Paul Kagame: “Our Kind of Guy”
Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Back in 1995, a senior Clinton administration official, commenting on Indonesian President Suharto, then on a state visit to Washington, referred to him as “our kind of guy.” He was speaking about a brutal and thieving dictator and double-genocidist (first in Indonesia itself, then East Timor), but one whose genocide in Indonesia terminated any left threat in that country, aligned Indonesia militarily as a Western ally and client state, and opened the door to foreign investment, even if with a heavy bribery charge. The first segment of the double-genocide (1965-1966) was therefore serviceable to U.S. interests and was so recognized by the political and media establishment. Indeed, following the mass murders in Indonesia proper, Robert McNamara referred to the transformation as a “dividend” paid by the U.S. military investment there, and in the New York Times, James Reston called Suharto's rise a “gleam of light in Asia.”
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame clearly is another “our kind of guy”: Like Suharto, Kagame is a double-genocidist, and one who ended any social democratic threat in Rwanda, firmly aligned Rwanda with the West as a U.S. client, and opened the door to foreign investment. Later, and far more lucratively, Kagame helped carve out resource-extraction and investment opportunities for his own associates and the U.S. and other Western investors in neighboring Zaire, the massive, resource-rich Central African country renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1997 during the First Congo War (ca. July 1996 – July 1998).
For many years Kagame has been portrayed in the Western mainstream media as the savior of Rwanda, having allegedly terminated the genocide committed against his own minority ethnic group, the Tutsi, by the Hutu majority (April – July 1994). He and his supporters have long justified the Rwanda Patriotic Front's military
invasions of Zaire – the DRC as a simple pursuit of the Hutu genocidaires who had fled Rwanda during the war within, and Kagame's conquest of, the country. This apologetic, long considered fraudulent by many marginalized dissidents, has finally come into question even within the establishment with the leak and then wide circulation of a draft UN report prepared for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (i.e., "Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003," June, 2010). Not only does this report catalogue the massive atrocities committed in the DRC over a ten-year period, it attributes the responsibility for the most serious of these atrocities to the RPF. "There is no denying that ethnic massacres were committed and that the victims were mostly Hutus from Burundi, Rwanda, and Zaire," the draft report quotes the findings of a 1997 UN inquiry (para. 510). Factoring-in the "scale of the crimes and the large number of victims" as well as the "systematic nature of the attacks listed against the Hutu…[p]articularly in North Kivu and South Kivu…suggests premeditation and a precise methodology" (para. 514). The draft report's section on the "Crime of genocide" concludes: "The systematic and widespread attacks…which targeted very large numbers of Rwanda Hutu refugees and members of the Hutu civilian population, resulting in their death, reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified crimes of genocide" (para. 517). As Luc Cote, a former investigator and head of the legal office at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), observed: "For me it was amazing. I saw a pattern in the Congo that I'd seen in Rwanda. It was the same thing. There are dozens and dozens of incidents, where you have the same pattern. It was systematically done."
Actually, this was not the first time the UN had pointed to Kagame’s genocidal operations in Rwanda and the DRC. Even before the 1997 inquiry (quoted above), the surviving written summary of Robert Gersony's oral presentation at the UN in October 1994 reports "systematic and sustained killing and persecution of the Hutu civilian populations by the [RPF]" in southern Rwanda from April through August of that year, and "Large-scale indiscriminate killings of men, women, [and] children, including the sick and the elderly…." The Gersony report estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 Hutu deaths each month from April on. "It appeared that the vast majority of men, women, and children killed in those actions were targeted through the pure chance of being caught by the [RPF]." ("Summary of UNHCR Presentation Before Commission of Experts," October 11, 1994.) Importantly, the members of this UN Commission agreed at this time to treat Gersony's testimony and evidence as "confidential," and ordered that it should "only be made available to members of the Commission"—who promptly suppressed its findings. (See the letter written on UN High Commissioner for Refugees stationary by Francois Fouinat, addressed to Ms. B. Molina-Abram of the Commission of Experts on Rwanda, October 11, 1994.)
