Chapter 12: An avatar of colonial Europe
Chapter 15: Watch out for Africa!”
Paul Kagame visits Bejamin Netanyahou in Israel, October 1996.
Chapter 11: The bottom of the cesspool - Gil Courtemanche
They think we’re simple children:
Watermelon in the sun,
Shooting dice and shoouting,
Always having fun.Langston Hughes, This Puzzles Me
Watermelon in the sun,
Shooting dice and shoouting,
Always having fun.Langston Hughes, This Puzzles Me
To make his case on Rwanda and extrapolate on his own experience in that country, Gil Courtemanche chose to write a novel. His novel is also, in his own words, “an eye-witness report”, 106 even though he was not in Rwanda when the events take place. His manœuvre is clever since he can accuse real people of heinous crimes even while they are being tried in Arusha, sitting in prison or in exile, or living as political refugees in Europe and America. He then hides behind his licence as novelist as soon as someone presents a fact contradicting his allegations. It is also clever because he can drop all inhibitions to his imagination and fantasies - it could also be described as bragging - about Africa, the Africans and especially the African women he claims to know.
A work of non-fiction would have required much more research, investigation and checking of facts, allegations and quotes, to ensure their veracity. Courtemanche would have had to be rigorous throughout. Knowing that his lack of rigour made him vulnerable to criticism about his unbridled imagination since he was not in Rwanda in 1994, he tries to pre-empt critics in the preface by referring to the African Rights publication entitled Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance (African Rights, London, 1995). Readers should of course know what Belgian Professor Filip Reyntjens, known internationally for his work on Rwanda, has written about the group African Rights. “As for African Rights, the political and historical analyses made by that group have a flagrant pro-RPF bias that is incompatible with the mission and code of conduct of any serious association devoted to promoting human rights.” 107
Sunday at the Pool has won numerous literary awards. Critics have extolled it as “extraordinary”, “elegiac”, “astonishing”, a “masterpiece”, a “fresco with humanist accents”, “novel of the year”. A close read however leaves no doubt that Courtemanche’s novel is a pure reproduction, and in my opinion a poor reproduction, of the popular literary tradition that Africans have always categorically rejected. Even the supposedly modern narration of his imagined amorous encounters is as old as the hills of Rwanda. Similar titillating accounts appeared in popular British and French literature in the late 19th century, such as L’art d’aimer aux colonies published steadily until the late 1930s. That book was very popular… 100 years ago.
Courtemanche unabashedly describes his main character Bernard Valcourt as “sophisticated” and “a man of the left and an enlightened humanist” (unabashedly because Bernard Valcourt is obviously Courtemanche himself). What shocks and astonishes most is how such “an enlightened humanist” can make his own Western world seem so far apart from and superior to Africa.
The former world is “civilized”. It is a world of justice and reason and of laws and regulations that are respected; a world of abstract thought and poetry. His world is also sexless, that is until it comes into contact with Africa. The latter world, Africa, is one of total disorder, a world in which instinct rules and, in the absence of abstract thought, only concrete words are used. It is a world in which fertile and over-sexed bodies danse, “humans turn into demons”, and where there is only “fire and screams rising from the hell [the Rwandans] had created”. It is a “hysterical country where madness was settling as the normal condition of life” and that “only deserved to die, it had gorged so greedily on lies and false prophesies”. That is exactly how Courtemanche describes Rwanda.
The author also uses his characters to widen the gulf between the two worlds, and especially the hero Bernard Valcourt who is made into a stalwart defender of everything that is good. He is contrasted to the words, actions, experiences and belief of his Rwandan friends, his lover Gentille and his enemies. Courtemanche’s method is well worn as the following examples show.
To defend a dead prostitute, Valcourt risks his life by reporting the incident to the assistant chief prosecutor who he describes as a “vicious hyena” in this “ridiculous republic”. Valcourt does not do it because he is brave, as his lover Gentille suggests to him, but only because he “can’t behave any other way”, because he “acts by reflex, because that’s the way one ought to in a civilized society”. Courtemanche does not shy away from using the old word “civilization” to describe his world in contrast with the uncivilized world he is now living in.
“I’m like a child who follows a book of rules. You excuse yourself when you bump someone by mistake… you help the blind across the street,… you get up on the bus and give your seat to an old lady… and when you witness a crime you go to the police so the crime will be solved and in due course justice will be done. No, my darling. I’m not brave. I’m just trying to do things right, and here, that’s not easy.”
A little further on, he says that he would go and testify before the courts and stand ready to serve justice “if ever justice exists here as it does in the vicinity of Lafontaine Park, Monsieur Deputy”.
For the Westerner Valcourt/Courtemanche, justice and citizenship, along with the incumbent rights and duties, are second nature. They have become totally ingrained in his culture, which it seems only Westerners can assimilate. They are like a book of rules - in the original French version they are a catechism - learned from infancy by all. On the other hand, the book of rules in Rwanda, its catechism, according to Courtemanche, is hate, violence, bewitchment, all contained in a culture of impunity, a culture of lies and concealment transmitted from one generation to the next.
The author’s cultural arrogance and superiority has sadly been seen before. Rudyard Kipling was the most notable representative with his “White man’s burden”. In the French tradition, Roger Caillois was a flag bearer of this cultural superiority. What is the difference between Valcourt’s statements and those of Caillois that Aimé Césaire so roundly denounced in his historical Discourse on Colonialism published in 1955. Caillois, a member of the Académie française, blindly and bluntly defended the cultural, scientific and religious superiority of the West.
“That discipline of life which tries to ensure that the human person is sufficiently respected so that it is not considered normal to eliminate the old and the infirm… whether for biological or historical reasons, there exist at present differences in level, power and value among the various cultures. These differences entail an inequality in fact. They in no way justify an inequality of rights in favour of the so-called superior peoples, as racism would have it. Rather they confer upon them additional tasks and an increased responsibility.” 108
For Caillois it was the “discipline of life”, for Courtemanche, “a book of rules”, but in both cases it is superior. Césaire points out that the “increased responsibility” that Caillois would grant to his superior culture is nothing more than the task of ruling the world!
The “civilized” culture also includes morals and ethics. Valcourt is a man tortured by the great moral and existential questions of our time, and the concomitant quest for good, whereas he is surrounded by reckless, happy-go-lucky, simple-minded Africans. For example, Courtemanche’s noble but tormented hero, Valcourt, is contrasted to the AIDS-infected tobacco vendor, Cyprien who is always happy and carefree, whose ambition is to “to have fucked (all the women) before dying”, and who likes Valcourt because he “could listen for hours and hours and talk without ever preaching”. Cyprien tells Valcourt: “I’m going to tell you what always gives you such a long, serious face… What I want to say is, you get us thinking. We feel from your eyes what you see in your head. You see dead bodies, skeletons, and on top of that you want us to talk like we’re dying. I’ll start doing that a few seconds before I die, but until then I’m going to live and fuck and have a good time.”
Without Valcourt, Cyprien cannot think. Even though he is dying, he lives on happy-go-lucky, fucking, laughing and drinking, with no worries about tomorrow, no thoughts about the people around him.
This type of infantilization of Africans is also not new. The French tradition had its “petit noiraud” advertisements (“Y a bon BANANIA”, “chocolat battu et content”). The Anglo-American tradition has its minstrel shows, Amos and Andy and the Black face. Loathsome though it may be, it is a not-too-subtle way for Courtemanche to demonstrate his own contempt for the African Republic he so obviously scorns. The representatives of the Republic are all “rotund”, “fat”, “dripping with sweat”, and they choke in their too-tight suits, and hard collars that make their necks bulge. Government ministers, bureaucrats and soldiers are unfailingly drunk, weaving about unsteadily, laughing with their “eyes rolling up in their sockets” while dancing and “dispensing HIV like parish priests their indulgences”. Contemptible, the whole lot for our “sophisticated man of the left”.
Gil Courtemanche infanitilizes all Africans, including his former colleague at CBC/Radio-Canada, Léo Kalinda, who was originally from Rwanda. Even though Kalinda, like Courtemanche, strongly supported the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s take-over of Kigali, he is not spared. The author of the Sunday at the Pool transposes a real event that took place in 1987 to the 1994 period. “Léo, who was making a film on the great Rwandan democracy, was moving about from table to table distributing smiles and lies like a Negro Maurice Chevalier in a bad musical comedy”. Not far from the minstrel show! Is it possible for an African be an intellectual? Courtemanche thinks not since he puts the word “intellectual” in quotation marks when it is beside the word “African”. 109
Describing Africa through the story of a woman - Africa ‘the strange woman’ as described by Hammond and Jablow - may be old and worn, but it always makes for titillating copy, whatever the historical period. The European or North American discovers himself and really becomes a man through his experience with an African woman. (In the same vein, Kipling wrote: “Ship me somewhere east of Suez, where the best is like the worst, Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments, an’ a man can raise a thirst”.) The author then uses his experience to explain Africa to his readers. The reader inevitably learns more about the writer than about Africa, whereas the writer falls head first into the worst clichés.
Sunday at the Pool, whose author’s avowed mission is to “write this country’s (Rwanda’s) story through the story of Gentille and her family”, is therefore predictably cliché-ridden. Wittingly or not, Courtemanche uses every imaginable cliché. Justin, the almost bestial African lifeguard who hits on a white Quebec woman has “an enormous penis”, and he is contrasted to Jean Lamarre, her “over-modest husband who always came to bed clothed in pyjamas and never took them off, even when laboriously making love to her”. The white characters’ bodies are never described, but the Africans’ bodies are all described to the last detail. The authors’ friends bodies are beautiful, his enemies’ bodies are ugly, but all African bodies are caricatured.
Courtemanche’s obsession with African bodies is a backdrop that gives relief to the work of the European mind. Valcourt is a man of letters and of intellect who is able to teach his lover Gentille “to come with words”, which it seems no African could do. Gentille, who is “like the fruit of the red earth of this hill, a mysterious mix of all the seeds and all the toll of this country” in which the women “had only concrete words”, only learns abstract thought and the beauty of poetry thanks to the good efforts of the poet and humanist Bernard Valcourt, and to his favourite writer, Paul Éluard.
What presumption! What does Courtemanche know about poetry in Kinyarwanda, in Swahili or in any other African language? What does he know about the relations and emotions among Africans? And what does he know about African art and creativity? Either he knows very little or he holds them in such contempt that they warrant not a word. It should also be assumed that Paul Éluard, who along with others signed the denunciation of the human spectacles prior to the 1931 French colonial exhibition, would have been disgusted to see himself conscripted into Courtemanche’s tale.
As in all popular books on Africa, the images of the bucolic African countryside and luxuriance are used to emphasize the never-ending descriptions of violence, death and sex. In this book, these descriptions border on necrophilia. Either the novelist does not know that war means gory death - despite modern American propaganda - or, like Conrad and Gourevitch, Courtemanche is also troubled with African humanity. The answer is in the question itself, and there is no doubt in my mind that Courtemanche has a problem with African humanity. Over and above the countless bestial adjectives and metaphors used, the author alludes to the inhumanity of Rwandans at least fourteen times, such as in the following excerpt from the original French version which the translator chose to exclude fearing perhaps that it could get the author into trouble: “Valcourt fut horrifiée par la pensée que rien dans cet homme ne lui avait paru humain...” (“Valcourt was appalled at the thought that nothing in this man appeared to him to be human…”) 110 The other thirteen references appear in English.
To borrow from Chinua Achebe’s important essay on Conrad, I ask the same question: how can a novel that celebrates the dehumanization of a portion of the human race be so widely and uncritically praised?
