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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

Rwanda and Zaire : Clinton’s double genocide, a three decades cover-up

Updated: Jan 6

Rwanda, whose history?

The 27-year on-going war in eastern Congo remains highly underreported to this day. Journalist Anjan Sundaram, author of Stringer, Bad News and Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime, recalls that it was the one-paragraph articles he would read in the New York Times and other main stream publications, which all cited staggering numbers of millions of civilians who had died, that prompted him after graduation to give up an opportunity to work for Goldman Sachs, opting instead to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo so as to understand what lies behind these mass atrocities.

In a 11 April 2023 New York Times article, He’s a Brutal Dictator, and One of the West’s Best Friends Anjan Sundaram writes about current President Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) movement: “Although Mr. Kagame’s former ambassador to the United States and other political allies have accused him of “sparking” Rwanda’s genocide and doing little to prevent it, he has cast himself as the hero who ended it. (…) Behind the lionization lies a darker truth. Since taking power in 1994 as commander in chief of the Rwandan military, and later as president, Mr. Kagame has all but rigged elections, taking almost 99 percent of the vote in 2017. Many of his opponents have disappeared, in some cases found murdered, in one case virtually beheaded. The self-styled hero who supposedly ended the Rwandan genocide was also in command of an army that the U.N. has alleged was responsible for killing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Hutus and for potential acts of “genocide” after twice invading the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

In a ground breaking 2014 book Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and its Consequences,which takes into account a wide spectrum of actors involved in the events, researcher Barrie Collins also sheds a new light on the Tutsi-led RPF role in the region’s tragedies: “ An ethnically based army destroyed a reform process that had resulted in a democratic constitution being written into law, assassinated a head of state in order to provoke civilian slaughter on a grotesque scale for its own political gain – with the death of a second President being collateral damage – and conducted large-scale massacres of Rwandan and Congolese civilians. It has continued to visit deaths squads upon its political opponents, operate one of the world’s most inhumane prison systems, and to enjoy the trappings of state power in its twentieth year… The myth of the Akazu genocide conspiracy, universally adopted, is a crucial ideological pillar of Africa’s first morally constituted tyranny.”

Michela Wrong's 2021 Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, reveals how the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regime which came to power in July 1994 has been using the physical elimination of its opponents as a deterrent against any form of internal opposition, as well as a way of silencing alternative narratives to the region’s recent history.

Wrong fails however to tell us when this regime “went bad”, thus underlying in the very book’s title that at some moment in time it was “good.” Was the Rwandan Patriotic Front a “good” movement when it decided to disregard international law and the Arusha accords and invade Rwanda in 1990-94? Was it a “good “ regime when it decided to invade eastern Zaire in 1996 and overthrow its President Mobutu Sese Seko by setting up a sham rebellion known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) made up mainly of soldiers from the Ugandan and Rwandan army, yet sold it as a Congolese liberation movement? Was it a “good” regime when it decided to bomb the Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire? Or when it occupied eastern Congo to loot its precious minerals via the Congo desk and subsequently proxy rebellions since 1996 ( AFDL, RCD-Goma, CNDP, M23, ADF) who have caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees, well over 10 million Congolese civilians, displaced 6.1 million Congolese civilians and raped a staggering 500,000 Congolese women ?

Wrong asks “So how do you write Rwanda’s contemporary history when so many key sources now readily admit they lied at the time?” She wonders why she didn’t ask more questions while Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former head of external intelligence, was still alive in exile, before his assassination in South Africa in 2014: “I didn’t want to confront the truth of just how thoroughly I might have got it wrong.” No comment.

Wrong underlines an “oath of omertà” which the RPF upheld ; recognizes that “only one interpretation of history will be tolerated” in today’s Rwanda; underscores that “to query the credibility of the Hutu extremist thesis (for the shooting down of the Presidential plane on the 6 of April 1994 which triggered the 100 day killing spree) and you were likely to be labeled a “revisionist,” on a par with Holocaust deniers”; emphasizes that “ anyone who questions the official history is a “genocide-denier,” even when the individual concerned—like Kizito Mihigo—is a Tutsi who lost close family members during the genocide. That is no trivial accusation, because in Rwanda, “minimizing” or “denying” the genocide is an offense that carries a ten-year prison sentence.”

