A shorter version of this article was published in the African report
Between the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and its mostly Western detractors, we should have no hesitation in believing the RPF, beginning with a generous pinch of salt digesting the latest book on Rwanda, by journalist, and author, Michela Wrong.
It is excellent advice never to judge a book by its cover, advice which I follow here only reluctantly.
Reluctantly, because Wrong’s latest denunciation of the RPF would be best reviewed through other reviews, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, one need not wait to read the book to know it will be yet another effort in demonising the RPF, and in particular, its chairman, and head of state, President Paul Kagame.
We know this, because the author herself, has long heralded that when writing about Rwanda, her pen is invariably dipped in a poisoned ink pot. We need only see her name on the cover, to have a good idea of what lies between the covers.
Anyone who has read anything Wrong has written about Rwanda, usually in the Guardian, will recognise an oddly determined, sustained campaign against the RPF.
Indeed, readers of the Guardian will feel a sense of déjà vu with at least one passage in the book, which is reprised from an earlier piece published in that newspaper.
The second reason is what the reviews reveal. There are the usual suspects, such as Belgian Professor, Filip Reyntjens, and his proteges like Susan Thompson. They seem to be forever marooned on a dessert island by their inexplicable hatred of the RPF, thirsting for whatever publication that may offer the slightest promise of calumniating Rwanda’s main governing party, and its leadership.
Less obvious, are apparently otherwise good journalists, and commentators, whose capacity for judgement is severely attenuated, no sooner any anti RPF publication is put before them.
And since the entire book has the clearly stated agenda of changing the world’s view of Rwanda, and Rwanda’s leadership, it is of some interest to see what some of the world at least, makes of it.
Central to everything produced by Wrong, and others of similar bent of mind about Rwanda, is the theme of the ‘Untold Story’.
Wrong’s book has been widely reviewed, with each reviewer showering it with bouquets, apparently thankful to her, for revealing the “real story” about Rwanda.
We are asked to believe that everything good we may have heard, or read, about Rwanda, under the leadership of the RPF, and the RPF under the leadership of Paul Kagame, is a mirage. There is a hidden, terrible truth, “The Untold Story” as revealed by among others Wrong herself.
And on the strength of these revelations, at the behest of Wrong and her fellow travellers against the RPF, the world is urged to shun Rwanda, and cast the country into international pariah status.
Interestingly, the theme of the “Untold Story” was carefully insinuated into the discourse about Rwanda, by the planners and perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocides against Tutsi, as a devise to deflect attention away from their long planned crime of genocide.
As early as the 1960s, each massacre of men, women and children, would quickly be followed by the declaration that what had just been perpetrated was not all it seemed. It was “more complex” there was an ‘untold story’ that would put it all into better perspective.
Now a well established stratagem, it continues to gather strength, amplified by many in the West.
You do not really know the story of the RPF, about Kagame, they cry insistently. Here is the real story, told to us by former members of the RPF. The people “closest to him.”
The Guardian pronounces the book “devastating.” We are not told for whom. Is it devastating for Rwandans? President Kagame, all on his own? the “prominent international supporters” who have “long feted” him? All of the above? We do not know.
What we do know however, is that this latest devastation in book form, will no doubt be as devastating as the last devasting one from another journalist with an “Untold Story”, Judi Rever, and most likely as devasting as the next, from anyone among the anti RPF camp.
And we are informed that Wrong “covered the Rwanda genocide in 1994, when more than 800,000 people – largely ethnic Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus – were killed by Hutu militias over 100 days…” This bit of information, presumably to leave the reader in no doubt that the book is authoritative. For the sake of clarity and accuracy however, this needs translating:
Michela Wrong was in Rwanda for a few days at the time of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, during which she reported on the mass murder of over a million men, women and children.
The book we are assured is one of the “most far-reaching historical revisions of Kagame and his regime.” This too calls for a translation: the book is the latest bid to cast the RPF as the villain of any piece, while attempting to delegitimise the Rwanda government, by always referring to it as the “Kagame regime.”
As well as the theory of the “Untold Story” within the strategy of Rwanda’s mass murderers to rewrite history, was the emphasis to always target the person of Paul Kagame, a much hated figure to them, much as was his predecessor as leader of the RPF, the late Gisa Rwigyema.
The depiction of Paul Kagame as a “dictator” and the RPF as murderous, goes back sixty years. In a way, it has little or nothing to do with either Paul Kagame, or the RPF.
