comes from an even better source (than US intelligence), and it comes directly. Philip Gourevitch is my sisterâ€™s boyfriend.” 69
The State Department and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were in hot water over Rwanda. The best way to divert the attacks was to pass the buck on to the United Nations and to Boutros-Ghali. At the same time, they could also let Kofi Annan know that he too was on a short leash. Annan after all was responsible for UN peacekeeping operations at the time. The spin given to the fax story was simply that “We in Washington are not guilty of having supported a murderous invading army that has spread death and destruction throughout central Africa. It’s those incompetent UN bureaucrats and especially that Secretary General who did not take the obvious necessary measures to stop those horrible génocidaires from carrying out their evil plans. They did nothing even though they were sitting on unquestionable documentary evidence of a planned genocide. They did not even inform the international community.” This is essentially what Philip Gourevitch wrote in the New Yorker in May 1998.
The strategy used by Washington to hide its own evildoing is tried and proven. In 2002, when it was preparing the war on Irak, Washington launched a similar message: “We don’t want to destroy Irak, take over the country and put in an American puppet. It’s the United Nations resolutions that demanded we do so.”
Washington’s strategy has unfortunately been quite successful even though it does not stand up to analysis. The power of the United Nations is very limited. The CIA alone spends more in ten days than the UN spends in a year: 1.2 billion US dollars. 70 Ramsey Clark points out that “since the end of the Cold War the US so dominant in the UN that it is almost a tool, a small tool, and it has a lot bigger ones like its bombs and its aircraft to get its way around the world”.
In is January 11 fax, Romeo Dallaire reported that according to Jean-Pierre, President Habyarimana did “not have full control over all elements of his old party/faction”. He could, and perhaps should, have written that the president not longer had any control over the country.
Decision-making power for Rwanda was now everywhere but in the hands of Rwandans in Kigali. Between October 1990 and April 6, 1994, foreign powers led by the United States had effectively disempowered Rwandans who had worked for 35 years to build a state apparatus and a society the worked relatively well and met the needs and aspirations of the people of Rwanda.
The so-called donor institutions had decided that the economic model had to be changed. A strong state with an interventionist bent was to become a tiny administrative unit even if it meant social upheaval and loss of power for the Hutu majority. Next came the political model imposed by Western powers even though the country had been invaded under their noses and with their support, and was still occupied by a hostile foreign army. The same powers then forced the Rwandan government to sit down and negotiate the transfer of power to the invading army that represented at best a small minority of the Rwandan population.
Time passed and the occupying army continued to take new land. The civilian population was chased out of their homes. The country, its president and government, and all Rwandans who refused to accept being ruled by the invading army were vilified throughout the world. While the occupying army killed, deported and terrorized the population, right-thinking Europeans and North Americans became international mouthpieces for the attacks and regularly added their own slander. Their words became daggers aimed at the jugular of Rwandan society. Friendly countries turned their backs after thirty years of co-operation and became cozy with the occupying army, soon to be characterized as a beacon of hope for Africa in the new millennium.
By April 1994, on the eve of the president’s assassination, Rwanda was in total disarray. The country’s leaders had no power to decide on their future. The new political parties were in crisis, jockeying for position and influence. The economy was shattered. The war raged on and more than a million people were displaced. Armed groups were everywhere, each establishing its own laws, while the United Nations peacekeeping mission responsible for disarming them could not, or would not, carry out its mandate.
54 Gourevitch, Philip, We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we Will Be Killed with our Families. Stories from Rwanda, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
55 Interview with Faustin Twagiramungu, November 22, 2002.
56 Colonel Luc Marchal, Rwanda : la descente aux enfers, Témoignage d’un peacekeeper, décembre 1993 – avril 1994, Paris Éditions Labor, 2001, pages 165 à 176.
57 Letter from Luc Marchal to Alain de Brouwer written in July 1998 quoted by de Brouwer in a document about the organization of International Christian Democrats and the war in Rwanda, October 2002.
58 James K. Gasana,, op. cit. p. 238.
59 Ibid, p. 232.
60 Africa International, May 2004.
61 Ibid, p. 238.
62 Ibid, p. 237.
63 Commission d’enquête parlementaire concernant les événements du Rwanda, Sénat de Belgique, Friday, May 30, 1997, testimony of Faustin Twagiramungu, former Prime Minister of Rwanda.
64 James R. Mock and Cedric Larson, Words that Won the War. The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1939. See posters pages
65 Fred Jerome, The Einstein File, J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2003.
66 Interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, November 9, 2004.
67 The Genocide Fax, The New Yorker, May 11, 1998, p. ??.
68 Michael Dobbs, Madeleine Albright. A 20th Century Odyssey, Henry Holt & Company, 1999, pages 364-365.
69 Howard French, A Continent for the Taking, Knopf, 2004 p. 243.
70 Ibid. p 365. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali complained that the CIA spent as much every day as the UN in a whole year. Madeleine Albright’s biographer corrected him by pointing out that it was every ten days and not every day.
Chapter 6: It shall be called a plane crash
Important facts can be hidden behind the media and
nobody ever sees them.
Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde Diplomatique
nobody ever sees them.
Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde Diplomatique
How could the Rwandan tragedy have been avoided? The question is often asked, but nobody really seems to want to know? The “right and proper tale” would have it that Rwandan Hutu political and military leaders devised a devilish plan to exterminate the Tutsi minority. If that were true, then the only way to prevent the “genocide” would have been to arrest and imprison all those leaders before April 6, 1994. Such pre-emptive action would obviously have been impossible. It would follow therefore that everything was cast in stone, that the “génocidaires” would carry out their horrible plan and that these tragedies are innate to the societies in which they take place. A thesis like that is particularly hard to accept since it implies that humanity is bereft of means to prevent such tragedies.
It would quite obviously have been possible to prevent Rwanda from being pushed into the advanced state of anarchy it found itself in 1993 and 1994. If we were to assume the contrary, however, it still would have been possible avoid the massacres simply by preventing the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi.
In the evening of April 6, 1994, everybody knew that if it were confirmed that the plane had been shot down, widespread violence would break out, particularly in Rwanda. Prudence Bushnell of the American Embassy in Kigali wrote exactly that to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Washington immediately after learning of President Habyarimana’s death. “If, as it appears, both Presidents have been killed, there is a strong likelihood that widespread violence could break out in either or both countries, particularly if it is confirmed that the plane was shot down.” 71
If the plane had not been shot down, there would have been no massacres! It is as simple as that. Even Alison Des Forges stated as much under oath when cross-examined as an expert witness in Arusha. 72 Looking back now, one gets the sad and troubling impression that those who could have prevented the assassination of the two presidents did absolutely nothing. What’s more, everything has been done to make sure the truth does not come out. The slow but inexorable transformation of that assassination into a simple plane crash is surely one of the worst scandals of our time. When a madman shot at President Chirac on July 14, 2002, the French Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, rightly declared that “when someone shoots at the president it is by no means a trivial news item”. The same could be said about attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981. Moreover, the world took years to recover from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Inquiries have been conducted, books have been written and films have been produced. But when two African presidents were shot down in their plane in an international flight, the international community refused to conduct an investigation and, worse yet, it describes the event as a “plane crash”.
In May 1999, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acting on behalf of the Security Council requested an independent report into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The report issued in December 1999 describes the assassination as follows: “April 6: At approximately 20:30, Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, who were returning from a regional summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were killed in a plane crash just outside the Kigali airport. Within an hour of the plane crash, roadblocks were set up…”. 73
Indictment documents produced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda also calls the assassination a plane crash, as does most of the popular literature on the Rwandan tragedy. The only time this euphemism is not used to describe the terrible criminal act it was, is when the shooting down of the plane is attributed to extremists in President Habyarimana’s own entourage. This explanation has been consistently and convincingly refuted. Those who so faithfully espoused it at first no longer dare to make such accusations. This of course did not prevent Don Murray of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from repeating the accusation with no additional proof in a feature documentary on May 7, 2002. He once again “informed” the audience that “Hutu leaders shot down the presidents and blamed it on the Tutsis.”
To this day, no official international inquiry has been conducted into the assassination. After it happened, French military officers in Kigali met Romeo Dallaire, who as commander of the UN mission in Rwanda was responsible for airport security, and offered to investigate the assassination. France was particularly concerned by the event since the plane belonged to France and French nationals had been killed. Moreover, French investigators were available nearby. General Dallaire refused the French offer saying that he had already discussed the issue with the Americans who were prepared to dispatch an investigating team from its bases in Germany. 74
On April 8, 1994, the Security Council demanded an impartial international inquiry into the assassination. On April 12, the Belgian Cabinet also demanded the International Civil Aviation Organization conduct an investigation into the assassination. On June 25, the Security Council mandated the Secretary General to conduct an inquiry into the assassination. In November 1994, the Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with the mandate to investigate acts of genocide or other serious violations of international human rights law committed on Rwandan territory during the year 1994. In September 1995, Zaire demanded that an inquiry be held into the assassination. In October 1995, Kenyan President Arap Moi demanded an inquiry.
