Konch Magazine - Did the Clinton Policy Cause Rwanda

Did the Clinton Policy Cause Rwanda, Congo?

Time has come to revisit the Rwandan tragedy[1]


(This is the Introduction to Robin Philpot’s Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction (Baraka Books 2013) reprinted with the permission of the author and the publisher).



Until lions produce their own historians
the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter

African proverb

“The genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans!”  Those are not the words of a political leader who has been marginalized like Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro or Bashar al-Assad. Nor are they the words of a nostalgic African activist bewailing the fall of the Soviet bloc. Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali made that statement in July 1998, and he repeated it to me in November 2002 and again in 2004. People in the White House liked to call Boutros-Ghali “Booboo Ghali,” or “Frenchie,” while they methodically ejected him from the United Nations, an operation conducted by then United States Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright who vetoed his re-election on November 19, 1996.

His analysis flies in the face of all the clichés and accepted ideas about the Rwandan catastrophe whose effects have spread well beyond the borders of that small African country. The story of Rwanda is so littered with clichés and blind beliefs that a modern Flaubertian would be well advised to draft a new Dictionary of Received Ideas.

Throughout his life Flaubert wanted to compile a dictionary containing all that should be said in good company to be right and proper and to laud the things the right thinking agree upon. What should be said about Rwanda at cocktail parties in Europe and North America—which Boutros-Ghali obviously did not say—in order to be well thought of among the right thinking? If your ears perk up at such events where Rwanda is mentioned, you are sure to here some or all of the following statements.

-       Rwanda is a beautiful little country perched on a plateau in the heart of dark Africa where horrible Hutu génocidairess massacred a million defenceless Tutsis after a plane crash killed an African dictator on April 6, 1994.

-       The United Nations and the international community hopelessly failed to respond in time despite the clear warning in a fax sent on January 11, 1994 by the valorous Canadian General Roméo Dallaire and the numerous warnings issued by devoted and neutral human rights workers.

-       In a predictable return to its iniquitous and colonialist past, France flew to the rescue of génocidaires and dictators by deploying its army in the Opération Turquoise.

-       The Rwandan Patriotic Front led by the brilliant military and political strategist Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda, put an end to the genocide when he swept down from the north and marched into Kigali on July 4, 1994, taking power on July 19, 1994.

-        Pressured by impartial, non-governmental, human rights groups and in light of the trustworthy information they provided, the international community got its senses back, established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, arrested and indicted the bloodthirsty génocidaires, and brought these big fish to justice in Arusha, thanks in particular to Canadian Prosecutor Louise Arbour, who later became judge on the Supreme Court of Canada and then head of the UN Human Rights Commission.

-       Thankfully after centuries during which rape has been a weapon of war and domination, a man was finally convicted by an international criminal court of rape as a war crime. For that crime and other crimes against humanity, the brute is now serving a life sentence in a Malian jail.

-       The génocidaires fled Rwanda while African dictators in the region continued to protect them. As a result Rwanda rightly launched a defensive war of aggression in the neighbouring Congo that continues to this day. Nonetheless, thanks to Jean Chrétien, his nephew, Ambassador Raymond Chrétien, and Canadian General Maurice Baril, the international community came to the rescue of the Rwandan refugees, liberated them from the génocidaires, and made it possible for them to return freely to their country. Since some remained, however, Rwanda was and is justified in pursuing its defensive war of aggression in the Congo. Unfortunately, more than four million people have since been killed.

-       On behalf of the international community, President William Jefferson Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for their timid reaction—and ours—during the genocide and promised never again to tolerate such crimes.

-       And because we failed to listen to calls to protect Rwanda, we—the international community, NATO, USA, Europe—are entitled and obliged to invade Libya, Syria, Iran, Mali, Sudan, and any other country we choose.

Who has not read or heard such descriptions? Is it possible that they are just clichés or fashionable misconceptions? Does the truth lie somewhere else? Was Boutros Boutros-Ghali right to lift the corner of the very heavy rock of American responsibility to see what lies beneath?