The slave trade, slavery and colonialism and slavery existed because in the eyes of the slave traders, slave owners and colonizers, Africans were inferior and less human. Slavery and colonization were therefore a blessing for these beings.
If Sunday at the pool in Kigali had been written in 1902, it would have been swept away by the epic cultural and political fight that ended colonialism and resulted in African independence. Today we would view the novelist and his book as underpinnings of colonialism that are much better forgotten. But the novel appeared in 2000, forty years after colonialism supposedly ended. The fact that the book and its author have been so widely eulogized speaks loudly about our refusal to recognize the seriousness of the crimes committed not so long ago.
Chapter 12: An avatar of colonial Europe
After a short period of dormancy and a little self-doubt about its
erstwhile imperial mission, the West may be ready to
resume its old domineering monologue in the world.
Chinua Achebe, Home and Exile
erstwhile imperial mission, the West may be ready to
resume its old domineering monologue in the world.
Chinua Achebe, Home and Exile
When Colette Braeckman published her book Rwanda, Histoire d’un génocide, immediately after the Rwandan war in fall 1994, she donned both her reporter’s and editorialist’s cap. As with all war correspondents, she lines up facts, offers hypotheses and provides quotes from leaders who, it seems, had no other choice than to grant her interviews considering her position as reporter for the Brussels daily Le Soir and the influential French monthly Le Monde diplomatique. Her writings abound with information, but are short on truth, the first casualty of all wars. When Ms Braeckman editorializes, she has the self-righteousness of Rwanda’s former imperial masters, a blatant bias in favour of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and a marked indulgence towards her fellow Belgians, and particularly the Belgian troops.
Her very favourable treatment of Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front faithfully follows the popular literary tradition inasmuch as President Kagame can do no wrong (Ms Braekman has apparently changed her position since the book was published but has not criticized her own writings). All the other leaders, starting with President Habyarimana, are insulted and slandered. When leaders are so contemptible, the people they lead are obviously worse.
The Belgian troops on the other hand are lily white for Ms Braeckman. She indignantly reports that, as early as 1990, Rwandans had dared to accuse Belgian soldiers of going after Rwandan teenage girls, and even raping some. Everybody knows of course that European and American soldiers in Africa would not think of behaving that way. On the other hand, she does not get indignant, nor does she mention the fact that before leaving Rwanda the Belgian troops ransacked their Kigali hotel and the international airport, spreading their excrement throughout. She also omits to mention and get indignant about the Belgian soldiers who shredded a Rwanda flag before the very eyes of members of the Rwandan army. 111 Is it surprising that the Belgian troops had such a bad reputation when they left Rwanda?
Ms Braeckman lines up her facts and blindly develops theories that reinforce her own analysis that Rwanda was “liberated” between 1990 and 1994 by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Writers have to tread carefully when they publish books so soon after a major international crisis since their premises and assumptions can be shown to be false and their entire book can be discredited.
That is what happened to Colette Braeckman who claimed unequivocally that the assassination of President Habyarimana on April 6, 1994 was planned and carried out by “Hutu extremists” in the president’s own entourage. Taking this as the Gospel truth, she proceeds to elaborate theories about the mindset, motives and acts of all the Hutus who governed both Rwanda and Burundi from 1990 to 1994. Within months of the publication of her book, several reliable analyses and investigations showed that the assassination had not been carried out as she assumed. Large sections of her book thus became totally false and irrelevant. In most cases such glaring errors should have eliminated the author as a serious source. That is not what happened to Ms Braeckman who continues to be cited everywhere as an authority.
The author similarly goes overboard to prove that the Rwandan Patriotic Front is not an ethnically driven formation. Her method is to quote and promote the Rwandan Hutu leaders who agreed to participate in the government set up by the victorious RPF army. These include Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, Interior Minister, Seth Sendashonga, Justice Minister Alphonse-Marie Nkubito, and President Pasteur Bizimungu. Unfortunately for her - and for her book - every one of these people fled the country, was assassinated or imprisoned in the months and years after her book was published. All have been accused of embracing the “ideology of genocide”, while some have been accused of committing genocide. As a result, other large sections of her book become irrelevant.
Another striking case of bias of a war correspondent is her claim that the million refugees who fled northern Rwanda to camps around Kigali during the war between 1990 and 1994 were unwitting victims of the Habyarimana government’s machiavellian tactics, and were not real victims of the invading RPF’s violence and terror tactics.
War correspondents are always affiliated with one side or the other, and few doubt the importance of their role in influencing the outcome of the war. Think of Winston Churchill in the Boer War, Rudyard Kipling, Peter Arnett in the Gulf War, and many more. In most cases, their affiliation and even their bias are admitted and known. That is not the case with Colette Braeckman who claims to be a neutral observer.
Ms Braeckman falls back on the popular literary tradition on Africa most glaringly when she ventures away from journalism and attempts to explain the origin and causes of the Rwandan tragedy. At the end of her introduction entitled “Once upon a time”, she reveals her real thoughts about Africa and Africans. As she tells her tale, these thoughts reappear regularly, either as rhetorical questions or in carefully selected quotes in the book.
It was not a question of war or political repression. It was about wiping out a whole people in the name of ethnicity, and erasing every trace of their existence from man’s world. Are we faced with the last avatar of pre-colonial Africa, of “savagery”?… Demons are dancing in people’s heads. Madness is stalking everybody. The thrust of blood, fever and angst had burst through all bounds. 112
“The last avatar of pre-colonial Africa”, suggests Colette Braeckman. Though she throws in a question mark, her opinion is clear. It means that the “savagery” she describes is a reincarnation of Africa from the arrival of the civilizing Europeans. Africa was just morphing back to what it was before Europe began its mission to civilize those heathen peoples. Despite all their valiant efforts, that mission just did not succeed in containing the Africans’ barbarian nature. Left to themselves when they became independent, they could simply not control their instincts which “projected them beyond good and evil”, to use her own words.
The reporter Braeckman also hazards a few guesses about the philosophical origins of the tragedy, but takes care to distance herself, though very slightly, by quoting European missionaries in Rwanda.
The missionaries recognized the beast that ran wild in the country. The mad look of the militia men, the peasants’ relentless glare, the radio lie machine, the intellectuals’ sophisms aimed at manipulating the masses left no doubt what was happening. They saw before them their old opponent, the prince of Darkness, the Wicked One. “The Devil is back on earth”, they exclaimed. 113
Man, according to Ms Braeckman, was thus projected beyond the idea of good and evil despite the fact that all Rwandans had been Christianized and had received many years of training in human rights laws, the law of war and the necessary protection of women and children. “Is it possible”, adds Braeckman “ that the sudden contract of these ancient closed societies with the European world, the colonial conquest and the social distortions it provoked had suddenly broken ancient cultural taboos? And that the graft of Christianity had not only failed to take root but had also provoked a total and self-destructive rejection one century later?”
In other words, for Ms. Braeckman, Christianity was grafted onto the African body, but that graft was impossible. The African body rejected the graft and destroyed itself at the same time. In case the reader is slow, the author throws in a quote from a Rwandan bishop: “The Christian message did not sink in. After a century of evangelizing, we have to start all over again.”
For Carol Off, Christianity was an “overlay” that could not withstand the primary African forces. For Gil Courtemanche, the Rwandan “catechism” was hate, violence, witchcraft and lies, and churches were crematoriums. For Philip Gourevitch, Rwandans ran like herds to be baptized, blindly following a converted chief.
This band of four agrees on one point: Rwandans were simply incapable of embracing Christianity correctly. Though they may have adopted the rituals, they were “never quite able to free (themselves) to from the compelling forces of (their) environment and the dark inheritance of (their) forefathers”, as was written before them by another eulogist of Empire in 1958. 114
Over and above their presumption that they can judge the religious practices of Africans, these writer make denunciations that contain an even more sinister message. If a link were to exist between the supposed rejection of the meaning and values of Christianity and the “savagery” they enjoy describing, it would follow that Africans could have prevented if they had been able to assimilate the Europeans’ religion correctly. Hence salvation is only to be found in Jesus. Or is it that Europe abandoned its civilizing mission too soon?
The idea, repeated ad nauseum, that Africans have not properly understood the Christian message is profoundly and disgustingly ethnocentric. Historically, for every Christian who in the name of their religion has fought for peace, human equality, justice and freedom, at least ten Christians have, in the name of the same religion, declared wars, invaded and conquered countries, massacred innocent people, enslaved millions of people, colonized entire peoples and countries, opened concentration camps and bombed civilians. To claim or even to hint that massacres in Rwanda are proof that the Christian message did not sink in is to ignore and hide 2000 years of history.
The best answer to this idea came from Muhammed Ali. When he was visiting the Wold Trade Centre in New York after the 9/11 attack in 2001, a reporter asked him how he felt about the suspects sharing his Islamic faith. Ali answered pleasantly: “How do you feel about Hitler sharing yours?”
In addition to parading as a theologian who judges religions, Ms Braeckman forays into the field of African art and culture and imagines a causal link with the violence. Independent Rwanda, she maintains, has scarcely any symbolic representation. Its figurative art is “shabby and infantile”. She then asks, rhetorically as usual, whether the absence of means of artistic expression might also be “a source of violence”, the theory being that, since symbolic expression including language is not possible, Rwandans turn quickly to murderous acts.
Peoples who have been dominated or colonized and who have fought or are fighting to maintain their dignity have all heard this talk before. So many have been told for such a long time that they have no literature, no culture, no history and thus they really don’t even deserve to exist.
Colette Braeckman’s book was published in 1994, some thirty-four years after Belgian colonialists left Africa. In her book, the author creates a historical paradigm in which the past thirty years in Rwanda are presented as an uninterrupted slide into hell, and she never stops repeating it. “For thirty years, Rwanda was permeated by a genocidal culture.” “In thirty years, propaganda had rooted out the meaning of good and evil.” Her message could not be clearer. Before 1960, when the Belgians held sway in that part of Africa, Rwanda was protected against the evils it encountered. Since then, Rwandans have been left to themselves and look what happened.
In her book, Ms Braeckman speaks about “a last avatar of pre-colonial Africa”. It would be difficult to find a better “avatar of colonial Europe and its civilizing mission” than Ms Breackman herself.
Chapter 13: An unattackable adjudicated fact
“The commander in chief had spoken and declared the previous verdict unattackable, holy and superior to mere mortals –
and how could his subordinates dare to contradict him.”
Émile Zola, J’accuse
Émile Zola, J’accuse
The one point that the Nuremberg Tribunal and the ad hoc criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have in common is that both involve what you call “victors’ justice”, notes Ramsey Clark who was present at Nuremberg in 1945 and is now lead counsel for the Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. It is a question of power over principle in which the goal is to demonize the enemy.
“It’s worth remembering”, adds Ramsey Clark, “that at several occasions during the Nuremberg trials, Hermann Goering shouted out ‘what about Hamburg’, which was a notorious early 1943 heavy bombing of a civilian city; and he shouted out ‘what about Hiroshima’. He could have added Berlin and Dresden”. 115 The former U.S. Attorney General recalled those incidents to show that because victors’ justice is the exercise of power rather than the pursuit of justice, only the actions of one side are addressed and that more than corrupts justice. “Victors’ justice is not founded in truth which involves the fundamental principle of equality, which is not only the mother of justice, it is essential to truth. Selectivity is inherently false because it does not present the whole truth you might say, the whole picture.”