This litany of resolutions prompted Belgian Professor Filip Reyntjens, who has spent his life studying the African Great Lakes Region, to conclude in 1995 that “in fact, nobody seems to really want to know” who assassinated the two Presidents. Reyntjens maintained that all the evidence available tended to incriminate the RPF. 75 Reyntjens however complained that he could not investigate the crime any further. Others have taken up the investigation independently. Charles Onana, an investigative journalist from Cameroon who lives in Paris, published an important book on the question in which he identifies Rwandan President Paul Kagame as suspect number one. 76 His findings were so forceful and convincing that Paul Kagame and Rwanda sued him for defamation and tried to prevent the book from being published. Legal proceedings were eventually dropped when Onana simply refused to be intimidated. This story shows how sensitive the issue of the assassination is and how everything could change completely if an official inquiry were to conclude that the RPF had in fact shot down the president’s plane. Paul Kagame undoubtedly dropped proceedings against Charles Onana because he feared that the truth about the assassination would come out during the trial.
The people who could have helped find the truth have remained silent. Louise Arbour was Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Yugoslavia before becoming judge in the Supreme Court of Canada. She meticulously avoids the question now. She refuses interviews, unless they are for puff pieces vaunting her own achievements as prosecutor. In November 2002, when Ms Arbour was speaking at a public meeting in Paris about the International Criminal Court, she simply refused to answer Charles Onana’s question about the assassination. “I don’t have the right to speak about that issue since the French Judge Bruguière is still conducting his inquiry.” 77 When questioned after speech, she added that in her capacity as Canadian Supreme Court Justice, she cannot discuss such things. Her refusal was of course totally unjustified. Judge Bruguière was mandated to investigate the assassination by France. His work is not related to either the International Criminal Tribunal nor to the Canadian Justice System.
The assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi is still a hot potato for Ms Arbour. She was the one who in 1997 killed the International Tribunal’s only official inquiry conducted by Michael Hourigan, a lawyer from Australia. Michael Hourigan who was working for the Prosecutor’s Office headed by Louise Arbour, concluded that the assassination was most likely sponsored by the current president and strongman of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, the leader of the RPF. Indications were that the RPF was aided by a foreign country. 78 Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour was initially very enthusiastic about the findings until she spoke with United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Two weeks after hearing about Hourigan’s report, Arbour snuffed it out and imposed a gag order on the report’s author. Furthermore, some highly placed members of the RPF who collaborated closely with Paul Kagame have confirmed Hourigan’s conclusions. In public declarations, these people explained how they prepared the assassination with the help of the RPF leader Kagame. 79
In a private interview with Kenyan journalist Ruth Nababkwe after her speech in Paris, Louise Arbour declared that “it is not clear whether the event in question constitutes a crime within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. It is not obvious that the shooting down of the plane carrying the two presidents constitutes in itself a war crime, a crime against humanity or an act of genocide.” She then added that the Tribunal must “prosecute any person implied in a crime that is serious enough to draw the attention of the international community.”
In these unbelievably contemptuous remarks, Louise Arbour gets closer to the truth, namely that assassination of two African presidents has been made into such a trivial and commonplace event that it is not considered a serious enough crime to warrant the attention of Ms. Arbour’s “international community”. Who is responsible for trivializing such a heinous crime? The Belgian peacekeeper who headed the UNAMIR troops at Kigali, Colonel Luc Marchal, answered that question with another question: “Who is powerful enough to have prevented a real international inquiry from casting light upon the events that occurred when President Habyarimana was flying home from a regional summit in Dar Es-Salaam?” 80
Knowing the truth about the assassination of presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira does not appear to be very important for Belgium either. The Belgian Senate held a long series of hearings on the events in Rwanda, and especially on the death of Belgian paratroopers who were accused of shooting down the President’s plane. The Senate did not even bother to discuss the assassination. It would seem that a serious Belgian inquiry would want to investigate that event if only to rule the accusation that its own troops were guilty.
Michael Hourigan’s report for the Tribunal and the French National Assembly’s inquiry both implicate “a foreign country”. Though it would be very interesting to know whether that foreign country is the United States, fundamentally it matters little. If investigations under way were to conclude that the RPF did in fact plan and carry out the assassination, the United States would necessarily be implicated in the crime since it provided the RPF army with unwavering support from 1990 on, and particularly in the period leading up to April 6, 1994. Leaders in the United States are fully aware of this problem, just as they are fully aware that the whole tale that they have so carefully helped to elaborate could be shattered. The crime is now much worse than it was in 1994. First there was the horrible assassination of two African Presidents. Then there is the cover-up with the army Second of accomplices who have carefully allowed the criminals to get away without being prosecuted.
Eight years after demanding an inquiry and after creating the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Boutros Boutros-Ghali is also dumbfounded by silence around the assassination. “Nobody has been able to tell me why no inquiry has been made into that crime,” he complained. When I showed him the official UN report that qualified the shooting down of the plane as a “crash”, he shrugged his shoulders in resignation: “You know, none of these reports are very honest. That’s my opinion. They hide a lot of things. The man responsible for peacekeeping operations at the time of the assassination was Kofi Annan.”
In a subsequent interview about the assassination and following leaks to Le Monde from the Bruguière inquiry, Boutros-Ghali declared: “It is a very mysterious scandal indeed. Four reports have been made on Rwanda: the French Parliament Report, the Belgian Senate Report, Kofi Annan’s UN report, and the Organization of African Unity report. All four say absolutely nothing about the shooting down of the Rwandan President’s plane. That just goes to show the power of the intelligence services that can force people to be quiet.”
The only partial exception is the seven year investigation conducted by the French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière. That investigation implicates current Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front for having planned, ordered and carried out the April 6 assassination. But the silence continues since the Bruguière report has not been officially filed, only having been leaked to Le Monde.
According to Boutros-Ghali there’s much left to be found out. “Judge Bruguière, who I invited to a conference in Monaco, told me that according to his investigation, the CIA was involved in that assassination. However, the Anglo-American intelligence apparatus is much stronger than France’s. Perhaps the French secret service decided that they have no interest in making the Bruguière report public at this time.”
If the CIA was involved in the assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana in April 1994, as the French judge has claimed, then it is easier to understand why the Official Story about the Rwandan tragedy continues to call that terrorist attack an “accident” or a “crash”. Worse still, considering the terrible consequences that go beyond the wildest predictions of any sorcerer’s apprentice, serious questions remain unanswered about the efforts made and means used to erase the tracks leading to the criminals involved in the killing of the two African heads of state and also to misinform and mislead international public opinion about the real causes of the Rwandan tragedy that followed.
71 On August 20, 2001, William Ferrogiaro of the independent National Security Archives published a series of decontrolled/unclassified internal Clinton Administration documents. See Chapter 7 for more details.
72 Transcript of Alison Des Forges’ testimony in the trial of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora.
73 Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, December 15, 1999; authors: Ingvar Carlsson (former Prime Minister of Seden), Professor Han Sung-Joo (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic de Korea) and retired Lieutenant General le Rufus M. Kupolati (Nigeria).
74 Testimony of Roméo Dallaire in Jean-Paul Akayesu’s trial at the ICTR in Arusha.
75 Filip Reyntjens, Trois jours qui ont fait basculer l’histoire, Paris et Tervuren, L’Harmattan et Institut Africain-CEDAF, 1995, pages 46 et 47.
76 Charles Onana, Les secrets du génocide rwandais, Paris, Duboiris, 2002.
77 Speech by Louise Arbour, Paris, November 20, 2002.
78 National Post, Canada, March 1, 2000.
79 Testimony of Jean-Pierre Mugabe, April 25, 2000, The International Strategic Studies Association, Alexandria, Virginia,.
80 Luc Marchal, op. cit., p. 304.
Chapter 7: How is the empire?
We have to go to their schools to learn
how to win even when you are in the wrong.
Cheik Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure
how to win even when you are in the wrong.
Cheik Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure
The behaviour of the United States within the UN Security Council between April 6 and mid-July 1994 was what prompted former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to declare in 1998 that the Americans were 100 percent responsible for the Rwandan genocide. Mr. Boutros-Ghali expanded on that declaration in the interview he granted me in November 2002. “It was the responsibility of the Americans who were aided by England. But the other member states were too passive. Today it is true to say that the United States acts unilaterally. It is a superpower. But in addition, the abdication and resignation of the other powers must be mentioned.”