It is part of what the genocide scholar, Gregory Stanton, described as the ten stages of genocide, starting with “the classification of the population, symbolisation of those classifications, discrimination of the targeted group, dehumanisation of the pariah group.”
As well as being “liars” we are told, the Tutsi are “dictators” and “killers.” According to this theory, only when Rwanda is under a Hutu Power government, can we be rid of dictators and killers.
It is the pernicious tactic that psychologists have termed, “Accusations in the Mirror” or “Human rights inversion.” Perfected by the Nazis, the plan is to accuse your intended victims, or enemies, of the crime you intend to commit against them.
These planners and perpetrators of one of the worst genocides of any time in history, will undoubtedly be gratified with Wrong’s latest offering, in which Paul Kagame, is presented as a composite caricature of every villain in the most bloodcurdling fairy tale.
Lest we be in any doubt about the villainy of the man, in another review of the book, in the Times of London, journalist Ian Birrell, who has never set foot in Rwanda, but has nevertheless become yet another expert on the country, headlines his review as the “The Making of A Monster.”
The New York Times review has “a smiling Paul Kagame” responding to the murder of Patrick Karegeya, the former Rwanda head of intelligence. Never mind that there is a widely available film of a stern President Kagame addressing questions about the murder.
The “meticulously” researched book, claims to trace the Rwanda head of state, from his early days, as “a dour rebel intelligence officer, behind the grisly executions of suspected infiltrators…”
“Far from the charismatic, driven and progress leader he is perceived as by his international supporters” we are told, “Kagame emerges from Wrong’s account as a murderously authoritarian figure…she compares him to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria, always able to ‘find the crime to fit the man’.”
One imagines that once the character of the fairy tale villain had been conceived, such neat, exquisite comparisons must have flowed almost unbid. It would have seemed like sheer vandalism to allow the truth to interrupt the admittedly jaundiced muse. A sin the reviewers were clearly determined not to commit.
As with other similar books, journalists Judi Rever’s In Praise of Blood, Anjun Sundaram’s Bad News, the only characteristic Wrong’s Paul Kagame shares with the real man, is the name. This however, is as intended. The objective seems not to try to draw as true a picture of the character of Paul Kagame as possible, but to assassinate that character.
And there is the inevitable “looting of Congolese resources.”
It is telling, the extent to which Western commentators, journalists, politicians, and even the United Nations, have suddenly, obsessively, almost desperately, focused on the alleged “looting of Congolese resources” with every mention of Rwanda.
The rape and pillage of Congo, which continues to this day, begun, in its every horrifying, tragic aspect, the moment the first European set foot on its abundantly blessed soil.
What we are never told, is that Rwanda’s incursion into Congo, came about as a direct result of France’s now much chronicled support of the genocidal government of Juvenal Habyarimana.
With the predictable compliance of the congenitally murderous, venal Mobutu Sese Seko, France gave safe conduct to the perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide into the Democratic Republic of Cong (DRC), Zaire, as it was then.
From there, encamped close to the Rwandan border, they regrouped to launch murderous attack, after attack on Rwanda, all the while promising to return, and “finish where they left off.”
The Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) as it was then, now Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), went into Congo in 1996, only after repeated, fruitless pleas to the International Community, to move the armed insurgents from Rwanda’s demarcation line, to the internationally stipulated fifty kilometres away.
The unceasing reference to the alleged looting of Congolese resources, has always been little more than a red herring.
While for Rwanda, the conflict was always about its own security, even survival, the country’s Western detractors can never see through the density of the diamonds, coltan, gold, and all the other minerals with which creation blessed the land of Congo.
Seemingly unable to conceive of any reason to venture into Congo, other than a hunger for its riches, they continue to shoot murderous glances at Rwanda, for the temerity of approaching their buried treasure.
Although her description as “a British authority on Africa” is a tad overdone, the reviewers’ breathless tone about Wrong’s book is understandable. She is an experienced journalist, for whom exploring different angles on a familiar theme will come naturally.
Hers is a well crafted tale that reads like a novel. She even accomplished the coup of a recommendation from the late great thriller writer, John Le Carre. The great man no doubt smiling upon the laudable effort to emulate his work.
None of what the reviewers tell us however, is new. Not even the lurid speculation about the death of the first head of the RPF, General Gisa Rwigyema, which especially excited some reviewers, and seem to captivate Wrong herself.
And there is no mistaking the recurrence of the familiar tropes in the literary tool kit that is apparently essential for any writer who has taken a position against the RPF. Or the voices of “the former members of the RPF closest to Kagame.”