The Nuremberg tribunal that was created after the Second World War still has credibility, and rightly so. It criminalized wars of aggression and reinforced the notion of national sovereignty, both fundamental to the preservation of peace and cornerstones of the Charter of the United Nations. Unlike Nuremberg, however, the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) omits reference to wars of aggression and foreign intervention and thereby legitimates them. The ICTR was clearly designed to punish one side and protect the other.
A criminal court is a great way to destroy one’s enemies, insists Ramsey Clark. “You can now tell the world that these vicious Serbs are the guilty ones, that did all this murderous killing and not us who broke up Yugoslavia piece by piece.” By the same token in Rwanda, the horrible “génocidaires” are the guilty ones, not we who destroyed Rwanda by blindly supporting an invading army.
Both the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Louise Arbour, and former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali tend to agree with Ramsey Clark about the injustice inherent in the selectivity of ad hoc criminal tribunals. 116 Louise Arbour admits that the fact Rwandans, Serbs and Croatians, are the only ones called to account for their actions makes their singling out less just, but she maintains that it does not make them less guilty. Whereas Justice Arbour continues to laud the ad hoc Tribunals as trailblazers for the chimerical International Criminal Tribunal - chimerical because three of five Security Council members are combating it - , Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Ramsey Clark are much less optimistic about the tribunals, and much less naive.
But is it really naiveté in Louise Arbour’s case? In her public address in Paris on November 21, 2002, Ms Arbour invoked Canada’s Charter of Rights and Liberties adopted with Canada’s 1982 Constitution to reinforce her defence of the International Criminal Court. The reference is very poor because that Charter was the main weapon used in a coup by the Government of Canada aimed at take away the recognized sovereign constitutional powers of Québec’s National Assembly specifically in areas of language and culture. Ms Arbour studiously avoided mentioning that. She also avoided mentioning that Québec’s National Assembly voted almost unanimously to reject the 1982 Constitution and the accompanying Charter. Moreover, on the 20th anniversary of its adoption by Ottawa, the Québec National Assembly unanimously reiterated its rejection of the 1982 coup. It is interesting to note that opposition to the International Criminal Tribunal stems mainly from the fears that the new international body will take power away from sovereign nations in much the same way the Canadian Constitution and Charter of 1982 grabbed power from Quebec.
Former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali thinks that the United States favoured the creation of ad hoc tribunals for the very reason that only Rwandans and Yugoslavians would be prosecuted. At the same time, they are vigorously combating the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Tribunal that could prosecute American citizens. “They consider themselves to be above the law”, said Boutros-Ghali. 117
Ramsey Clark demonstrates that the problem dates much further back. “There would be no UN had it been implied in any way in the charter that there would be a criminal tribunal. If it had been put in directly, the meeting would have been over. People would have packed their bags in Washington before the San Francisco meeting and left. The United States would have been the first to leave. The US won’t sign the treaty today in 2002. It’s not peculiar to the US,” he added. “Power does not like to judged, it is determined not to be judged and if it has the power, it won’t be.”
The only court referred to in the Charter and Statutes of the United Nations is the International Court in the Hague that has no criminal jurisdiction and only deals with civil business of limited scope. “Its judges have been disciples of the government that is responsible for their appointment”, points out Ramsey Clark, and they only arbitrate cases the UN member countries agree to submit to it. Former Attorney General Clark maintains that the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Ex-Yugoslavia are simply not authorized by the United Nations, and are therefore not legal.
The contradiction is glaring. The most stubborn opponent of the International Criminal Court is the country that proposed the two Security Council resolutions creating the Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Moreover, the number one proponent of them was the United States Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, who soon after became Secretary of State.
The United States’ domination during the process of creating and funding the ICTR has affected all the work the court has conducted both in Arusha and in The Hague. This was illustrated by a highly symbolic event that took place in 1998. When President Clinton swept through Africa in 1998 he stopped over in Arusha, Tanzania, just as his wife did a year earlier. During his stopover, Tribunal staff, realizing that the real boss was in town, raised the Stars and Stripes where the UN flag should have been flying.
The English legal system was adopted rather than the continental legal system. The power to establish the facts and lay charges was therefore given to the Chief Prosecutor, whose position became the most important and powerful at the tribunal. As a result, no prosecutor has been appointed to the tribunal without receiving prior approval from the United States State Department. Moreover, the prosecutors’ fawning behaviour towards the United States and its foreign policy shows that they knew to whom they were indebted.
Carla Del Ponte who succeeded Louise Arbour as prosecutor dared to break ranks by proposing indictment of RPF members. In no time, she was removed from the ICTR and left only with responsibility for ex-Yugoslavia.
The Tribunal’s first prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, from South Africa, published a self-important book entitled For Humanity in 2000 118. The book abounds with obsequious and disingenuous compliments about the US role in the International Criminal Tribunal and particularly about Madeleine Albright’s own personal appointee, David Scheffer, who was seconded to the Prosecutor’s office as special advisor immediately after Goldstone got the job. The South African prosecutor spent much of his time in Washington and New York attending cocktails and other who’s who events. His cocktail circuit was so busy that Secretary General Boutros-Ghali informed Goldstone that other Security Council members were complaining about his too intimate relationship with the Americans. Boutros-Ghali shared that opinion himself.
The most troubling aspect of Richard Goldstone’s book is his description of how the prosecutor’s office obtained information from the CIA to prepare the indictments. Goldstone speaks of the CIA as if it were a data base available for anybody to interrogate and get reliable information. You just punch in a question and out comes the answer. One wonders how a man with such power over people’s lives could be so naive. Or is it just another way to dissimulate pro-CIA propaganda? In case it escaped Mr. Goldstone, an intelligence outfit like the CIA is not known to be an objective supplier of reliable information. It provides information, true or false, when that information can be used to achieve its strategic goals and protect US interests and investments. Unlike the ostensible mission given to the international tribunal, justice is not the CIA’s number one priority.
Richard Goldstone’s blind faith in the United States’ desire for universal good reaches new heights in his conclusion. He expresses contentment at seeing the United States and Europe bomb the hell out of the former Yugoslavia. “Never before had a nation used military force against a sovereign foreign state for the sole reason that the human rights of its citizens were being violated.” 119 Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
The man who opened the prosecutor’s office in Kigali clearly wanted to please his former superiors when he wrote his book “for humanity”. Buried in fawning anecdotes about the powers that be in New York and Washington can be found one short paragraph to tell the tale of the Rwandan tragedy. The main omission in that short paragraph tells more than the whole book about what really happened, and about the issue his superiors do not want to be discussed.
“On the night of 6 April 1994 the gruesome genocide began in Rwanda,” writes Richard Goldstone. He proceeds to tell the tale that the reader surely knows by heart. In other words, one fine April evening, Rwandan Hutus decided to eliminate the Tutsis. Not a word about the assassination of two African heads of state. Not a word about the war waged since October 1990. Such a cavalier attitude towards crucial facts is criminal, especially when it comes from a man supposedly devoted to justice. It is chilling to think that he was given the power to choose the people to be charged and prosecuted by the ICTR.
Richard Goldstone was replaced in October 1996 by Louise Arbour. All accounts of Ms Arbour’s appointment to the position concur on one point: United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tested her, interviewed her and clearly handpicked her for the job. It could be added that Louise Arbour is indebted to Madeleine Albright for her nomination to the Canadian Supreme Court. When Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed her he left no doubt that Louise Arbour’s international notoriety gained with the Tribunal was the main reason she was fast-tracked to the prestigious position on Canada’s highest court.
Louise Arbour’s name was not even submitted for the Tribunal position by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs. When Richard Goldstone announced his departure, he recommended appointing a prosecutor who also mastered French. The United States would never have tolerated having a French national appointed since France was a serious rival in Africa and in the Balkans. The candidate therefore had to be a French speaker that was loyal to the United States and had a healthy distrust of France. That kind of French speaker can be found in Ottawa.
In keeping with the wishes of those who appointed her, Louise Arbour regularly made loud and damning declarations against France, while carefully protecting the United States. In December 1997, for example, she went to Paris and accused France of boycotting the International Tribunal and protecting war criminals. She denounced France’s “remarkable defaulting at all levels”, compared to the outstanding co-operation offered by the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. 120
The ICTR’s subordination to United States’ foreign policy stands out especially in the prosecutors’ refusal to indict criminals from the Rwandan Patriotic Front and to prosecute the perpetrators of the April 6 assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana. Considerable evidence of massive RPF crimes against the Rwandan civilian population has been collected. All fingers point to the RPF and Paul Kagame as the sponsors of the April 6 assassination. If however the prosecutor were now to charge a member of the RPF in relation to that crime nine years after the fact, it would represent a terrible admission of the ICTR’s failure. Worst of all for the tribunal would be the fact that the whole tale developed to explain the Rwandan tragedy and the horrible war in the Congo would disintegrate like a sand castle on an abandoned beach.
The ICTR in Arusha exists and some 65 prisoners are waiting for their day in court. Victims’ families in Rwanda and elsewhere want to know what happened. The world wants to know what could have caused such a terrible loss of life. Much has been written about the subject, but few people are satisfied with the information they get and the reasons given. Is the International Tribunal capable of casting light on the tragedy? And what are the main obstacles to a fair trial for those who have been charged and are detained in Arusha?
Ramsey Clark doubts that the ICTR will be able to answer people’s questions about the tragedy, and the reasons he gives also explain why the accused are not likely to get fair trials. “I wouldn’t underestimate the central wrong of selecting people for prosecution. It’s enemies they’re choosing”, he told me in an interview. “It really is war by other means and it’s very cruel. In a sense the power of charging is placed in the hands of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, because it controls the facts. The Prosecution could not proceed without it, cases couldn’t be presented without it.”
The vast majority of facts required to make a case or to defend someone remain in Rwanda. In the trial of Pastor Élizaphan Nkatirutimana, for whom Ramsey Clark is counsel, all prosecution witnesses came from Rwanda, but not one defense witness could appear in court in Arusha. Defense counsel knows who the witnesses are and knows that they would be ready to testify, but to oblige them to do so would endanger their lives. If defense counsel even tried to talk to the witnesses, even indirectly, their lives would be in danger. The Arusha tribunal simply does not have the power to make people testify, nor can it guarantee witness protection. It does not event have the power to find witnesses, be it for the prosecution or for the defense.
Another glaring problem is that African prisoners charged by the International Tribunal do not have the right to a lawyer of their choice. In a typical double standard, the European branch of the same tribunal grants this right to prisoners from former Yugoslavia. The Arusha branch blithely chooses lawyers for prisoners against their will. The effect can be disastrous. For example, on January 24, 2003, the 45-year old Anglican bishop Samuel Musabymana died in prison. The ICTR had appointed a lawyer against his will, whereas the bishop wanted to retain the services of the Canadian lawyer Peter Zaduk. Without a lawyer, Bishop Musabymana was unable to obtain the medical care required, nor could he receive visitors and particularly his family that was systematically kept away.
Ramsey Clark also stresses that both the Tribunal and the prosecutor’s office have a mission to convict people. Their mission is a total failure if they do not convict. As a result, the chances that the ICTR helps understand the massacres that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 are very slim. It is equally unlikely that the prisoners detained in Arusha will get a fair and equitable trial.