In his 1999 book entitled Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga, Boutros Boutros-Ghali was categorical: “The U.S. effort to prevent the effective deployment of a UN force for Rwanda succeeded with the strong support of Britain.” 81 The former Secretary General tends to give credence to the two reasons most often given for U.S. opposition to UN action. The first is the Somali fiasco in which 18 soldiers perished. The second is that the Presidential Directive of May 1994, brought down in the middle of the Rwandan crisis, imposed strict conditions on American participation in UN peacekeeping operations. Boutros-Ghali nevertheless pointed out that Madeleine Albright systematically blocked any kind of military intervention in Rwanda even without United States participation.
As long as the internal discussions of the Clinton Administration were not available, both explanations for American opposition to UN action appeared plausible. The waves of horrifying television images also made it difficult to consider anything other than the the propaganda served up by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF’s representatives and allies had managed to win over most of the newsrooms in the major Western media. 82
Colonel Luc Marchal’s observations about the nature of RPF propaganda are particularly revealing. In a letter to another Belgian, Alain de Brouwer, he wrote “I am fully in agreement with your analysis of the RPF’s implication be it before or after the tragedy. I am personally very convinced because I too had been duped by their smart propaganda during the Arusha negotiations. Once I was in Kigali, the gulf that separated what was said and what was really happening became obvious. In fact the RPF movement is totalitarian and it crushes absolutely everything in its way.” 83
Another trusty sign that more was going on in Rwanda than met the eye was the virulent anti-French tone of mainstream American media during the crisis. For example, on May 17, 1994, the Village Voice ran a long article entitled “Rwanda’s French Connection” accusing France of sitting back and letting their Rwandan friends massacre the Tutsis. In fact, at that very moment that article appeared, the United States was doing everything in its power to prevent France from leading an international force that could have stopped the killing and protect both Tutsi and Hutu civilians. For close observers, the behaviour and declarations of international human rights NGOs at the time was also suspicious, and indicated of high level political strategy. Some British organizations began to vocally oppose any United Nations military intervention arguing that only a victory by the invading RPR could end the genocide. For human rights groups, that position was surprising since it was more about geopolitical positioning than humanitarianism. In hindsight, though, one wonders if all such groups should be allowed to use so freely the “non-governmental” label.
At the same time in May 1994, The Economist, whose connections with foreign policy makers in Washington and London are unequalled, called for a clear victory by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. “In the short run, the best hope of peace and of survival for those Tutsis left alive would probably be a quick victory in war for the RPF.” 84 It is all so simple and obvious to understand. Why has their been so much fretting and wringing of hands about the “international community’s” slow reaction to horror in Rwanda?
Policy makers in Washington and London had a simple straight-forward strategy. Why allow a United Nations-sanctioned military intervention that would hand the initiative over to others, and specifically to France? The net result would be that “our boys” in the RPF would be prevented from taking power decisively. We just have to help them win the war and they will be indebted to us forever. They’ll guarantee us access to the whole region and keep it stable for years to come. They just have to win quickly. Will many people be killed? Sure they will, but not too many.
This policy had already been introduced in February 1994 when the same Anglo-American tandem had opposed reinforcing the UN military mission known as UNAMIR. At the end of March 1994, UNAMIR was still far short of troops. It reached a maximum of 2500 whereas both the Rwandan Government and the invading RPF had agreed that a minimum of 4500 troops was required. Two weeks after President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, with war at its worst and many civilians being killed, the same two permanent members of the UN Security Council with Belgium’s help forced the United Nations to scale back the UNAMIR force to 270 soldiers as of April 21, 1994.
Since August 2001, formerly classified internal Clinton Administration documents have been made available following a Freedom of Information Act request made by the independent National Security Archive. 85 These memorandums, telegrams, working papers, reports and briefing documents confirm the worst apprehensions about how a superpower develops and applies a foreign policy in which its own strategic interests take precedence over the lives and the peace of a country, its people and whole regions of Africa. Reading them makes one even more cynical about the hollow apologies made by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in December 1997 and by President Clinton in March 1998.
The Administration was fully aware of the magnitude of the tragedy that was about to unfold. On April 11, five days after the president’s plane was shot down and after Prudence Bushnell specifically warned Warren Christopher about the imminent “widespread violence”, a Pentagon memorandum to Under Secretary of Defense Frank Wisner, who was third in charge, warns that “unless both sides can be convinced to return to the peace process, a massive (hundreds of thousands of deaths) bloodbath will ensue… In addition, millions of refugees will flee into neighbouring Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire.”
Even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops. That was the priority. A State Department telegram dated April 15 gave specific orders to this effect to the United States mission at the UN and to Ambassador Madeleine Albright. “USUN [United States UN mission] is instructed to inform UN Security Council colleagues that the United States believes that the first priority of the Security Council is to instruct the Secretary general to implement an orderly withdrawal of all/all UNAMIR forces from Rwanda..” 86 The United States mission is also instructed to ensure the withdrawal takes place without discussion and without another Security Council resolution. The priority was not to bring about a cease-fire as was being offered at that very moment by representatives of the Rwandan armed forces.
During this period, American diplomats busied themselves as official RPF messengers for the RPF, delivering its demands to Rwandan government and army officials. The accounts of conversations between diplomats and Rwandan officials reveal the imperial nature of the relationship between the Americans and their Rwandan counterparts. They could best be described as orders, not advice. When Rwandan Government and Army representatives tried to meet the demands transmitted by the Americans, particularly with regards to a cease-fire, they were casually told to go and talk to Dallaire about it. As we know, however, Dallaire had lost or was losing all his troops and any effective role he might have had in Rwanda.
The documents also show that the United States supported an RPF victory, that they wanted to be quick, even though it was known that the RPF represented at best only a small minority of the Rwandan population. Furthermore, a Defense Intelligence Agency document asserts that Rwandan Government forces had no real intention of exterminating the Tutsis, an assertion that starkly contradicts the right and proper tale told ever since.
The Clinton Administration navigated cynically around the word ‘genocide’ throughout this period. Though it is debatable whether they were right or wrong, Pope Jean-Paul II, UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, and many others used the word genocide to describe events in Rwanda by the end of April 1994. Washington however meticulously avoided using the term until June 10. If the Americans had begun talking about genocide with the others they would have been obliged to support a UN-sponsored military intervention in Rwanda. That of course would have prevented the RPF winning the war, and scuttled Washington’s long-term strategy. For example, a Defense Department discussion paper on Rwanda dated May 1, 1994, warned Administration representatives against using of the term ‘genocide’. “Be careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday – Genocide finding could commit US Government to actually ‘do something’”.
Other unclassified documents show how the Clinton Administration started adjusting its position when it saw that NGO human rights organizations, who had been crying genocide since 1993, could be used to the United States’ advantage. The changes started occurring just before a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Little by little thereafter the word became the leitmotif of US policy in Rwanda. Since the Administration was counting on a quick RPF victory, the increased use of the term ‘genocide’, which falsely described the situation as the Hutu majority hating and exterminating the innocent Tutsi minority, became the best way to enhance the image of the RPF and bring international opinion to believe that only the Hutu-dominated Rwandan Government forces were guilty of this horrible crime. Moreover, the same unclassified documents prove the Clinton Administration adopted this strategy even though they were in possession of reliable reports and information about massive killing and violence carried out by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
A spokesperson for Secretary of State Warren Christopher used the expression “acts of genocide” for the first time on June 10, 1994, but only after the US had managed to impose a military embargo on Rwanda. The RPF on the other hand had no difficulty bringing weapons, ammunition and fighters into Rwanda through Uganda. Though the United States reluctantly agreed upon the creation of a second United Nations military mission to Rwanda known as UNAMIR II on May 17 that was to reach 5500 troops, they delayed its deployment until the war was over.
The United States finally agreed to a Security Council resolution authorizing the French Opération Turquoise deployed on June 22, 1994. That operation was conceived to create a “secure humanitarian zone” for two months. By this time the term ‘genocide’ had received the blessing of the Clinton Administration. It therefore became easy to depict the French operation as an effort by France to protect its “génocidaire” friends. Ever since, the English-language media has joyfully stigmatized that operation as French colonial support for genocide even though it effectively saved many Rwandan lives.