Among the many other UN reports on the DRC, the second in the series by the UN Panel of Experts on the “Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo” (S/2002/1146, October, 2002) also stands out. The UN Panel estimated that by September 2002, some 3.5 million excess deaths had occurred in the five eastern provinces as “a direct result of the occupation of the DRC by Rwanda and Uganda” (para. 96). This report also rejected the Kagame regime's rationale that its armed forces' continued presence in the eastern DRC was needed to defend Rwanda against hostile Hutu forces terrorizing the border region and threatening to invade it; instead, the "real long-term purpose is…to 'secure property'," the UN countered (para. 66). But though this 2002 report was not ordered suppressed the way the 1994 Gersony report was, it was nevertheless ignored in the Western media, despite the fact that 3.5 million deaths greatly exceeds the highest toll attributed to the "Rwanda genocide” of 1994.
This suppression was surely a result of the fact that Kagame is a U.S. client, whose deadly efforts in the DRC were actually in line with the U.S. policy of opening up the country to U.S. and other Western mining and business interests. In fact, in answering questions on this leaked report, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley admitted that “We do have a relationship with Rwanda apart from the tragic history of genocide and other issues in the 1990s. Rwanda has played a constructive role in the region recently. It has played an important role in a variety of UN missions. It is in our interest to help to professionalize military forces. And we work hard on that in various parts of the world. So we have engaged Rwanda.” Crowley and company hadn’t gotten around to studying that draft UN report at the time. But then, on the other hand, there were those earlier UN reports of Kagame’s mass killings of civilians in both Rwanda and the DRC, which led to no discernible U.S. or UN response (except, as noted, suppression). Could it be that these were the acceptable responses of those “professionalized military forces,” as they have been to the performance of the professionalized forces of Suharto and the U.S.-trained Latin American troops fresh out of the School of the Americas? Could it be that these horrors were also “dividends” and a new "gleam of light”—in Africa?
It is interesting to note that the first New York Times article on the draft UN report, by Howard French, refers to the difficulty encountered in getting this new report out—it was in fact leaked first to Le Monde in France by insiders who were concerned that its really critical parts might be excised before its release. The UN had already felt it necessary to show the draft to the Kagame government for comments, and that government’s denunciation of this “outrageous” document was spelled out in a full paragraph in the NYT article. As French explained it, there were “difficulties over seven months” in getting the report released over the objections of a government “which has long enjoyed the strong diplomatic support from the United States and Britain.”
Perhaps the UN insiders and media were emboldened to act by the remarkable 93 percent vote total obtained by Kagame in the August 9, 2010 presidential election, where he seems to have gotten massive support from the Hutus whose relatives and ethnic compatriots he was busily slaughtering on such a large scale in the DRC. This election got enough publicity to put Rwanda back on the media stage, if only briefly, with even the U.S. administration expressing mild “concerns” over "what appear to be attempts by the government of Rwanda to limit freedom of expression" (Philip Crowley, August 9), and urging voluntary reforms. Suppose credible evidence was found by the UN that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez had massacred thousands of refugee women, children, elderly, and wounded in a neighboring country. Can you imagine the UN asking Chavez to comment on a draft report on his activities, and granting him seven months before someone leaked it to a major newspaper?
We may note also that this possible DRC genocide is discussed by Howard French and the rest of the mainstream media within the partially exonerating context of “The Genocide” of 1994, where Kagame was allegedly the savior who ended a Hutu-engineered mass killing. As French writes, following the established Western party-line, “In 1994, more than 800,000 people, predominantly members of the ethnic Tutsi group in Rwanda,, were slaughtered by the Hutu.” In this and other current mainstream reports there was, first, the primary genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu, which it now appears may have been followed by a secondary genocide in response by the Tutsi against the Hutu.