Louise Arbour became very well known because she indicted and arrested some important people in Europe to the unanimous applause of the international media. Ever since, each time Ms. Arbour appears in public, it is said that the “little lady” was so bold that she made dictators tremble. She made just as many spectacular arrests in Africa, though they received less publicity. The goal was always the same: to obtain international attention for herself and the Tribunal, whose reputation was not good. The best example in Africa was Operation NAKI (NAirobi-KIgali) on July 18, 1997. Ms Arbour had seven people arrested in Nairobi. She then had these “big fish” as she called them forcefully transferred to Arusha in flagrant violation of the ICTR’s own internal regulations.
The main problem was that only two of the seven were indicted before being arrested. The five others were arrested, transferred by van to Arusha and held for months without even being told why they had been arrested. One man, Esdras Twagirimana, was held for two months without ever being charged. When the Tribunal finally admitted its error, it sent Mr. Twagirimana back to Nairobi where he was arrested again and had the ICTR monetary compensation confiscated. 121
Louise Arbour claims that the ICTR was obliged to use methods that other courts could not think of using. Her opinion was that the ICTR required greater flexibility to arrest and hold suspects without laying charges. The ICTR simply could not observe due process as it is applied in Europe and North America. 122
Africa is different, in other words, and unfortunately “our justice system” has to be applied differently. If the representatives of such an august international institution think in fact that Africa is so different, then it would be only logical to ask them to recuse themselves, knowing that they have neither the means nor the understanding and experience to carry out their mandate adequately. That of course has never happened. It appears that they want it both ways.
On the one hand, they claim to apply a legal system and means that they consider to be universal, infallible, and the height of civilization. Anybody coming form a Northern country can do it. They study a few months, read a few books and are sent out in the field to indict, arrest and prosecute Africans. None of them speak or understand any African language. That seems to matter little since “civilization” is ingrained in them.
On the other hand, ICTR apologists behave and talk as though Africa were totally different. Africans are not like us, they will say. They have no democratic culture, no culture of the rule of law. It is the culture of impunity that rules. In short, they are not civilized like we are, and we are thus obliged to waive due process and the rule of law, but of course this is all done in the name of justice and freedom which we all agree upon.
“If you look at the trials, they have all the trappings of colonial power, of European power, of the European system,” observes Ramsey Clark. “If you looked at pictures of colonial courts at higher levels, and at this court, and analyzed them, you would not see much difference in them. And every significant aspect, with the exception that some of the judges are African, but all trained in Western Law, you would see the procedures, the structure and the results are a continuum of colonial law applied under new circumstances. I don’t think they are fooling themselves, they know what they are doing.”
The colonial mentality that pervades these operations is barefaced and brazen. Rwanda also set up courts, though with little success, to judge the 150,000 prisoners packed in small jails for nearly 10 years. After Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front took power, the Justice Ministry was a shambles. Most of the staff, lawyers and judges were in exile or in prison themselves. A large number of people had to be trained to take on responsibility for the legal system. Canadians, Belgians and Americans therefore jumped at the opportunity to develop a program for recruiting and training Rwandan jurists. It was important to prove that these countries had been right to support the RPF.
William Schabas, who was one of the authors of the January 1993 international human rights report (see Chapter 4), headed the training program. To be accepted, candidates had to answer a short questionnaire prepared by Canadians. The questionnaire included the following questions:
- What is the capital of Canada?
- Jean-Paul Sartre is the author of (a) The Second Sex (b) The Outsider (c) Being and Nothingness.
- The author of The Republic is (a) Plato (b) Aristotle (c) Euripides. 123
A more eurocentric set of questions would be hard to find.
Here is a modest proposal. All lawyers, judges, civil servants, army officers, or anybody else applying for international work in Africa, or in their own countries for that matter, must answer the following questions before their applications will be considered.
- What is the capital of Zambia?
- Ferdinand Oyono wrote: (a) God’s Bits of Wood (b) Ambiguous Adventure (c) Houseboy?
- In what era of African history was Sundjata a leader: (a) 16th century (b) 13th century (c) 19th century?
- What modern country bears the name of the Kingdom Sundjata led: (a) Ghana (b) Rwanda (c) Mali?
Chapter 14: A wandering Rwandan, banished from his homeland
While a tall white woman
in an ermine cape
Looked at the blacks and
Thought of rape.
in an ermine cape
Looked at the blacks and
Thought of rape.
Jean-Paul Akayesu was the first man in history to be convicted by an International Criminal Tribunal of genocide, of rape and other crimes against humanity, yet he vehemently - and convincingly - proclaims his innocence. The former burgomaster of Taba Commune located some 25 kilometres west of Kigali is purging a life sentence in the Maison centrale d’arrêt, in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. I visited Jean-Paul Akayesu for five days in November 2002. He is imprisoned with three other Rwandans: Alfred Musema-Uwimana, an agronomist and engineer, Clément Kayishema, a surgeon, and Obed Ruzindana, a merchant. They have been in Bamako since they were transferred from the United Nations prison in Arusha, Tanzania, in December 2001.
Though it may be an oxymoron, the Maison centrale d’arrêt in Bamako is a humane prison. Unlike prisons in countries with a punitive culture like Canada and the United States, the idea of sensorial deprivation is non-existent. Prisoners feel the elements, the wind, the heat and the rain. It is also more humane because Mali has no capital punishment. People never serve more than fifteen years in prison. It would seem that Malians believe in rehabilitation. Prisoners generally appear healthy and well. Fights are rare and prison guards are not known to push prisoners around. Visitors are received courteously. Though Bamako is dustier, more expensive and much larger than when I last visited the city in 1974, I still felt safer, even in the prison, than I do in some large American cities.
What’s more, the Malians do not seem to have succumbed to the demonization of Rwandan Hutus that has made them into monsters in Western public opinion.
The decision to send sentenced prisoners to Mali was made by the Clerk’s Office at the ICTR in Arusha. Three other countries, Sweden, Belgium and Norway, had offered to hold the prisoners, but the Clerk refused, saying that since they were African they should be imprisoned in Africa.
The decision might initially appear to reflect a real sensitivity towards Africans. After all, Mali and Rwanda are two hot countries located near the Equator. In terms of being uprooted, though, sending Rwandans to prison in Mali is comparable to locking up an Inuit from Nunavut in Arizona. Jean-Paul Akayesu found the transfer very difficult: “In May and June, just before the rainy season, I thought the heat was going to kill me.” Rwanda is located on a high plateau and the temperature is generally between 10 and 25°C, whereas in Mali, even in the “cool” season, the temperature often goes up to 35 or 40°C. Rwanda is always green, Mali is almost always dry and dusty. Rwanda is Christian, Mali is Muslim.
For prisoners who are convinced of their innocence, the worst problem is the distance from their families and the isolation that makes communication with the outside world almost impossible. When I visited Jean-Paul Akayesu in November 2002, I was only his second visitor since he had arrived a year earlier. “When the Tribunal sent us to Mali,” he told me, “they just wanted to make us disappear from the news. If we were in Europe or in North America, we wouldn’t be isolated. In those places, we would have telephones, visitors, and all the means of communications. Here travelling is difficult and expensive. How can we make our cases known from here? How can we ever hope to reopen our cases?”
“It’s banishment to the penal colony all over again,” wrote his fellow prisoner Alfred Musema in a moving open letter written the day after he was “deported to the unknown”. His open letter of course was never published. “Unjustly sentenced to life in prison is the same as being sentenced to a long slow death. While I was writing ‘Courage!’, they were writing ‘Silence! You’re going to die, slowly.’”
Banishing prisoners to Mali is the logical follow-up to the decision to put the Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. The man who made that initial decision, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, now regrets it. “The original idea was to put the Tribunal in The Hague,” he told me in an interview. “I said no. It was an African problem. Setting up the tribunal in Arusha was a simple question of dignity. That is why I chose Arusha. In fact it was a mistake, my mistake. To create a tribunal, you need a complete background: a cultural background, a legal background, media facilities and more. They all contribute to a tribunal’s work. Arusha had none of this. It was empty. And it is considered to be marginal. The Tribunal should have been created in a big city that would take an interest in it. The psychological support of a big city, its cultural infrastructure is necessary for the institution, for the judges, the lawyers, the media.”
“And what about the accused and the convicted?” I asked the former Secretary General.
“For everybody,” he replied. “None of us, jurists included, had given any thought to the parallel and para-legal aspects, such as political and material questions. So we convict somebody. Where is he to serve his sentence? Who is responsible for overseeing his imprisonment? Why? None of this has been studied seriously.”
Boutros-Ghali’s candour is admirable and greatly appreciated. Nonetheless, it comes a little late for Jean-Paul Akayesu who is sentenced to life virtually incommunicado in a remote jail, while his name and his case are cited in all the major North American and European media and used in all Western law faculties and international studies departments.
Jean-Paul Akayesu was shocked when I showed him the front page of the New York Times Magazine of September 15, 2002, with a doctored photo of the only woman held by the ICTR, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, and the screaming title The Minister of Rape. When he saw the reference to his own conviction, that the Times article described as a breakthrough in international law, he shook his head in protest and said, “That’s all they wanted! The Tribunal desperately needed a precedent and jurisprudence on which they could build and develop international law. I wasn’t even accused of rape, only of being burgomaster during a time when rapes were supposed to have been committed near the Taba commune office.”
On the question of rape, Akayesu is categorical. “There were no rapes in my commune. I would have heard about them. And I declared that under oath before the Tribunal in the name of God almighty. Witness J. J. 125 could not even identify me, even though she had told the Prosecutor that she would be able to recognize me.”
The story of how Jean-Paul Akayesu came to be charged with rape is itself mind-boggling. “I was in the middle of my trial in March 1997 when Hilary Clinton showed up in Arusha during her tour of Africa. My trial was interrupted for her visit. Hilary Clinton concluded her speech by offering the Tribunal US$600,000 if it introduced rape charges in the trails in Arusha. In June 1997, the Prosecutor Pierre-Richard Prosper, who was working under Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, had my indictment amended to include rape, even though he had already completed his case against me. This was all done despite the fact that nobody had talked about rape before my trial began.”
In addition to Hilary Clinton, an important American feminist organization requested the right to intervene as an Amicus Curiae or friend of the court. That request further pressured the tribunal to convict people of rape.
The order of these events is important to understand why and how the rape charges were introduced in the Arusha trials. Two prosecution witnesses against Jean-Paul Akayesu had made sworn statements to the prosecutor during investigations prior to his indictment and arrest. The prosecutor disclosed the statements to defence counsel as required. Neither statement mentioned anything about rape. In other words, the witnesses met the prosecutor’s investigators in the Rwandan commune of Taba in November 1995. One witness made charges against Burgomaster Akayesu, but made no mention of women being raped. She arrived in Arusha in 1997 when the issue of rape had become more important and added charges of rape, but only after having been sequestered with the prosecutor for two weeks. “Witness H was a former student of mine”, recalled Jean-Paul Akayesu. “The prosecutor said she was unable to appear for those two weeks because she was sick, but I know that it took that much time for them to convince her to testify that she herself had been raped.”
With time, proof of false testimony and fabrication of evidence has come to the fore. For example, the sworn statement of a Rwandan Tutsi from Taba, who had attended meetings during which false testimony was prepared to convict Akayesu, corroborates that before 1997 the issue of rape had not even been raised. “Sometime early in 1997, if I remember correctly, they began to talk about rape witnesses. Before that time, there was no talk about evidence of rape. Mr. Karanwa told me that there are widows and others who are easy to manipulate so that they will testify about rape.” 126 The Appeal Court in The Hague simply refused to receive witness B.B.B.’s statement that would have exonerated Jean-Paul Akayesu.