The shooting down of the plane on April 6 triggered the tragedy in Rwanda, but the RPF had already prepared to resume the war much earlier. RPF sources now claim that they had 4000 armed fighters in Kigali, yet under the Arusha accords all weapons in the area were supposed to be deposed and collected by the UNAMIR. Even before President Habyarimana’s plan was shot down, RPF troops had started marching on Kigali. In the capital city, the RPF positioned its troops for combat during the night of April 6 and by 3pm the next day they launched their first attack against the Rwandan Armed Forces. The Rwandan Patriotic Front had clearly the broken the Arusha peace agreement and started the war again.
These unclassified documents also help to understand Romeo Dallaire’s behaviour during the tragedy in Rwanda and afterwards. His appointment as commander of the UN mission had already helped reduce France’s role in that part of Africa. Then in 1994, when Paris was about to launch Opération Turquoise by virtue of a Security Council resolution, General Dallaire publicly opposed the operation, saying that he approved the presence of French-speaking African troops, but not of French troops. Again in August 1994, Dallaire spoke out against extending the mandate of Opération Turquoise in Rwanda. He also threatened to resign if the UNAMIR troops were put under French command. 87
In an interview with a United Nations official during the same period, Roméo Dallaire declared: “If they land here to deliver their damn weapons to the government, I’ll have their planes shot down”. 88 When a commander of a peace-keeping mission created by the Security Council dares to threaten a permanent member of the Security Council in this manner, he must know that he can count on friends in high places such as among other permanent Security Council members. It is not surprising therefore that France tried to remove Dallaire as commander of the UN mission?
Gilbert Ngijol who was Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh’s assistant does not mince his words: “Dallaire was very close to the RPF. He got involved not only in military issues but also in all political issues which were Booh-Booh’s responsibility as the Secretary General’s political envoy. By insisting that he co-sign all memos with Booh-Booh, Dallaire ensured that he would oversee all messages the political envoy would send.”
During the night of April 6, 1994, General Dallaire was invited by a group of Rwandan military officers to discuss the next steps to be taken following the death of the President and the chief of staff of the Rwandan armed forces, Colonel Déogratias Nsabimana who was also in the plane. There was talk of having Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana address the population on Rwandan radio. Madame Uwilingiyimana was a member of the opposition MDR party and many were opposed because she was perceived as a relentless opponent of President Habyarimana who had just been killed. Her intervention on national radio would be seen as a provocation and would make things worse. Nevertheless, the next day UNAMIR troops under Dallaire’s orders took Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana to the radio station to address the Rwandan people. She was assassinated during this operation.
Who gave Romeo Dallaire the right to make political and constitutional decisions of this nature concerning the future of Rwanda? Was he now a Rwandan constitutional expert? Was he acting on his own or was he carrying out orders? When Romeo Dallaire refused the April 7 offer from French officers to investigate the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane and stated that he had already discussed the issue with the Americans, was he acting on his own or was he carrying out orders? If in these two cases, the answer is that he was receiving orders, where were they coming from? Was it General Maurice Baril, the head of peace-keeping operations and Dallaire’s superior at UN headquarters, who was instructing Dallaire. And if so, who was telling Maurice Baril what was to be done?
These very important questions remain unanswered. Each time Romeo Dallaire appears officially at hearings or in courts, the content of his testimony is so carefully censored that it is impossible to get to any of the important details. General Dallaire refused all my requests for an interview. According to his lawyer, he was writing a book on the subject that is scheduled to appear in the fall of 2003. My written requests for written answers to these questions were simply ignored. In the name of history and the truth, he must answer those questions.
“General Dallaire, did you decide on your own that Ms. Agathe Uwilingiyimana should address Rwandans on Radio-Rwanda on the morning of April 7, 1994? If not, who made that decision?”
Dallaire’s book came out in fall 2003 and has won many prizes, including Canada’s Governor General’s award. However, none of these questions is answered. Dallaire also maintains the silence about the April 6 assassination.
These questions are important, but the answers have become somewhat academic considering the Americans’ determination to see the RPF win a decisive victory. Unless Romeo Dallaire and Maurice Baril can prove the contrary, it can be concluded that both Baril et Dallaire were simply operatives carrying out decisions made at higher levels based on strategic considerations that are becoming clearer everyday.
Romeo Dallaire’s erratic behaviour in the years following his stint in Rwanda stem more likely from his being compelled to lie about the tragic events in Rwanda in 1994 than from any form of shellshock. It would appear that Romeo Dallaire had a difficult time learning the “art of winning when you are in the wrong” as Cheik Hamidou Kane wrote in his classic novel “Ambiguous Adventure”. It would also appear that General Maurice Baril had little trouble with the art of winning when you are in the wrong. He behaved the same way during the refugee crisis in Zaire/Congo in November 1966 (see chapter 14). For services that Maurice Baril rendered in Africa, and particularly in Rwanda, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien rewarded Maurice Baril by appointing him Chief of staff of the Canadian Armed Forces on September 24, 1997.
81 Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga, Random House, p. 138.
82 Some notable exceptions should be mentioned. Africa International
83 Letter from Luc Marchal to Alain de Brouwer, July 1998. The letter is quoted in an October 2002 document on the Interationale démocrate chrétienne and the war in Rwanda. Note that Luc Marchal met the famous “Jean-Pierre” shortly after arriving in Rwanda at a time when using his own words he was still “duped by their (the RPF’s) smart propaganda’.
84 “Rwanda: The Art of Death”, The Economist, May 28, 1994.
85 August 20, 2001, William Ferrogiaro of National Security Archive, published the documents on the Internet. See website:http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB53/.
86 Ibid. Document uncontrolled on November 18, 1998.
87 Jacques Castonguay, Les Casques bleus au Rwanda, pages 185 à 190.
88 Gérard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis. History of a Genocide, Columbia, 1995, p. 287.
Chapter 8: Into the Heart of Dark Imaginations
“We were simply saying that culture was more important than
politics, and that the slave trade could be explained,
first and foremost, by the cultural contempt.”
Léopold Sédar Senghor, On the Origins of Negritude.
politics, and that the slave trade could be explained,
first and foremost, by the cultural contempt.”
Léopold Sédar Senghor, On the Origins of Negritude.
For centuries Africa has provided fertile soil for the growth and blossoming of the European imagination. It has also been a powerful source of popular literature of all genres. Ship captains, explorers, slave traders and pirates have recounted their adventures. Stanley and Livingstone and others wrote of their travels. Early anthropologists wrote learned treatises, though we now know that there was nothing scientific about their work. Non-fiction tended to dominate until the middle of the nineteenth century when novelists began drawing their inspiration from Africa. This type of literature continued to grow in the twentieth century before, during and after the upheaval that occurred has Africans liberated themselves from colonial rule.
Any body of literature of this magnitude inevitably develops a set of conventions, images, and metaphors. Fortunately, writers and researchers, including many Africans, have studied and analyzed that literature, first to identify the ideologies and the prejudice therein that allowed Europe - and America - to exploit and rape Africa and Africans with impunity for four hundred years, and secondly to determine whether or not the same prejudice pervades modern literature. Among the best known and most eloquent of these are Chinua Achebe, Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Ishmael Reed, to name only a few. In France, Pascal Blanchard and Nicolas Bancel have also researched and published the images of empire as reflected in posters and photography. 89One of the most systematic works published on this question is the well titled The Africa that Never Was, Four Centuries of British Writing about Africa. 90
The book presents the results of Dorothy Hammond’s and Alta Jablow’s in-depth study of more than 500 British publications, fiction and non-fiction, dating from 1560 to 1960. The authors conclude that a literary tradition was developed in Europe and America and that that tradition informs most popular literature on Africa. Though their detailed study focuses on British literature, the authors maintain that, except for a few subtle differences, the same tradition holds for all Western literature.
Hammond and Jablow showed that fantasies and myths from past centuries developed into a set of awe- and dread-inspired conventions and images from which novelists, travel writers and essayists draw their inspiration to tell their tales. The conventions are so ingrained that they even withstand powerful changes in political sensitivities such as antiracism and anti-colonialism. New sensitivities and new political concerns sometimes force writers to do literary gymnastics, but more often than not they simply become a new matrix in which writers further develop the images and metaphors based on fantasies of bygone days. Novelists differ from non-fiction writers only in the measure of their unbridled imaginations.
Hammond and Jablow conclude that the literary image of Africa is a fantasy of a continent and a people that never was and never could have been. Nonetheless, when an image is constantly repeated it becomes the substance itself. European ethnocentrism is the constant and unifying theme of this literary convention. “Ethnocentrism created and preserved until today a persistent fantasy: the civilized Briton in confrontation with savage Africans in an Africa that never was.” 91
The subject of European perceptions of Africa cannot be addressed without mention being made of Joseph Conrad whose name is intimately linked with Africa, especially in the English-speaking world. Conrad and his novella Heart of Darkness, published in 1902 when Europe’s so-called civilizing mission in Africa was reaching a peak, seems to be a necessary reference for all people who write about Africa, and specifically about Central Africa. Conrad quotes are de rigueur in all popular literature. These writers may be trying to be cute or erudite, despite the fact that anybody who has taken first-year English has read Heart of Darkness. I submit however that modern writers simply do not have the excuse that Conrad himself had. He was writing at a time when colonialism was at its height and was widely considered to be a good idea. So any prejudice in his work was common stock. Now that is not the case.
