Chapter 2: In the name of peace and democracy
L’occident tire les ficelles
Les marionnetttes font du zèle
Alpha Blondy, Politruc 23
In July 1990, President Juvénal Habyarimana announced his intention to introduce multiparty politics to Rwanda. This was two months before Ugandan troops invaded Rwanda. Habyarimana was answering François Mitterrand’s call made in June during a speech at La Baule, France. With the end of the Cold War that saw rich countries in Europe and America marching in lockstep with military leaders they had often put into power who ran one-party systems, the time had now come to adopt a new model that was touted to be the pinnacle democracy.
Pushed by her friends and rivals, France invited African countries to commit to applying that model post haste. In polite terms, French foreign minister Roland Dumas declared lyrically that “the winds of freedom blowing East must inevitably blow South too.” Diligently, Pope John Paul too bore that message when he visited Rwanda in 1990. The fact is that when invitations like that are sent from North to South they are the carrots, but the stick is always nearby. The real message was: “Do what you’re told or we’ll get together and cut you off, whether you are at war or not!”
Rwanda obeyed even though it was at war. On June 10, 1991, the Rwandan Constitution was amended to allow for multiparty politics. Rwandan leaders were nonetheless told continually that it was too little, too late, and altogether too slow. Each of these warning was accompanied directly or indirectly by reduced aid and a tighter funding and borrowing criteria. Adding insult to injury, the powers that be applied their new creed of multiparty politics selectively. During the same period in neighbouring Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who shot his way to power between 1981 and 1986, held no elections and announced the creation of his specious no party democracy - a dictatorship by any other name is a dictatorship. Uganda and the country’s president just sailed along untroubled even though they blatantly bucked the “winds of freedom and democracy” that were supposedly blowing from North to South.
Opposition parties formed and, following international pressure, Rwanda’s first multiparty government was sworn in in April 1992. The government included members of all the major parties: President Habyarimana’s party, Le Mouvement républicain national pour le développement et la démocratie (MRND), Le Mouvement démocratique républicain (MDR), Le Parti social démocrate (PSD), Le Parti démocrate chrétien (PDC) and Le Parti libéral (PL).
These new parties were obviously seeking power. They had to define their positions with regards to President Habyarimana, but they also had to define themselves in relation to the occupying RPF army and its supporters throughout the world. They also had to appeal to diplomats from Belgium, the United States, France and Britain, who turned out to the most important stakeholders. Most of these foreign powers appeared to be siding with the invading RPF army were prepared to jettison President Habyarimana. Seeing the way the wind was blowing, these opposition parties began to establish direct ties with the RPF in the hope of gaining similar international support for themselves. As a result, leaders of opposition parties and the Rwandan Patriotic Front met in Brussels from May 29 through June 3, 1992, and issued a joint press release. It turns out, in fact, that those meetings were attended by opposition parties only at the behest of the US Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen. 24 In short, instead of building a national coalition to fight the invading army, the opposition forces formed a coalition that included and protected the invader under the approving eyes of the major Western powers.
Though linking up with the enemy to obtain concessions from a weakened President Habyarimana is a time-warn political strategy, especially considering that real power was obviously backing the RPF, in any other country in the world at war it would be treated has treason.
The army of Rwandan Patriotic Front would have lost the war in December 1990 if Western powers had not been on its side. Many observers have reached this conclusion. 25 By the end of 1990, the invading army could count on the solid support of the United States, Britain, Uganda and increasingly Belgium. What’s more, France was continually hedging its bets on Rwanda. The Socialist Party was in power and had many RPF supporters. The invaders were therefore able to prolong the war for three and a half years and provoke dissension, demoralization and division in all parts of Rwandan society.
None of the countries that forced Rwanda to negotiate during the war would have allowed such conditions to be imposed on them in wartime. All of them take and have always taken all necessary measures to rally the population against the enemy and eliminate all obstacles to full mobilization. They do so even whether they are directly attacked or invaded or not. Countries at war take a vast array of actions that include restrictions to freedom of opinion, freedom of the press and freedom of political activities, special laws and constitutional amendments. The latter may be touted as temporary but they often remain after the war is over. Some governments at war or threatened by war are known to outlaw political movements and parties. Generally speaking, the people of the country and the country’s allies understand and support these actions that are seen to be only in wartime.
Nothing would be easier than to list the violations to basic standards of freedom and democracy in each of the countries that criticized Rwanda during the war from 1990 to 1994. Historical amnesia has conveniently erased these violations from the active memories of most people in Europe and America. They have become footnotes to a self-congratulatory narrative of valour and bravery.
