Prunier on Laurent Nkunda and the DRC crisis

The veteran French expert on central Africa Gerard Prunier has an excellent piece on Open Democracy today that pulls together a lot of the essential political background to the tragically re-ignited fighting in eastern D.R. Congo.
Prunier notes in particular the extremely belligerent and damaging role the RPF government in Rwanda has played in DRC for many years, including the on-again-off-again support it has given to the leader of the current big armed rebellion in eastern DRC, Gen. Laurent Nkunda.
At the end of his article, Prunier writes:

    Why do we see such zigzagging on Nkunda’s part? Mostly because there is not a single coherent policy in Kigali to either support or disown him. It depends on the fluctuation of the political atmosphere there… Since the well-organised electoral “victories” of the RPF [in Rwanda]… there is no Hutu opposition worth the name. Just mentioning such a term is labeled “divisionism” and can get you twenty years in jail. So the political game is played among Tutsi. And the Tutsi do not agree on how to deal with the Congo in general and with Laurent Nkunda in particular.
    Some, like President Kagame himself, want to put the past behind them, develop Rwanda along extremely modernistic lines and turn the country into the Singapore of Africa. But others do not believe in such a possibility and still see the Congo as a mineral mother-lode waiting to be exploited; they include some of Kagame’s closest associates such as the semi-exiled ambassador Kayumba Nyamwasa and army chief-of-staff James Kabarebe…
    The outcome of the United States presidential election on 4 November 2008 is an encouragement for the latter group. After all, it was the Africanists around Bill Clinton (who are now Barack Obama’s men and women) who supported the Kigali invasion of the DR Congo while it was Republican secretary of state Colin Powell who brought it to a halt in 2001. Have the Democrats changed their views on the region or do they still believe in the fiction that Rwanda only intervenes in the Congo in order to keep the ugly génocidaires at bay? In any case the situation in the DRC is now more serious than it has been at any point since the signature of the 2002 peace agreement.
    But does it actually mean the situation has returned to that of 1998, and the DR Congo is about to explode into another civil war? Probably not. Why? Because there are several fundamental differences:
    * Rwanda, even if it is involved, is involved at a marginal and contradictory level .
    * in 1998, pro-Kigali elements controlled large segments of the Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC), the then Congolese national army. The initial onslaught was carried out through an internal rebellion of the armed forces. Not so today. Nkunda controls only an army of unofficial militiamen
    * in 1998 the regime of Laurent-Désiré Kabila was very weak, hardly legitimate and did not have any serious international support. Today his son Joseph Kabila is strongly supported by the internal community after overseeing a flawed but clearly democratic election
    * the Congolese economy was at the time in complete disarray while today it is only in poor shape, with possibilities of picking up
    * President Kagame could count on the almost unlimited sympathy of the world which felt guilty for its neglect during the genocide. Not so today. His moral credibility has been seriously damaged by the horrors his troops committed in the DR Congo during 1998-2002 and his political standing is increasingly being questioned, both by legal action going back to the genocide period (reflected in the French indictment and Frankfurt arrest) and by his electoral “triumphs” (which are a throwback to the worst days of fake African political unanimity)
    * the diplomatic context, reflected in the current visit to the region of the United Nations envoy (and Nigeria’s former president) Olusegun Obasanjo, is more favourable to negotiation
    * In 1998 there was no United Nations peacekeeping force in eastern DR Congo. If the international community decides to straighten out its act, Monuc could make the difference.

