Rwanda has served as an important metaphor in American foreign policy for the failure to act to intervene in genocide. Presidents ordering bombing attacks or Special Forces operations have frequently said that they could not allow another Rwanda on their watch.
According to Samantha Power’s Pulitzer-prize winning book, A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (2002), a veritable bible for policy-makers in the era of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the Clinton administration had foreknowledge of the April 1994 disaster, and failed to save the Tutsi from slaughter carried out by Hutu extremists.
Judi Rever’s new book, In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Canada: Random House, 2018) shows how Power’s analysis is self-serving and false. While Hutu extremists killed many innocent Tutsi who had been mistreated historically, the key perpetrators of the mass killing were the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame, a “fair haired boy” of the Central Intelligence Agency and British MI6, to quote FBI agent Jim Lyons.
Lyons was involved in the investigation of Kagame’s role in shooting down Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana’s airplane as a he returned from peace talks in Arusha, Tanzania in April 1994; the key act that instigated Rwanda’s mass killings. Kyumba Nyamwasa, the former head of RPF intelligence, has testified that he was present when Kagame told aides that Habyarimana’s plane had been shot down by “our own troops” and that Kagame told him that the missiles were “smuggled to Kigali under a load of firewood on a truck.” It is only Kagame who had interest in Habyarimana’s death,” he insisted. “His motivation was to grab power and he used his close bodyguards to achieve his objectives. He never believed in negotiations and does not believe in political settlements even now.” (p. 193/4).
The Bush and Clinton administrations, with their British counterparts, supported Kagame and the RPF because Habyarimana, though originally installed in a CIA supported coup in 1973, had become a proxy of the French. After Habyarimana’s killing Clinton urged the removal of UN forces so the RPF would win Rwanda’s civil war.
The RPF instigated the war in October 1990 by invading Rwanda from Uganda in an attempt to reclaim the Tutsis former privileged status. (The Tutsi were favored by the Belgian colonialists and then subjugated and many expelled following Rwanda’s Hutu Power revolution in the early 1960s). The U.S. and British trained the RPF in counterinsurgency and helped to turn the refugee army into a military powerhouse. Kagame was trained in psychological warfare methods at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
At the time of the RPF invasion, U.S. ambassador Robert Flaten recommended that the U.S. apply sanctions against Uganda, though his advice was ignored. The Clinton administration also suppressed a UN report by U.S. aid worker Robert Gersony that detailed large scale atrocities by the RPF in the context of the civil war.
Since consolidating power, Kagame has been regularly invited to speak at prestigious universities and was characterized by Bill Clinton as one the greatest leaders of our time. Power praised him for his “epic achievements.” Normally critical minded journalists such as Stephen Kinzer compared him to Abraham Lincoln.
These analogies are obscene. Kagame personally directed massacres such as at the Byumba soccer stadium in Northern Rwanda and ordered the merciless hunting down of Hutu in the forests of Congo. Known for inflicting brutal tortures as director of Uganda’s intelligence services in the 1980s, Kagame employed professional killers, some of whom had worked for Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator. They developed methods for disposing large number of bodies by dissolving them in acid, dumping them in rivers and swamps, or burning them, and established open air crematorium.
According to Rever, the RPF leadership was cognizant of history and appears to have studied the methods of the Third Reich. She writes that “like the mobile units of the Third Reich [called Einsatzgruppen] that fanned across the Soviet Union, the RPF’s death squads ranged from Rwanda’s northern border with Uganda to the south, along the border with Tanzania. The trucks carrying Hutus to Akagara National Park and the open-air crematoriums in the forest there recalled the Second World War’s death wagons and extermination centers.” (p. 229)
The RPFs targets included Hutu intellectuals who might contest the new regime, and government officials who served under Habyarimana (1973-1994), a former police General trained by the CIA under the USAID’s infamous Office of Public Safety (OPS). (His main liaison, John Manopoli, a New York State Police officer, also trained South Vietnam’s Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan who was featured on national television shooting a Vietcong prisoner in the head).
RPF founder Alphonse Fumura stated that during Rwanda’s war (1990-1994), the RPF attacked refugee camps and densely populated villages, executed Hutu prisoners of war, carried out black flag terrorist attacks that were blamed on Hutu, and left victims in Akagara Park to die slowly from exposure to the hot sun and dehydration. They launched a deliberate policy to create a “Tutsiland” through Hutu massacres, massive population displacement, property appropriation and land grabbing. Later on, Kagame’s agents hunted down regime opponents in-exile, killing numerous ex-RPF who might expose the truth about the RPFs crimes.
Rever is a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail and other Canadian publications who was harassed by RPF apparatchiks and came to fear for her life while researching the book. She interviewed hundreds of Rwandan victims and RPF dissidents. Their testimonies add a new layer of detail from previous studies by Peter Erlinder, Robin Philpot, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, which challenged the official narrative depicting the RPF as heroes and Hutus as genocidal villains.
Reading Rever’s book, one is struck not only in the human capacity for evil that Kagame and his associates embody, but also the capacity for psychological manipulation and deception, which they learned from the United States. One day when they have lost their strategic utility to the Anglo-Americans, Kagame and his henchmen may be brought to justice for their crimes and the veil fully lifted. Until that time, they will continue to live their charmed lives, knowing they have the support of the world’s most powerful people.