Chapter 7: How is the empire?
We have to go to their schools to learn
how to win even when you are in the wrong.
Cheik Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure
The behaviour of the United States within the UN Security Council between April 6 and mid-July 1994 was what prompted former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to declare in 1998 that the Americans were 100 percent responsible for the Rwandan genocide. Mr. Boutros-Ghali expanded on that declaration in the interview he granted me in November 2002. “It was the responsibility of the Americans who were aided by England. But the other member states were too passive. Today it is true to say that the United States acts unilaterally. It is a superpower. But in addition, the abdication and resignation of the other powers must be mentioned.”
In his 1999 book entitled Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga, Boutros Boutros-Ghali was categorical: “The U.S. effort to prevent the effective deployment of a UN force for Rwanda succeeded with the strong support of Britain.” 81 The former Secretary General tends to give credence to the two reasons most often given for U.S. opposition to UN action. The first is the Somali fiasco in which 18 soldiers perished. The second is that the Presidential Directive of May 1994, brought down in the middle of the Rwandan crisis, imposed strict conditions on American participation in UN peacekeeping operations. Boutros-Ghali nevertheless pointed out that Madeleine Albright systematically blocked any kind of military intervention in Rwanda even without United States participation.
As long as the internal discussions of the Clinton Administration were not available, both explanations for American opposition to UN action appeared plausible. The waves of horrifying television images also made it difficult to consider anything other than the the propaganda served up by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF’s representatives and allies had managed to win over most of the newsrooms in the major Western media. 82
Colonel Luc Marchal’s observations about the nature of RPF propaganda are particularly revealing. In a letter to another Belgian, Alain de Brouwer, he wrote “I am fully in agreement with your analysis of the RPF’s implication be it before or after the tragedy. I am personally very convinced because I too had been duped by their smart propaganda during the Arusha negotiations. Once I was in Kigali, the gulf that separated what was said and what was really happening became obvious. In fact the RPF movement is totalitarian and it crushes absolutely everything in its way.” 83
Another trusty sign that more was going on in Rwanda than met the eye was the virulent anti-French tone of mainstream American media during the crisis. For example, on May 17, 1994, the Village Voice ran a long article entitled “Rwanda’s French Connection” accusing France of sitting back and letting their Rwandan friends massacre the Tutsis. In fact, at that very moment that article appeared, the United States was doing everything in its power to prevent France from leading an international force that could have stopped the killing and protect both Tutsi and Hutu civilians. For close observers, the behaviour and declarations of international human rights NGOs at the time was also suspicious, and indicated of high level political strategy. Some British organizations began to vocally oppose any United Nations military intervention arguing that only a victory by the invading RPR could end the genocide. For human rights groups, that position was surprising since it was more about geopolitical positioning than humanitarianism. In hindsight, though, one wonders if all such groups should be allowed to use so freely the “non-governmental” label.
At the same time in May 1994, The Economist, whose connections with foreign policy makers in Washington and London are unequalled, called for a clear victory by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. “In the short run, the best hope of peace and of survival for those Tutsis left alive would probably be a quick victory in war for the RPF.” 84 It is all so simple and obvious to understand. Why has their been so much fretting and wringing of hands about the “international community’s” slow reaction to horror in Rwanda?
Policy makers in Washington and London had a simple straight-forward strategy. Why allow a United Nations-sanctioned military intervention that would hand the initiative over to others, and specifically to France? The net result would be that “our boys” in the RPF would be prevented from taking power decisively. We just have to help them win the war and they will be indebted to us forever. They’ll guarantee us access to the whole region and keep it stable for years to come. They just have to win quickly. Will many people be killed? Sure they will, but not too many.
This policy had already been introduced in February 1994 when the same Anglo-American tandem had opposed reinforcing the UN military mission known as UNAMIR. At the end of March 1994, UNAMIR was still far short of troops. It reached a maximum of 2500 whereas both the Rwandan Government and the invading RPF had agreed that a minimum of 4500 troops was required. Two weeks after President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, with war at its worst and many civilians being killed, the same two permanent members of the UN Security Council with Belgium’s help forced the United Nations to scale back the UNAMIR force to 270 soldiers as of April 21, 1994.
Since August 2001, formerly classified internal Clinton Administration documents have been made available following a Freedom of Information Act request made by the independent National Security Archive. 85 These memorandums, telegrams, working papers, reports and briefing documents confirm the worst apprehensions about how a superpower develops and applies a foreign policy in which its own strategic interests take precedence over the lives and the peace of a country, its people and whole regions of Africa. Reading them makes one even more cynical about the hollow apologies made by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in December 1997 and by President Clinton in March 1998.
The Administration was fully aware of the magnitude of the tragedy that was about to unfold. On April 11, five days after the president’s plane was shot down and after Prudence Bushnell specifically warned Warren Christopher about the imminent “widespread violence”, a Pentagon memorandum to Under Secretary of Defense Frank Wisner, who was third in charge, warns that “unless both sides can be convinced to return to the peace process, a massive (hundreds of thousands of deaths) bloodbath will ensue… In addition, millions of refugees will flee into neighbouring Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire.”