92 Is it too much to ask that modern writers take into account the searing criticisms of Conrad’s work and especially those written by African writers before they use him to tell their stories and illustrate their opinions? The fact that they do not consider those who have rejected Conrad is a telling sign of where they are coming from.
Chinua Achebe does not mince his words about Conrad. In his opinion, Heart of Darkness is a thoroughly racist book “which parades in the most vulgar fashion the prejudices and insults from which a section of mankind has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past and continues to do so in many ways and many places today.”
The main problem of Conrad’s novella according to Achebe is the “dehumanization of Africa and Africans”. Achebe asserts that “the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.” In the following quote, he highlights the very troubling aspect of Heart of Darkness, namely the terrifying thought that Africans were human and even relatives of Europeans, though somewhat remote.
The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there - there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were - No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it - this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity - like yours - the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough. 93
Conrad’s defenders would insist that it was Marlow’s attitude and not Conrad’s that is described in this passage and others. Conrad’s prejudice however comes out clearly in other works. The tale he told about his first encounter with a Black man should remove any doubts that, as Achebe bluntly put it, “Conrad had a problem with niggers”. “A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my (Conrad’s) conception of blind, furious, unreasoned rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards.” 94
Conrad is one of the most studied writers in the English language. He and his work embody Europe’s and America’s vision of Africa. Adverse criticism of Conrad, like that of Chinua Achebe, abounds and is well known. Because of his racism some schools in the United States have stopped teaching Conrad in their literature courses. It is surprising therefore that so many writers continue to use him as a crutch when they are writing about Africa. He is regularly quoted, paraphrased, used as a starting point. Writers compare themselves to him and borrow his images. It would appear that the prejudice towards Africa and Africans contained in his work has permeated so deeply in Western consciousness that it is not even noticed.
Let us return now to the literary tradition identified by Hammond and Jablow. They identified a series of metaphors that describe the African continent and its inhabitants on the one hand, and the relationship between Europeans and Africans on the other. Each of the metaphors is constructed by the whole body of literature of past centuries.
The most common metaphor they identified is that of the “abysmal gulf” that separates Africa from Europe. Everything African is light years away from Europe: the land, the people, the animals, the vegetation, the institutions, the beliefs and more. Attempts to bridge the gulf are all in vain and are doomed to fail. People are even attributed the qualities and the flaws of the African land mass: wild, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable… The literature abounds in descriptions of the beauty and majesty of African landscape, but these descriptions are used as relief to emphasize the contrast with the evil and horror that pervades the continent.
Africa and Africans are impervious to change and improvements that Europeans have brought. Though some may well have tried to adopt the institutions such as Christianity, European political systems, constitutional rule, and clothing, they have never really succeeded. These efforts have only resulted in pale copies that are beneath contempt for Europeans and that cannot withstand the powerful innate forces of Africa. For example, for a very long time the term “African King” was considered to be an oxymoron, since there were no kings, only despots. The same reasoning applies to African religions, which were no more than superstition, and to polygamy, which was institutionalized lust.
Their languages, cultures and beliefs made Africans a different order of humanity, an order that is incomprehensible to Europeans. Just as Africans could not be understood by Europeans, the same holds in the other direction: Africans cannot understand Europeans.
Another common metaphor is that of the “dark labyrinth”. Africa is mysterious. It threatens but it also enchants. Death and violence are everywhere. Africa’s soil is blood-soaked. Africans are unconscious victims of their own instincts and imbecility. From the earliest contacts between Europeans and Africans, the descriptions of violence and death have been horrific and presented with the most lurid details. Unlike historical accounts of the bloody wars that tore Europe apart, none of the accounts of similar battles in Africa offers the least social, economic, political or institutional explanation. Africans simply like to kill. They cannot help but do it.
African religion, even after Christianity was adopted, is fundamentally phallic, inspired by fear, fertility and blood. Descriptions of religion are inevitably embellished with examples of cruelty, bloodthirstiness and, of course, cannibalism. Images of cannibalism were particularly popular at the end of the nineteenth century, perfectly timed to legitimate Europe’s civilizing mission, but they never really disappeared from the literature.
In the “dark labyrinth”, Africans are only body and instinct. They are incapable of abstract thinking, and cannot make the link between cause and effect. When Europeans venture into the labyrinth, they do so to test character or to find answers about their own identity or about life and death.
In their research, Hammond and Jablow identified three other recurring metaphors, one of which is that of Africa the “strange woman”. She draws the European to her only to trap him. This metaphor allows European writers to explore their own fantasies about Africa, but it also reveals their own perception of the relationship between the Western world and Africa. The two other metaphors identified are Africa “the land in amber” and “the antagonist”.
In the following pages, it will be shown that this literary tradition is still powerful, persistent and, unfortunately, altogether too pervasive in the modern popular literature on Rwanda. Generally speaking, long quotes from earlier works are avoided. Other writers have quoted them with rigour and at length and their research is easily accessible.
Modern writers on Rwanda, though predictably politically correct, sometimes make efforts to break with the tradition by using a cleansed legalistic vocabulary. They liken the Rwandan tragedy to past events upon which a general agreement has been reached, such as Nazi Germany, Nuremberg and the Holocaust, or by proclaiming loud and strong their opposition to colonialism. Like old habits, however, the tradition dies hard. In fact, it so permeates these books that it has become their very substance. One might even think that use of the tradition is a necessary condition for the successful marketing of the books.
I have chosen four writers. Their books on Rwanda have won many awards and have been widely praised. They have sold well and are widely quoted as trustworthy sources. They are the foundations of the “right and proper tale” about Rwanda. Though the four writers come from four different nations - though Québec is not independent, culturally it is a different nation than Canada - the national subtleties that distinguish them are but dust on the bedrock of the popular literary tradition.
Philip Gourevitch, from the United States, published a non-fictional book entitled We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Stories from Rwanda. He is a staff writer at The New Yorker in which he also published articles about Rwanda. Gourevitch was also very close to the United States Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright. Gourevitch’s brother-in-law Jamie Rubin was Ms Albright’s senior political attaché and head of communications. His book won many awards and was a “New York Times Editors’ Choice”.
The second book, from Canada, is also non-fiction. It is entitled The Lion, The Fox and The Eagle, A Story of Generals and Justice in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Its author Carol Off is a television journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Ms Off also did some television reporting on the Rwandan tragedy and events that followed.
The third book, a novel, comes from Quebec and first appeared in French. Sunday at the pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche, published in 2000 won awards and much praise. Gil Courtemanche is a well known Quebec journalist who describes his book as follows: “This novel is fiction. But it is also a chronicle and eyewitness report”. The novel was a best seller in Québec and has been widely distributed in Europe. It is also being made into a movie.
The fourth book, Rwanda: Histoire d’un génocide, by the Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman was instrumental in the development of the new paradigm imposed on Central Africa since it was published only months after the Rwandan Patriotic Front took power in 1994. It is not surprising that the author is Belgian. Though Belgium does not wield the power it once did, it still boasts an abundance of “experts” that give the impression of power. Many others defer to the Belgian “experts” in recognition of the former mother country’s supposed historical ascendancy. Ms Braeckman is a prolific and high-profile reporter with the Brussels daily Le Soir and with Le Monde diplomatique. Ms Braeckman has published other books since her 1994 book. Word has it that her position on the Rwandan Patriotic Front has changed since that first book appeared and that she now favours the return of the Rwandan monarchy. Though she may have changed, the effect of her 1994 book cannot be erased.
89 Nicolas BANCEL, Pascal BLANCHARD, Francis DELABARRE, Images d’empire 1930-1960, Éditions de la Martinière/La Documentation française, 1997; BANCEL ET BLANCHARD, De l’indigène à l’immigré, Gallimard, 1998.
90 Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow, The Africa That Never Was : Four Centuries of British Writing About Africa, Twayne Publishers, inc. New York (1970).
91 Ibid. p 18.
92 Achebe, Chinua, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Contrad’s Heart of Darkness.”, New York: Doubleday, 1989, pp 1-20.
93 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness,
94 In Achebe, op. cit. p. 13.
Chapter 9: Power to those who have it! - Philip Gourevitch
It is on the Anglo-American race that the hope
of the world for liberty and progress rest..
