The Taylor Report - Rwanda 1994: Colonialism dies hard

Until lions produce their own historians
the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter

African proverb

“The genocide in Rwanda was 100 percent the responsibility of the Americans!” Those are not the words of a political leader who has been marginalized like Robert Mugabe or a Fidel Castro. Nor are they the words of a nostalgic African activist bewailing the fall of the Soviet block. Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali made that statement in July 1998, and he repeated it to me in November 2002. People in the White House liked to call Boutros-Ghali “Booboo Ghali”, or “Frenchie”, in preparation for and during his firing from the United Nations conducted by the then United States’ Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright, who vetoed his re-election on November 19, 1996.

His analysis flies in the face of all the clichés and accepted ideas about the Rwandan catastrophe whose effects have spread well beyond the borders of that small country in Africa. The story of Rwanda is so littered with clichés and blind beliefs that a modern Flaubertian would be well advised to draft a new dictionary.

Throughout his life, Flaubert wanted to compile a dictionary containing all that should be said in good company to be right and proper and to laud the things the right thinking agree upon. Similarly, what should and can be said about Rwanda at cocktail parties in Europe and North America - that Boutros-Ghali obviously did not say - in order to be well thought of among the right thinking? If your ears perk up at such events where Rwanda is mentioned, you are sure to here some or all of the following statements.

  • Rwanda is a beautiful little country perched on a plateau in the heart of dark Africa where horrible Hutu génocidaires massacred a million defenceless Tutsis after a plane crash killed an African dictator on April 6, 1994.

  • The UN and the international community hopelessly failed to respond in time despite the clear warning in a fax sent on January 11, 1994, by the valorous Canadian general Romeo Dallaire and the numerous warnings issued by devoted and neutral human rights workers.

  • In a predictable return to its iniquitous and colonialist past, France flew to the rescue of génocidaires and dictators by deploying its army in the Opération Turquoise.

  • The Rwandan Patriotic Front led by the brilliant military political strategist Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda, put an end to the genocide when he marched into Kigali on July 4, 1994, and then took power on July 19, 1994.

  • Pressured by impartial non governmental human rights groups and in light of the trustworthy information they provided, the international community got its senses back, established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, arrested and indicted the bloodthirsty génocidaires, and brought these big fish to justice in Arusha, thanks in particular to Canadian Prosecutor Louise Arbour, who later become judge on the Supreme Court of Canada and then head the UN Human Rights Commission.

  • Thankfully after centuries during which rape has been a weapon of war and domination, a man has finally been convicted by an international criminal court of rape as a war crime. For that crime and other crimes against humanity, the brute is now serving a life sentence in a Malian jail.

  • The génocidaires fled Rwanda and African dictators in the region continued to protect them. As a result, Rwanda rightly launched a defensive war of aggression in the neighbouring Congo that continues to this day. Nonetheless, thanks to Jean Chrétien, his nephew Ambassador Raymond Chrétien and Canadian General Maurice Baril, the international community came to the rescue of the Rwandan refugees, liberated them from the génocidaires, and made it possible for them to return freely to their country. Since some remained, however, Rwanda was justified in pursuing its defensive war of aggression. Unfortunately, some four million people have since been killed.

  • On behalf of the international community, President William Jefferson Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for their timid reaction, and ours, during the genocide and promised never again to tolerate such crimes.

Who has not read or heard such descriptions. Is it possible that they are just clichés or fashionable misconceptions? Does the truth lie somewhere else? Was Boutros Boutros-Ghali right to lift the corner of the very heavy rock of American responsibility to see what lies beneath?

The problem with the Rwandan tragedy is that nobody dares to look. It’s like the tale of Blue Beard who sweetly hands his wife the keys to his castle but warns her that one door must not be opened. Unlike Blue Beard’s wife, we have all obeyed the tyrant.