Even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops. That was the priority. A State Department telegram dated April 15 gave specific orders to this effect to the United States mission at the UN and to Ambassador Madeleine Albright. “USUN [United States UN mission] is instructed to inform UN Security Council colleagues that the United States believes that the first priority of the Security Council is to instruct the Secretary general to implement an orderly withdrawal of all/all UNAMIR forces from Rwanda..” 86 The United States mission is also instructed to ensure the withdrawal takes place without discussion and without another Security Council resolution. The priority was not to bring about a cease-fire as was being offered at that very moment by representatives of the Rwandan armed forces.
During this period, American diplomats busied themselves as official RPF messengers for the RPF, delivering its demands to Rwandan government and army officials. The accounts of conversations between diplomats and Rwandan officials reveal the imperial nature of the relationship between the Americans and their Rwandan counterparts. They could best be described as orders, not advice. When Rwandan Government and Army representatives tried to meet the demands transmitted by the Americans, particularly with regards to a cease-fire, they were casually told to go and talk to Dallaire about it. As we know, however, Dallaire had lost or was losing all his troops and any effective role he might have had in Rwanda.
The documents also show that the United States supported an RPF victory, that they wanted to be quick, even though it was known that the RPF represented at best only a small minority of the Rwandan population. Furthermore, a Defense Intelligence Agency document asserts that Rwandan Government forces had no real intention of exterminating the Tutsis, an assertion that starkly contradicts the right and proper tale told ever since.
The Clinton Administration navigated cynically around the word ‘genocide’ throughout this period. Though it is debatable whether they were right or wrong, Pope Jean-Paul II, UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, and many others used the word genocide to describe events in Rwanda by the end of April 1994. Washington however meticulously avoided using the term until June 10. If the Americans had begun talking about genocide with the others they would have been obliged to support a UN-sponsored military intervention in Rwanda. That of course would have prevented the RPF winning the war, and scuttled Washington’s long-term strategy. For example, a Defense Department discussion paper on Rwanda dated May 1, 1994, warned Administration representatives against using of the term ‘genocide’. “Be careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday – Genocide finding could commit US Government to actually ‘do something’”.
Other unclassified documents show how the Clinton Administration started adjusting its position when it saw that NGO human rights organizations, who had been crying genocide since 1993, could be used to the United States’ advantage. The changes started occurring just before a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Little by little thereafter the word became the leitmotif of US policy in Rwanda. Since the Administration was counting on a quick RPF victory, the increased use of the term ‘genocide’, which falsely described the situation as the Hutu majority hating and exterminating the innocent Tutsi minority, became the best way to enhance the image of the RPF and bring international opinion to believe that only the Hutu-dominated Rwandan Government forces were guilty of this horrible crime. Moreover, the same unclassified documents prove the Clinton Administration adopted this strategy even though they were in possession of reliable reports and information about massive killing and violence carried out by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
A spokesperson for Secretary of State Warren Christopher used the expression “acts of genocide” for the first time on June 10, 1994, but only after the US had managed to impose a military embargo on Rwanda. The RPF on the other hand had no difficulty bringing weapons, ammunition and fighters into Rwanda through Uganda. Though the United States reluctantly agreed upon the creation of a second United Nations military mission to Rwanda known as UNAMIR II on May 17 that was to reach 5500 troops, they delayed its deployment until the war was over.
The United States finally agreed to a Security Council resolution authorizing the French Opération Turquoise deployed on June 22, 1994. That operation was conceived to create a “secure humanitarian zone” for two months. By this time the term ‘genocide’ had received the blessing of the Clinton Administration. It therefore became easy to depict the French operation as an effort by France to protect its “génocidaire” friends. Ever since, the English-language media has joyfully stigmatized that operation as French colonial support for genocide even though it effectively saved many Rwandan lives.
The shooting down of the plane on April 6 triggered the tragedy in Rwanda, but the RPF had already prepared to resume the war much earlier. RPF sources now claim that they had 4000 armed fighters in Kigali, yet under the Arusha accords all weapons in the area were supposed to be deposed and collected by the UNAMIR. Even before President Habyarimana’s plan was shot down, RPF troops had started marching on Kigali. In the capital city, the RPF positioned its troops for combat during the night of April 6 and by 3pm the next day they launched their first attack against the Rwandan Armed Forces. The Rwandan Patriotic Front had clearly the broken the Arusha peace agreement and started the war again.