David Livingstone 95
of the world for liberty and progress rest..
David Livingstone 95
“Power largely consists in the ability to make others inhabit your story of their reality.” That is Philip Gourevitch’s definition of power, and that is the power he feels endowed with as he travels through the hills, across the lakes, in and out of the cities and towns of Rwanda, Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania, Europe and the United States, chronicling his adventures and opininions in a pompously titled book We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Stories from Rwanda. 96
More than any other book on Rwanda, Gourevitch’s Stories reeks of power. By namedropping he makes it clear that he had privileged access to many of the main players in the Rwandan tragedy, including Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and all the United States ambassadors in the area. Doors were opened so wide for him that in 1997 in the former Zaire he was the one who, with the blessing of Rwandan and Ugandan troops, discovered compromising papers in the late Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko’s palace in Goma. More important it seems though was his discovery of what he calls “the Big Man’s diapers” which he takes pains to describe so that he can heap even more scorn on him and, at the same time, on all post-colonial African leaders for whom Mobutu was supposedly the paragon.
Gourevitch is close to power and he has style, but neither enables him to escape the popular literary tradition that hatched during slavery and colonialism. In fact, his proximity to power and his style lead him further into the worst manifestations of that tradition.
Ever since the Europeans, and especially the British, set foot in Africa, they have held the kings, chiefs and leaders in total contempt and systematically displayed their contempt in their literature. By so doing, they were able to convince themselves of their own moral and cultural superiority and justify their so-called civilizing mission. Showing contempt for African chiefs and leaders is an insidious but effective way of showing contempt for all Africans. After all, what human beings would ever accept to live under such despots? Even the slave traders and slave owners could stand tall since they too were liberating the Africans from the tyrants. Among this grisly assortment of chiefs, the Europeans were always able to find one or two “good” ones, but they earned their good graces only because they were ready to march to the European drum. The chosen “good” chiefs could expect to be treated with the courtesy due to anybody who remained faithful and in line and respected his rank.
Since Gourevitch knew he was close to real power - the administration of “the greatest power on earth” as he likes to gloat - and because he is from the United States where good always prevails, he pushes the old “good-chief bad-chief” tradition to new limits. He identifies a few good chiefs and lauds their goodness to the point that one wonders why they have not yet won a Nobel Prize. In contrast, the others, who make up the vast majority, are necessarily “bad”, but not just bad like hardened criminals, but bad like evil, bewitched, incomprehensible, bordering on the inhuman.
The two African leaders to receive Gourevitch’s blessings are predictably Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda, and Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and number one supporter of the RPF ever since on the October 1990 invasion of Rwanda. Blessing is an understatement: Gourevitch waxes hagiographic. Paul Kagame, for instance, is a man who “always sounded so soothingly sane… a man of rare scope - a man of action with an acute human and political intelligence”. 97 His grandeur is awe inspiring. He is one of the best military strategists of our time. “He was an intensely private man; not shy - he spoke his mind without bluster. A neat dresser, married, a father of two, he was said to like dinner parties, dancing and shooting pool, and he was a regular on the tennis courts at Kigali’s Cercle sportif”. A description like that could appear in the personal ad section of a paper serving New York’s Upper East Side. Carried away by his own eloquence, and aware of the people in the United States he wanted to convince, Gourevitch found that he could not help thinking of another “tall skinny civil warrior, Abraham Lincoln”. That of course is a hard comparison to beat.
The other good chief, Yoweri Museveni, is a pragmatic man of enormous energy. He possesses a “frontiersman’s inventiveness” and is a champion of free enterprise with an “everyman look that is part of his appeal”. When he speaks and when he writes it is “lucid, blunt, and low on bombast”. He attacks corruption and bad governance in Africa. He defers to the European by saying that Africa’s problems are African. He reads all the latest good American books. He assiduously promotes new products such as a toothpaste developed in the Ugandan backcountry. He understands the genesis and superiority of the “great democracies” and places African evolution somewhere between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries. For Gourevitch, on the other hand, African evolution is somewhere near the end of the Middle Ages in Europe. As a reward for all Museveni has said and done, Gourevitch also gratifies him with a flattering comparison to another mythical American hero: he is like George Washington. Who could dislike a man of that stature?
It goes without saying that such high-calibre military and political leaders can only have armies that are “disciplined, polite and benevolent”, who have “ideas of right and wrong”. They develop “efficient” political and social institutions. In a nutshell, these two countries with two “good” chiefs give promise and hope to a continent that, according to Gourevitch, has little of each. The author’s two “good” Africans and their armies are given moral standards and behaviour that must surely be the envy of other modern American commanders like Norman Scharzkopf, Colin Powell or Tommy Franks.
The unequalled “goodness” of Gourevitch’s two favourites dramatizes the total abjectness of all the other African leaders. President Habyarimana and his entourage are made to be in constant communication with demons and “in concert with the occult”. The author gleefully mocks the Habyarimana family’s difficulties in giving the late president a proper funeral following the assassination on April 6, 1994. It is a laughing matter for Gourevitch that Habyarimana’s remains were transferred first from Kigali to Eastern Zaire and then to Kinshasa before being laid to rest. On the other hand, Gourevitch remains suspiciously silent about the assassination that triggered the beginning of the tragedy, except when he infers that President Habyarimana and his inner circle had plotted their own death.
When Gourevitch is not busy describing the dying Mobutu’s diapers - he could have told us about the diapers of other dying leaders like Ronald Reagan or the Queen Mother, or even his own parents - he holds forth about the “mint black” colour of his Mercedes, the shininess of his Land Rover, his bath oils and Jacuzzis. Why does he not also describe the bath oils and the cars used by Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright during their much praised sweep through Africa with stopovers in Rwanda and Arusha, Tanzania?
Gourevitch’s contempt reaches a peak in his treatment of the two Hutu presidents of Burundi who were assassinated respectively on October 21,1993, and April 6, 1994. Though their assassinations were watershed events, Gourevith does not deign to name either of them. They remain the unknown and unnamed assassinated presidents. Dead or alive, Melchior Ndadaye and Cyprien Ntaryamira simply do not fit into “the story of their reality” that Gourevitch wants to make Rwandans and other Africans inhabit. They will not go down in the history according to Philip Gourevitch.
There is method in the oversimplification of good versus bad in Gourevitch’s book, just as there was in earlier times and earlier books. By focussing on Mobutu’s diapers and limousines and on Habyarimana’s funeral or lack thereof, the author is simply reinforcing the image of the wonderful renaissance the leaders he has blessed are supposedly bringing about. He makes it into the symbolic burying of the post-colonial leadership, the supposed generation of corrupt despots who rose out of a mafia-like culture. To the very last one, they are “predatory”, “monomaniacal” leaders. This generation is being replaced by those Gourevitch has anointed as liberators and thinkers, namely Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni. The assassinated presidents of Burundi do not get named so that they will not cast shadows on the two anointed leaders, Kagame and Museveni, who, in fact, were very likely implicated in the assassinations. (For the record, this concealment is contagious: neither Gil Courtemanche nor Carol Off bother to name the Burundian president assassinated on April 6, 1994.)
The “good-chief bad-chief” formula also enables Gourevitch to put colonial and post-colonial Africa on an equal footing in terms of injustice and hardship foisted upon Africans. For instance he describes the war in Rwanda and the war that followed in Zaire/Congo as a “decolonization process”. To bolster his case, Gourevitch surprisingly refers to V.S. Naipaul and his complaints about African “post-colonial mimic men”, leaders that supposedly reproduce the abuses they rebelled against. One wonders if by citing Naipaul, Gourevitch also endorses that writer’s racism which, despite his Nobel Prize, has been roundly denounced by African and African American writers, including Chinua Achebe and Ishmael Reed. 98 It is outrageous for a writer to use such a thinly disguised reference to monkeys (mimic men) in a book meant to help understand a modern tragedy in Africa? Gourevitch is supposed to be a well-informed writer. Does he not know that Naipaul has declared that Blacks were “the most stupid, primitive, lazy, dishonest, and violently aggressive people in the world”? 99
The theme of the equivalent evils, the two sides of the same coin, the two old mentalities represented by the thirty-five years of African independence and the seventy-five years of colonialism is recurrent in Gourevitch’s Stories. Once again there is method in his madness: he thereby minimizes the crimes of colonialism, absolves their perpetrators and successors of those crimes and, most of all, absolves them of any responsibility in current catastrophes.
Another literary convention pervading his Stories is that of the “abysmal gulf” separating Africa from the United States. This convention helps the author to enhance the image of the anointed “good chiefs” who operate in such horrible situations and to justify the unjustifiable acts they commit.