The problem with the Rwandan tragedy is that nobody dares to look. It’s like the tale of Blue Beard who sweetly hands his wife the keys to his castle but warns her that one door must not be opened. Unlike Blue Beard’s wife, we have all obeyed the tyrant.

The goal of this book is to disobey, to use that key or those keys to open the door and find out what lies behind. Reams of paper have been written on Rwanda and the African Great Lakes region. The space taken up in libraries and bookstores is measured in metres but, except for fine points, all these books and reports say the same thing.

As is often the case with unanimity, dissidence is not tolerated, factual omissions and errors signalled are simply drowned out, and silence about crucial events is imposed. In the case of Rwanda, these problems are compounded by a shameful servility towards those who wield real power in the world, as well as a profound contempt for Africa.

The unanimity begins with the cavalier and abusive use of the term “genocide” and all its derivatives, such as génocidaires borrowed directly from French, accent and all, thus making it even more sinister. The road map that led to its widespread use tells us more about the goals and policies of big powers and the parties at war than it does about the crime itself. The term is a bludgeon, a gag order for millions of Rwandans and for anybody who dares ask questions. Its continued blind use will do more to perpetuate war than to render justice. As Noam Chomsky wrote in the preface to The Politics of Genocide, “As for the term ‘genocide,’ perhaps the most honorable course would be to expunge it from the vocabulary until the day, if it ever comes, when honesty and integrity can become an ‘emerging norm.’”[2]

The most deafening silence concerns the worst terrorist act of the 1990s, the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi on April 6, 1994. That tragic assassination of two African heads of state became a “plane crash” in official international newspeak and more recently has been buried under six feet of official reports aimed at preventing us from finding out what happened.   

Why have Louise Arbour, Kofi Annan, Madeleine Albright, and their superiors from Jean Chrétien to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, not insisted that the killers be identified and brought to justice? After all, the “international community” solemnly promised to do so on April 7, 1994. The answer is obvious. Any serious investigation of that assassination would destroy the narrative that has been so carefully crafted to explain the Rwandan tragedy.

Equally astonishing is the silence about the three and a half years of war in Rwanda, starting with the invasion by Ugandan troops on October 1, 1990, leading up to the assassination of the two presidents. A close look at that war conducted by the invading RPF army between 1990 and 1994 and thereafter would effectively shatter the official narrative. That war heralded other wars that have torn up and terrorized all the neighbouring countries, particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The victors of the Rwandan war, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, have been the main aggressors in the Congo yet have remained the staunchest allies of the United States and the United Kingdom. (For example, Paul Kagame was the first African head of state to back the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Rwanda under Kagame broke with the African Union to back the invasion of Libya and in September 2013, Paul Kagame spoke in New York City calling for international intervention in Syria.)

Starting in1989 power in the world was concentrated as never before in the hands of a single country. One might have expected that with the fall of the Soviet Union criticism of what used to be called “American imperialism” would have become sharper and stronger, and more people would be digging up information, and pointing out the interests, misinformation, manipulation, and covert action of that superpower. That certainly did not happen with respect to Rwanda.

Whereas France has been portrayed as being riddled with motive and guilty of the worst sins, the United States and its faithful sidekicks, mainly Canada and the United Kingdom, have come through virtually unscathed, bathing in an appearance of moral authority and honesty. France only regained respectability when Nicolas Sarkozy came to power and, with the help of Bernard Kouchner, turned on his predecessors François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac in a craven attempt to curry favour with in Washington.


Like all countries Rwanda has a complex and hotly debated history. Summaries of Rwandan history in recently published books are inevitably coloured by the authors’ positions on the 1994 tragedy. Very few references will be made to Rwandan history in this book. This choice has been made not because Rwandan history is uninteresting or unimportant, but rather because the authors of the official narrative of the recent tragedy use Rwandan history, or their version of it, to hide the real causes and thereby protect the criminals. These authors invariably explain the events of 1994 by referring selectively to aspects of Rwanda history that they intentionally present as sinister and foreboding of sad events to come. It is as though the route towards “genocide” could be retraced in Rwandan history alone, and no other forces came into play.