These unclassified documents also help to understand Romeo Dallaire’s behaviour during the tragedy in Rwanda and afterwards. His appointment as commander of the UN mission had already helped reduce France’s role in that part of Africa. Then in 1994, when Paris was about to launch Opération Turquoise by virtue of a Security Council resolution, General Dallaire publicly opposed the operation, saying that he approved the presence of French-speaking African troops, but not of French troops. Again in August 1994, Dallaire spoke out against extending the mandate of Opération Turquoise in Rwanda. He also threatened to resign if the UNAMIR troops were put under French command. 87
In an interview with a United Nations official during the same period, Roméo Dallaire declared: “If they land here to deliver their damn weapons to the government, I’ll have their planes shot down”. 88 When a commander of a peace-keeping mission created by the Security Council dares to threaten a permanent member of the Security Council in this manner, he must know that he can count on friends in high places such as among other permanent Security Council members. It is not surprising therefore that France tried to remove Dallaire as commander of the UN mission?
Gilbert Ngijol who was Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh’s assistant does not mince his words: “Dallaire was very close to the RPF. He got involved not only in military issues but also in all political issues which were Booh-Booh’s responsibility as the Secretary General’s political envoy. By insisting that he co-sign all memos with Booh-Booh, Dallaire ensured that he would oversee all messages the political envoy would send.”
During the night of April 6, 1994, General Dallaire was invited by a group of Rwandan military officers to discuss the next steps to be taken following the death of the President and the chief of staff of the Rwandan armed forces, Colonel Déogratias Nsabimana who was also in the plane. There was talk of having Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana address the population on Rwandan radio. Madame Uwilingiyimana was a member of the opposition MDR party and many were opposed because she was perceived as a relentless opponent of President Habyarimana who had just been killed. Her intervention on national radio would be seen as a provocation and would make things worse. Nevertheless, the next day UNAMIR troops under Dallaire’s orders took Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana to the radio station to address the Rwandan people. She was assassinated during this operation.
Who gave Romeo Dallaire the right to make political and constitutional decisions of this nature concerning the future of Rwanda? Was he now a Rwandan constitutional expert? Was he acting on his own or was he carrying out orders? When Romeo Dallaire refused the April 7 offer from French officers to investigate the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane and stated that he had already discussed the issue with the Americans, was he acting on his own or was he carrying out orders? If in these two cases, the answer is that he was receiving orders, where were they coming from? Was it General Maurice Baril, the head of peace-keeping operations and Dallaire’s superior at UN headquarters, who was instructing Dallaire. And if so, who was telling Maurice Baril what was to be done?
These very important questions remain unanswered. Each time Romeo Dallaire appears officially at hearings or in courts, the content of his testimony is so carefully censored that it is impossible to get to any of the important details. General Dallaire refused all my requests for an interview. According to his lawyer, he was writing a book on the subject that is scheduled to appear in the fall of 2003. My written requests for written answers to these questions were simply ignored. In the name of history and the truth, he must answer those questions.
“General Dallaire, did you decide on your own that Ms. Agathe Uwilingiyimana should address Rwandans on Radio-Rwanda on the morning of April 7, 1994? If not, who made that decision?”
Dallaire’s book came out in fall 2003 and has won many prizes, including Canada’s Governor General’s award. However, none of these questions is answered. Dallaire also maintains the silence about the April 6 assassination.
These questions are important, but the answers have become somewhat academic considering the Americans’ determination to see the RPF win a decisive victory. Unless Romeo Dallaire and Maurice Baril can prove the contrary, it can be concluded that both Baril et Dallaire were simply operatives carrying out decisions made at higher levels based on strategic considerations that are becoming clearer everyday.
Romeo Dallaire’s erratic behaviour in the years following his stint in Rwanda stem more likely from his being compelled to lie about the tragic events in Rwanda in 1994 than from any form of shellshock. It would appear that Romeo Dallaire had a difficult time learning the “art of winning when you are in the wrong” as Cheik Hamidou Kane wrote in his classic novel “Ambiguous Adventure”. It would also appear that General Maurice Baril had little trouble with the art of winning when you are in the wrong. He behaved the same way during the refugee crisis in Zaire/Congo in November 1966 (see chapter 14). For services that Maurice Baril rendered in Africa, and particularly in Rwanda, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien rewarded Maurice Baril by appointing him Chief of staff of the Canadian Armed Forces on September 24, 1997.
81 Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga, Random House, p. 138.
82 Some notable exceptions should be mentioned. Africa International
83 Letter from Luc Marchal to Alain de Brouwer, July 1998. The letter is quoted in an October 2002 document on the Interationale démocrate chrétienne and the war in Rwanda. Note that Luc Marchal met the famous “Jean-Pierre” shortly after arriving in Rwanda at a time when using his own words he was still “duped by their (the RPF’s) smart propaganda’.
84 “Rwanda: The Art of Death”, The Economist, May 28, 1994.
86 Ibid. Document uncontrolled on November 18, 1998.
87 Jacques Castonguay, Les Casques bleus au Rwanda, pages 185 à 190.
88 Gérard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis. History of a Genocide, Columbia, 1995, p. 287.