But this context is based on a monumental establishment lie about the first genocide, and in fact the great difficulty in publicizing the mass murder in the DRC has an obvious common source with that lie: namely, as Kagame is a servant of the U.S. and other Western imperial powers, reports of his crimes are ignored by Western officials and avoided in the mainstream media. The truth, which Howard French and his associates cannot admit, is that the real 1994 genocide was also mainly the work of Paul Kagame, with the assistance of Bill Clinton, the British and Belgians, the UN, and the mainstream media.
Paul Kagame relies on the myth of his savior role to maintain his domination of Rwanda, although this merely supplements his primary dependence on force. But he has made “genocide denial” a crime, with the standard model of the "Rwandan genocide" taken as the truth, so that those contesting his power can be treated as “genocide deniers” or “divisionists” and prosecuted for crimes against the Rwandan state. On this basis, Peter Erlinder, a U.S. lawyer and lead defense counsel at the ICTR, was arrested when he arrived in Rwanda in late May to represent Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a Hutu opposition political candidate, who had also been arrested and barred from running for political office. Although Erlinder was released on bail in mid-June, his arrest and the systematic crackdown on opposition parties and candidates prior to the August election has been awkward for defenders of the savior and standard model.
As to the mythical character of that model, consider the following:
* The “triggering event” in the first genocide is generally accepted to have been the April 6, 1994 shooting down of the jet carrying Juvenal Habyarimana, the Hutu president of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi. There is overwhelming evidence that this shootdown was organized by Paul Kagame. This was the conclusion of Michael Hourigan, an investigator who researched the subject for the ICTR in 1996. But his report on this to ICTR prosecutor Louise Arbour was set aside, after consultation with U.S. officials, and the ICTR failed to engage in any further investigation of the “triggering event” over the next 13 years. Why would the ICTR, a creature of the U.S.-dominated Security Council, drop this subject unless credible evidence pointed to the U.S.-supported Kagame and the RPF?
* An even more extensive investigation of the “triggering event” by French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière concluded that Kagame needed the "physical elimination" of Habyarimana in order to seize state-power within Rwanda before the national elections called for by the 1993 Arusha Accords, elections that Kagame almost certainly would have lost, given that his minority Tutsi were greatly outnumbered by the majority Hutu. Bruguière also noted that the RPF alone in Rwanda in 1994 were a well-organized military force, and ready to strike. And the politically weak but militarily strong Kagame-led RPF did strike, resuming its assault on the government of Rwanda within two hours of the Habyarimana assassination. This suggests advance knowledge as well as planning and an organization ready to act, whereas the Hutu planners in the establishment’s mythical version of these events seem to have been disorganized, overmatched, and quickly overpowered. In less than 100 days, Kagame and the RPF controlled Rwanda. On the assumption that the shoot-down was central to the larger plan of Hutu Power and genocide, this would have required a miracle of Hutu incompetence; but it would be entirely understandable if it was carried out by Kagame's force as part of their plan to seize state-power.
* Kagame was trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and has received steady U.S. material and diplomatic support from the time he assumed command of the RPF shortly after the RPF's invasion of Rwanda from Uganda in October 1990, a serious act of aggression that was somehow not taken seriously in the Security Council, up to and beyond the RPF's final assault on the Rwandan state that began on April 6, 1994. During that April assault, when the “genocide” was presumably well underway, the remnants of the Rwandan government urged the UN to provide more troops to contain the violence, but Paul Kagame didn’t want more UN troops as he was sure of a military victory, and—surprise!—the United States was also against such a troop addition. In consequence, the Security Council greatly reduced the number of UN troops in Rwanda—a bit hard to reconcile with the standard account that the locus of primary responsibility for the 100 days of killings resides with "Hutu Power" (and killers) and their genocidal plan. The apology in 1998 by Bill Clinton on behalf of the "international community" for "not act[ing] quickly enough after the killing began" was unconscionable hypocrisy. Rather than failing at some non-existent humanitarian objective, the Clinton administration facilitated Kagame's conquest of Rwanda in 1994, so Clinton shares Kagame’s criminality for the violence in Rwanda and for the violence that the RPF extended so ferociously into the DRC for so many years.
