I'm somewhat hopeful that Rwandan President Paul Kagame's decision to ban local BBC broadcasts in the Kinyarwanda language will finally wake up those in the United States and elsewhere who still believe that he's a benevolent ruler who has the interests of all Rwanda's people at heart. Kagame contends that the BBC is giving airtime to "genocide deniers," by which he usually means "political enemies of his regime." The accusation is laughable. It's not as though we're dealing with the equivalent of FOX News here; the BBC does a better job of reporting unbiased news from central Africa than just about anybody.
This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, during which a well-organized group of Hutu extremists, backed by the Rwandan army, carried out a detailed plan to murder as many Tutsis and moderate Hutus as possible. They succeeded in killing 800,000, and would have gotten further had it not been for the push of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF was a rebel army led by Tutsis whose families had lived in exile in Uganda since ethnic cleansings that occured around the time of independence from Belgian rule. The genocide ended when the RPF took control of Kigali and began to consolidate its rule outside of the capital. The Hutu extremists, meanwhile, pushed the civilian Hutu population out into refugee camps in Tanzania, Burundi, and, most importantly, Zaire, where between 1 and 2 million of them ended up. The refugee camps in Zaire were constructed close to the Rwandan border in direct violation of international law, and they were immediately militarized by those who committed the genocide. The camps were then used by extremist Hutus as bases for launching raids back into Rwanda.
The above facts are by and large not in dispute. What is in dispute, however, is the intentions of the Uganda-raised Tutsis who took over the government in Kigali and who are still in power today. They quickly consolidated power after making some symbolic overtures to moderate Hutus that rapidly fell apart. They also oversaw and allowed the murder of tens of thousands of completely innocent Hutus as revenge. Eventually, the government came to be led by Paul Kagame, who had been the general in charge of the RPF invasion.
Trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Kagame understood the tactics of modern war, and by all independent accounts, his takeover of Rwanda was not designed to stop the genocide but rather to take and hold on to power. The new RPF-led government used the Rwandan base of power to launch an invasion into Zaire, at first for the purpose of dealing with the security threat from the militarized refugee camps. Soon, Rwanda was stealing Congo-Zaire's resources, propping up the rebel who started Zaire's civil war, propping up another rebel who kept the fighting going aftr the "wars" were over, and directly contributing to the deaths of 5 million Congolese. As Jocelyn Kelley so eloquently puts it, what happened in the Congo was not "spillover" from the genocide. It is not accidental.
Anybody who says these things in print automatically becomes an enemy of the Rwandan government. Alison Des Forges, the most knowledgable American expert on Rwanda before her untimely death in February, said them. She was banned from travel to the country. Gerard Prunier, one of the greatest Francophone experts on the region, says them in his new book. I have little doubt that Kagame is furious with him right now.
More than anything, I felt a great sense of relief in reading the first few chapters of Prunier's work. Finally, someone reputable has says these things that everyone who studies the region knows to be true: the Rwandan government is not benificent. Its members allowed terrible war crimes to happen in the wake of the genocide, crimes that were just as bad as what was done to the Tutsis. Moreover, the government does not treat all Tutsis as though they are equal. It is an authoritarian regime. There is no political freedom, no free press, and no room for dissent in today's Rwanda.
All of this is dressed up in the language of reconciliation and the need for a strong central government to rebuild the country. Kagame is a masterful politician and tactician; he manipulates everyone from Bill Clinton to Rick Warren into believing that he has the best interests of the region at heart. That, plus a whole lot of Western guilt over the genocide, means that Kigali has seen considerable economic development and foreign direct investment in the past few years.
But that progress comes at a terrible cost. An army that stopped a genocide after it killed 800,000 turned around and killed between 20-40,000 more innocent people. They are in very large part responsible for the massive suffering that continues to this day in the eastern Congo, where the situation continues to worsen. And shutting down a newscast will only draw attention to the very thing Kagame wants to hide most. He is sitting on a time bomb. Rule by a minority of a minority without any space for dissent won't work forever, and Kagame is smart enough that he should know that his jig will eventually be up.
We can and should have sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of innocent Rwandans who died fifteen years ago this spring. The Hutu extremists took the lives of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and cousins, rich and poor, educated and not.
But their deaths do not mean that the people who took the place of those killers are automatically worthy of our trust. Or our foreign aid.
Of course, Kagame's plan to teach every Rwandan English may cause this particular tactic to backfire. It's still very easy to pick up the BBC World Service broadcasts the government can do nothing about - in English - with a $5 shortwave radio. Here's hoping the West is listening.