I am glad to see that even such a seasoned old pro as Prunier thinks there is some hope that MONUC might make a real difference to the situation in Congo. I certainly hope so. But I largely share the misgivings he expresses about the pro-RPF sympathies of those who seem likely to emerge as important figures in the next US administration.
Another very significant aspect of the present fighting in DRC is the fact that– as I had forgotten, but Prunier reminded me– Laurent Nkunda is an indicted war criminal, having been indicted by the DRC government for a 2002 incident in Kisangani in which more than 160 persons were summarily executed. (Prunier wrote, mistakenly, that Nkunda had been indicted by the ICC. But it is Nkunda’s chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the ICC.)
To a certain extent, then, the situation in eastern DRC might well mirror that in northern Uganda, where the issuing and pursuit of criminal indictments against leaders of insurgent forces makes the conclusion of a working peace agreement that much harder– if not, actually, impossible so long as the indictments are outstanding.
I could note, too, that the northern Uganda situation is very closely linked to that in eastern DRC, since the bulk of Joseph Kony’s Ugandan-insurgent force, the LRA, is currently holed up in the rain forests of northeastern DRC, just a few hundred kilometres north of the spot where Nkunda is creating his current havoc.
Bottom line on all the many conflicts roiling the central-Afircan interior these days: the governments and peoples involved and the powerful nations of the world all need to get together on a stabilization and socio-economic reconstruction plan for all these countries that aims at saving and improving the lives of their peoples, including through the provision of effective and accountable mechanisms to ensure public security, ending all the outstanding (and often inter-linked) conflicts in a “fair enough” way, and extensive investment in DDR activities.
Memo to the incoming Obama-ites: There is NO military “solution” to any of these conflicts! Don’t even think that supporting the continued militarization of central African societies will bring anything other than continued atrocities and carnage.

New book on start of Rwanda genocide

Hirondelle is a very sober, Swiss-funded news service that does a lot of coverage of justice affairs in Rwanda. So I sat up sharply when I read this piece on one of their recent newsfeeds. It is a short review of a book newly published in France by Lieutenant Abdul Ruzibiza, who states that as a member of a trusted commando group under the control of the country’s present president, Paul Kagame, he was a member of the unit that shot down the plane of former president Juvenal Habyarimana in April 1994.
That attack– which killed both Habyarimana and the president of neighboring Burundi– led in very short order to the unleashing of the maelstrom of genocidal violence that engulfed Rwanda for 100 days, leaving an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and 200,000 Hutus dead there.
The Hirondelle reporter writes that Ruzibiza is categorical that it was Kagame who gave the order to shoot down the plane. The reporter adds about Ruzibiza:

    His book published by editions Panama in Paris is a war diary that retraces “the October war day by day” and the ensuing atrocities committed by different factions especially members of the RPF.
    The armed conflict which took place in Rwanda between October 1990 and July 1994 was christened the “October War”. [It was in the last 13 weeks of that period– after the shooting-down of Habyarimana’s plane– that the genocide occurred. ~HC]

    Nearly all books on the Rwandan genocide gave a wide coverage to human rights violations committed by the government side [that was then in power, i.e., before the RPF takeover] but very little has been documented in the zone controlled by the RPF.
    As an “insider”, Ruzibiza was on many fronts and had first hand information on what went on in the “liberated” zones where the population was huddled together and killed en masse.
    Ruzibiza does not hesitate to use the term “genocide of Hutus” and according to him, the rebel [i.e. RPF] high command “had given orders to commanders of different units and intelligence officers to kill as many Hutus as possible especially if they were found grouped together”.
    The author considers April 1994 “the worst month in the history of Rwanda”. Apart from the massive genocide of Tutsis, “a large number of Hutu citizens were massacred because of a crime not all of them committed; that of having exterminated Tutsis”.
    Ruzibiza is quick to warn those who might be tempted to misinterpret his book to forward the “double genocide” theory. “It should not be understood that way. The Genocide of Hutus should neither be blamed on Tutsis nor that of Tutsis on Hutus. The gravity of these crimes surpasses ethnic dimensions. Those who committed these crimes are savages who should individually answer for them”…

