Most reporting on the Rwandan 1994 atrocities was false and driven by the Clinton administration's need to hide its culpability. The book Survivors Uncensored allows Rwandans to tell their own story.
Samantha Power, former UN Ambassador, National Security Advisor, current USAID Chief, and a principal in the decisions to bomb both Libya and Syria "to stop genocide," was on the ground in Yugoslavia in the 1990s as a pro-NATO journalist. She went on to build her whole histrionic career on a Machiavellian distortion of the Rwandan Genocide before writing "A Problem from Hell, America in the Age of Genocide" and creating her laughable 1-800-GENOCIDE line.
Search now for Ukraine and "genocide" and you'll get a slew of headlines and proposed prosecutions. Recently, Samantha Power spoke with Rachel Maddow in a segment titled "Samantha Power On Russian Atrocities And 'Genocide': 'The Facts Are Plain As Day'." Everything's black and white and plain as day for Samantha Power and the humanitarian imperialists, and everything returns to Rwanda. Bill Clinton, the US, and the “international community” legendarily failed to stop genocide in Rwanda and have thus been morally obliged to “stop genocide” everywhere since.
In fact, Bill Clinton didn’t fail. He acted in accordance with US policy at the time, which was to see the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by then General, now President, Paul Kagame win the Rwandan war, seize power in Kigali, and become a key manager of the enormous resource wealth in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was then called Zaire.
Clinton sent his UN Ambassador, the late Madeleine Albright, to the UN Security Council to block any attempt to mobilize a multilateral force to join the UN Mission already on the ground in Rwanda to stop the massacres.
What the Security Council is supposed to do, in accordance with the UN Charter and in response to urgent situations like Rwanda’s in 1994, is to organize a multilateral force to intervene with a UN mandate. The US blocked intervention by a multilateral UN force, then went on to use the consequent tragedy as an excuse for its unilateral crusades “to stop genocide,” which are in fact imperialist wars.
Any political and/or military entity that the US and NATO are at odds with is now said to be guilty of genocide. Ethnic, religious, and racial groups are quick to claim to be genocide victims with consequent prerogatives. And the once solidly anti-war left has divided in response.
In “Slouching Towards Sirte, NATO’s War on Libya and Africa,” Max Forte wrote, “Everywhere is Rwanda for the humanitarian imperialist, which makes one want to know what really happened there in 1994.”
“Survivors Uncensored” is the latest of honest answers to that question, which also include “Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, from Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction,” “How Paul Kagame Deliberately Sacrificed the Tutsis,” “In Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” “Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later,” “Post-Genocide Rwandan Refugees: Why They Refuse to Return ‘Home’: Myths and Realities,” and “Dying to Live: A Rwandan Family's Five-Year Flight Across the Congo.”
This book is a collection of voices of those who lived through the four-year Rwandan war and massacres and of the prelude and aftermath. Its full title is “Survivors Uncensored: 100+ Testimonies from Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide as Well as Pre- and Post Genocide Rwanda; Inspiring stories of Resilience and Humanity.”
These voices are rigidly censored inside Rwanda, where the totalitarian dictatorship of Paul Kagame demands absolute adherence to its account of demon Hutus slaughtering innocent Tutsis, perhaps as many as a million in a hundred days. And to its legally enforced “Genocide against the Tutsi” description, which is meant to hide his Rwandan Patriot Front’s massacres of Hutus throughout the four-year war in Rwanda and then in refugee camps in what was then called Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The names of those speaking for the book from inside Rwanda have been changed for their protection.
Outside Rwanda, the RPF’s fanatics and enforcers slander, threaten, and even try to prosecute anyone, Rwandan or not, who dares to deviate from their story. Hence the title, “Survivors Uncensored.”
I highly recommend reading the book and all its 100+ voices, but I can only highlight a few here. Many are fascinating accounts of Rwanda well before and after the 1990-1994 war that broaden the war’s historical context, but I’m going to focus on just a few testimonies about what took place during the war that run counter to the widely received story.
Nadine Kazuba on the 1990-1994 war
Nadine Kazuba begins the book’s third chapter by saying that her testimony will focus on what she and her family experienced during the war. She was almost ten years old when it began and said she heard that Rwanda had been attacked by a Tutsi-led rebel group known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the party that has ruled ever since its army advanced to Kigali and won the war.
She then saw things change through her ten-year-old eyes. Curfews were established. “There was fear in people’s eyes, there was confusion.” Soldiers began appearing in combat uniforms with weapons she had never seen.