Ramsey Clark thinks that the people working for the Tribunal wanted to introduce rape charges in Akayesu’s case, and in all the others, to ingratiate themselves to those who funded the Tribunal in the United States, and especially Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for whom the Tribunal was to be a legacy. This interpretation concurs with the thoughts of Boutros Boutros-Ghali who complained about the Tribunal’s chronic lack of funds and its irrelevance in international public opinion. Nobody wanted to go there, and nobody was interested in the Tribunal. The solution was therefore to hype it more - to sex it up, as the British would say - by adding charges that would catch the eye of American public opinion.
Jean-Paul Akayesu’s conviction was little more than a formality. “It just takes one woman to come to court and declare ‘I was raped’ or ‘I saw somebody being raped’,” noted Akayesu. “There’s just no way to defend yourself against such accusations.” Akayesu’s complaints take on real meaning in light of declarations made by ICTR judge Madam Navanethem Pillay during a promotional tour of Canada in November 1997 before the defence began its case. On CBC radio, Judge Pillay declared that there were 200,000 victims of sexual violence in Rwanda as well as a political strategy of sexual violence against women. No evidence to this effect had been presented in court. She was only repeating the prosecutor’s declarations. What ever happened to the cornerstones of the legal system Judge Pillay belongs too, namely the presumption of innocence?
Where do the stories of rape come from? Is there any truth to them? Jean-Paul Akayesu answers straight-forwardly. “Intermarriage between Hutus and Tutsis was very common,” he told me. “You also have to realize that marriage in Rwanda is not the same as in the West. Two young people may decide one day that they are going to form a couple. They then go and see their parents who organize a wedding for them. A Tutsi girl could have been engaged to, or going out with, a Hutu boy. As the RPF army advanced, the couple would have fled with the rest of the population, first to southern Rwanda and then to neighbouring countries like the Congo. When the RPF won the war, they convinced the Tutsi girls to leave their husbands. A full-fledged campaign was developed to get those girls to accuse their fiancés of rape. Often the girls were already pregnant. When they gave birth, the RPF said that the new-born were the children of rape. Judging by the New York Times Magazine article (The Minister of Rape), it appears that they succeeded in demonizing us,” observed Akayesu.
For anybody who knows anything about the inextricable relationship between rape and race in the minds of white Americans, there is something dubious in all the horror stories told about the rape Rwandans were supposed to have committed. For the first time in world history, after centuries of slavery, racism and colonialism where sexual domination was an integral part of overall domination, an international criminal tribunal largely funded by the United States and urged on by the wife of a President from the US South, sentenced a man to life for rape as a war crime, and that man is an African, who claims to be innocent. Sadly, it brings to mind Billy Holiday’s Strange fruit, and the lynching of African Americans unjustly accused of rape.
In a 1987 essay on white America’s vendetta against African American men, Ishmael Reed wrote: “An audience of white and Asian feminists attending a rape awareness workshop held in Berkeley last October said that they imagined the ‘stereotypical’ rapist as black, until they were informed by Sallie Werson, a women’s center counselor, that seventy-five to eighty percent of rapists are white. 127
In a recently published book entitled Color of Rape, Gender and Race in Televisions Public Spheres, feminist author and professor Sujata Moorti, expands on the question and reaches similar troubling conclusions. 128 Moorti analyzes the manner in which the major American television networks deal with the subject of rape. Focusing on three highly publicized rape cases that occurred between 1989 and 1991 and the narrative that developed out of them, Sujata Moorti concludes that “the only consistent feature is the demonization of black masculinity”.
The author agrees with many other scholars who have shown that issues of rape and race are always entwined in American public discourse. Moorti contends that “anxieties about black sexuality continue to shape contemporary television representations. Consequently, the myths of the black male rapist, black male bestiality, and black female promiscuity inform the images of black women and men in rape narratives as well as the black male and female experience in the legal and criminal justice arenas.” 129 She also maintains that the racism that resulted in the famous 1931 unjust conviction for rape of the nine “Scotsboro Boys” still prevails today in media representation of rape. 130
Since her book appeared, her conclusions have become more significant. The group of young black men arrested, convicted and locked up for gang rape of the New York Central Park Jogger - one of the cases studied by Moorti - were all absolved of that crime when another man confessed the crime and DNA analysis corroborated his confession. The story had provoked hysteria throughout the United States. Pundits, politicians and the general public let their imaginations run wild as they used that rape case to expound on black male violence in inner city America. Jungle imagery and vocabulary were of course used to make the case.
We now know that that’s not what happened and that the New York Police had obtained forced confessions. The young men are all innocent and are suing for damages. But who can erase the horrible demonization of African American men that went on for more than ten years?
The way the media dealt with that case that eventually took an unpredictable turn reinforces one of the main conclusions Sujata Moorti reaches in her book. The media narrative of rape cases make no attempt to understand the rape phenomenon nor to grasp the raped woman’s situation. The raped woman “becomes a symbolic cause to discuss other social issues” or to express obsessions. The Central Park Jogger case provided excellent material for people to complain about black-male ghetto violence.
This is the very American context in which the introduction of rape charges in Jean-Paul Akayesu’s case, qualified by the New York Times as “the legal breakthrough”, should be understood. As was the case with the Central Park jogger, as was the case with the “Scotsboro boys”, the rape stories from the Rwandan tragedy become a symbolic cause to discuss a supposed African culture of violence and oppression - the underlying theme being Western/white moral superiority - at a time when the same Western powers, and particularly the United States, want to legitimate their direct control over African resources and African countries.
The September 2002 New York Times Magazine front-page feature entitled The Minister Of Rape is the most glaring example of the rape story distortions.131 Ten pages of text complete with photos tell the story with ample commentary by American anthropologists, jurists and psychiatrists all of whom are grimly astonished by the incomprehensible dark and evil nature of the crimes alleged to have been committed. Though the article is long on the details of what these specialists imagine to be the Rwandan mind, it is short on facts. Therein, it faithfully follows the popular literary tradition on Africa developed during the slavery and colonialism that would have Africans killing each other, and in this case raping each other, for no reason whatsoever.
The Times reporter fails even to mention the shooting down of President Habyarimana plane that triggered the tragic events. As for the October 1990 invasion of Rwanda - had there been no invasion, there would have been no massacres - the event is alluded to as follows: “As tensions increased around 1990”.
Who could imagine writing or saying “As tensions increased around December 7, 1941” to describe relations with Japanese Americans, or Canadians, up to and including their internment, without mentioning Pearl Harbour? What would be said if the September 1939 Blitzkrieg on Poland were to be described in the popular press as “increased tensions between Poles and Germans”. Though the invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, was exactly the same nature as Pearl Harbour and the Blitzkrieg, the New York Times writes called it “increased tensions”.
Gore Vidal has said that the Times is the Typhoid Mary of American journalism in reference to the New York cook between 1900 and 1907 went about her work gaily and spread the disease to everybody she came in contact with. With globalization, it would seem that the disease now goes beyond United States’ borders. The same article or excerpts from it appeared in many many papers including the Toronto Star and The Montreal Gazette in Canada, and Le Courrier international and Le Figaro in France.
Jean-Paul Akayesu was elected burgomaster of Taba in 1993, the chosen candidate of the main party opposed to President Habyarimana, the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR). The party leader, Faustin Twagiramungu, who became Prime Minister of Rwanda in July 1994 following the RPF military victory insists that Akayesu is innocent of all charges. “We chose that man to be our candidate because he was liked and trusted by the Tutsis.”
Jean-Paul Akayesu described how he behaved during the crisis. “I spared no efforts to prevent the massacres. I issued orders not to let any killer come into Taba. We fought against the militia thugs in Taba. Some were even killed. But with only six policemen, how could I fight against armed gangs? There was widespread fighting and killing in Kigali. People were fleeing from Kigali to Taba, older people, men, women, children, pregnant women too. Taba was considered a safe haven.”
The term “genocide” was generally unknown to Rwandans before 1994. “We had learned about the genocide against the Jews in school,” Akayesu said, “but I was well into my trial before I knew anything about the legal meaning of the term, that it is a systematic attack on Tutsis and that I was supposed to have incited people to massacre my fellow Tutsi citizens. I did exactly the opposite! For example, the very day that massacres began in Taba, I had met a hundred or so people gathered around a Hutu who had been killed. The killers had taken off because they knew I was going to arrest them.”
Akayesu points out that the cumulative effect of years of war, President Habyarimana’s assassination, rumours of massacres and violence at the hands of the RPF army and the fighting and shooting in Kigali that could be heard as far as Taba, had prompted thousands of people to flee towards his town. In May 1994, some 140 000 people, internal refugees from the RPF-imposed war, all in need food and shelter, were in and around Taba commune. “With only six policemen, what could I do to stop the killings?”
Now Akayesu knows the legal meaning of the term “genocide” and is serving a life sentence for the crime of genocide, yet he categorically rejects the use of the term to describe the Rwandan war. “There were Hutus and Tutsis in the whole Rwandan state apparatus, in all the political parties including the President’s party and the famous Interahamwe. Even the leader of the Interahamwe was a Tutsi. Do you think it is possible to plan to eliminate the Tutsis without them knowing? Would it even be possible? I do not think so. Look at President Habyarimana’s own political entourage and you’ll see that there were many Tutsis who were his good friends. Who could have planned to eliminate the Tutsis without them knowing about it?”
When the Court of Appeal in The Hague brought down its verdict, Jean-Paul Akayesu thought about, and referred to, Dreyfus who had been wrongfully convicted 100 years earlier. “Like Dreyfus, I have been the victim of injustice from the very beginning, and I have never ceased denouncing it and proclaiming my innocence. When I was arrested in Lusaka on October 10, 1995, they also arrested a government minister, a prefect, some senior civil servants. All the others were released. I was held. They continued to hold me because they had to fabricate evidence and that was easy to do to a burgomaster who lived with and was elected by the people. But it makes no sense at all. They release the prefect, the senior civil servant and the minister, all of whom could have decided on or planned a genocide, but they hold the burgomaster of a small town who has a mere six policemen working for him.” After that, the tribunal appointed defense counsel against Akayesu’s will and violated all their own rules and procedures. Then there was the appeal.
The burgomaster of Taba was the first to be convicted by an International Tribunal that, for its own credibility and to justify $350 million already spent, needed to obtain a conviction that would not be overturned. It is not surprising therefore that the Appeals Chamber had prepared its ruling rejecting Jean-Paul Akayesu’s appeal early in March 2001 before his appeal brief had even been translated into English for the Judges among whom one knew absolutely no French.
The final ruling came down on June 1, 2002. Three months earlier, a Tutsi (witness BBB) had contacted Jean-Paul Akayesu’s family. When Akayesu filed BBB’s sworn testimony before the Appeals Chamber with details showing that almost all evidence presented during his trial had been fabricated, the Court refused to consider it and did not bother to hold a hearing to examine the seriousness of the testimony.
After he was arrested in 1995, Jean-Paul Akayesu fully believed he would be released within a couple of weeks. He told his wife exactly that. After eight years behind bars, he has become extremely bitter about the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. “It is a tribunal with a mission! An ad hoc tribunal created to punish Rwandan Hutus. There have been serious and credible revelations about President Habyarimana’s assassination and the abominable crimes committed by the RPF. The tribunal has ignored them all. It is cultivating impunity for the current Rwandan government.”
Despite his bitter experience, Jean-Paul Akayesu has not lost hope. He is like many other political prisoners or wrongfully convicted people who gained notoriety over time. He carefully gathers his documents together. He is always writing and preparing for his case to be reopened, confident that he will end up proving his innocence and that he will be able to join is family that is now dispersed throughout the world.