Modern-day violations of these basic standards are attributed primarily to terrorism and then generally curry support among the people because of the siege mentality that has been created and because the prevailing cultural superiority with respect to non Western countries who are blamed for the terrorism. The victims the modern-day violations (i.e., people locked up in the wake of September 11, 2001, prisoners in Guantanamo, Rwandan Hutu refugees) are often presented as people devoid of the culture of democracy and rights that we are led to believe we have and thus undeserving of basic democratic rights.
How many young people in Canada or elsewhere know what was done during the Second World War to Camilien Houde, Mayor of Montreal, Canada’s largest city? Under the War Measures Act of 1917, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested the very popular mayor and member of Québec’s Legislative Assembly on August 9, 1940. Mayor Houde was interned near Ottawa for almost four years. He was never charged nor brought to trial. For sixteen months his wife and children were not allowed to visit him. Mayor Houde was interned arbitrarily by the Canadian Government because he had stated in a conversation with newspaper reporters that he was opposed to the army registering all men over sixteen years old. The next day the Montreal Gazette made that statement its headline and Camilien Houde was immediately arrested. Montreal’s mayor was also interned because he had a number of Italians in his organisation. To this day people avoid talking about Camilien Houde fearing that they will be associated with the enemy.
During the Second World War, as in the First World War, if there were any suspicion that a Canadian political party was developing ties with political parties in any enemy country (i.e., Germany, Japan, Italy, Austria), Canada would have outlawed the local party and interned its leaders for the duration of the guerre and after the war. In comparison, for opposition parties in Rwanda, had become almost a point of honour and distinction for opposition parties to link up with the enemy. By 1993 and 1994 the pro-RPF circles within Rwanda were no longer hiding their political opinions. They boasted to anybody who was listening that no party so strongly supported by the United States could lose.
In the same vein, how many young Canadians, or Quebecers, denounce the use of the War Measures Act in peacetime in October 1970? What do they say about the 500 arrests, the 5000 homes entered and searched, and the occupation of Quebec? More than thirty years later, educators, political parties and politicians rarely dare to openly criticize the Pierre Trudeau and the Government of Canada for what they did in 1970. The reason is that they all fear that they will be associated with the enemy, in this case the Front de libération du Québec.
Countries in North America and Europe have recently passed draconian laws to combat some illusory terrorist enemy both inside those countries and beyond their borders. People are arrested, political parties and movements are prohibited. A dirty campaign of informing on suspicious neighbours has been deployed. Solidarity organizations are forced to disband in many countries even though these countries may never haveen been targeted by the terrorists. Few people dare contest these measures however since they fear that they will be associated with the enemy.
The truth and the details of the three events mentioned have been quietly and conveniently forgotten because of the fear of guilt by association.
In 1940, Canada had not even been attacked. In 1970, the FLQ had only a few active cells that kidnapped only two people. In 2002, many countries who have adopted strict anti-terrorist legislation were not even hit by terrorists.
In contrast, the invading RPF army that occupied a large swathe of Rwandan territory was operating 146 active clandestine cells in Kigali alone in 1993. Each time that President Habyarimana and others tried to mobilize the population against the enemy, they were immediately accused of being Hutu extremists with genocidal intentions.
In Rwanda between 1990 and 1994, RPF terror was the rule, not the exception. The so-called donor countries nonetheless continued to force the Rwandan president to negotiate with the terrorists and to include parties in the government who were openly allied with them. In addition to the RPF’s brutality and violence and political assassinations, which caused hundreds of thousands of peasants in northern Rwanda to flee southwards, RPF agents carried out terrorist activities throughout Rwanda in an aim to divide the newly formed political parties. The RPF’s targeting of civilians rather than the military illustrates the nature of an organization that resembled the European fascist parties of the 1930s, who targeted crowded popular places, more than it resembled any liberation army.
When I visited Jean-Paul Akayesu in his prison cell in Mali where he is serving life sentence he told me of an event that took place in the town of Taba just west of Kigali where he was burgomaster in 1993 and 1994. 26 “RPF agents put a bomb near a school. Seventeen school children were killed. Others were injured. They wanted to provoke a confrontation between my party (the opposition MDR) and the President’s party (the MRND).” How does Jean-Paul Akayesu know that the RPF was responsible for those deaths? “After the RPF victory, the criminals started talking openly about what they had done,” says Akayesu. “The person responsible was prosecution Witness D who appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha. His name is Ephrem Karengwa.”
