An Open Letter to the New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch on the Congo

Your recent article about central Africa in the May 30 edition of The New Yorker, The Congo Test is the latest in a long stream of successful disinformation about central Africa. This time it is about the Ituri province of the Congo, before it was about Rwanda, but it has always been reliable for those who want to disinform.

In the purest pre-colonial style, you describe the Ituri province as “the most infernal hell” of hells in the “most hellish country” in the world. Knowing you, that is probably the message you want to leave readers with. Moreover, it’s better that way since the tale you are now trying to tell contradicts everything you wrote previously about Rwanda, Uganda, the Congo and their respective leaders.

It is time to admit that you operated as a flack for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Clinton Administration during the 1990s. That was when they set out to remodel Central Africa using the proxy army from Uganda, under Yoweri Museveni, and a break-off from that same army called the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame, who took over in Rwanda in July 1994.

Your service to them was best illustrated in your May 1998 New Yorker article entitled The Genocide Fax. You wisely published it the same week the House Committee on International Relations held hearings and wanted to question the Clinton Administration in public hearings about its inaction during the Rwandan tragedy of 1994. These hearings followed on the heels of hearings in France and Belgium that pointedly attacked both Clinton and Albright. Since neither State nor Defense deigned to appear at those hearings a diversion was required.

Your fax machine just happened to ring at that key moment.

You told us in The New Yorker that “somebody with access to UN files disagreed with Eckhard”, who you quote complaining about the UN getting a bum rap on Rwanda, and “one day (your) fax machine rang and a copy of the missing response to Dallaire spun into (your) office”. The spin you gave to that fortuitous fax was pretty sharp: ‘We in Washington are not guilty of having supported a murderous invading army that has spread death and destruction throughout central Africa, nor are we responsible for preventing the UN from sending forces in to protect civilians. The guilty ones are those incompetent UN bureaucrats and especially that Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’. Most importantly, Philip, you successfully kept the heat off of Madeleine and Bill. Congratulations!

Until now nobody has asked who sent you that fax, and of course you have not volunteered the information. Why don’t you come out and admit that it came from your brother-in-law, Jamie Rubin, Madeleine Albright’s senior press attaché and right-hand man, who had also been in charge of ousting Boutros-Ghali from the UN? People now know how good your are because you made so much mileage with that “genocide fax”, that you dubbed the first documentary evidence of a comprehensive plan to commit genocide. That was particularly skilful work since you and I know very well Dallaire’s fax and the UN reply are more like “that idiotic bordereau” that Zola described in Dreyfus Affair whose “so-called secrets were of no value”. Moreover, they have not stood up in court at the ICTR in Arusha.

As flack though you did a good job for Washington’s allies. You saw that both Uganda’s Museveni and Rwanda’s Kagame got good press among the right-thinking people in the United States. You waxed hagiographic about both in your very touching book We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. You made Museveni into the “éminence grise of the new leadership in central Africa”, with a “frontiersman’s inventiveness”, who is “lucid, blunt and low on bombast”. You had him conveniently attacking corruption and bad governance in Africa. To make it very clear, you compared him to George Washington because of his revolutionary approach to Africa.

As for Kagame, you purred on about him being “always so soothingly sane a man of rare scope-a man of action with an acute human and political intelligence”. He became “intensely private a neat dresser, married, a father of two”. You found him so good that you could not help thinking as you wrote your book of another “tall skinny civil warrior, Abraham Lincoln!”.

Since you felt so good about Kagame and Museveni, in your Stories from Rwanda, you heaped praise on them for invading the Congo in 1996 and bombing refugee camps, because of the noble and just pursuit of “génocidaires”. You knew that story would go over well because you knew your brother-in-law, Jamie Rubin at State, had arranged for his on his future wife, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, to tell the same story already when she was reporting for CNN at the Rwanda/Zaire border in November 1996.

You also praised Kagame for the Kibeho refugee camp massacres in Rwanda in April 1995. You carefully made those massacres into regrettable incidents like those that occurred as General Sherman led the Union army to defeat the Confederates or during the liberation of France and Italy from the Nazis: small errors that don’t tarnish the noble cause. You described that cause as a new “decolonization” process. Very good Philip! With a term like that you dignified Washington’s allies, even though they committed terrible crimes at Kibeho and in the Congo, and you trivialized the real decolonization of Africa that was led by people Washington wants out.
But what on earth has happened? In your latest article in The New Yorker, you’ve called your erstwhile heroes “occupying armies” and “arsonists masquerading as firemen”. But Philip, who has been paying the arsonists and who has taken advantage of the fire sale? You know that your friends at State-Assistant Secretary of State E. Korkblum to be exact-warned the French journalist Jean Daniel in Washington in November 1996 that France had everything wrong in Africa and that the “strong man in Africa was now in Kampala and not in Kinshasa”. That was exactly when Rwanda and Uganda were invading the Congo and starting the war that has not finished yet.

You also know about US troops covertly accompanying the Rwandan and Ugandan armies as they did their dirty work in Eastern Congo. The French press has reported widely on it. But I guess you know you don’t have to worry since nobody believes or trusts the French any more.

The fact is that the picture is muddy, and that may be your one consolation after having to contradict yourself so completely.
Don’t worry though, you’ve done your work deftly, despite the glaring contradictions. You’ve faithfully kept to the tradition established by Rudyard Kipling, Rider Haggard, and many others. You’ve portrayed Africans as slaughtering each other almost by choice with no external political, economic, institutional causes. You’ve described Africa as one of those “vexed areas of the world that holds no compelling strategic or economic interest” for anyone. And you’ve depicted the United States as the “reluctant empire” just as Seeley described the British empire as “an empire acquired in a fit of absence of mind” in 1883, just before the Berlin Conference and the scramble for Africa.

So when the United States starts scrambling for Africa, you will still be the authority, you will continue to get grants, you will still be quoted by everybody and invited to all the major talk shows, and you will win prizes and see your name in the paper. And if you have your way, we will all think that the recolonization is a good thing because it will protect the Africans from themselves.