Chapter 15: Watch out for Africa!”
Closing in on the Congo
“American domination - the only domination from which one never recovers.
I mean from which one never recovers unscarred.’Aimé Césaire, Discouse on colonialism
I mean from which one never recovers unscarred.’Aimé Césaire, Discouse on colonialism
“France our most inveterate enemy.”Benjamin Franklin, 1747
One Friday November evening 1996, the 8th to be exact, Jean and Aline Chrétien were quietly watching the CNN news at their Lake Harrington cottage just north of Ottawa. The non-stop images of people suffering near Goma in Eastern Zaire were so stirring that the Prime Minister decided Canada should mobilize and lead a multinational force to protect Rwandan refugees whose camps were being mercilessly bombed.
Instead of taking a well deserved prime ministerial rest, the PM first bounced the idea off his closest advisors, his wife Aline and his nephew Raymond Chrétien, who was then Canada’s Ambassador to Washington and who had just been appointed as the special UN envoy to the African Great Lakes region. He then picked up the phone to build up a “good head of steam” among other middle powers like Canada before approaching Washington. He lined up the presidents of Brazil and Argentina who agreed to participate in the planned Canadian-led force. With them on side, Jean Chrétien was ready to call Clinton and persuade him to support the Canadian initiative. The week’s work ended happily with a Security Council resolution on Thursday November 14 establishing a multinational force with 10 000 troops that would be led by the Canadian General Maurice Baril. This force to be immediately deployed was to enable the 1,300,000 Rwandan refugees to return home.
Surprise! The very next day, with the cameras of the world well focussed, thousands of Rwandan refugees started crossing the border from the Congo into Rwanda. Then two weeks later, another huge group returned from Tanzania. On December 12, the UN special envoy Raymond Chrétien informed the Security Council that it was no longer necessary to deploy the multinational force since the refugee problem was being settled by itself. “As soon as the Security Council resolution was adopted, Kigali activate the rebels in Eastern Zaire who then attacked the refugee camps. The militias fled thereby liberating the refugees to go home,” Raymond Chrétien told the United Nations press corps. At the very same time, General Maurice Baril, who headed the multinational force, declared: “I must now recommend that my government terminate the mission.”
Mission accomplished! Applause please!
That is how the “right and proper tale” would have it, but what really happened. 132
“General Baril was a damned liar when he said there was no longer a refugee problem in the Congo and that the troops in the multinational force could go home,” a humanitarian worker with a major NGO told me. “He’s a murderer!” The Montreal-based humanitarian worker who asked not to be named, was working in Kigali and Goma during this period and was posted at the Rwanda-Congo border when the refugees were forced to return to Rwanda. “When the city of Goma fell, the troops divided the refugee camp in two,” he added. “Some 300,000 or 400,000 refugees fled toward the forests to the west, whereas between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees headed towards Rwanda. Everybody knew that it happened that way. Satellite photos showed it clearly. Those photos were sent to all humanitarian groups and to General Baril. He had the same photos we had.”
Another eyewitness described the events in exactly the same way. The French daily Libération published his description on March 10, 1997. “Can we believe General Baril when he declared in mid-December that there were no refugees left in Zaire. After all he had spent only half a day on the road to Masisi in the vehicle of a rebel Tutsi army officer and had not seen any refugees. That declaration which officially terminated the multinational force caused the death of thousands of refugees. There’s no way he could be unaware of their presence.” 133
Six years later, Ambassador Raymond Chrétien, interviewed at the Canadian Embassy in Paris, admits that the refugee problem in the Congo only appeared to be settled when his mandate ended in December 1996.
“A bit of the problem was settled. It was the tip of the humanitarian iceberg, but a huge part of the problem was not solved. Many refugees headed for the forest and have probably been killed since then. A million people dead! Not much has been said about that. But there was an international consensus that 500,000 refugees returned to Rwanda. After that, there was no political will to deploy the multinational force.” 134
Though Raymond Chrétien could be congratulated for being so honest about the failure of the mission, it is much too little and much too late. Moreover his excuse about a so-called “international consensus” does not hold water, because that so-called consensus was totally fabricated.
Léon Kengo Wa Dondo was Prime Minister of Zaire between 1994 and 1997. According to him, “Zaire’s 1995 census established that there were 1,300,000 Rwandan refugees in Zaire. Only a very small number of refugees returned to Rwanda in November 1996. The idea of taking advantage of the presence in Zaire of Rwandan refugees accused of genocide to justify military intervention by Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda and then to transform the invasion into what appeared to be a civil war in Zaire was well planned in advance.” 135
According to eyewitnesses, all the pieces were in place to film the refugees’ return and broadcast it around the world - the refugees’ return should more accurately be called “refoulement” or “forced repatriation”. Here’s the spin that was planned. “The refugees were being freed from the yoke of the genocidal Hutu militias and returning happily to their homes in Rwanda.”
Forced repatriation is specifically prohibited by the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees. All countries involved in the November 1996 operation signed that Convention. 136 But who really cares about the rule of law anyway?
Reporters were lined up at the Rwanda-Zaire border well before the refugees were forced to return. Until then they had very little freedom of movement - reporters had been prevented from going near Goma when that city was taken a few weeks earlier - but now they were given full access to observe and film the whole operation. Their total freedom to cover the operation contrasted with the way they were corralled like cattle before the operation, and after it was over. “Obviously, we used the media,” recalled Raymond Chrétien in reference to his 1996 United Nations mission to Central Africa.
“CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was particularly well informed about the operation before it began,” observed the humanitarian worker who was at the border. “She obviously had access to privileged information. She was not interested in any of the less glamorous aspects of the operation. Her work was frankly dishonest.” He pointed out cases of refugees being tortured by the RPF army and the fact that the RPF formally prohibited anybody from providing water to refugees for the first twenty-five kilometres on the Rwandan side of the border. The goal was to dehydrate and eliminate all refugees who had cholera.
It is not surprising that the biased behaviour of CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was noticeable to people present. Shortly after the events took place, Ms Amanpour married Jamie Rubin, Madeleine Albright’s mover and shaker and press attaché. Jamie Rubin is the man who leaked the so-called genocide fax to his brother-in-law Philip Gourevitch. The promoters of the “right and proper tale” inevitably refer to the very sinister “akazu” or “little house” to describe the Habyarimana family and entourage who are supposedly responsible for everything that happened in Rwanda. It would seem however that the United States can still teach the “akazus” of the world a few things, namely how to stage events and not be seen thanks to family ties.
At the very moment the tragic refugee operation was underway, French journalist Jean Daniel was meeting the assistant Secretary of State, John Kornblum, in his Washington office. His account of that meeting is hair-raising.
“France? We want to get along with France. Chirac? A man of good will. We like him. But: (1) no question of keeping Boutros-Ghali; (2) no question of keeping Mobutu in power… … Let’s get together again in six months time. We’ll see if I am mistaken. Watch out for Africa: France has it all wrong. The strong man is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa.” 137
In his own words, Jean Daniel left that meeting “dumbfounded by the cynical detailing of events to come, and the arrogance of the vocabulary used”.
The United States’ offensive against France in French-speaking Africa underlies the destruction of refugee camps in eastern Zaire and explains why the ephemeral Canadian-led multinational force that was supposed to protect the refugees was sent home so soon.
“Who bombed the Sake and Mugunga refugee camps near Goma?” asks former Prime Minister Kengo Wa Dondo, even though he leaves little doubt that he thinks the United States was directly implicated. Eyewitness accounts of the taking of the city of Goma on November 1, 1996, emphasize the speed of the operation which relied on heavy military materiel, the simultaneous attacks from different points and rockets launched from gunboats on Lake Kivu. Zaire army troops panicked. Another witness tells of the arrival of heavy American cargo planes in Kigali every night during the last two weeks of October 1996. The arms were apparently being delivered to the war in eastern Zaire.
Many sources point to elite US troops, including African Americans, and US weapons in eastern Zaire. According to the French daily Le Monde, French intelligence sources claim that American soldiers were secretly buried in that area of Zaire. 138
Marie Béatrice Umutesi wrote a moving account of her life as a refugee, first in Rwanda and then in Zaire, in a book eloquently titled Fuir ou mourir au Zaïre (To flee or to die in Zaire). She clearly shows that the operation was coordinated and that the return was illegally forced upon the refugees. At the end of October 1996, conditions in the huge Mugunga refugee camp had become unliveable. The population had tripled and the RPF army allied with Zaire rebels were closing in on the camp.
“A few days before the Mugunga camp was destroyed, an American military mission came through the camp. Speaking with megaphones, they asked refugees to take advantage of their presence in the camp to return to Rwanda. After that it would be too late. The refugees only began to return massively after that event. The only exit from the camp that was not blocked was the one leading to Rwanda… With the only alternatives being to return to Rwanda or be killed by the armed rebels surrounding the camp, many people chose to return.” 139
These observations are revealing. What is equally revealing is the unbending US opposition to efforts by France and the European Union to establish a multinational force for Zaire at the end of October and early November 1996. From November 4 through November 8, the headlines basically resembled this headline from Le Monde: “La France a du mal à convaincre l’ONU de l’urgence d’une intervention au Zaïre.” 140 (France is unable to convince the UN that intervention in Zaire is urgent).
The “right and proper tale” would have us believe that, unlike France, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien easily convinced the UN to intervene. He even managed to do it while resting and relaxing at his Harrington Lake cottage. Talk about being gullible!
If Jean Chrétien succeeded in mobilizing the UN so easily, it was simply because Washington told him to do it to block France. And of course the Canadian Prime Minister went along. The CBC Fifth Estate program on November 18, 1997, reaches exactly the same conclusion: the operation was orchestrated by Washington to make it look as though Canada was leading. To say he “succeeded in mobilizing the UN” is a gross exaggeration. The only thing he succeeded in doing was to kill the hopes of a real multinational intervention at a time when the refugee crisis made it absolutely crucial.
The same reasoning applies to Raymond Chrétien’s nomination as special envoy of the UN secretary general and to Maurice Baril’s appointment to command the still-born multinational force. That reasoning also helps us to understand their behaviour. Jean Chrétien, Raymond Chrétien and Maurice Baril were little more than operatives in a major American initiative aimed at knocking Mobutu out of power in Zaire and replacing France as the main foreign power operating in that country. Moreover, for services rendered - more accurately, for services that were not rendered - Maurice Baril was appointed Chief of Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces a few months later and was appointed UN envoy to the Congo in 2003.
As of late October 1996, Emma Bonino, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Action, and Aldo Ajello, special European Envoy in the African Great Lakes region, were both calling desperately for the establishment of a multinational force to be led by France, Belgium and South Africa. Each call was bluntly rejected by the United States. “I see no usefulness in external military intervention in Zaire”, repeated the United States’ Ambassador to Rwanda, Robert Gribbin. 141
Raymond Chrétien acknowledges that he was called on to be the UN special envoy to make the Americans happy. “When Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed me, he wanted someone who could work with the Americans.” Raymond Chrétien added that he “insisted that all other international envoys be pulled out. I didn’t want Ms Emma Bonino or anybody else circulating there while I was carrying out my mandate.” 142 In other words, Raymond Chrétien did not want any other official representatives such as the ones sent by the European Union to appear to have any power to settle the problem. France was therefore effectively sidelined since its voice was being heard through the European Union.