The new multiparty system added to the war had a devastating effect on Rwanda’s civil service. Parties wishing to take power in Rwanda were more interested in their relations with the invader and with Western diplomats, who openly expressed sympathy with the RPF, than they were in the opinions and of the Rwandan people.
Rwanda’s Defence Minister James K. Gasana candidly described the situation in July 1993 just before the Arusha Accord were signed. “This transition period [starting in April 1992] was characterized by the disintegration of the civil service illustrated by the paralysis of government services. This was due to the excessive polarisation in the civil service. Most civil servants were looking out for their own parties’ interests instead of national interests… This all contributed to decimate the cohesion that should be a feature of public administration whose only raison d’être is the interest of Rwandan citizens.” 27
Such an admission is troubling when it is made by a government minister, but it is not surprising considering the pressure exerted on the political parties. If taking power depends on the people’s will as expressed in free elections, political parties wherever they are will make the healthy management of government affairs a top priority. On the other hand, if taking power depends on obtaining the blessing of diplomats from rich and powerful countries and from bankers from those same countries, and if that blessing is conferred in private meetings or during secret negotiations, political parties will do their utmost to show foreign diplomats and bankers that they already control the administration. By the same token, they will pay little attention to the needs and opinions of their fellow citizens, who are clearly not the source of power in the country.
If in addition, during negotiations sponsored by the same Western powers, the invading army obtains much more than the people would ever give it in free elections, that is political power over government, then not only the civil service is likely to disintegrate but the country’s whole social fabric. That is what happened in Rwanda between September 1993 and April 1994.
President Habyarimana and the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front signed the Arusha Accords on August 4, 1993. According to Faustin Twagiramungu, who was designated to be prime minister of the transitional government established by the Accords, the partie would never have reached an agreement if the American, British and Ugandan sponsors had not applied enormous pressure. “Neither the opposition parties nor President Habyarimana wanted an agreement like that”, said Twagiramungu in an interview in November 2002 in Brussels. Only the RPF and its army came away happy because they had “stripped President Habyarimana of all his power”. Former Prime Minister Twagirmungu was particularly angry about British participation in the Arusha negotiations. The British did not even have a consulate in Rwanda at that time. He also pointed out that the RPF army relied on the British intelligence network used by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The Arusha Accords were supposed to solve many problems. They included provisions for power sharing in a broad-based transitional government, return of refugees to Rwanda, and return of the people displaced by the war in Rwanda. They also called for the deployment of a neutral international force, the integration of the RPF in Rwanda’s national army and the deployment of an RPF battalion in Kigali. In fact, the Arusha Accords sealed the president’s loss of power and effectively handed power over to the invading army.
The transitional government was to have twenty ministers and secretaries of state. The invading RPF and the president’s party (the MRND) each had five ministers, an unbelievable and incomprehensible parity. The other opposition parties shared the other ten ministries. It should be noted that all but one of the parties had signed the joint press release with the RPF in June 1992. The RPF was thus in a position to control the government of Rwanda.
The most surprising provision of the Arusha Accords, especially in hindsight, is the one concerning integration of the RPF army in the Rwandan National Army. Here is the crucial clause: “Les forces gouvernementales fourniront 60 % des effectifs et celles du FPR 40 % à tous les niveaux à l’exception des postes de commandement décrits ci-dessous. Dans la chaîne de commandement, de l’état-major de l’armée jusqu’au niveau du bataillon, chaque partie sera représentée à 50 % […]” 28
An exhaustive list of military positions down to army school trainers follows. In addition to this formal division of power, the existing political allegiance of the Rwandan military must be factored in. According to Rwanda’s former Defence Minister, James Gasana, the opposition parties close to the RPF and the RPF itself enjoyed the support of 35 percent and five percent respectively.
In other words, if the Arusha Accords had been applied, the RPF would have controlled the government of Rwanda and the army without ever having run in an election. All it could boast was its army, the murderous war it had launched and the steadfast support of the Americans and the British. And to think this was accomplished in the name of the “winds of freedom and democracy” blowing from the North.
It is now known that the RPF army in alliance with the armies of Burundi and Uganda spearheaded the war in the Congo as of 1996. The military provisions of the 1993 Arusha Accords now leave little doubt that roadmap guiding the United States and Britain led do the installation of a regime and an army in Rwanda that would be loyal to them during the post-Mobutu era in the Congo. Rwandan peace and national reconciliation was nowhere to be found on that map. In a nutshell, if President Habyarimana, an ally of France and of Mobutu, were to remain, he would only be allowed to be a figurehead. The Rwandan army would be controlled by the RPF who was allied unconditionally with Washington and London.