The goal of this book is to disobey, to use that key or those keys to open the door and find out what lies behind. Reams of paper have been written on Rwanda and the African Great Lakes region. The space taken up in libraries and bookstores is measured in metres, but except for fine points, all these books and reports say the same thing.

As is often the case with unanimity, dissidence is not tolerated, factual omissions and errors signalled are simply drowned out, and silence about crucial events is imposed. In the case of Rwanda, these problems are compounded by a shameful servility towards those who wield real power in the world, as well as a profound contempt for Africa.

The unanimity begins with the cavalier and abusive use of the term “genocide” and all its derivatives, such as génocidaire borrowed directly from French, accent and all, thus making it even more sinister. The road map that led to its widespread use tells us more about the goals and policies of big powers and the parties at war than it does about the crime itself. The term is a bludgeon and a gag order for millions of Rwandans. Its continued blind use will do more to perpetuate war than to render justice.

The most deafening silence concerns the worst terrorist act of the 1990s, namely the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi on April 6, 1994. That tragic assassination of two African heads of state has become a “plane crash” in official international newspeak.

Why have Louise Arbour, Kofi Annan, Madeleine Albright, and their superiors from Jean Chrétien to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, not insisted that the killers be identified and brought to justice? After all, the “international community” solemnly promised to do so on April 7, 1994. The answer is obvious. Any serious investigation of that assassination would destroy the narrative that has been so carefully crafted to explain the Rwandan tragedy.

Equally astonishing is the silence about the three and a half years of war in Rwanda, starting with the invasion by Ugandan troops on October 1st, 1990, leading up to the assassination of the two presidents. That war heralded other wars that have torn up and terrorized all the neighbouring countries, and particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The victors of the Rwandan war, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, have been the main aggressors in the Congo. They are also the unwavering allies of the United States and the United Kingdom - President Paul Kagame was the first African head of state to back the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Once again, a close look at the war conducted by the invading RPF army between 1990 and 1994 and thereafter, would effectively shatter the official narrative.

Since 1989, power in the world is concentrated as never before in the hands of a single country. One might have expected that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, criticism of what used to be called “American imperialism” would have become sharper and stronger, and that more people would be digging up information, and pointing out the interests, misinformation, manipulation and covert action of that superpower. That certainly has not happened with respect to Rwanda.

Whereas France has been portrayed as being riddled with motive and guilty of the worst sins, the United States and its faithful sidekicks, mainly Canada and the United Kingdom, have come through virtually unscathed, bathing in an appearance of moral authority and honesty.

Like all countries Rwanda has a complex history that is a source of much debate. Summaries of Rwandan history in recently published books are inevitably coloured by the authors’ own positions on the 1994 tragedy. In this book, very few references will be made to Rwandan history. This choice has been made not because Rwandan history uninteresting or unimportant, but rather because the authors of the official narrative of the recent tragedy use Rwandan history, or their own version of it, to hide the real causes of and thereby protect the criminals. These authors invariably explain the events of 1994 by referring to aspects of Rwanda history that they intentionally present as sinister and foreboding of sad events to come. It is as though the route towards “genocide” could be retraced in Rwandan history alone, and no other forces came into play.

A neutral overview of Rwandan history, geography and demography is nonetheless very helpful. Books recognized for their objectivity include René Lemarchand’s authoritative work published in 1970 Rwanda and Burundi (Pall Mall Press, London).

Well before Europeans arrived, Rwanda was a feudal kingdom controlled by the Tutsi minority (Batutsi). The Tutsis were mainly cattle herders. Devotion to the king and poetry were highly regarded by the Tutsis who held agricultural work in contempt. The Hutu majority (Bahutu) were mainly peasants who worked the land and were serfs to the Tutsi aristocracy to whom they owed fealty and fees.