The RPF, many of whom had been serving in the Ugandan army, crossed the Ugandan border to attack Northern Rwanda, and soon she and others began hearing of Northern Rwandans fleeing their homes, and of the RPF killing people in the most gruesome ways: “. . . invading homes and stabbing people, shooting them, mutilating them, decapitating them. They would also group people into crowds, then throw grenades into the crowds.”
By 1991, the RPF was attacking parts of Northern Rwanda where her parents and grandparents had grown up and where many of her relatives still lived. Her grandfather at first resolved to die in his own home, but finally fled, joined her grandmother and other relatives in a camp for internal refugees where he died of a heart attack.
As conditions worsened in that camp, her parents decided to shelter as many of their relatives as they could in their home in Kigali. From 1991 to 1994, she was living in a house full of internal refugees.
Her cousins told her horror stories about crimes committed by the RPF. One story was of a young girl who was with her father when the RPF killed and decapitated him. She showed up in a camp wearing her father’s jacket and carrying his head.
In Chapter 4, Kazuba gives testimony to what she saw in Nyacyonga Refugee Camp, just outside Kigali, which was ringed with camps sheltering a million desperate refugees by the time the RPF assassinated President Habyarimana and the final hundred days of massacres began.
She saw malnourished children living in huts made of wood, covered with leaves, and, if they were lucky, a plastic cover to stop the rain from getting in. Not enough to keep a tropical storm out, but better than nothing.
She saw horribly unsanitary conditions.
She saw children taking care of children, including a boy younger than herself who was taking care of three younger siblings. She could not imagine having such responsibility.
The children from that camp would walk miles barefoot, malnourished, in torn clothes to beg for food in Kigali.
Seeing all this, she said she already had an idea of who the RPF were and resolved to flee from them as fast as possible if she had to. In the end she lost three uncles, five cousins, and many other relatives to the RPF. She said she felt she would betray them and other Rwandans, Congolese, and Burundians who were killed if she remained silent about what she had seen.
Chapter 7, Eric Ngoga on his family’s ordeal during the war
Eric Ngoga’s family story is well worth reading, but his account is also particularly interesting to me because it begins with his description of the consequences of multi-party democracy, the political system that the West forced on Rwanda, as it has on so much of the world.
“In the early 90s,” he writes, “with the start of the multi-party system, everything changed. Our neighborhood saw the rise of fanatics towards the different political parties in Rwanda. And in a few months, all these parties had their flags in front of the business area near the road. Within a span of 20 meters, we had PSD, PL, MDR, and MRND flags just one next to each other. In the earliest days, everyone was tolerant about the political affiliation of the others. But as time went by, sabotage started, and the flags would get stolen by the opponents or the flagpoles were removed. Later the flag of CRD was also present, but at that time, the PSD, PL, and MDR were removed.”
UPI reported on multi-party democracy coming to Rwanda in 1991: “Rwanda, like other developing countries, has been under heavy pressure from Western donors of financial aid to end the one-party political system.”
Ngoga also described less than positive consequences to the peace process and the 1993 Arusha Accords, which were also imposed on Rwanda by the West. “In those times, the political space in Rwanda was changing quickly because of the peace agreements between the government of Rwanda and the RPF. For these reasons, some places were very dangerous and the security was precarious. My neighborhood was one of those that was radicalized and came under complete control of the Interahamwe [the ad hoc militia who massacred Tutsis and anyone else they didn’t like]. My neighborhood was like an island of danger, but the Interahamwe were able to control only a small territory.”
Needless to say, neither multi-party democracy nor the Arusha Accords led to good outcomes. Three years after the introduction of multi-party democracy and less than a year after the Arusha Accords were signed, Rwanda had been even further ravaged by the RPF’s invasion and war: the RPF had assassinated President Habyarimana, massacres had shocked the world, and millions of refugees were fleeing into every country neighboring Rwanda, but most of all into what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ironically, Rwanda is now ruled by the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s one-party dictatorship which stages charades of multi-party democracy every few years. During the 2010 presidential election, three real candidates attempted to run, but they were never even allowed to register their parties, and by the time the election was over, two of the three were in prison and the third was in exile.
In the last election, President Kagame claimed to have won 99% of the vote, but Western powers and leaders—those who insisted that Rwanda institute multi-party democracy—can’t praise him enough.
The RPF, a signatory to the Arusha Peace Accords, has waged a resource war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1996.
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com.