* As regards evidence on the killings, there is no doubt that many Tutsi were killed, although mostly in sporadic bursts and localized vengeance killings, not as the result of a systematically planned operation of Hutu commanders. Only the Kagame forces seem to have killed on a systematic and planned basis. And their killings were played down by the UN and United States. Not only was the 1994 Gersony report on Hutu killings by the RPF suppressed by the UN, an internal memorandum to the U.S. Secretary of State in September 1994 that reported the killing of "10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month" by Tutsi forces also never saw the light of day, except for its unearthing by Peter Erlinder and its use as evidence at the ICTR. When the U.S. academics Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, who were initially employed by the ICTR to document all deaths in Rwanda during 1994, concluded that the "majority of victims are likely Hutu and not Tutsi," they were promptly fired. "The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR [i.e., the Armed Forces of Rwanda] seemed to escalate as the [RPF] moved into the country and acquired more territory," they write, summarizing what they consider the "most shocking result" of their research. "When the [RPF] advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the [RPF] stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased."
Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces, the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994, whose surges on the battlefield were systematically accompanied by spikes in deaths, and who were able to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, to have been unable to prevent Tutsi deaths from exceeding the Hutu deaths by a large margin, as the standard model of the "Rwandan genocide" holds? Indeed, it is incredible, and should be considered a propaganda myth.
* This myth is also incompatible with basic population numbers. As we first reported elsewhere, and will now repeat here (see Table 1, below), the official 1991 census of Rwanda determined the country's ethnic breakdown to be 91.1% Hutu, 8.4% Tutsi, 0.4% Twa, and 0.1% "other." Thus out of Rwanda's 1991 population of 7,099,844 persons, Rwanda's minority Tutsi population was 596,387, compared to a majority Hutu population of 6,467,958. Additionally, as Davenport and Stam point out in their Miller-McCune article, the Tutsi survivors organization IBUKA claimed that "about 300,000 Tutsi survived the 1994 slaughter"—a number which means that "out of the 800,000 to 1 million believed to have been killed then, more than half were Hutu." In fact, it is highly likely that far more than half of those killed in Rwanda during the April-July 1994 period were Hutu; and of course after the RPF seized state power in July, Hutu deaths inside both Rwanda and later the DRC continued unabated for another decade-and-a-half.
There is great continuity in U.S. policy in the Third World, and it is not pleasant. Thus a Bill Clinton official could find the mass killer Suharto “our kind of guy” in 1995, and Suharto received steady U.S. support for 33 years, through the administrations of Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton, until his downfall during the Asian currency crisis in 1998. In a more recent time frame, extending from 1990 to today, Paul Kagame, an even more ferocious mass killer, has gotten support from the first George Bush, Bill Clinton, the second George Bush, and now Barack Obama (whose Deputy Secretary of State hadn't gotten around to looking at the draft UN Report on Kagame’s mass killings in the DRC). It is interesting, also, to see the media treat this latest “our kind of guy” so kindly, with the liberal New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch even comparing Kagame to Abe Lincoln (in his 1998 book We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families), and Stephen Kinzer publishing a hagiography of this deadly agent of U.S. power (A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It ).
This leaked UN report and the negative publicity generated by Kagame’s sham election in August 2010 may open up the mainstream a bit to a more honest examination of this U.S.-supported mass killer. But that is no sure thing, given the value of his service to U.S. power in Africa, and given the U.S. establishment’s deep commitment to a narrative that for many years has protected and even sanctified the “man who dreamed.”
[ Edward S. Herman and David Peterson are co-authors of The Politics of Genocide, published in 2010 by Monthly Review Press. ]
Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Paul Kagame: 'Our Kind of Guy'," Z Magazine, October, 2010.