Maurice Baril played exactly the same role as commander of the still-born force. Here is how the Québec City daily, Le Soleil, reported the dealings that preceded Baril’s appointment as commander. “United States’ and Canadian government and military officials met at the White House to discuss the multinational force, but Washington still had reservations about the chain of command of the force and had no intention of seeing the United Nations lead it. The principle of a Canadian command corresponded to the American wishes that France would only have a secondary role in the international force to be set up.” 143
Former Prime Minister Kengo of Zaire points out that the Security Council resolution adopted on November 14, 1996, called for the deployment of a multinational force to enable the refugees to “return to their country peacefully, safely and with dignity”. The force was mainly made up of American, Canadian and British troops with a small French contingent. “But Paul Kagame never wanted the refugees to return to Rwanda peacefully, safely and with dignity,” Kengo insists. “He wanted them to return to Rwanda as stragglers, one by one, at his mercy. The international community just let him do as he liked.”
The safe and peaceful corridor was never set up, and it is easy to understand why not. If the refugees had returned “safely, peacefully and with dignity”, they would have been able to demand that their property and belongings be returned to them, but most of all they could have demanded free democratic elections. They would also have been in a position to demand a place at an international negotiating table aimed to promote Rwandan national reconciliation after six years of war. That would have complied with the second point in Raymond Chrétien’s UN mandate, which was to organize an international conference.
Democratic elections - one man, one vote - would have been the death knell of the RPF regime and of Paul Kagame. From the moment the Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded Rwanda on October 1, 1990, everybody knew that the RPF, which was more than 90 percent Tutsi, could never win elections in Rwanda where only 15 percent of the population were Tutsis. Furthermore, national reconciliation would also have meant the end of the hunt for “génocidaires” in Zaire, and thereby eliminate the main pretext used to justify the military intervention in Zaire of the Ugandan, Burundian and Rwandan armies with US backing.
How could the policy that was so clearly and cynically described to Jean Daniel in November 1996 - “France has it all wrong, no question of keeping Mobutu, the strongman is in Uganda, not Kinshasa” - be implemented if Paul Kagame were to be voted out of power and if there were no more “génocidaires” to send the armies after.
Former Prime Minister Kengo made an understatement when he said “Paul Kagame never wanted the refugees to return to Rwanda peacefully, safely and with dignity, and the international community let him do as he liked”. Would it not be more accurate to say: as self-proclaimed leader of the international community, the United States, with the support of Canada and the United Kingdom, told Paul Kagame to invade Zaire, to attack and bomb the refugee camps and force some of them to regurn to Rwanda? Paul Kagame of course willingly followed orders. It should be remembered that the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom were to provide ninety percent of the 10,000 troops in the ill-famed still-born multinational force that would have had the power to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees and of Congolese people.
As is too often the case in major humanitarian crises, there are always some so-called humanitarian professionals who, for reasons that are hard to grasp, to everything in their power to see that the maximum number of people die. The ubiquitous Belgian Senator Alain Destexhe, who is a former secretary general of Doctors Without Borders, is a perfect example. Destexhe fought hard against deployment of a multinational force in Eastern Zaire. The terms used in his article published on November 14, 1996, are staggering, especially coming from a doctor and an organization whose founder, Bernard Kouchner, was soon to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The humanitarian Destexhe wrote in Le Monde that the refugees would never return to Rwanda “unless they are forced or are starved into doing so”. He also proposed forcible return saying that “sometimes a painful political solution is preferable to a policy of compassion”.
Philip Gourevitch, who also favoured the “painful political solution”, managed to present the bombing of the refugee camps and the forced return as a humanitarian military operation because all the refugees are basically, in his opinion, “génocidaires”. He describes refugee camp life as a sort of Eden in Africa and belittles the tragedy of the refugees most of whom are probably dead now: “living in a refugee camp was not a bad economic proposition for a Rwandan (…) Food was not only free, but ample; malnutrition rates in the camps were far lower than anywhere else in the region, on a par, in fact with those of Western Europe. General medical care was also as good as it got in central Africa (…) The birth rate in the camps was close to the limit of human possibility.” 144 In short, they were multiplying like rabbits!
The demonization of Hutu refugees was central to the United States’ plan to remove Mobutu from power in Kinshasa. On May 5, 1998, in Washington, the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee held hearings to find out why the Clinton Administration had done so little to prevent the massacres in Rwanda in 1994 and later in the Congo. Neither the State Department nor the Defense Department appeared at the hearings even though they had received formal requests. Only the chief of staff of USAID, Richard McCall, testified. When he was asked why the United States was not pushing for negotiations between Hutu rebels in the Congo and Paul Kagame’s government in Kigali, McCall replied angrily: “They’re not ‘rebels’ … They’re génocidaires. It would be totally offensive to negotiate with them. I would blow the roof of any building I was sitting in if that were suggested to me.” 145
Starting in 1995, recalls former Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo, the government of Zaire was getting messages from Washington demanding that Mobutu anounce his decision to leave. “Essentially the message went like this. If President Mobutu were to announce on his own that he was stepping down, the United States promised to grant him all the honours due to a veteran head of state. If not, his body would dragged through the streets of Kinshasa.” In April 1997, when it became obvious that Mobutu was not about to obey Washington’s ultimatum, President Clinton personally wrote to Mobutu and threatened to let the “rebels” led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila and the Rwandans take power in Kinshasa. Mobutu still refused to obey and so he was removed, according to plan, on May 17, 1997. 146
The other feature of the cynical plan unveiled to Jean Daniel in November 1996 by Assistant Secretary of State Kornblum was the removal of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as UN Secretary General. On November 19, 1996, in New York, while the refugee crisis raged, the US Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, vetoed the renewal of Boutros-Ghali’s mandate, the man she liked to call “Frenchie”. 147 Here is how the former secretary general described US behaviour. “They didn’t want someone who would question their decisions. They wanted everything, and everything at once! You know, when people have power… I have worked with absolute rulers all my life. They cannot accept discussion, they cannot accept even a minimum of contradiction. I want that! And that’s all. What? You want to discuss the issue? I am the God of Gods, and I will have what I want. And you’re saying that you would like to think about it for a while?” 148
Washington offered Boutros Boutros-Ghali the same honours it offered Mobutu. He would be received by President Clinton at the White House, get honorary doctorates from American Universities, and more, but he had to step down of his own volition. Boutros-Ghali replied that he did not accept tips.
Under President Juvénal Habyarimana, Britain had no diplomatic representation in Kigali. In 2002, London’s Ambassador to Rwanda was the most important diplomat in the country according to former Rwandan Prime Minister Twagiramungu and 2003 presidential candidate.
Raymond Chrétien returned to Rwanda as UN special envoy twenty years after having been Canadian Ambassador to the region. He noted that one of the main differences in Kigali was that English had taken over from French, and his negotiations with the Rwandan Government were conducted in English. Rwanda had adopted English as the official language along with Kinyarwanda and French as early as January 1996. That decision also shows whom the new government wanted to please.
Before, during and after the Rwandan tragedy of 1994 and its continuation in the Congo, the media in English-speaking countries loudly denounced France’s guilt and established a sinister “French Connection” by dishonestly using grisly pictures, sensational headlines combined with innuendo and direct accusations. With its imperialist motives, undercover actions and basically fascist goals, France was made to be the overseer of a genocidal state. Worst of all, it continued to honour bilateral agreements it had signed with Rwanda. In the name of noble and just causes such as human rights and anti-colonialism, everything had to be done to get France out of Rwanda and, for that matter, out of Central Africa. Certain NGOs with their customary dubious neutrality jumped into the fray and launched their own attacks against iniquitous France. If ever a French official or journalist dared to speak publicly about the existence of an English-speaking plot and offensive conducted through a Tutsi rebel front, they were ridiculed. It was as if France was the only country to have a vested interest in this part of the world that supposedly was of no interest to anyone.
All the while France was being made to look so bad, it was no secret that the United States was conducting a major offensive in French-speaking Africa following the demise of the Soviet Union. American officials made no bones about it. In March 1993, Under Secretary of State George Moose declared to the Senate that “we have to ensure that we have access to the tremendous natural resources in Africa, a continent that accounts for 78 percent of the world’s chrome reserves, 89 percent of platinum reserves and 59 percent of cobalt reserves.” 149 After the Afro-American summit in Dakar in May 1995, the late Ron Brown, Secretary of Commerce, made the following challenge: “America is going to be demanding of Africa’s traditional partners, starting with France. We are no longer going to leave Africa to the Europeans.” 150 And when Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Africa in October 1996, he clarified United States’ political goals in Africa: “The time is up when Africa could be divided into spheres of influence, when foreign powers could consider whole groups of countries to be reserved for them. Today Africa needs the support of all its friends rather than the exclusive patronage of a few.”
For a big power, even if it is the biggest and most influential in the world, it is by no means a minor undertaking to bring another country to break long-standing ties with others, to replace the official language that has been in use for nearly a century, to reject administrative, educational and military structures adopted since independence or earlier and to start doing business in a different way. In fact, it is a major and difficult shake-up that effects all aspects of the country, of neighbouring countries and of groups of countries. That is basically the shake-up that the United States planned and announced for Africa. It was also a warning to all the French-speaking countries that were part of an organization created thanks to the vision of an eminent African poet and political leader, Léopold Sédar Senghor.
The American offensive against France in Africa explains why an unusual number of Canadians were appointed to important positions in the central African crisis. Roméo Dallaire, Maurice Baril, Louise Arbour and Raymond Chrétien are the best known. Rarely have we seen so many in a major international crisis. Many Canadian nationalists like to credit Canada’s lack of a colonial history, the country’s peace-keeping experience, or its enhanced international role. All three reasons are far-fetched.
The image of an innocent Canada unsullied by its colonial past, in addition to being inexact and overdone, should have been relegated to the story books after what the Canadian army did in Somalia in 1992 and 1993. As for peace-keeping, aside from Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, no members of the Canadian Forces were in Rwanda before August 1994, because Canada did not want to send troops there. Those who on the other hand try to defend the idea of Canada’s enhanced international prestige have been left out in the cold at least since September 11, 2002, and the antics of George W. Bush.
The United States whose citizens are strangely proud to speak only one language desperately needed a loyal French-speaking country. In the 1960s, James Minnifie wrote a searing attack on Canada and its role as a front for the American empire in his book entitled Peacekeeper or Powdermonkey. Add a French-speaking veneer and a deep-set distrust of France, and Washington had exactly the wolf in sheep’s clothing it needed.
Though distrust of France in English-speaking Canada is nearly 250 years old, it reached new summits during the political reign of Pierre Trudeau, especially as the Québec independence movement gained ground. Distrust of France in fact became an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy. On the other hand, Quebecers committed to a strong French-speaking Quebec know that their future is intimately linked to the international prestige of France and the French-speaking world. Solid and trusting relations with France are therefore crucial.
Need we recall that the Francophonie Summit, which Senghor the President of Senegal had envisioned in the early 1960s, became a reality only in 1986 because of Ottawa’s profound suspicions about France’s motives. Ottawa politicians perceived France as a hostile and irredentist empire at work in Quebec. The Canadian Government, for its part, likes to treat Quebec as little more than a large municipality. A whole generation of Canadians, especially in the armed forces, foreign affairs and the federal judicial apparatus, have been raised and trained to distrust everything that is French. To reach the top in any of these fields, Francophones are expected to toe the line, not once, not twice, but continually, failing which suspicion is immediately cast upon them especially by the media.
