the rwandan genocide, reimagined

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  • Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC

    The Rwandan Genocide, ReimaginedNoires fureurs, blancs menteurs: Rwanda 1990-1994 (Furious Blacks, Lying Whites: Rwanda1990-1994) by Pierre PanReview by: Mark DoyleForeign Policy, No. 154 (May - Jun., 2006), pp. 83-85Published by: Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLCStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25462045 .Accessed: 16/06/2014 07:03

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  • Rewriting Rwanda

    By Mark Doyle

    Noires fureurs, blancs menteurs: Rwanda 1990-1994 (Furious Blacks, Lying Whites:

    Rwanda 1990-1994) By Pierre Pean 544 pages, Paris: Mille Et Une

    Nuits, 2005 (in French)

    etween April and July 1994, I spent most of my time reporting on the geno

    cide in Rwanda for the BBC. One day I would be counting cadavers piled high in a rural church; on another, I would interview perpetra tors or victims. I remember looking out from a half-destroyed Kigali hotel at red-hot tracer bullets forming an arc in the night sky. I recall inter viewing the International Red Cross representative-one of the few for eign aid workers not to have run away-who said into my micro phone, "I stopped counting at 500,000 dead."

    What happened in Rwanda in 1994 is now fairly common knowl edge. Just for the record, though, here are the facts as I understand them: The genocide was perpetrated by an extremist ethnic Hutu regime that responded to a military attack by ethnic Tutsi rebels by trying to

    murder all Tutsis-as well as those Hutus prepared to make peace with the minority Tutsis.

    For several years prior to the genocide, the majority Hutus had received French diplomatic and

    military backing. By contrast, the

    Mark Doyle is a BBC world affairs corre

    spondent. He was an East Africa

    correspondent for the network during the

    Rwandan genocide.

    Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who led the rebellion, had been brought up in exile in neigh boring, English-speaking Uganda. By the end of July 1994, an estimated 800,000 were dead, the vast majori ty of them Tutsi. The operation was extremely well organized. The Hutus killed at a rate faster than the Nazis killed Jews in World War II.

    Thus far, I think the author of Noires fureurs, blancs menteurs Rwanda 1990-1994 (Furious Blacks, Lying Wbites: Rwanda 1990-1994) would hardly disagree

    with me.

    over the Hutu government and ended the genocide) fails to explain the entire story of such massive killing.

    The context is the years that led up to the war-during which, according to Pean, the minority RPF forced itself onto the scene and com

    mitted gross human rights viola tions-and the years that followed.

    He cites the wars in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, which followed the genocide, as some of the worst acts committed by the RPF. Rwanda's support for two invasions of the Congo undoubted ly contributed to millions of deaths

    When attempting to reinterpret the history of one of

    the most violent episodes of the 20th century, a bit

    more consistency and credibility is required.

    But in this controversial new book, French investigative journal ist Pierre Pean goes on to claim that the real catalyst of the genocide was not the Hutu regime, but the Tutsi rebel who allegedly shot down Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane on the night of April 6, 1994. This event triggered the genocide.

    Tipped off by the publisher's blurb on the cover, I prepared myself for crude historical revi sionism. But this is not, for the most part, a crude book. Pean doesn't deny the genocide. He says it was "barbarous." But, he says, the con text is all-important, and the "offi cial history" (told by the Tutsi rebels who won a military victory

    in that country. This context is important and valid. It can also be twisted to distract from the indis putable facts of the genocide.

    Pean relates how a cabal of white writers and propagandists in Europe have, according to him, lied by pro moting the narrow "official" version of events while hiding examples of the RPF's malfeasance. He then painfully attempts to exonerate France from blame for arming the Hutu genocidaires. Moreover, he glosses over some of the more impor tant aspects of the French military intervention in southwest Rwanda at the height of the killing, when they created a so-called humanitarian zone-namely, that France allowed

    MAY |JUNE 2006 83

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  • 1[ In Other Wordsj

    some extremist Hutus to escape; extracted some key members of the genocidal regime; and refused to sup port the United Nations in its efforts to save lives.

    One of the main building blocks of Pean's "other side" of the story is the judicial inquiry mounted by lead ing French investigating judge, Jean

    Louis Bruguiere. Because the crew of Habyarimana's plane was French (and all on board were killed when it spiraled into the ground near Kigali

    Airport), Bruguiere was mandated to investigate. Although the judge's inquiry has not been made public and the case has not been brought to court, a March 2004 scoop in the French daily Le Monde revealed that Bruguiere's report claimed the assassination was organized by the RPF commander, Paul Kagame-who happens to be the current president of Rwanda.

    What's more, Pean argues that Kagame committed this act knowing it would provoke a massacre; that

    Kagame knowingly sacrificed hun dreds of thousands of Tutsis in a calculated bid for power.

    In 2004, I asked Kagame about Bruguiere's reported allegation. The Rwandan president said the accusa tion was ridiculous, part of a plan by French authorities to hide French connivance with Hutu extremists. Of course, it's unsurprising that Kagame denies the charge. But it is still feasi ble the plane was shot down by extremist Hutus who feared the polit ical compromises Habyarimana was considering, and so they killed him to serve as the signal that the genocide should begin. It is also feasible that

    Kagame's men shot down the plane as an act of war, not realizing it would spark genocide. The author's take is that the RPF surely must have known

    massacres on a huge scale would fol low the attack. But how could anyone predict such a thing with certainty?

    Pean interviews several people reportedly mentioned in the French judicial inquiry and numerous exiles now opposed to the Kagame regime. His nearly exclusive reliance on French sources-and on Rwandan opponents of Kagame-is a prob lem. He seems to swallow some sto ries and believe sources without stopping to question them. For example, the author claims to have a radio intercept (presumably collected by the Hutu government or the French) of a message Kagame sent to an RPF commander in Kigali in

    December 1993. In this message, Kagame allegedly says: "The general aim ... is the physical liquidation of certain civil and military authorities at certain precise dates and on orders. You'll get the list of victims later, but Number One is well known!"

    Is it really credible that a mili tary leader such as Kagame, who is

    widely respected (and feared) for his tactical skills, would send a radio message on such a sensitive subject on a frequency that the French or their Rwandan allies could intercept? Is it really credible that

    Kagame would incriminate himself in such a message and, further, phrase it in this rather childish way? It looks to me that some of the mes sages Pean attributes to the RPF could be propaganda planted by the French or their allies.

    My doubts were reinforced by a few elements in this book that I know are wrong. For example, Pean accus es the commander of the small and beleaguered U.N. force in Rwanda in 1994, the Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, of being in the pocket of the United States. That is absurd; Dal laire was extremely critical of the underwhelming U.S. role during the genocide. His critiques were

    made in private during his U.N.

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