Recent testimony converges on this point. From the moment the first multiparty government was established in April 1992, no important minister in Rwanda was appointed without prior consultation with the United States Embassy. James Gasana wrote that “with the breakdown of the Rwandan state, the country was in fact administered from beyond its borders.” The prime minister designated for the transitional government, Faustin Twagiramungu, told me essentially the same thing: “There was no longer any decision-making power in Rwanda.” In fact, the Arusha Accords only consolidated the transfer of decision-making power from Rwandans in Kigali foreign diplomats, mainly from the United States. The RPF was the dirty-handed go-between in this transfer.
A month after the Arusha Accords were signed the Rwandan Patriotic Front received a democratic kick in the face from the Rwandan people. Serious people should have taken note. In September RPF candidates ran in municipal elections in the demilitarized zone of northern Rwanda. Voters flatly rejected them. Though the Rwandan voters’ behaviour was predictable, since the RPF only represented the Tutsi minority and could never win an election based on one person one vote, Western support for the RPF did not flinch in the least.
Heavy international pressure was applied to bring Rwanda sign the Arusha Accords even though they were contrary to the interests of the Rwandan Government and the Rwandan people. Pressure dropped though when time came to provide troops for the neutral international force called for in the Accords that later became UNAMIR (United National Aid Mission for Rwanda). Neither the date of deployment nor the number of troops the parties had agreed upon were respected. The force was supposed to be in place thirty-seven days after the Accords were signed. In fact, it took four months to be deployed. The parties had agreed on 4500 troops. UNAMIR never exceeded 2500!
Many have blamed the UN’s delay on its bureaucracy and traditional lack of sensitivity. Similar reasons are advanced to explain the UN’s slow reaction during the killing that followed the shooting down of the presidential plane on April 6, 1994. It is much more likely that the UN Security Council was being paralysed by the Americans and the British who were vying to take control of the African Great Lakes region from France. The delay forebode others to come. What’s more, the UNAMIR force that resulted from this Security Council skirmish clearly represented a victory for the two English-speaking powers.
The Habyarimana government wanted French troops in the force, whereas the Rwandan Patriotic Front strongly objected, accusing France of the worst crimes. The RPF succeeded in having Belgium provide the largest contingent followed by Bangladesh. Another telling sign that the RPF and its sponsors in Washington and London won that bout is that the UN office in New York imposed English as the language of the mission. Here a French-speaking country had been invaded by an English-speaking army and UN forces are obliged to operate in the language of the invader. The use of English thus greatly undermined UNAMIR’s credibility, also because the interpreters who knew English, French and Kiyarwanda were inevitably Tutsis.
Canada chose not to participate in UNAMIR. The Security Council however appointed a Canadian, general Roméo Dallaire, as mission commander because the United States wanted a French Canadian. 29 General Dallaire was one of the first Canadians appointed to a senior position in the Rwandan crisis. Others would follow. The key to such nominations was to be French speaking, but not from France, and in no way politically or emotionally attached to France. On this question, Roméo Dallaire fit the bill perfectly and did not let those who appointed him down. Throughout the mission, Dallaire provoked and baited the French so much that Paris pressured Canada to have Roméo Dallaire removed as commander. 30
Rwanda had been paralysed by a Western-sponsored two-pronged attack aimed to consolidate the RPF army’s military gains and to transfer power from Kigali to that proxy army’s headquarters. Catchy phrases like “peace process” and “multiparty democracy” were used to justify the two pronged attack on Rwanda, but they led directly to their opposites, war and dictatorship. And the same Western powers that invented those catchy but totally deceitful phrases continue to claim that Africa lacks a culture of democracy and needs Western help to learn it.
23 Free translation: “The West pulls the strings, The Puppets danse and sing.”
24 Joce Leader, The Rwanda Crisis: The Genesis of a Genocide, A speech delivered at Penn State University, 5 April 2001.
25 James K. Gasana, op. cit. p. 74.
26 See Chapter 14: “A Wandering Rwandan”. Jean-Paul Akayesu is held at the Maison centrale d’arrêt, de Bamako, Mali. He claims to be innocent. I interviewed him in prison in November 2002.
27 James K. Gasana, op. cit. p. 205.
28 Free translation. “Government forces will provide 60 percent of the troops and the FPR 40 percent at all levels except command positions described below. In the chain of command, from the chief of staff to the batallion level, representation will be 50 percent for each party.”
29 Carol Off, The Lion the Fox and the Eagle, Vintage Canada, 2000, p. 25.
30 Jacques Castonguay, Les casques bleus au Rwanda, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1998, p. 89.