Well, there’sa huge food for thought there. Most accounts of the shooting down of the plane say, in effect, that the identity of the shooters is shrouded in mystery. There have been some accusations from French officials that that Kagame and his RPF were responsible– but they seemed fairly easy to discount, given the strong antipathy between the French and the RPF.
The publication of this book– and the fact that the Hirondelle team, whose members are very familiar with the politics of Rwanda (many of them also being, in fact, Rwandan), gives such serious attention to it– means that some of these key but until now murky facts about Rwanda’s history may be becoming a little clearer.
No, of course it is false to say that if the RPF shot down the plane, then that in any way “excuses” the anti-Tutsi genocide. Nothing does that. But still, it does mean that Kagame’s role in the events is not quite the shining “saint” role that many in the west have attributed to him.
Okay, here’s why I’m writing about this here. Yes, partly in case any of you wants to join a discussion on this issue. But also to make a request that perhaps some kind JWN reader living in France might be able to get hold of a copy of the book and send it to me.
I shall of course be happy to reimburse all the costs involved.
And, um, just so I don’t get a truckload of copies landing on my doorstep, if you think you might be able to do this, could you drop me a line? Thanks!

The trials of Rwanda

Filip Reyntjens, a very expert scholar of international law who is also an expert on Rwandan history, has now sent a letter to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda saying he will suspend all cooperation with the court’s Office of the Prosecutor until it takes steps to indict members of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) who are accused of human rights abuses.
Reyntjens, who teaches at the University of Antwerp, played an important role in the prosecution’s work as recently as last September when he testified in the court against Theoneste Bagosora, accused of being the most important mastermind behind the nationwide organization of the 1994 genocide. (Reyntjens did, however, say in that tesgimony that Bagosora’s co-accused, Gratien Kabiligi, had played no part in organizing the killings.)
According to the Fondation Hirondelle report linked to above, Reyntjens sent a letter to ICTR Chief prosecutor Hassan Jallow in which he wrote that,

    failure by the ICTR to prosecute alleged perpetrators of the abuses was “meting out victor’s justice” and risked becoming “part of the problem and not the solution”.
    He said that it was his knowledge that the “special investigative team” of the ICTR had gathered “compelling evidence on a number of massacres committed by the RPF in 1994”.
    “These crimes fall squarely within the mandate of the ICTR, they are well documented, testimonial and material proof is available, and the identity of RPF suspects is known”, he wrote.
    He added that that in not pursuing the RPF, the tribunal “fails to meet another stated objective, namely to ‘contribute to the process of national reconciliation and the restoration and maintenance of peace’.”

    “While I remain committed to the cause which is at the heart of the mandate of the ICTR, on ethical grounds I cannot any longer be involved in this process. I shall, therefore, not be able to co-operate with the OTP unless and until the first RPF suspect is indicted”, threatened the lawyer-cum-historian.

Reyntjens was one of the people I interviewed in connection with my Violence and its Legacies project, back in 2001. (You can read some excerpts from our conversation here.)
His reference to “contributing to national reconciliation” comes from the November 1994 Security Council resolution that established the ICTR.
I’ve been trying to get another bearing on the extent to which the ICTR has succeeded in that regard by doing more reading in the Stover and Weinstein book, “My neighbor, my enemy” that I wrote briefly about here on Sunday.
Though much of the book has been really interesting and helpful, I’ve been a little disappointed in Ch.10, which presents the results of a 2,000-respondent opinion survey carried out in four different areas of Rwanda in February 2002 in order to describe “Attitudes toward accountability and reconciliation in Rwanda.”
One of my main problems with the design (and therefore, imho, the “reliability”) of the survey is that– in a country where the caste (or “ethnic”) divide between Hutus and Tutsis is still extremely sensitive and important– they report using a team of 26 Rwandan interviewers who were “nearly evenly divided in terms of ethnicity and gender.”(p.208). This, in a situation in which some 85% of the respondents could– if the sample is to be at all nationally representative– be expected to be Hutus…

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Rwanda’s Kagame: losing his ‘license’?

