by Ann Garrison
April 6 was the 24th anniversary of the day that Gen. Paul Kagame shattered a ceasefire agreement and resumed the 1990-1994 war in Rwanda by assassinating Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira. His troops, acting on his orders, fired a rocket at Habyarimana’s plane when it appeared overhead in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, returning from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The plane crashed into the presidential palace and the BBC reported heavy fighting at the crash site as the news spread. No one has ever been brought to trial for the crime, even though Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo became vast killing grounds in its aftermath.
The 90 days of chaos, war and massacres that followed the assassinations came to be known simply as the Rwandan Genocide, even though its overarching context was Kagame’s final push to seize power in the war that began on Oct. 1, 1990, when he and his army invaded Rwanda from Uganda.
Both assassinated presidents were of the Hutu ethnicity, and the Hutu population panicked, imagining their own doom; some began to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors in what turned into a bloodbath broadcast by global news networks. Much of the coverage depicted Hutu people as inherently bloodthirsty, subhuman, demonic killers – a cruel, racist stereotype that survives to this day.
At the same time, Gen. Paul Kagame and his army launched a carefully planned military offensive – not to save Tutsis, but to seize power. In a 2011 interview, Col. Luc Marchal, commander of the Belgian peacekeeping troops in UNAMIR, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda, told Jambo News: “On the military side, it is impossible to take advantage of an opportunity like the attack [on the presidents’ plane] to launch an offensive on three strategic axes. It takes months of preparation from a logistical point of view.”
Kagame and his so-called Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) claimed that his troops had not fired the rocket that took down the plane. They instead blamed it on Hutu hardliners and accused them of firing it so as to create an excuse for unleashing their genocidal madness on Tutsis – no matter how catastrophic it would be to themselves.
Gen. Paul Kagame and his army launched a carefully planned military offensive – not to save Tutsis, but to seize power.
No members of the Hutu government or the Hutu population had anything to gain by assassinating the two presidents or otherwise disrupting the ceasefire, and they had everything to lose. All they needed to do was wait for elections scheduled in the Arusha Accords that had established the ceasefire; they would no doubt have won both the presidency and the majority in parliament.
Kagame and the RPF, however, had everything to gain. They could hope to seize power only by force, so they had to either resume the war or accept minority parliamentary status. When Col. Marchal appeared as a defense witness at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, he told the court: “From my experience, my conclusion is that the RPF had one goal – seizing power by force and keeping it to themselves.”
This is an exchange between BBC HardTalk Host Stephen Sackur and President Paul Kagame in a 2006 interview:
Stephen Sackur: France’s leading antiterrorism judge wants you and some of your key aides to face trial – trial on the accusation that you ordered the shooting down of the plane which was being used by the serving Rwandan president on the 6th of April 1994. Are you ready to let justice take its course?
President Paul Kagame: I think there can’t be justice in that particular case for various reasons: First of all, there is no basis whatsoever on which the people in Rwanda, leaders of Rwanda, people who fought to stop genocide, people who fought against the genocidal government and the forces to be tried – and moreover be tried by anybody from France – when France is seriously implicated in the genocide of Rwanda. And we are very sure that this judge is not acting in any way within a sound legal basis. This judge is more political than anything else.
Stephen Sackur: I suspected you would counter with charges against France … we will talk about those. I just want to remind you of something you said in a BBC interview in February 2004 when you said, “Anybody who wants to investigate me or try me, I have no problem with that.” So what’s changed?
President Paul Kagame: Yes, if anybody acting on a legal sound basis. That’s what I was talking about. You don’t just have anybody coming up with wild allegations and accusing me and accusing … I am the president of Rwanda. I am a Rwandese. I had a right. I had the basis for getting involved in the armed struggle to liberate my country from Habyarimana, from the government he was leading. I had been a refugee in … outside Rwanda for 30 years.
Stephen Sackur: But you didn’t have a right to shoot down his plane and to assassinate him.
President Paul Kagame: Well I had the right to fight for my rights!
Stephen Sackur: But do you believe you had a right to assassinate him?