Such accusations also target non-Rwandans. Following the release of the BBC documentary aired in 2014 Rwanda’s Untold story, telling a different story from the official version, the Rwandan government suspended BBC programming and said that it would indict the BBC producer’s for “ genocide denial.”

“Still, it was painful to accept that I might have unwittingly misled my readers,” Wrong writes, yet she does not bother to consult any of the writings of the researches who are considered “genocide deniers” by the dominant narrative pundits such as Pierre Péan, Boniface Musavuli, Patrick Mbeko, Charles Onana, Barrie Collins, Emmanuel Nashi, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport, Robin Philpot, Juan Carrero, Keith Harmon Snow, Wayne Madsen, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson among many others. Wrong recognizes that if different facts surface today this “would call for the revision of the entire history of the genocide,” yet she still espouses a main western talking point, namely the “west as simple bystander” narrative, which obfuscates the US backed international war waged against Rwanda and subsequently Congo.

Just as with the contemporaneous former Yugoslavia war pundits exposed “ideology and myth parading under the guise of history—easily confuted, but part of the standard narrative that is unchallengeable in a closed system.” Wrong - as Alison Des Forges, Gérard Prunier, David Millwood, Philip Gourevitch, Howard Adelman, Astri Suhrke, Linda R. Melvern, Colette Braeckman, Filip Reyntjens, Mahmood Mamdani among others - have contributed, by presenting a biased and truncated historical account, in keeping the debate closed, inconsiderate of the huge tragic and traumatic consequences which a truncated and often fabricated history can have on a nation and its people.

The external factors that drove Yugoslavia’s breakup were downplayed as they were when analyzing Rwanda. A close analysis of the historical archives today reveals that the US supported the Tutsi-led Rwandan invasion from Uganda and regime change in 1990-94, as well as the AFDL invasion of then Zaire in 1996. The “Akazu genocide myth” or arguments such as “France’s direct involvement in supporting a genocidal regime” were used as a cover-up for deflecting from what was a US backed regime change against Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana.

A shortcoming of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, is that it is written in a geopolitical void, reducing the events to an internal Rwandan affair. In the post-Soviet and post-cold war era, the United States abandoned their long-time ally, Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko, as they launched a new foreign policy by supporting the so-called “New Renaissance leaders” in Africa: Paul Kagame was hailed as one of Africa’s “renaissance” leaders, along with Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. The Anglo-French rivalry, a key to understanding the events in the region, is also omitted.

Collins instead in Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and its Consequences, underscores that at the onset of the war the US gave diplomatic support to the outright lie that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had been taken by surprise when a large number of Rwandans serving in his army suddenly ‘defected’ and invaded Rwanda: “They knew that Museveni had been in on the act. Instead of arresting the RPF fighters when they were driven back into Uganda, Museveni rearmed them and enabled them to use Uganda as their base until they were strong enough to establish a base inside Rwanda.”

Journalist Helen E. Epstein in a 2017 article for The Guardian, America’s secret role in the Rwandan genocide writes:” Three and a half years before the genocide, a rebel army of mainly Rwandan Tutsi exiles known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, had invaded Rwanda and set up camps in the northern mountains. They had been armed and trained by neighboring Uganda, which continued to supply them throughout the ensuing civil war, in violation of the UN charter, Organization of African Unity rules, various Rwandan ceasefire and peace agreements, and the repeated promises of the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni.” (…)“The US was monitoring Ugandan weapons shipments to the RPF in 1992, but instead of punishing Museveni, western donors including the US doubled aid to his government and allowed his defense spending to balloon to 48% of Uganda’s budget, compared with 13% for education and 5% for health, even as Aids was ravaging the country. In 1991, Uganda purchased 10 times more US weapons than in the preceding 40 years combined.”

Epstein, despite reporting such damaging facts for US foreign policy in the region, still bafflingly depicts its policy as neutral or “looking on” and still calls the events a civil war instead of an outright international aggression. For example, former US Ambassador to Uganda R. E. Gribben in his 2005 memoir In the Aftermath of Genocide: The U.S. Role in Rwanda revealed that US intelligence was well aware about Museveni’s support for the RPF. “Gribbin confirms that the US had intelligence of Ugandan involvement and expressed admiration for Museveni’s ability to maintain ‘plausible deniability’ on the matter,” Barrie Collins writes in Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and its Consequences.

