Rwanda: a dictatorship loved by the West
In October 1990, an army of fugitive Tutsis attacked Hutu-dominated Rwanda. They arrived from Uganda, where many of them had supported Yoweri Museveni’s victorious rebellion against Tanzania’s Obote government.
Following an early setback, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) advanced far into Rwanda. On August 4, 1993, the United Nations negotiated a power-sharing peace agreement between the RPF and President Juvenal Habyarimana in Arusha.
Neither the RPF nor Habyarimana were pleased with the prospect of sharing power. Habyarimana was killed on April 6, 1994, when his aircraft was shot down by a missile, resuming the conflict. In response, Rwanda’s interim government began a wholesale murder of Tutsi people, killing 800,000. In July 1994, the RPF defeated the Rwandan government troops.
Rwanda is still under RPF rule. The administration – and its supporters in Western countries and human rights organizations – argue that the murders in 1994 constituted genocide. Some opponents, including former members of the previous government, object to the characterization. They claim that illegal murders occurred on both sides of the civil war.
The genocide claim became fundamental to Rwanda’s social order and interactions with the rest of the world. The RPF’s claimed right to rule is based on its will to fight the homicidal ideology of “Hutu Power.” The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda prosecuted notable Hutus for war crimes from 1994 to 2015, while local courts handled minor matters.
Intent to Deceive, Linda Melvern’s newest book, takes on the so-called genocide deniers. Do Not Disturb, by Michaela Wrong, takes up the narrative of Paul Kagame’s RPF government and its repression of opposition. It does so via the lens of the murder of Patrick Karegeya, the former chief of the RPF’s external intelligence units who defected from President Kagame.
Melvern maintains that anybody who does not believe that the Tutsi murders were part of genocide is either denying or downplaying them. Her attitude renders a fair assessment of the situation difficult. It simply enables you to view arguments in terms of whether they support or refute her position (in which case, they are unworthy of consideration).
Melvern’s dogmatism crumbles when it comes to the RPF’s massacres of civilians. Seth Sendashonga, the RPF’s interior minister from 1994 to 2005, stated that the RPF was responsible for half a million fatalities. These were Hutus who were murdered both before and after the fall of Kigali, the country’s capital. In a dramatic illustration of his argument, Sendashonga dumped out a large ream of teleprompter paper detailing hundreds of thousands of names of the dead during a news conference he held while in exile in Nairobi. These fatalities, however, must be kept to a minimum for Melvern. She claims that the RPF’s’revenge murders’ were not systematic and that the RPF murdered Hutus “in combat” rather than in cold blood.
When it comes to the hundreds of thousands who left Rwanda into refugee camps, the allegation that there were many Hutu victims of the RPF – and that their murders were systematic – is difficult to refute. In 1994, the RPF assaulted the refugees. ‘Everyone had become more or less militarized,’ RPF General Jack Nziza said. ‘There was no distinction between them,’ he added, implying that Hutu refugees were not victims but ‘genocidaires,’ and therefore acceptable targets for retaliation.
According to the UN, 617 Hutu refugees were bludgeoned, bayoneted, shot, or burnt to death. The exact number of deaths is unknown, but the UN estimates that 200,000 people are still missing. Melvern downplays the fatalities in the camps, claiming that “there were killings, but they were probably isolated acts of vengeance.” The reality was that Hutus who were hiding in the Congolese woods were lured to these camps for food and medical treatment, only to be murdered.
Highlighting the RPF’s massacre of Hutus is immoral because it helps to “conceal the crime of [Hutu-led] genocide by finding similar wrongs,” according to Melvern in a chapter headed “moral equivalency.” Humanist morality, on the other hand, is unquestionably founded on the notion that all human lives are equal. Melvern uses the term “genocide” in a manner that diminishes the significance of those murdered by the RPF. While Hutu officialdom and the militias it used had responsibility for the massacre of Tutsis, the RPF was obviously a culpable participant in the war.
Wrong’s book is not about the murders in 1994, but about the Kagame government that followed, and how it treated its opponents. Do Not Disturb is a harrowing story of the many individuals who rebelled against the government. They were persecuted and many were murdered in Rwanda.