A neutral overview of Rwandan history, geography, and demography is nonetheless very helpful. Books recognized for their objectivity include René Lemarchand’s authoritative work published in 1970 Rwanda and Burundi (Pall Mall Press, London).

Well before Europeans arrived, Rwanda was a feudal kingdom controlled by the Tutsi minority (Batutsi). The Tutsis were mainly cattle herders. Devotion to the king and poetry were highly regarded by the Tutsis who held agricultural work in contempt. The Hutu majority (Bahutu) were mainly peasants who worked the land and were serfs to the Tutsi aristocracy to whom they owed fealty and fees. Some Rwandan Patriotic Front apologists claim that Rwandans lived happily together until the European colonialists arrival; that notion is widely contested. [3]

After the Berlin Conference of 1885 and the European scramble for Africa, Rwanda and Burundi came under German sovereignty but were ruled indirectly through the kings known as Mwamis. Until the end of the First World War in 1918, Germany also ruled what is now Tanzania but much more directly as a colony. When the victorious powers divided up German possessions, Rwanda and Burundi were put under Belgian mandate. Belgium administered Rwanda and Burundi through two kings (Mwamis), both Tutsis, and thereby exacerbated the division between Tutsis and Hutus, the latter representing more than eighty percent of the population. Rwanda and Burundi were economically integrated in the Belgian Congo whose administrative capital was Léopoldville, renamed Kinshasa in 1971.

In 1956 the Belgians took the initiative to organize elections that shook up the feudal and monarchist order. In Rwanda the Hutu majority revolted against the Tutsi aristocracy in November 1959. Many Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries, including Uganda, while others were killed. This social revolution culminated in a referendum conducted by the United Nations in September 1961, the independence of Rwanda on July 1, 1962, and the redistribution of land among Hutu peasants. In an aim to help understand recent events, historian René Lemarchand has pointed out since the 1960s that Rwanda and Zanzibar were the only countries in Africa where revolutionary change occurred. [4]

The Rwandan Mwami (Kigeri V) fled before independence. Rwanda became a republic and Grégoire Kayibanda, leader of the Parmehutu Party, became the first president elected by universal suffrage. Burundi kept the monarchy after independence and the Tutsi minority continued to hold power, especially in the Burundian army.

Between 1960 and 1967 Tutsi exiles calling themselves Inyenzi* launched many violent attacks against the new Rwandan regime, but were consistently beaten back. Each attack brought about reprisal killings within Rwanda. In 1972 Burundi was shaken by serious troubles. The Tutsi-dominated army of Burundi killed more than 100,000 Hutus, while many more fled to Rwanda as refugees. Shortly thereafter, on July 5, 1973 senior officers of Rwanda’s National Guard overthrew President Kayibanda. The leader, Major General Juvénal Habyarimana, became president. The Tutsi elite that had remained in Rwanda after the social revolution and independence supported the new president.

Rwanda lived in relative peace and prosperity between 1973 and 1990. It was considered as a model of economic development and was often cited as an example by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Tutsi refugee problem had not been resolved to their satisfaction. This then became the pretext for senior officers of the Ugandan army, including many Tutsi exiles born in Uganda or living there since 1959, to invade Rwanda on October 1, 1990. The Government of Rwanda and a vast majority of the Rwandan people saw that invasion as a counter-revolution aimed at catapulting the Tutsi aristocracy back into power. This book deals mainly with events that took place from 1990 on.

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In April 1994, it had a population of 7.6 million, about 85 to 90 percent Hutu. Rwanda has an area of 26,340 square kilometres, about the same size as the State of Vermont whose population is about 550,000. The estimated population of Rwanda in 2012 was 11.5 million.