The NYT had an interesting editorial about Rwanda’s gacaca courts today. The editorial writer referred to some of the ‘procedural’ problems with this court system, which is one of the main vehicles Pres. Paul Kagame’s government has been using to deal with the scores of thousands of still-untried genocide suspects who’ve been mired in the country’s prisons, some of them for nearly 10 years now.
The editorial also referred to Kagame as “Rwanda’s increasingly totalitarian president”. Not, imho, a totally inaccurate characterization of the guy (though I still have great empathy with the size of the dilemma his government–or any other government–would face as it tries to deal with the many still unresolved sequelae of the 1994 genocide.)
But seeing the NYT, this avatar of the “liberal establishment” US media, referring to Kagame in these terms made me wonder: Is Kagame on the verge of losing the victim’s license that he has been given by western liberals since 1994?
This term, ‘victim’s license’, was coined–or anyway, used in reference to Kagame–by George Monbiot, a columnist for Britain’s Guardian daily. Significantly, Monbiot used it both with reference to the Kagame government and to many post-Holocaust Jews.
In a column April 13, Monbiot wrote:

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ICTR’s lengthy processes

In this article in a recent issue of Boston Review, I gave a bird’s-eye view of how painfully lengthy and long-drawn-out the trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have been.
I recalled that Rebecca West, reporting on the Nuremberg Trials as they entered their eleventh month, wrote that, “the courtroom was a citadel of boredom. Every person within its walk was in the grip of extreme tedium.” But Nuremberg, I suggested had nothing on the ICTR! For at Nuremberg, the entire trial, covering all 22 defendants, took only ten months and ten days.
Well, ICTR has recently (June 17th) completed the trial of its 21st defendant, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi. ICTR has been in existence for 9 years and 7 months (= 115 months).
In three of those cases, the defendants copped a plea bargain. For the 18 contested cases, the average length of each trial was 29.1 months. (Yawn, yawn!)
By the way, that’s counting only the time taken by the trial of first instance. Most or all of those convicted by the court in Arusha, Tanzania then pursue their appeals to the joint ICTR/ICTY Appeals court, sited in The Hague.
The court’s incredible foot-dragging is actually even worse than that:

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Muraho, Rwanda! (Hello, Rwanda!)

This week, I have been seriously back into writing my Rwanda material up for my book on Violence and its Legacies. I think it’s a lucky week to be doing this, because today, President Paul Kagame officially opened the “real” start of the work of the country’s gacaca court system. (That’s “ga-cha-cha”, for an English speaker.)
This story from Hirondelle News Agency gives a very good, succinct explanation of how the gacaca courts will work.
If you’re really interested in the gacaca courts, you should look at this September 2003 report, the latest in a series of very well-researched studies produced by Penal Reform International. (It’s long!)
For an exploration of some of the theoretical issues involved in the Kigali government’s attempts to deal with the sequelae of the genocide, you can look at this Boston Review article of mine, that ran a couple of years ago.
The gacaca courts are special organs of “popular justice” whose job is to deal with the more than 100,000 residents of the country who are accused of having taken a low- to mid-level part in the 1994 genocide. Their operation is certainly not without its problems–this is putting it mildly!–but establishing them has been the best way Kagame’s government could devise for dealing with that huge number of suspects. Many of the suspects have been detained in the country’s badly overcrowded prison system for eight or nine years by now without having had any chance of having the allegations against them tested in a judicial proceeding.
In the PRI study, the researchers identified the following big challenges that emerged during the lengthy “pilot” phase of the gacaca courts:

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Rwanda genocide commemoration