Gourevitch sets the stage in the first paragraph of the first page of his first Story. He tells of a meeting with three drunken soldiers whose eyes “glowed the color of blood oranges” - all eyes seem to be bloodshot in books on Rwanda - and a pygmy from the jungle who was also drunk. The pygmy hates everything around him and only wants to marry a white woman because, according to the pygmy, “only a white woman can understand my universal principle or Homo sapiens”. 100 Under no circumstances could he marry a black woman. Gourevitch concludes the story proclaiming his belief in African humanity. But who in the world is questioning African humanity if it is not Gourevitch himself?
The author punctuates the opening story with a statement of mission which he borrows - oh surprise - from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Gourevitch’s mission, or point of departure, is to soothe people’s imaginations just as Conrad’s hero Marlow had requested when he returned from penetrating dark Africa. When Marlow’s aunt in London insisted on helping him get better, Marlow said “It was not my strength that needed nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing”. It should be remembered what tortured Marlow’s, and Conrad’s, imagination was “the thought of their humanity - like yours - the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough.”
It would be difficult to imagine a more effective way of widening the gulf in the American readers’ minds between them and Africa than Gourevitch’s four-page introductory story with the pygmy.
As the saying goes, the tongue ever turns to the aching tooth. Judging by the number of times Gourevitch’s tongue turns to the question of African humanity, he must be terribly troubled by that question. (Only Gil Courtemanche in Sunday at the pool in Kigali equals him). In the praise for his book the publisher prepares the reader by saying that Philip Gouvervitch “risked life and safety to bring dark truths to a world reluctant to know them… he raises the human banner in hell’s mouth, the insignia of common sense, of quiet moral authority.”
The two conventions - good chiefs winning out over the bad ones, and the “abysmal gulf” - are the mould into which Gourevitch pours the observations and fantasies of an intrepid American investigator sent to faraway lands and the deliberations of the supreme American court of morals. It all leads to the obvious conclusion that good will defeat evil.
The totally unwarranted massacres committed by the army of the Rwandan Patriotic Front against civilians in the Kibeho camp in April 1995 101 are made to be regrettable incidents that resemble those that occurred as General Sherman led the Union army to defeat the Confederates in the American Civil War, or during the liberation of France and Italy from the Nazis. Yes errors may have occurred but that does not make the cause less noble. The Rwandan and Ugandan invasion of Zaire/Congo in October and November 1996, the bombing of refugee camps and the forced return to Rwanda become justice and truth in action. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda becomes a valiant and noble attempt to bring the Nuremberg model to a continent where the rule of law and public morals are established at best by criminals, if not by demons themselves.
The Stories end like a bad Western. President Clinton lands in Africa in 1998 shortly after his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid a visit. Both apologize for the international community’s slow reaction to such a horrible genocide and solemnly promise to restore the truth and see to it that people who do not share their views will be put in their place.
On the second last page of the book, Gourevitch first fawns to President Clinton, “as the voice of the greatest power on earth, he had come to Kigali to set the record straight.” Then he gives the microphone to a Hutu who says: “Here was a politician who had nothing at stake, and who told the truth at his own expense.” The concluding words are left to a Tutsi: “Maybe you have to live somewhere far away like the White House to see Rwanda like that.”
All that’s missing is the sunset and the Marlboro cigarettes!
95 David LIVINGSTONE, Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries; and of the discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, New York, 1866, p. 725, in Hammond and Jablow, op. cit. p. 54
96 Philip GOUREVITCH, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Stories from Rwanda, Picador USA, 1998.
97 Gourevitch, op. cit. p. 225.
98 Chinua ACHEBE, Home and Exile, Oxford, 2000, pp. 84-91.
99 India West, April 25, 1980, in Ishmael REED, Writin’ is Fightin’, Atheneum,1988, p. 212.
100 GOUREVITCH, op. cit. p. 12.
101 The Kibeho massacre occurred from April 18 through April 23, 1995, in what the RPF called Operation Homeward. International observers and many soldiers in the UNAMIR II witnessed the killing and saw troops burying bodies of civilians as soon as they killed them. 8000 internal Rwandan refugees were killed during this operation. The RPF Government reported that 350 people had died. See description in Jacques Castonguay, Les Casques bleus au Rwanda, L’Harmattan, pp. 219-231.
Chapter 10: The importance of being Canadian - Carol Off
“Imperialists: All honest, polite, peaceable, charming people”
Gustave Flaubert, The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas
Gustave Flaubert, The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas
Carol Off’s essay The Lion, The Fox and the Eagle102 attempts to analyze, appraise and define the role of Canada and Canadians in international affairs through the two major crises in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. This very Canadian approach to the subject - Canada is always trying to prove it is more than a US appendage - immediately relegates Africa and African to supporting roles for two of the author’s heroes, Romeo Dallaire, “the lion” and Louise Arbour, “the eagle”. Her third hero, “the fox”, is Lewis MacKenzie, commander of UN peacekeepers in Yugoslavia. Simply by her take on the subject, Carol Off proves the tenacity and the pervasiveness of the literary convention in which Africa is the testing ground for European character.
She starts right off in Chapter 2, entitled Into Africa, with a long epigraph from Conrad about “strong, lusty, red-eyed devils” and “violence”, “greed” and “hot desire”. The reader is left with little doubt about the author’s state of mind. She then proclams that “Heart of Darkness is not so much a place as a frame of mind, a journey into the darkness of the soul as it finally arrives at a place where there are no explanations for anything. Romeo Dallaire entered such a place (Rwanda) in the fall of 1993.” Conrad never strays far from Carol Off’s portrait of Canadians in Africa. The quotes and images she borrows widen the gulf that her heroes valiantly, selflessly, but vainly, endeavour to bridge.
In November 1993, Dallaire and his troops “sensed the darkness closing in”. As they try to understand what is happening, she opines that the only thing they “could sense was what Conrad described as ‘the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention’”. Later the reader learns that Dallaire’s mission that had “tried and failed to stop the dark, random forces of hate and evil” had begun “to morph into something more sinister”. The gulf is made so frightful and wide that those who try to bridge it or, to use a less fashionable but more accurate vocabulary, to take civilization across it, are doomed to fail. Indeed, if Conrad did not exist, somebody would have had to invent him.
Like so many others now and in the past, Carol Off waxes lyrical every time she mentions the beautiful African countryside. For Off and her Roméo Dallaire, “Rwanda is extraordinarily beautiful”. The country is “covered by lush green hills”. The vegetation is “deep-blue green” and the “delicious humid climate” has a “perpetual breath of spring”. Dallaire and his Canadian assistant Major Brent Beardsley thought “they were in paradise”. As goes the tradition, so goes Carol Off. The majesty and the beauty of the landscape is inversely proportional to the evil it hides, and that evil in all its details inevitably appears a few lines or paragraphs after her descriptions of Rwanda’s bucolic surroundings.
To portray the evil, Carol Off recycles many of the images and relationships established by her predecessors who wrote during in the heydays of slavery and colonialism. The Africans’ eyes she imagines are bloodshot, and the ground is slick with blood. The Africans’ nature is linked to the climate and the land in which they live. For example, she describes the steamy mist that “swirls around the blue-green landscape, creating and otherworldly quality” that results in spiritualism being “deep in the fibre of the country”. It is not surprising for a Canadian writer to make these links. English Canadian literature abounds with nativist clichés attributing the courage and energy of Canada’s youth to the country’s cold and rugged climate and geography.
Carol Off astonishingly uses cannibal imagery in her descriptions. Setting the stage for her hero Dallaire, she writes that Dallaire would have been better prepared for his mission if he had read the report of the 1993 International Commission - that one again - and if he “had known even half of what was being cooked up in Mrs. Habyarimana’s kitchen in spring and summer of 1993”. Obviously, she would never use the cooking image when talking about political leaders and their wives such as Aline Chrétien, Laura Bush or Cheri Blair. Why then do they come to mind in books on Africa. Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman was rightly denounced for talking about Africa in that way during his promotional tour for Toronto’s Olympic bid; so should Carol Off.
A book that so cravenly glorifies two representatives of Canadian institutions in Africa easily falls into the trap of treating African institutions with contempt, be they modern or ancient. This is a very old habit that Off does not attempt to shed. Religion is superstition, governments are despotic, and European institutions adopted by Africans are mere caricatures.