Collins states that two key pieces of disinformation were disseminated and became internationally endorsed: the President’s plane had been shot down by members of the Akazu, a shadowy network of individuals close to the late President and the massacres of civilians that erupted the following day were the unfolding of a genocide that the Akazu had planned long in advance. Both of these narratives have since been debunked by countless historical research on released archival documents, as well as a vast documentation of over two decades of judicial trials at the ad hoc tribunal in Arusha, as well as trials in Spain, France or Canada. Collins underscores that the RPF talking points at the time eerily echo the same views of the US Clinton administration Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research T. Gati or the chief human rights official John Shattuck.

African Great Lakes expert Charles Onana, who has already published eight investigations on the regions recent history, plunges us in his recent Holocauste au Congo, L’omertà de la communauté international, La France complice ?(Holocaust in the Congo, The omertà of the international community, Is France a partner in crime?), into the years preceding and following the fall of Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko with the invasion of the Zaire in 1996 by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) and the setting up of a system of occupation which is still in place to this day.

Major events are reconstructed citing an impressive wide range of primary archival sources - spanning from US and French Presidential records, US national security agencies’ reports and memos, letters, congressional hearings, judicial trials, parliamentary inquiries and newspaper articles of the time- as well as interviews with key actors. Secondary sources are also widely cited, with a particular attention to a variety of less know emerging Congolese authors.

We learn that huge diplomatic pressure from the Clinton administration was asking Mobutu to step down as meetings between Mobutu and US Ambassador in Kinshasa Melissa Wells, as well as US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson are evoked: their bullying words violate diplomatic etiquette, recalling colonial power relationships. Mobutu and certain members of his entourage faced US visa restrictions in 1993 and he and his family were hit by a hefty demonization campaign orchestrated in the international press.

Masking the aggressors

Violent rebel incursions into eastern Congo since 1996 were justified throughout the years by the international community and many scholars and journalists on dubious arguments such as “Rwanda needing to protect its territory from attacks by Hutu refugees in eastern Zaire” or “the need to protect a Congolese persecution of a historically unfounded Tutsi minority, known as Banyamulenge, in eastern Congo.”

Holocauste au Congo reveals that these two misleading narratives, although espoused by US and EU officials at the time, were not what their respective intelligence services were reporting to them: as early as September 1994 both French and US intelligence reports emphasized that the refugees in Zaire of the former Rwandan national army posed zero military threat to Rwanda; as early as November 1994 a report by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the US State Department predicted that the Rwandan Patriotic Front would bring conflict to eastern Zaire. An entire chapter is devoted to the controversial term Banyamulenge.

Most authoritative history books on the region state that eastern Congo was invaded so as “to disarm the Hutus in the refugee camps” and “protect the Banyamulenge”: all cite the vice-governor of South Kivu, Lwabandji Lwasi Ngabo, as pronouncing xenophobic and dangerous statements against this Tutsi minority. Instead, Lwasi Ngabo actually said exactly the contrary: in South Kivu, on 8 October 1996 he announced the setting up of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the Tutsi and other civilian populations who were not involved in the war of aggression which had just begun. Not one of the historians or journalists has rectified this lie despite the fact that the mayor Lwasi Ngabo has since won a trial in Belgium providing the proof of what he had stated at the time, namely that he wanted to bring the population in a safe area, further away from the border and thus away from the war zone.

Most journalists and scholars reported the RPF talking points, rather than verify the facts on the ground, which camouflaged the international war of aggression.

Unfortunately, both these easily debunkable narratives, namely that “the FDLR (a group of Hutu refugees from 1994) are the main cause of instability in eastern Congo” and “the Banyamulenge must be protected in eastern Congo,” live on today and are used as pretexts by Rwandan proxy rebellions for eastern Congo’s genocidal occupation.