My column marking the tenth anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide is out in Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor. I reflected quite deeply before writing it, and it seems to have come out more or less as I wanted.
This afternoon (Wednesday), I spoke at a gathering an energetic, social-activist student at U.Va. law school called Heather Eastwood had organized, to commemorate the genocide. I used some of the ideas from the column, but talked at greater length about many aspects of the genocide. The crowd was larger than either Heather or I had expected. (They have exams coming up there soon.) And then, people asked some really good questions and we had a good discussion.
One of the big points I made was that the standard, familiar-to-Americans, ‘criminal-justice’ approach to dealing with the legacies of atrocities is not necessarily the best one. These were nearly all law students! And the ones who came to the talk were probably disproportionately supporters of the human rights movement’s broad global campaigns in favor of war-crimes courts for every atrocity… But still, the sheer gravity of the kinds of problems I described with that approach them seemed to strike them.
One of the last questions had to do with whether I thought the Rwandan government could have gotten both accountability and reconciliation. That gave me a welcome opportunity to explore that question more than I had until then. I noted that there is often, in practice, a trade-off between the attainment of these two goals; that attaining each of them requires a serious investment of time, resources, and attention; and often societies simply cannot attain both and therefore have to choose between them.
I talked a bit about the very different set of choices made by Mozambique in 1992… Anyway, it was a good discussion.
I note that inside Rwanda itself, President Kagamae presided over large-scale commemorative activities in which he blamed mainly the “international community” for the genocide, and identified the victims as merely “Rwandans”… This, in continued pursuit of his argument that the categories “Hutu” and “Tutsi” don’t exist any more.

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Remembering Rwanda: ‘Frontline’, and my interview

Bill and I watched the ‘Frontline’ special on Rwanda last night. It was beautifully done, in general, and gave much cause for continued reflection and thought.
One of the really constructive things they did was to highlight and explore the absolutely heroic role played by a small number of individuals during the genocide. It was a pity that all the featured heroes except one were non-Rwandans, since I know that many Rwandan nationals– Hutus and Tutsis–also made extremely heroic, life-saving decisions during the genocide; and always, at literally existential risk to themselves. I want to write more about this later.
But still, the Frontline program was mainly about the reaction of outsiders to what happened in Rwanda; and from that perspective, showing so concretely that there were outsiders who did make a difference for the better through simple acts of huge courage and grace just sets in even greater contrast the cowardice of people like President Bill Clinton, national security advisor Tony Lake, and even, I would say, the resposnible people at the UN: then-sec-gen Boutros Boutros-Ghali and then-head of peacekeeping Kofi Annan.
Among the real heroes highlighted were:

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Back to Africa (mentally, at least)

Finally! Last week I finished a writing project that has been hanging over me for many, many months. Then, I gave myself a quick treat by going to NYC for a surprise bridal shower for my daughter Leila. Then, I had to finish some other bits of writing– editing a contribution to a book on “Violence” that the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College is publishing soon, other smaller tasks.
And on Wednesday, I finally got back into writing about Africa.
It was such a deep, deep pleasure to pull out, arrange, and then start diving back into all the materials I have gathered on the Rwanda portion of my Africa project so far. Actually, formally speaking, the project is called the “Project on Violence and its Legacies” (the VAIL project), and you can see some background info about it if you click here.
What I’m doing right now, is a small part of it: rushing to meet an end-of-September deadline to write a long article about the trip I made to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, last April.
I have so much great material– from that trip; from my research trip to rwanda last year; and from the three years of background reading that I’ve done on the topic so far. As I started to lay out some of my documents, reports etc on my desk yesterday, prior to starting the writing, I had a strong feeling that trying to get this article written is like a fisher-person fashioning the right shape net to throw over a large, unruly school of fish, and then throwing it before gently gently pulling the catch together into some shape on the shore.
ICTR is so interesting, and so little studied. I met some really remarkable people while I was there. One was a younger journalistic colleague called Gabi Gabiro, who gave me some invaluable help there. (Yo, Gabi, what’s up with you these days anyway?) Folks can read Gabi’s current great reporting from inside his native Rwanda if they check into the HelenaPosted on Categories Africa--Rwanda (vintage)6 Comments on Back to Africa (mentally, at least)