African Christianity is without a doubt the institution that has been, and is still, the most widely belittled and, according to Hammond and Jablow, “debased” in the popular literary tradition 103. Though it is admitted that Africans have adopted the rituals of Christianity, they just do not seem to have grasped the meaning. Carol Off expands on this notion when she writes that “an overlay of rigorous paternalism imposed on the citizenry by the Roman Catholic Church reinforced what was already a system of blind obedience to authority”. It would follow that Rwandans are not real Catholics for Ms. Off since Christianity is only an “overlay”, that cannot resist the onslaught of primal forces. The ancestral traditions of “blind obedience” thus sweep away the poorly stuck “overlay” of our excellent Christian traditions, which seem to be innate among Europeans.
Carol Off gives free rein to her imagination when she describes the Easter Mass on April 3, 1994, just three days before the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were assassinated.
It’s a country of devout Christians, and they filled the churches. The priests broke bread for Communion and told the congregations Jesus Christ had risen: salvation was theirs. Within the next few days, these Christians would dutifully follow the orders of the government to kill their neighbours - brutally and without mercy - whether they were men, women or babies. Many of the priests would actually help. Not salvation but the apocalypse was upon them.
The author was not in Rwanda on Sunday April 3, 1994. She has no idea what the priests did or what they told parishioners. It is clear though that her goal is to belittle the way Rwandans have adopted Christianity. Furthermore, what better way to trivialize the assassination of two African presidents, which she calls a “plane crash”, than to tell a terrible tale about what she imagines went on in the churches and in the minds of the faithful three days before the assassination.
As is the wont of most English Canadian journalists, Carol Off uses her references to the Catholic religion in Africa to take a few shots at Québec Catholicism. She uses puns and irony to make fun of the Latin motto Father Georges-Henri Lévesque had given to Rwanda’s National University in Butare when he founded it in 1963. The motto Illuminatio et salus populi or “God is my light and my salvation” given by a Quebec priest who supported the Hutus, is contrasted to “darkness” and the “apocalypse” that Carol Off posits as reality. She draws parallels between Quebec nationalism and the Quiet Revolution - Father Georges-Henri Lévesque was among the lead thinkers - and Rwanda’s social revolution of 1959 that people liken ideologically to the genocide they describe in 1994. Shortly before he died, Father Lévesque denounced this type of post-facto guilt by association that targeted him and others.
As pointed out earlier, since the earliest contacts between Europeans and Africans, and especially during the nineteenth century and the beginning of colonialism, European literature was terribly simplistic about African chiefs. All were power hungry, dishonest, conniving, contemptible, even laughable, except when they agreed to march to the imperial drum in which case they were well looked upon. Once again, a gulf separates Europe from Africa. These descriptions of contemptible African chiefs helped to vaunt the efficiency, moral standards and universality of the people and institutions from the imperial motherlands. With the stage so carefully set, it was easy to take the next step and support the empire’s noble colonial mission of civilizing those backward peoples.
Carol Off walks blindly down this road. When President Juvénal Habyarimana took power in 1973, according to Off, he “was out of the classic African-dictator mould”. Please expand Ms Off! She then adds that it was the Cold War and “any number of despots could find, and cultivate, foreign patrons who would help them hold onto power.” In other words, the imperial powers were being hoodwinked. The late Rwandan president was incapable of doing anything of any worth. He always “pretends” and is always deceitful. At the request of so-called donor countries, Habyarimana “pretended to pursue economic and political reforms”. When he went to Arusha in August 1993, to sign peace accords, he took part in “a grand ceremony attended by the major leaders of Africa - none of whom believed the peace agreement would work - and by members of the international community, who breathed a sigh of relief that the worst of the Rwandan crisis was over.”
This passage should be read carefully because it reveals the author’s deeper thoughts. First, the African leaders do not seem to be part of Carol Off’s “international community”, even though leaders from Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa are present. Her “international community” appears to include only the “white” countries from Europe and America, just like when Europe began to colonize Africa. Secondly, according to Carol Off, the African leaders signed the agreement but they did not believe a word of it. The accusation is more serious than it appears. She is saying that the leaders were lying and deceiving the members of the “international community”, who, as we all know, are selflessly devoted to Africa’s well-being.
President Habyarimana is nothing but a puppet controlled by his “Lady Macbeth”, Mrs. Habyarimana and her entourage of “red-eyed devils” - taken directly from Conrad. As in the 19th century, holding an African leader in contempt is the best way to show contempt for the Africans who live under him, but in this particular book it serves other purposes. It helps belittle the assassination of Habyarimana and of his Burundian colleague on April 6, 1994, which for Carol Off was a mere “plane crash”. If anyone dared described 9/11 as a “plane crash” into the World Trade Centre, they would likely be committed to an asylum or be thrown in jail. It also facilitates the difficult task Carol Off has of exonerating Louise Arbour for stopping Michael Hourigan’s investigation into the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane, the only such investigation undertaken by the Tribunal. 104
Carol Off has only fine words to describe the Rwandan Patriotic Front leader Paul Kagame, who is like the traditional ally of nineteenth century colonialists. Paul Kagame is “brilliant”, a “great military tactician”, thanks mainly to this American training at the US Army and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His always “polite and well disciplined” troops are part of a “liberation army” that comes to the rescue and ends the genocide. To help her Canadian and American readers to better grasp the war and who is waging it, she disingenuously alludes to the Second World War and the fight against Hitler. Thus when she depicts the RPF as a “liberation army” ending a “genocide”, she knows that she has sealed her case. Once again in characteristic English-Canadian style, she is tickled to see France and a French-speaking African country brought to their knees by an English-speaking army trained by the British and the Americans.
Africa and especially Rwanda are pedestals on which she defines and exalts the Canadian heroes in her tale. The further Rwanda is made to appear from Canada, both geographically and culturally, the more valiant are her heroes. Ms Off lets her imagination fly in this area.
She introduces Roméo Dallaire as a military man “staring down the tunnel of a long, dull finish to his career” when, one fine day, somebody offers to appoint him commander of a mission to a country in central Africa. We’ve seen that before: the dull life in the mother country versus adventure in Africa. Carol Off’s Dallaire knows absolutely nothing about the geography or the history of this “African country no one needed or cared about”. Ignorance about Africa is made into a quality, something to be proud of, whereas it should be reason enough to be refused the job.
We learn that her Dallaire is “smart, hard driving”, “trim, handsome”, with “boundless energy”, a “lion’s courage” and “rigorous morality”. He “learned his code of social justice from his parents, whose defining experience had been the Second World War”. Of course what better school could he have had considering the parallel Carol Off wants to make between Nazi Germany and Habyarimana’s Rwanda. Her exaltation - and imagination - knows no bounds. At one point she portrays Dallaire “marooned in the middle of a country he was hardly able to find on a map a year earlier, with only his Nato training and a personal sense of right and wrong to guide him”, at a time when “sinister darkness” is closing in on him. It is curious how the sense of right and wrong seems to be innate for these Canadians. In Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, Gil Courtemanche attributes the same high moral qualities to his hero in Rwanda, Bernard Valcourt.
Louise Arbour is the eagle of the tale and the success story in Carol Off’s book. She has the same sterling moral character as Dallaire. She is also “pretty”, with a “quick wit”, “efficient”, “competent”, and has an excellent legal training, especially since she practised mainly in Ontario. All these qualities enable her to successfully carry out her mission to eliminate the “culture of impunity” that reigns in the “heart of Africa”. Despite the enormous gulf, despite the Tribunal’s shambles, corruption, incompetence and inefficiency that Off takes pages to describe, Louise Arbour brilliantly brings order to the court and successfully pursues the noble mission with the help of other fine Canadians, such as Pierre Duclos. Duclos is the former Sûreté du Québec investigator hired by Louise Arbour who had been identified by Québec’s Poitras Commission as the policeman who initiated the fabrication of evidence in the Matticks Affair. 105
Boasting about Louise Arbour, who became a Supreme Court Justice before being appointed UN Human Rights Commissioner, undoubtedly makes Canadians feel good. Moreover, Louise Arbour surely appreciates getting the credit. She graciously granted Carol Off several long interviews. The purpose of all the flattery is not quite so guileless however. While lauding Ms. Arbour, she quietly slips in shameless comments about how Africa is different and how, in this different world, Saint Louise Arbour is fully justified to “operate somewhat differently from other courts” - read European courts - and to give herself the “flexibility to hold suspects without charge”.
Africa is so different that we are expected to understand and accept that “due process, as understood in North America and Europe, would have made it almost impossible [for Ms Arbour] to arrest the prime suspects”, or the “big fish” as Carol Off likes to call them.
102 Carol Off, The Lion, The Fox and The Eagle, A story of generals and justice in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, Vintage Canada, 2000.
103 Hammond and Jablow, op. cit. p. 131.
104 See chapter 6.
105 See Chapter 13, note 7.