Louise Arbour, Raymond Chrétien, Maurice Baril and Roméo Dallaire are all products of these Canadian institutions. While carrying out their respective mandates, each one succeeded in provoking France, blocking it or keeping that country on the sidelines. Each time France proposed a solution to the Rwandan crisis and its sequel in the Congo, the United States and the United Kingdom opposed it. And each time a Canadian was standing on the front line doing the dirty work.
Senghor saw the group of French-speaking countries as a way to counter the cultural and economic domination by English-speaking countries, and mainly the United States, that he saw developing in the 1960s. He would surely have seen that whenever the French-speaking world suffers a setback, French speakers throughout the world, and not only in France, lose ground.
Despite appearances and Canada’s superficial bilingualism adopted in order to block the Quebec independence movement, Canada has always fought tooth and nail against the French language both within the country and in foreign affairs. Hence when the tally is taken of Canada’s “successes” in beating back the French language, it will be important to include the country’s efforts in central Africa that started with the war in Rwanda in the early 1990s.
As if it were deliberate, just before and just after African countries became massively
independent, African prehistory, which was also making a revolution, imposed itself
or, more exactly, imposed Africa as the birthplace of humanity.
Léopold Sédar Senghor 151
independent, African prehistory, which was also making a revolution, imposed itself
or, more exactly, imposed Africa as the birthplace of humanity.
Léopold Sédar Senghor 151
The world must take another look at the Rwandan war so as to avoid visiting the same tragedy on other countries, be they in Africa or elsewhere.
Between 1990 and 1995, Europe and North America, led by the United States withdrew all power Rwandans had to make independent decisions about their future, whereas following a social revolution in 1959 and independence in 1962, Rwandans had succeeded in building a society and a state that was able to meet the needs and aspirations of the Rwandan people.
The so-called donor countries decided in the late 1980s that the economic model had to change. A strong state apparatus that intervened in the economy had to make way for a skeleton state through privatization and outright withdrawal from certain sectors. Though Rwanda was only “invited” to join the movement by those who wield money and power, the big stick behind the invitation left little doubt as to the consequences of a refusal: either you obey or you will be shunned by the “international community”, a euphemism for the retired expression “civilized world”. You will become the world’s dinosaurs. Rwanda rushed to comply.
It was supposed to be just an economic model but for Rwanda it engendered profound political and sociological transformations, not the least of which was a transfer to private interests of the hard-won power Rwandan Hutus had obtained as a result of the 1959 social revolution. It represented a major step backwards and a reinforcement the Tutsi minority’s economic power since the Tutsis already dominate the private sector. For the people with money at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, a model is a model, is a model! It must be applied across the wall. When they decided to impose the model on Rwanda, did they consider the impact it would have on the country? Most likely not. If they did, then their decision was even more sinister.
At the same time, France joined a growing crowd and “invited” African countries to adopt a new political model that, since it came from Europe and North America, was nothing less than God’s gift to humanity and democracy. From now on, war or not, everybody had to hold free elections and establish a multiparty system. The same model applied to everybody, whatever their history, demographics, economy or traditions may be. But that model did not exactly apply to everybody. Ugandan President Museveni, for instance, established a total dictatorship and was not troubled in the least. In fact he was lauded. Africans were not exactly “invited” either. As with the economic model, a big stick was held over their heads in case they failed to comply. As with the economic model, however, the Rwandans under President Habyarimana willingly went along with the “invitation” as best they could.
As if these transformations were not enough, a foreign army invaded the country while everybody watched and some applauded. The foreign army occupied Rwandan territory and very soon the same powers, led by the United States, told the Rwandans to sit down and negotiate a peace and power sharing agreement with the occupying army that had just launched a murderous war.
The invading army occupied more land, drove the civilian population out and activated armed clandestine cells among the Tutsi minority. Despite this escalation, international support for the invading army, especially from the United States and Britain, remained strong and determined. It even increased thanks to the zeal of brigades of human rights organizations, officially non-governmental.
As the ill-named “peace process” followed its course and formally sanctioned the occupation of Rwandan territory as well as President Habyarimana’s removal from power, the first Hutu president of neighbouring Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by the Burundian army dominated by the Tutsi minority. Ndadaye’s assassination confirmed the Rwandans’ worst fears. It became ever more clear that the Rwandan Patriotic Front, who rejoiced when the president of Burundi was murdered, was not interested in a democratic Rwanda, but rather in establishing a new order patterned after the pre-1959 feudal order in which the Rwandan Tutsi minority, who represented less than 15 percent of the population, would once again enslave the Hutu majority. For decades, Western countries, and particularly the United States, had lectured the world on democracy - the political system in which the majority expresses its will in free elections. Now we saw the same Western countries, led by the United States, defend and support an army that, at best, represented a small minority of the population, and whose leaders could never hope to win a democratic election.
This was the situation in Rwanda on April 6, 1994, when the president of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were assassinated. Political power was no longer held by Kigali, but rather by Washington through a proxy army. The economy was in a shambles, crippled and drained by the war and the displacement of more than one million internal Rwandan refugees camped around Kigali, one million peasants who no longer worked their land. The newly created political parties were in crisis. All were jockeying for position in the eyes of international decision makers.
Following the assassination of the two African presidents, and knowing full well that death and violence would ensue, the United States and Britain, for their own strategic interests in central Africa, prevented the United Nations from intervening in Rwanda. Their goal was obvious: help the Rwandan Patriotic Front win a decisive and, they hoped, quick victory in Rwanda. But the decisive victory the British-American tandem was counting on was not as quick as expected. Four long months went by before the victory was decisive. It is not surprising. A people who freed itself after centuries of domination, even with its back to the wall, will never willingly abandon that freedom, as well as the past thirty-five years during which it enjoyed the freedom.
As the American diplomats predicted in the evening of April 6, 1994, there were killings in Rwanda. Nonetheless, the United States and Britain pursued their policy of favouring a decisive and, they still hoped, imminent RPF victory. Let us remember what former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote: “The U.S. effort to prevent the effective deployment of a UN force for Rwanda succeeded, with the strong support of Britain.” For the British-American tandem, strategic imperial interests prevailed over human life, and especially when those human lives were African.
That is the main crime committed in Rwanda in 1994, the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis in the name of strategic imperial interests. The word “imperial” is carefully chosen.
In modern times, the pro-imperial narrative of the earlier type (1850 to 1960) draws smiles and smug complacency, because it is viewed as something antiquated, quaint, but surely never to raise its ugly head again. The imperial hypocrisy of those times has been exposed and the old empires have been rejected.
Here are some gems for the record. The English explorer David Livingstone declared in 1866: “It is on the Anglo-American race that the hope of the world for liberty and progress rest… the inborn energy of English colonists would develop resources… By linking the Africans to ourselves… it is hoped that their elevation will eventually be the result.” 152 Livingstone’s fellow traveller and contemporary Samuel Baker maintained that “England (…) possesses a power that enforces a grave responsibility. She has the force to civilize. She is the natural colonizer of the world…to wrest from utter savagedom those might tracts of the earth’s surface.” 153 What about British Prime Minister Joseph Chamberlain who declared in 1904 “The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come”. And we should never forget Rudyard Kipling’s “White man’s burden” that so many Englishmen bore as they took over Africa and Asia.
There would be fewer smiles and less smugness if people were to realize that the story of the imperial burden and the responsibility for bringing freedom and progress to the peoples of the world has reappeared in popular literature and, what’s more, is the main thesis of serious papers written by influential people. A case in point is Michael Ignatieff, a highly praised award-winning Canadian writer who is currently Director of the Carr Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Governance. In a long article in the New York Times with the ominous title The Burden - he uses the term unabashedly and even calls the burden “noble” - Michael Ignatieff tries to justify and guide the American imperial intervention in Iraq just months before the war. His allusions to the imperial responsibility of the United States are ominous.
The semi-official ideology of the Western world - human rights - sustains the principle of self-determination […] This was the ethical principle that inspired the decolonization of Asia and Africa after World War II. Now we are living through the collapse of many of these former colonial states. Into the resulting vacuum of chaos and massacre a new imperialism has reluctantly stepped -- reluctantly because these places are dangerous and because they seemed, at least until Sept. 11, to be marginal to the interests of the powers concerned. But, gradually, this reluctance has been replaced by an understanding of why order needs to be brought to these places […] Bringing order is the paradigmatic imperial task. 154
Let us apply Ignatieff’s thesis to Rwanda. Rwanda was one of “these former colonial states” that supposedly “collapsed”. That collapse resulted in a “vacuum of chaos and massacre” and the “new imperialism stepped in”. It did so of course “reluctantly” because, according to all official statements, Rwanda is “dangerous” and “marginal to the interests” of the United States. We all know though that the Rwandan state did not collapse on its own and that the vacuum of chaos and massacre did not occur all by itself. Above all, we know that the reluctant new imperialism did not bring order, which is supposedly the “paradigmatic imperial task”.
The new imperialism in fact reinstalled a regime controlled by the Tutsi minority through which it would be able to impose a new domination. Moreover, this type of domination of countries and groups of countries, and even continents, through what is euphemistically called “market-dominant minorities”, in total contradiction with fundamental democratic principles, enjoys the support of a phalanx of theoreticians. One such theoretician is Professor Amy Chua of Yale whose book, World on Fire, defending that type of domination, appeared in January 2003 and was immediately praised and promoted by people in high places in the United States. 155 Chua maintains that the United States “should not be promoting unrestrained, overnight majority rule […] and that the best hope for democratic capitalism in the non-Western world lies with the market-dominant minorities themselves.” She cites the RPF regime in Rwanda as a good example.
The old imperial narrative has been recycled and regurgitated in the vast majority of popular books and reports on Rwanda. It is the thread that holds the “right and proper tale” about Rwanda together. Worst of all, if we are not vigilant, it is potent enough to open the doors to a new and brutal scramble for Africa and a return to something similar to colonial domination. For most Rwandans, that is exactly what occurred starting on October 1, 1990, though this time with fewer Belgians and more Americans.
Since it is known what happened in Rwanda in the years leading up to the 1994 crisis and given that the RPF army that enjoyed the unwavering support of the British-American axis and the CIA was most likely responsible for shooting down President Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, why do international institutions continue seeking out culprits only among Rwandan Hutus? Why also do they continue to be demonized and hunted throughout the world?
Why are we not be sickened by the hypocritical apologies offered by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the Organization of African Unity in December 1997? “We, the international community, should have been more active in the early stages of the atrocities in Rwanda in 1994 […] Yes, mistakes were made, but we are not responsible.” Sickened also by Bill Clinton’s mealy-mouthed apologies in Kigali on March 25, 1998. “It is important that the world know that these killings grew from a policy aimed at the systematic destruction of a people […] Never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence.” 156
Here is where the second crime committed in Rwanda lies. It is the cover-up and the protection of those responsible for the tragedy. The means deployed have been impressive. These include an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the massive dissemination of a “right and proper tale” that together created a group of good Rwandans and another group of horrible Rwandans, who are worse than the worst in modern history, the Nazis.
Though this latter big lie has been repeated ad nausea, absolutely nothing in the Rwandan tragedy can be likened to the Nazis’ planning and launching of a war and mass extermination of Jews. If in fact there was a comprehensive policy developed and implemented in Rwanda and central Africa, it was the one hatched by cynical minds in Washington and London as they reengineered the political and economic order of that part of Africa.
“Watch out for Africa! France has it all wrong. The strongman is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa,” forebodingly trumpeted the Under Secretary of State in November 1996. For decision-makers in Washington and London, the massive deaths in Rwanda and then in the Congo will have been little more than “collateral damage”.