Merchants of the Rwandan Genocide

Joweri Museveni and Paul Kagame

Metro, a London free paper, wrote on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 that ‘Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have been left mulling over the script for their new film, Kill Bin Laden, after their subject’s death. The pair behind Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker based their script on a failed mission by the US military to capture the al-Qaeda leader. They are now said to be looking at possible changes in light of bin Laden’s death.

On the same day, Linda Melvern, an investigative journalist and author of ‘The Rwandan Genocide 1994: Distortion and Denial,’ presented a talk at the School of African and Oriental Studies about her book. She has widely written and published on what happened in Rwanda, particularly in 1994. The hall is full of international and British students with probably a particular interest in the subject covered. The Rwandan Ambassador in UK, Ernest Rwamucyo, is sitting on the front row.

The writer starts her narrative stating and describing with a dramatic tone the facts. It’s on April 6th and 7th, 1994. After a missile is shot on the presidential plane of Juvenal Habyarimana, which is landing at the International airport of Kanombe – Kigali, immediately the military goes to residences of high rank authorities they knew were in the opposition to the President and kill them. They go door to door searching for Tutsis and start a generalised slaughter. Road blocks are erected starting from that time. The same scenario is immediately replicated in all the provinces of the country. The death toll will be nearly one million of dead within three months. She emphasises the failure of the international community and condemns particularly the role of France with sometimes not pleasant anecdotes towards the French. If I had been French in the room, I would’ve been not very proud of my country.

The presentation is very shot but very effective in its impact on the audience. The planning and methodical execution of the genocide transpires in a visual way from the author’s narrative of events. I don’t think the Rwandan government could’ve done better. The story appears even much more plausible since it is told by somebody else who could be thought neutral. But the distortion of facts becomes clear when people apparently with some prior knowledge of what happened in Rwanda are given an opportunity to ask questions.

I had come to the talk with one specific question. I wanted to hear from an advocate of the Rwandan government’s views what she exactly knew about what I wanted to know. The question was about the significance of documented crimes by the Rwandan Patriotic Front between 1990 and 1994, and immediately after defeating the Hutu government on July 4th, 1994 and then in Democratic Republic of Congo. Latter crimes have been highlighted by the UN Mapping Report which was published on October 1st, 2010. I was planning to add as well the following other questions: Do PR mechanisms erase facts? Aren’t crimes still called crimes no matter how much propaganda is done to diminish their seriousness?

Since the author hadn’t mentioned anything about the situation prior to the assassination of Juvenal Habyarimana, Rwandan president until April 6th, 1994, I asked her instead the following question: ‘Could you tell us the context which was prevailing in the country between 1990 and 1994? To help her in her answer I stated the fact that there was already a civil war which lasted three to four years. I am sure if I hadn’t mentioned it she would’ve overlooked it and talked about something else. In fact, her story had like come from nowhere: people starting killing each other without any clear impulse to be in that state, at least to help understand or give a context to their actions. But I made sure she started by that fact highlighting that there was already a civil war. Unfortunately, she lacked exact elements to back up her narrative. For example she explained that the million of internally displaced who were at the outskirts of Kigali by March 1994, where they had been living in horrible conditions for two or three years, were Tutsi who had been chased by Hutus in 1959 and were returning home. Maybe that’s what the Rwandan government has told her. As we know, for foreigners not aware of prior circumstances of the country before 1994, it is difficult to get the truth out of what Kigali says.

The exact truth about the million of Rwandans which was living miserably around Kigali is that they were Hutu populations from mainly Byumba (North East of Rwanda) and partially Ruhengeri  (North) who had fled atrocities committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front in areas it had controlled gradually since 1990. There were other questions that the writer avoided answering politely because objective answers would’ve jeopardised any future work she would have with Rwanda, particularly if she wanted to pursue her interests and visit again the country. As we remember, Alison Des Forges, researcher from Human Rights Watch, before her death, had been banned from entering Rwanda because she had started unveiling RPF’s crimes.

For almost ten years, Osama bin Laden has been on radar as an animal that was tracked by the West because of what he represented. Now he is dead. In the case of the Rwandan genocide, a narrative which has been very convenient for its effective planners has prevailed for the last seventeen years. Let’s remember that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is nearly to close without pointing a finger to the planners of the genocide for political reasons. Those that the tribunal has condemned so far, unfortunately in its one-sided trials, no one has been sentenced for planning the Rwandan genocide but other crimes they committed. When such time comes of knowing who really planned the Rwandan tragedy, the truth will become alive. There will be also reason to celebrate.

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