A few words are in order to explain where this book comes from. Though Montreal has been my home since 1974, I did not arrive from Ontario where I was born, but rather from Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. More exactly, I was arriving from Koudougou, some one hundred kilometres to the west of Ouagadougou, where I had lived and taught English and History for two years. Before, during, and after my stay in Koudougou, I was lucky enough to visit almost all West African countries, from Mauritania to Cameroon and to pursue my interest in African history that I had studied at the University of Toronto.

Settling in Montreal, Québec, was no accident. Leaving a French-speaking country in a French-speaking region of Africa for another French-speaking country, Québec, was only normal. In addition to language, there were also political affinities. African independence was still fresh in the minds of Africans, as was colonialism, and the very many Quebecers in Africa at that time were talking about independence and Canadian colonialism in Québec.

Bamako, Mali, and not Toronto or Thunder Bay in Canada, was where I first heard music by Québec poet and singer Gilles Vigneault. N’djamena, Chad (formerly Fort-Lamy) and not Vancouver or Ottawa was where I learned who Félix Leclerc was. In Koudougou, I read Les nègres blancs d’Amérique (White Niggers of America) and found out what the June 24 meant for Quebecers. At the same time and with the same enthusiasm I encountered Une vie de boy (Houseboy) by Ferdinand Oyono, in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  In Dakar, I learned who exactly Léopold Sédar Senghor was and read Sembène Ousman’s God’s Bits of Wood, and in Nigeria, I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Interest in Africa and particularly in French-speaking Africa led me to follow the events in Rwanda very closely in the early 1990s. After meeting a number of Rwandans at a demonstration, I published an article in the Montreal daily La Presse in September 1994 criticizing the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (later to become Rights and Democracy, now defunct) then headed by Ed Broadbent. [5] That article started a polemic—it also gave rise to the first accusations of “negationism,” as if just weeks after the events the courts of History had already decreed a truth that nobody was allowed to contradict. Essentially, my article accused the organization that became Rights and Democracy and others of doing public relations for the invading army of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in their March 1993 human rights report published following a fifteen-day visit to Rwanda in January 1993.  It also pointed out that the report and the media and lobbying campaign that accompanied its publication exacerbated the conflict. (More about this in Chapter 4.)

Following the publication of that article and the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in November 1994 by the UN Security Council, my brother, John Philpot, a Montreal criminal lawyer, took a serious interest in the Rwandan tragedy and particularly in the people indicted for genocide. He published an important critique of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania, [6] and was appointed counsel for a Rwandan before the Appeal Court in the Hague. Other well-known lawyers from Québec, Canada, and the United States also became interested and were retained as counsel by Rwandan prisoners in Arusha.

These lawyers and their imprisoned clients have faced a daunting challenge. First and foremost, they have endeavoured to convince the judges that there is a version of the events other than the one Flaubert might have described as “the right and proper tale.” As with all tribunals, the Arusha Tribunal, judges and all, has been conditioned by an international public opinion that had already granted the right and proper tale the authority of an adjudicated fact. Yet no facts had been adjudicated, and very few have been adjudicated ever since. Self-appointed authorities have nonetheless continued to repeat that tale.

If this book manages to cast doubt or break the unanimity in favour of that simplistic and simple-minded tale, then it will have been worth the effort.

The first section deals with rarely discussed events that brought Rwanda to the brink of catastrophe before presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira were assassinated on April 6, 1994. First came the invasion of Rwanda by part of the Ugandan National Army in October 1990 and the deadly war it waged in that country for the next three and a half years. While that army pursued the war against Rwanda, foreign powers imposed a multiparty system that undermined the ability of the Rwandan Government and the country’s armed forces to fight off the invader. The same foreign powers led by the United States and calling themselves the international community then imposed a so-called peace process that effectively transferred power to the invader. Non-governmental organizations began slandering Rwanda, its leadership, and its entire recent history. They became the cat’s-paw for the invading army and American and British interests in Central Africa.