The list starts with Karegeya, Wrong’s primary source, who was killed in South Africa in 2013. It includes Sendashonga, who was assassinated in Nairobi in 1998, and journalist Charles Ingabire, who was assassinated in Kampala in 2011. Kayumba Nyamwasa, the former chief of staff of the Rwandan army, was shot in South Africa in 2010 but survived. A few days later, journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage was assassinated in Kigali.
Recently, Jean Damascène Habarugira and Syldio Dusabumuremyi of Rwanda’s opposition United Democratic Forces (UDF) were assassinated in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Other UDF supporters have vanished. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the head of the UDF, was imprisoned for eight years on charges of ‘genocide denial’ (she claimed that Hutus were also murdered during the civil war), and was only freed when the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that her imprisonment was unconstitutional.
Kagame has made numerous comments in which he has made barely disguised suggestions that the regime’s opponents deserve to die. He said in January 2014 that “whoever betrays the nation would pay the price.” He was speaking many weeks after Karegeya died.
Wrong provides a vivid picture of Kagame’s ascent through the ranks of the RPF. He comes seem as harsh, especially when dealing with disobedient soldiers. This gave him the moniker ‘Pilato,’ after Pontius Pilate. Wrong recounts a bodyguard’s claims of being assaulted and kicked on two different occasions by an angry Kagame. According to Nyamwasa, Kagame had commanders beaten in front of soldiers at the Mukamira barracks. Kagame assaulted several brigade commanders at a command conference in 2000, beating and striking them. According to one brigadier, they were herded into a corner of the room “like scared sheep.”
Initially, the RPF administration attempted to portray itself as racially diverse. Leading Hutu liberals and opponents of the Habyarimana government, like as Sendashonga and Faustin Twagiramungu, backed Kagame. When the list of municipal mayors was released, it became obvious that the new government would be racially oriented. ‘Almost all of the names were refugees who had just returned from Burundi, the Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania,’ he said. To put it another way, they were all Tutsis. The new government merely reversed the trend of ethnic dominance that had prevailed under Habyarimana’s previous administration.
At that moment, the Hutu ministers resigned from the cabinet. Twagiramungu went on to run against Kagame in the presidential race. Karegeya said that the RPF leadership debated how big of a margin Kagame should win by – perhaps as high as 100%. Instead, Kagame settled for 95.1% after several districts claimed a turnout of 100%. Twagiramungu went to Belgium, whereas Sendashonga went to Kenya.
Despite internal strife, Kagame’s Rwanda was quickly rising to prominence in Central Africa. It was hailed as a shining example of what good government might accomplish by the United States and the United Kingdom. RPF troops launched forays into Mobutu Sese Seko’s decaying government in the Congo, pursuing Hutu refugees and exiles. The RPF, allied with Uganda and backed by Angola, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, placed experienced Congolese rebel Laurent Kabila as Mobutu’s successor in the Congo. As soon as Mobutu fell, Kabila’s efforts to build a national basis prompted him to turn on his Rwandan friends and demand that they leave the country. It was a deadly error.
Rwanda invaded the Congo for the second time in 1998, this time targeting Kabila. This invasion was part of a larger civil war that claimed the lives of up to 4.7 million people. According to Wrong, the RPF exploited the invasion to seize Congolese natural riches. Kagame had gone too far. Zimbabwe and Angola allied with Kabila against Rwanda this time. Worryingly, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, a long-standing supporter of the RPF, joined them.
The regime’s envoy in Washington was RPF veteran Theogene Rudasingwa. He explained to Michela Wrong how he had effectively muted Western criticism of his government’s adventurism: “There’s the genocide and “Never Again” – so we have a passport to do everything we can to avoid a recurrence…” It is a really cynical tactic.’ ‘We’ve done it very successfully for years because it actually intimidates people,’ he explained: ‘The Americans, the Brits, they get cowed by guilt.’
According to Wrong, the government has gotten a lot of backing from the West. ‘US, UK, Dutch, and German financing routinely provided up to 40% of the government’s operational budget,’ she claims. Under the IMF and World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program, 72% of Rwanda’s debt was wiped off in 2006. From 2000 to 2019, Rwanda received £11 billion in foreign development aid, much more than similar nations.
Wrong focuses on how the UN and major Western countries, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, gave the Kagame dictatorship a blank check. It was free to behave as it pleased. The argument was that the RPF was the answer to Rwandan society’s murderous inclinations.
Unfortunately, the RPF government turned out to be a dictatorship, persecuting and brutalizing opponents — all with Western support.