After the Berlin Conference of 1885 and the European scramble for Africa, Rwanda and Burundi came under German sovereignty but were ruled indirectly through the kings known as Mwamis. Germany also ruled what is now Tanzania, though much more directly as a colony until the end of the First World War in 1918. When the victorious powers divided up German possessions, Rwanda and Burundi were put under Belgian mandate. Belgium administered Rwanda and Burundi through the two kings (Mwamis), both Tutsis, and thereby exacerbated the division between Tutsis and Hutus, the latter representing more than 80 percent of the population. Rwanda and Burundi were economically integrated in the Belgian Congo whose administrative capital was Léopoldville, renamed Kinshasa in 1971.

In 1956, the Belgians took the initiative to organize elections that shook up the feudal and monarchist order. In Rwanda the Hutu majority revolted against the Tutsi aristocracy in November 1959. Many Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries, including Uganda, while others were killed. This social revolution culminated in a UN-conducted referendum in September 1961, the independence of Rwanda on July 1, 1962, and the redistribution of land among Hutu peasants.

The Rwandan Mwami (Kigeri V) fled before independence. Rwanda became a republic and Grégoire Kayibanda, leader of the Parmehutu party, became the first president. Burundi kept the monarchy after independence and the Tutsi minority continued to hold power especially in the Burundian army.

Between 1960 and 1967, Tutsi exiles calling themselves Inyeniz * launched many violent attacks against the new Rwandan regime, but were consistently beaten back. Each attack brought about reprisal killings within Rwanda. In 1972, Burundi was shaken by serious troubles. The Tutsi-dominated army of Burundi killed more than 100,000 Hutus, and many more fled as refugees to Rwanda. Shortly thereafter, on July 5, 1973, senior officers of Rwanda’s National Guard overthrew President Kayibanda. The leader Major General Juvénal Habyarimana became president. The Tutsi elite that had remained in Rwanda after the social revolution and independence supported the new President Habyarimana.

Rwanda lived in relative peace and prosperity between 1973 and 1990. It was considered as a model of economic development and was often cited as an example by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Tutsi refugee problem, however, had not been resolved to their satisfaction. This then became the pretext for senior officers of the Ugandan army, including many Tutsis exiles born in Uganda or living there since 1959, to invade Rwanda on October 1, 1990. The Government of Rwanda and a vast majority of the Rwandan people saw that invasion as a counter-revolution aimed at catapulting the Tutsi aristocracy back into power. This book deals mainly with events that took place from 1990 on.

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In April 1994, it had a population of 7,600,000, about 85 to 90 percent Hutu. Rwanda has an area of 26,340 square kilometres, about the same as the State of Vermont whose population is about 550,000.

A few words are in order to explain where this book comes from. Though Montreal has been my home since 1974, I did not arrive from Ontario where I was born, but rather from Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. More exactly, I was arriving from Koudougou, some 100 kilometres to the west of Ouagadougou, where I had lived and taught English and history for two years. Before, during and after my stay in Koudougou, I was lucky enough to travel through, and stay in, almost all West African countries, from Mauritania to Cameroon and to pursue my interest in African history that I had studied at the University of Toronto.

Settling in Montreal, Quebec was no accident. Leaving a French-speaking country in a French-speaking region of Africa for another French-speaking country, Quebec, was only normal. In addition to language, there were also political affinities. African independence was still fresh in the minds of Africans, as was colonialism, and the very many Quebecers in Africa at that time were talking about independence and Canadian colonialism in Quebec.

Bamako, Mali, and not Toronto or Thunder Bay in Canada, was where I first heard music by Quebec poet and singer Gilles Vigneault. N’djamena, Chad (formerly Fort-Lamy) and not Vancouver or Ottawa was where I learned who Félix Leclerc was. In Koudougou, I read Les nègres blancs d’Amérique (White Niggers of America) and found out what the 24th of June meant for Quebecers. At the same time and with the same enthusiasm I encountered Une vie de boy (Houseboy) by Ferdinand Oyono, in Yaoundé, Cameroon. In Dakar, I learned who exactly Léopold Sédar Senghor was and read Sembène Ousman’s God’s Bits of Wood, and in Nigeria, I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