This section also examines how and why the assassination of two African heads of state has been trivialized by a vast cover-up operation. Who has gained from that cover-up? The section ends with a study of what exactly the United States did and did not do between April 6 and July 19, 1994 when so many Rwandans were killed. It will be shown that the number of dead in Rwanda was of little concern for the world’s only superpower. Washington’s priority was to see its boys from the Rwandan Patriotic Front win the war decisively—it took much longer than expected—and to bump France out of that part of Africa.

What about the genocide? What about the massacres? Everybody saw those images, the machetes, the bodies, the skeletons. Nobody can claim that it did not happen. Of course not! However, the simplification of the Rwandan tragedy to a tale of “horrible Hutu génocidaires” massacring “innocent Tutsis” aided and abetted by France has hidden the causes and protected the real criminals. Rwanda suffered a major human disaster. Like other such disasters, it had political causes. Any serious analysis will show unequivocally that that Manichean good guy-bad guy tale was developed by Western imaginations for Western public opinion. The fact that that tale has so easily taken root is evidence of our blind subservience to real power and historic contempt for Africa.

Names must be named. Each Western country boasts its own journalist, its writer of fiction or nonfiction, its human rights activist or anthropologist who sprang forth to tell the right and proper tale. Pablo Neruda described him—or her—very well: “He’s the skulking coward hired to praise dirty hands. He’s an orator or journalist. Suddenly he surfaces in the palace enthusiastically masticating the sovereign’s dejections.” [7] His name is Philip Gourevitch or Alison Des Forges in the United States, William Schabas, Carol Off or Gerald Caplan in Canada, Gil Courtemanche in Québec, Linda Melvern in the United Kingdom, Colette Braeckman or Alain Destexhe in Belgium, Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Gérard Prunier or Jean Hatzfeld in France. Though each has his or her national subtleties, their message remains the same: steer clear of the sovereign and his allies.

The second part of the book looks at how the tale has taken root in books and other publications. Writers of fiction and nonfiction about Rwanda have wittingly or not drawn their material from a popular literary tradition about Africa. That tradition abounds with metaphors, images, and conventions developed at a time when Europe was enslaving Africans and trading African slaves or colonizing the continent. These metaphors, images, and conventions have everything to do with European and North American imaginations and almost nothing to do with African reality. They were developed to legitimate what was totally illegitimate, namely slavery, the slave trade, and Europe’s domination and colonization of Africa. The more they were repeated the more they themselves became the message of the works they appeared in.

Four books on Rwanda by four different authors are examined to show not only that That’s not how it happened in Rwanda but also and above all that It never could have happened like that in Rwanda. The authors are the American Philip Gouvevitch, the Canadian Carol Off, the Quebecer Gil Courtemanche, and the Belgian Colette Braeckman. All four helped draft the “right and proper tale,” and all four are products—and perpetrators—of a colonial mentality that has unfortunately made a comeback.

The final section examines the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and how international criminal justice has been used as a tool of foreign policy. Former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer has boasted that they manoeuvred so as to be able “to wield it [the tribunal] like a battering ram in the execution of U.S. and NATO policy.” The case of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the first person to be found guilty of genocide and rape as a war crime, is also examined. Jean-Paul Akayesu has always proclaimed his innocence. What’s more, he has solid proof of fabrication of evidence presented to the tribunal by the prosecutor’s office under the aegis of former Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, who later was appointed to Canada’s Supreme Court and then head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

This section also investigates the 1996 refugee crisis in Eastern Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It shows how the same Rwandan Patriotic Army that the United States helped put in power in 1994 used the narrative about the Rwandan tragedy, elevated to official status by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, to justify the invasion of the Congo. Washington took advantage of that refugee crisis to push France out of the Congo, a country coveted for its natural resources. In doing so, the United States got help from trustworthy aides in Ottawa. The Chrétien government was more than glad to play the role of the anti-France, pro-American, French-speaking country. Interviewed in Paris, Raymond Chrétien, Jean Chrétien’s nephew and Ambassador to France, admitted that the November 1996 operation he had been involved in as special envoy of the UN Secretary General resulted in at least one million deaths!