President Paul Kagame: No [LAUGHING], but of course Habyarimana, having been on the other side that I was fighting, it was possible that he could easily die. Imagine if I had died myself in the same process. Would the same judge be asking about my death or who killed me? …
I am saying [that] this was a situation where there was a war which was being fought. But this has nothing to do now with who actually killed Habyarimana yet. I am not even coming to that. I am only saying that it is even surprising that somebody involved in a war can die. Does that also mean that you simply bring up wild allegations against me without…
Stephen Sackur: Sorry to interrupt you … But you were involved in a peace negotiation with him at the time! The RPF was talking to him.
President Paul Kagame: Yes, and the genocide happened a while after that as well. We had a genocide …
Stephen Sackur: You call them wild allegations, but of course you know they are not wild allegations. You know that Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière has been working on that case for many, many years. You also know that he is one of the most respected judges in all France.
He has a track record of tracking down terrorists, bringing them to justice. He has been working on your case and he has, and I have it here, about 70 pages of documentary evidence pointing to your …
President Paul Kagame: No, no, no! It is 70 pages of trash, of nothing and I will show that. Look at the people he is talking about, that he talked to, that he got his testimonies from.
Almost all of them are people who are indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. People who are in fact wanted by the tribunal but they can’t have access to them. They can’t get hold of them. Yet, the judge has access to them, because they enjoy protection in France. …
Stephen Sackur: Judge Bruguière comes up with this conclusion that “the final order to attack the presidential plane was given by Paul Kagame himself during a meeting held in Mulindi on March the 31st, 1994.”
President Paul Kagame: That represents absolutely nothing. First of all, the judge wants to … bring out this incident as having been responsible for the genocide. But the judge, the French, people of the U.N., everybody they know, there were months of preparations for the genocide; they bought arms, they trained people, they got arms from France, money paid by the French government to the government of Habyarimana to prepare for a genocide.
This has nothing to do with the aircraft. Even if we are talking about the assassination of Habyarimana or bringing down the aircraft, it has nothing to do with that. It is absolutely nonsense, nonsense …
Stephen Sackur: Why not, why not bow to the wish of Judge Bruguière … and have your case tested at the International Tribunal on Rwanda?
President Paul Kagame: I can’t bow to the wishes of Judge Bruguière, with the French acting politically, with France having had a genocide in Rwanda, never! Just because he is coming from France.
“Acting politically” is Kagame’s term for differing with him. The general who became Rwanda’s president thrives on his self-righteous pronouncements about genocide, “the crime of crimes,” on the world stage. He is, according to his own absolute truth, Rwanda’s savior.
Anyone who dares to challenge his authority or his narrative within Rwanda gets killed, goes to prison, or goes into exile. Some are even killed in exile and others face extradition after anonymous witnesses accuse them of 1994 genocide crime many years later. Kagame’s abundantly evident sociopathology makes Bill Clinton and Tony Blair’s determination to heroize him all the more sinister.
Kagame says that no one should be surprised that Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was assassinated, because there was a war going on – not only a war but a genocide. For the past 24 years, he and his propagandists, including Clinton and Blair, have managed to erase the ceasefire and the Arusha Accords from the story repeated by the corporate press, the U.N., the Wikipedia and the Samantha Power mob, which is forever eager to start another war “to stop the next Rwanda.”
“Acting politically” is Kagame’s term for differing with him. Anyone who dares to challenge his authority or his narrative within Rwanda gets killed, goes to prison, or goes into exile.
Kagame seized power in Rwanda’s capital in July 1994 without, as he claims, “stopping genocide.” He in fact triggered the massacres and has ever since blackmailed the rest of the world over its failure to stop them – even though he himself threatened to fire on U.N. troops if they intervened.
He changed Rwanda’s language of international business from French to English and became a key U.S. and U.K. ally in the region. He and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni then invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo, toppled one Congolese president and assassinated another, plundered Congolese resources, and left millions dead, mostly of hunger and disease, often in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Bill Clinton presented Kagame with a 2009 Global Citizen Award at the Clinton Global Initiative, his annual poverty pimping extravaganza in New York City, and the U.S. is now donor #1 to Rwanda, the U.K. donor #2.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.