This personal history is presented only to show the link between this book and my commitment to Quebec sovereignty that led to my previous book entitled Oka: dernier alibi du Canada anglais (Oka: English Canada’s Latest Excuse), published in 1991. 1 Though the books may seem unrelated, both aim to combat accepted ideas and blind beliefs that are based on prejudice and hidden political agendas. Moreover, my personal trajectory, and that of others who have enjoyed the wonderful international link provided by the French language, may also convince skeptics in a time of doubt that the Francophonie is, and should continue to be, a very important international institution.

Interest in Africa and particularly in French-speaking Africa led me to follow the events in Rwanda very closely in the early 1990s. After meeting a number of Rwandans at a demonstration, I published an article in the Montreal daily La Presse in September 1994 criticizing the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development then headed by Ed Broadbent. 2 The article started a polemic because it accused that organization and others of doing public relations for the invading army of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in their March 1993 human rights report published following a fifteen-day visit to Rwanda in January 1993. The article also pointed out that the report and the media and lobbying campaign that accompanied it exacerbated the conflict. (More about this in Chapter 4.)

Following the publication of that article and the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in November 1994 by the UN Security Council, my brother John Philpot, a Montreal criminal lawyer, took a serious interest in the Rwandan tragedy and particularly in the people accused of, and arrested for, genocide. He published an important critique of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania 3, and was named counsel for a Rwandan before the Appeal Court in the Hague. Other well-known lawyers from Quebec, Canada and the United States, then became interested and were also retained as counsel by Rwandan prisoners in Arusha.

These lawyers and their imprisoned clients face a daunting challenge. First and foremost, they must convince the judges that there is a version of the events other than the one Flaubert might have described as “the right and proper tale”. As with all tribunals, the Arusha Tribunal, judges and all, is conditioned by an international public opinion that has already granted the right and proper tale the authority of an adjudicated fact.

If this book manages to cast doubt or break the unanimity in favour of that simplistic and simple-minded tale, then it will have been worth the effort.

The first section deals with rarely discussed events that brought Rwanda to the brink of catastrophe before Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira were assassinated on April 6, 1994. First came the invasion of Rwanda by part of the Ugandan National Army in October 1990 and the deadly war it waged in that country for the next three and a half years. While that army pursued the war against Rwanda, foreign powers imposed a multiparty system that undermined the ability of the Rwandan Government and Army to fight off the invader. The same foreign powers, led by the United States and calling themselves the international community, then imposed a so-called peace process that effectively transferred power to the invader. Non governmental organisations then began slandering Rwanda, its leadership and its entire modern history. They effectively became a cat’s-paw for the invading army and American and British interests in Central Africa.

This section also examines how and why the assassination of two African heads of state has been trivialized by a vast cover-up operation. Who has gained from that cover-up? The section ends with a study of what exactly the United States did and did not do between April 6 and July 19, 1994 when so many Rwandans were killed. It will be shown that the number of dead in Rwanda was of little concern for the world’s only superpower. Washington’s priority was to see its boys from the Rwandan Patriotic Front win the war decisively - it took much longer than expected - and to bump France out of that part of Africa.

What about the genocide? What about the massacres? Everybody saw those images, the machetes, the bodies and skeletons. Nobody can claim that it did not happen. Of course not! However, the simplification of the Rwandan tragedy to a tale of “horrible Hutu génocidaires” massacring “innocent Tutsis” aided and abetted by France is aimed to hide the causes and protect the real criminals. Rwanda suffered a major human disaster. Like other such disasters, it had political causes. Any serious analysis will show unequivocally that that manicheen, good guy-bad guy, tale was developed by Western imaginations for Western public opinion. The fact that tale has so easily taken root bears witness to our blind subservience to real power and historic contempt for Africa.