“The FDLR are today in South Kivu mainly agriculturalists,” a testimony who prefers to remain anonymous tells me via phone in July 2023 “they do not pose a threat to our communities, but they do tell us they hope that one day they will be able to return home to Rwanda. It’s the Rwandan army which is the main threat today, via their proxy rebel movement M23. Even when civilian auto-defense groups managed to recently capture a high-level Rwandan official the UN mission remained silent, they did not denounce this foreign presence on Congolese territory.” This attitude of not identifying the perpetrators on the part of the UN mission is a huge disservice, to say the least, to its protection mandate. It also allows for impunity of those who have committed the international aggression.

A dark page in the history of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is its suppression of the Gersony report on the RPF crimes against humanity in Rwanda. Later the UN refugee agency breached the principle of non-refoulement (“no expulsion of refugees to a high-risk country”), the cornerstone of asylum and of international refugee law, by pushing for a voluntary return of the nearly 2 million Hutu refugees (or a third of Rwanda’s population), who had fled the RPF advance, to Congo (then Zaire) at a time where all intelligence and NGO reports stated Hutus were often arrested and even killed when they returned home. UNHCR remained silent as Rwanda, while the US and other western countries also remained taciturn, bombed the Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire dispersing its population in 1996. They also remained silent as a sham liberation movement, the AFDL, chased and assassinated Hutu refugees for months on end throughout the Congo, as hundreds of thousands died. Today countless Rwandan witnesses who have survived have recounted this tragic journey. Worse, not having addressed the issue back then, it still remains a tragedy to this day.

We learn from President Chirac’s Defense Minister at the time, Charles Million, who wrote the foreword of Holocauste au Congo, that Bill Clinton in person dissuaded France from launching a much-needed intervention force to protect the populations (the Hutu refugees and the Congolese civilians ) in eastern Congo.

Perhaps the most surprising evidence provided by Holocauste au Congo is breaking the myth that the United States and the west in general “looked away” from these two tragedies. The grounds often given are for example that Washington needed to seek risk-averse approaches to conflict intervention after the US military pulled out of Somalia, prompting what is known today as the 'Somalia syndrome.' This non-interventionist stance is instead a part of the very US propaganda, whose purpose was to obfuscate what was actually an international war by a US backed intervention.

The thoughts and perceptions of key US politicians which at the time dealt and developed policies on the crisis come to life through direct quotes taken straight from archival documents, reports, letters and interviews: figures such as Bill Clinton, US President at the time; Melissa Wells, US ambassador; Roger Winter, Executive Director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; Anthony Lake, National Security Advisor, from 1993 to 1997 and White House Special Envoy from 1998 to 2000, George Moose, Assistant Secretary of State for African from 1993 to 1997 and ambassador to the UN agencies in Geneva from 1997 to 2001; William Perry, U.S. Defense Secretary; Bill Richardson,US Ambassador to the United Nations between 1997 and 1998; Susan Rice, National Security Council official from 1993 to 1997 (as director for international organizations and peacekeeping from 1993 to 1995, and as special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs from 1995 to 1997) and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1997 to 2001; Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Ambassador Richard Bogosian, Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi are widely reproduced.

Many questions were raised at the time by US Congress members who were relentlessly asking for an explanation of the US military aide given to Rwanda, who was in turn invading Zaire. Holocauste au Congo brings to life these pertinent questions which have since then not been officially answered.

To what degree was the regime change which overthrew Mobutu orchestrated by members of the Clinton administration? We learn for example that Dennis Hankins, counsellor at the US embassy in Kinshasa from 1996 to 1998, travelled with the AFDL rebels and updated US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson regularly on their advance. Richardson confirms the close ties with the invading AFDL proxy rebellion in a US House International Relations Committee hearing on 5 November 1997.

A veil of silence

On 22 of July 1994 US President Clinton commenced a little-known relief mission, Operation Support Hope, as its contemporary French-led Opération Turquoise, which was authorized by the United Nations on 22 June 1994, was also deployed to secure the fleeing Rwandan population.

Intelligence memos, reports, memoires and interviews with key US and other protagonists at the time recall that the priority of Operation Support Hope was securing the new Tutsi-led regime in Kigali.

A testimony who participated in the operation reveals to Onana its intended secrecy: US soldiers were asked not to reveal their deployment destination to relatives. The complexity of its military build-up and the counterintelligence training it provided in Rwanda, as well as the high-level political participation in its meetings raise many questions over Operation Support Hope role in the region. Onana asks for example to what degree the United States Clinton administration participated in the preparation of the regime change against Mobutu, since such a complex military operation requires, according to military experts, months of pre-planning.