The never-ending war in the Congo began with that operation. It has led to the implosion of that country and the most deadly war since 1945.


A book is never finished. A version of this book first appeared in French in 2003 in both Québec and Europe and is entitled Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali (literally, That’s Not What it Happened in Kigali). It has been widely debated in the French-speaking world, having been both heartily commended and bitterly attacked. Within a year, I had translated it into English and submitted it to at least twenty English-language publishers in Canada and the United States. Though some showed interest, none took it on. Perhaps the “official story” was overwhelming. Phil Taylor of the Taylor Report in Toronto then graciously agreed to post the book on the Taylor Report website where it has been since 2006 and was titled Rwanda: Colonialism Dies Hard.  A young German translator, Klaus Madersbacher, found it on that website, translated it into German, and that version is also on the Taylor Report site with a preface by Helmut Strizek, who has been an expert witness before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. No printed version of the English book was published until this one.

Much has happened since 2003 and even more has been discovered or revealed by researchers and more importantly by major players in the events that took place starting in 1990. It is hard to keep up with all the statements, books, and sworn testimony that have accumulated in the past ten years and that show just how terrible a lie the “official story” of the Rwandan tragedy is. This means that anybody of good will who takes the time—and hopefully reads French—can get beyond the “official story” even though the anointed experts, like parrots, keep on repeating it. This edition of the book provides extensive notes and references for readers who wish to know more. 

April 6, 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the shooting down of the Rwandan president’s plane which triggered war, destruction, and massacres in Central Africa that have never ceased. At the same time political leaders, diplomats, pundits, intellectuals, retired generals in North American have never ceased to invoke “Rwanda” as though the word alone confers some supposed truth and moral authority on the political, military or imperial positions they defend. “Rwanda” has been used specifically to justify violent military “humanitarian” intervention in countries such as Libya, Sudan, Mali, and Syria. Time has come to determine how a terrible tragedy has been cynically transformed into a useful imperial fiction that has nothing to do with the truth.

© Robin Philpot and Baraka Books


[1] The book can be purchased at here.

[2] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, New York, Monthly Review Press, 2010, p. 12.

[3] On the pretention of the Rwandan Patriotic Front that all Rwandan Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas lived happily together before European colonialists arrive, Serge De Souter sets the record straight in Rwanda: Le procès du FPR, mise au point historique (L’Harmattan, 2007). He situates the current catastrophe in a long series of conflicts that began well before colonialism. “Historically, the notion that the three groups lived together in peace and harmony is indefensible. It would be a great exception in the history of humanity.” On the same point, see also monumental work, Proverbes du Rwanda by Pierre Crépeau and Simon Bizimana (Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Annales, 800 pages.


[4] René Lemarchand, “Revolutionary phenomena in stratified societies: Rwanda and Zanzibar,” in Civilisations, Vol. 18, No. 1, Institut de Sociologie de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1968, pp 16-51.

* Supporters of the official narrative have widely—and dishonestly—misinterpreted this term. In his authoritative 1970 book Rwanda and Burundi, René Lemarchand defined inyenzi as follows: “the term inyenzi is currently used within and outside Rwanda to refer to small-scale Tutsi-led guerrilla units trained and organized outside Rwanda and varying in size from about six to ten men… It literally means cockroaches.” (p. 198).

[5] “Ed Broadbent et la crise rwandaise : un rapport préparé avec insouciance” La Presse, September 6, 1994, B3, (Ed Broadbent and the Reckless Report on Rwanda).

[6] John, Philpot, “Le Tribunal international pour le Rwanda, La justice trahie,” in Études internationales, vol. XXVII, No. 4 December 1996, Institut québécois des hautes études internationales.

[7] Pablo Neruda, Canto General, translated by Jack Schmitt, University of California Press, 1991, p. 169.