Names must be named. Each Western country boasts its own journalist, its writer of fiction or non-fiction, its human rights activist or anthropologist who sprang forth to tell the right and proper tale. Pablo Neruda described him - or her - very well: “He’s the skulking coward hired to praise dirty hands. He’s an orator or jounrnalist. Suddenly he surfaces in the palace enthusiastically masticating the sovereign’s dejections.” 4 His name is Philip Gourevitch or Alison Des Forges in the United States, Carol Off or William Schabas in Canada, Gil Courtemanche in Quebec, Linda Melverne in the United Kingdom, Colette Braeckman or Alain Destexhe in Belgium, Gérard Prunier or Jean-Pierre Chrétien in France. Though each has his or her national subtleties, their message is identical: steer clear of the sovereign and his allies.

The second section looks at how the tale has taken root in books and other publications. Knowingly or not, writers of fiction and non-fiction about Rwanda have drawn their material from a popular literary tradition about Africa. That tradition abounds with metaphors, images and conventions developed at a time when Europe was enslaving and trading in African slaves or colonizing the continent. These metaphors, images and conventions have everything to do with European imaginations and almost nothing to do with African reality. They were developed to legitimate what was totally illegitimate, namely slavery, the slave trade and Europe’s domination and colonization of Africa. The more they were repeated the more they themselves became the message of the works they appeared in.

Four books on Rwanda by four different authors are examined to show not only that “That’s not how it happened in Rwanda” but also and above all that “It could not have happened like that in Rwanda”. The authors are the American Philip Gouvevitch, the Canadian Carol Off, the Quebecer Gil Courtemanche, and the Belgian Colette Braeckman. All four helped write the “right and proper tale”, and, wittingly or not, all four are products of a colonial mentality that is unfortunately making a comeback.

The final section examines the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, especially through the case of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the first person to be found guilty of genocide and rape as a war crime. Jean-Paul Akayesu has always proclaimed his innocence and, what’s more, he has solid proof of fabrication of evidence presented to the tribunal by the prosecutor’s office when former Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, who became a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada, and who was recently appointed head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, ran it.

This section also investigates the 1996 refugee crisis in Eastern Zaire, now the Congo. It shows how the same Rwandan Patriotic Army that the United States had helped put in power in 1994 used the tale told about the Rwandan tragedy and made official by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to justify the invasion of the Congo. Washington took advantage of that refugee crisis to push France out of the Congo, a country that is coveted for its natural resources. In doing so, the United States got help from its trustworthy sidekicks in Ottawa. The Chrétien government was more than glad to play the role of the anti-French, pro-American, French-speaking country. Interviewed in Paris, Raymond Chrétien, Jean Chrétien’s nephew and Ambassador to France, admitted that the November 1996 operation he had been involved in as special envoy of the UN Secretary General resulted in at least one million deaths!

The never-ending war in the Congo began with that operation. It has led to the implosion of that country and the most deadly war since 1945.

* Supporters of the Official Story have widely, and dishonestly, misinterpreted this term. In his authoritative 1970 book Rwanda and Burundi, René Lemarchand defined inyenzi as follows: “the term inyenzi is currently used within and outside Rwanda to refer to small-scale Tutsi-led guerrilla units trained and organized outside Rwanda and varying in size from about six to ten men… It literally means cockroaches.” (p. 198).

1 Robin Philpot, Oka: dernier alibli du Canada anglais, VLB éditeur, 1991.

2 “Ed Broadbent et la crise rwandaise : un rapport préparé avec insouciance” La Presse, September 6, 1994, B3, (Ed Broadbent and the reckless report on Rwanda)

3 John, PHILPOT, Le Tribunal international pour le Rwanda, La justice trahie, in Études internationales, vol. XXVII, No. 4 décembre 1996, Institut québécois des hautes études internationales.

4 Pablo Neruda, Canto General, translated by Jack Schmitt, University of California Press, 1991, p. 169.