US support -diplomatic, financial and miliary- of the minority Tutsi-led regime in Kigali did not recede when serious human rights abuses in Rwanda, as well as subsequently in Zaire, were denounced at the time by human rights and intelligence reports.

These crimes and acts of genocide are well documented today, for example Canadian journalist Judie Rever’s 2018 book In Praise of Blood for the RPF’s crimes in Rwanda and the UN Mapping report which was released in 2010 and covers the period 1993 to 2003 for human rights crimes committed in Zaire/RDC, as well as the numerous United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reports published since 2001. Despite vast knowledge on the identity of the main perpetrators of the violence (such as warlords Jules Mutubetsi or Laurent Nkunda or today’s Senior Presidential Adviser on security in Rwanda James Kabarebe and President Paul Kagame) for two decades now in Congo, a culture of impunity reigns at a national, regional and international level.

Today a veil of silence has settled over what was in 1996 the beginning of an outright recolonization of the Congo via proxy rebellions and the setting up of an occupational structure, via an “army within an army” imposed by disingenuous peace talks, an occupation which is in place to this day.

This silence may also be due to senseless censorship: two book launches of Holocauste au Congo as well as the film projection of Congo ! Le silence des crimes oubliés, (Congo! The silence of forgotten crimes) by film director Gilbert Balufu were cancelled in May and June 2023 in Paris. One event was to be held at the town hall of the 20ᵉ arrondissement and the other at the Institute of international and strategic relations, yet faced with political pressure by NGOs such as Survie or Network against antisemitism and all forms of racism (Réseau contre l'Antisémitisme et tous les Racismes ) the organizers had to seek an alternative venue at the last minute.

One NGO, Réseau contre l'Antisémitisme et tous les Racismes, subsequently even boasted about cancelling the conference on the Congolese genocide on twitter. Such misplaced activism is difficult to understand. Especially in light of the physical protection needed for writers such as Judie Rever who even risks her life for her research: she recalls how the Belgian secret services approached her in her hotel lobby in 2014: “My name is Denis Ledure. I am the head of the Close Protection Services,” a branch of the Belgian Secret Service “I am here because we have reason to believe that the Rwandan Embassy in Brussels constitutes a threat to your security.” Charles Onana is currently facing a trail in France begun by three ONGs for “genocide denial” for his research work on the Opération Turquoise which was the subject of his PhD achieved in 2017 at the University of Lyon. Researchers and scholars should not have to live such disconcerting experiences and NGOs should rather focus on targeting human rights criminals and not those who try and denounce them.

It is unfortunate that the two sides of varying viewpoints on the African Great Lakes region recent history cannot be openly debated, and that one side, the one pushing the dominant and by now an institutionalized narrative, recurs to smear campaigns and juridical attacks, rather than hold open discussions on evidence and facts. This attitude does a huge disservice to those who are trying to understand the origins and structure of the violence, as one way to halt it.

Historian, journalist, and author Vijay Prashad speaking about the release of his book published in 2020 Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations says he wrote the book as he was outraged following the US sponsored coup against indigenous leader Evo Morales of Bolivia, as he deplores the political void in which today’s young generation is imbued and feels intellectuals and writers have done a very bad job at reminding the next generation on the ceaseless, punctual coup d‘état’s which the US and its allies have orchestrated world-wide since World War II. Prashad feels there is a deficit in western culture which has managed somehow to avoid digesting the easily available facts about the diabolical nature of such regime changes. One should be outraged, yet western culture isn’t, it’s rather a culture which legitimizes war criminals despite being aware of their crimes, which according to Prashad, is a major problem that needs to be understood, denounced and tackled.

On what legal basis does the US back a regime which came to power by invading a country and thus provoking a genocide and subsequently invading another country for a quarter of a century? 500,000 women have been raped in eastern Congo since 1996 as world-renowned gynecologist, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr Denis Mukwege has relentlessly testified, yet no major NGOs are lobbying daily that this violence and dehumanization stop? And after a quarter of a century and millions of deaths how can so many people who served in the Clinton administration still remain silent? Where is the outrage?

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