None of the reviewers seem to find it at least a reason for pause, that so much of the book appears to have been all but narrated by disgruntled individuals, many of whom found their Democratic credentials, the moment a date to stand before a judge on charges of corruption, was set for them.
Over the years, news organisations like the Guardian, The Economist, and others, have carried several reports, and features on Rwanda. We must assume that this coverage has now been superseded by the “Untold Story” which they so praise in Wrong’s book.
The Economist and Spectator were even sanguine about entertaining the Hutu Power most audacious propaganda, that the RPF started the genocide against Tutsi. Except of course, that in their telling, it is never the RPF, it is always “Kagame.” Kagame, the apparently Zeus-like omnipotent malign force, who moves heaven, earth, and any other realm, all by himself.
Nor do the reviewers seem troubled by any knowledge, that the stereotypes about Rwanda, and Rwandans, could accurately be labelled, courtesy of Rwanda genocide ideology archives.
What to make of the Spectator’s acceptance of Wrong’s thesis that Paul Kagame is responsible for the genocide against the Tutsi?
“She places the blame, devastatingly, at the feet of the tall, thin, reedy-voiced Kagame, suggesting… the leader routinely labelled in the West as the man who ended the genocide, might actually also have started it.”
Some charity to the reviewer here, and take him more for fool than knave. This for him may have seemed like new and exciting detail.
But what of Wrong herself, who surely must know that she was regurgitating the Hutu Power line, virtually verbatim?
Rwandans we are told “pride” themselves on being deceitful, liars. The truth is in fact the exact opposite.
In this, Rwandans are no different from most other human societies. They ascribe to themselves the most admired universal values, up to which few individuals among them, ever manage to live.
Far from valuing deceit, in Rwanda to be regarded as “inyangamugayo” literary, one who abhors dishonour, is the highest accolade that can be paid to any individual.
Since we are also left in no doubt about how “meticulously” the book was well researched, we must assume that if not the reviewers, the writer at least, well understood the origin of these myths about Rwandans as liars, deceitful, duplicitous, generally not to be trusted.
In their effort to gain control not only of Rwandan territory, but the very soul of Rwandan society, the Belgian colonisers, always through the Catholic Church, led by the White Fathers, followed a carefully calculated strategy of divide and rule.
For their refusal to be overawed by the perceived superiority of the European, Rwandans were regarded as “cunning” “deceitful” “prideful”, all the deadly sins against which the White Fathers preached every Sunday.
The ideology was handed to selected Hutu intellectuals, who grasped the opportunity to manipulate a largely illiterate population for their own ends. The Hutu Power malignancy was incubated in Seminaries, under the tutelage of priests.
Almost all the Hutu Power ideologues, from Joseph Habyarimana Gitera, in his 1959 so called Hutu Commandments, which were to be echoed by Hassan Ngeze’s own version in 1990, were committed to their Catholic faith, a commitment surpassed only by the intense, visceral hatred of their neighbours.
The anti Tutsi tropes have now come full circle. From the West, into the minds of venal, self seeking Rwandans, back to the West, directly from Rwanda’s genocide ideologues, into the minds of the likes of Michela Wrong.
All the reviews are quick to head off any conclusion to genocide denial that might be levelled at Wrong. Unhelpfully however, their defence is couched in the very stereotypes they seek to disavow.
“Wrong has already been accused on social media of becoming a ‘genocide denier’” complains the Guardian solicitously, “the standard accusation levelled at critics of Kagame.”
Well, not quite. Standard or otherwise, it is mostly not an accusation levelled at “critics of Kagame.” What it is, is an accusation made against genocide deniers, of whom there are many, whose number is growing, and whose denial is amplified in these reviews, in praise of Wrong’s book.
The Guardian reviewer goes on, “she (Wrong) has no doubt that genocide occurred, only that it hid a more complex picture…” Ah yes. We should not be quick to judge, the genocide was more complex, there is an “Untold Story” we do not understand.
We must again be charitable to the reviewer here, for he most likely knew not of what he was echoing. He may be innocent, or ignorant of the glaring fact that there, write large, was the mass murderers’ “Untold Story” weaved to come to their aid, in the effort to deny their crimes, now helpfully publicised in the pages of the Guardian.
And if, as is now well established, that genocide denial is not necessarily just the direct refutation of the genocide itself, but also suggesting that there was a rationale for it, including blaming the victims, then, yes, Wrong’s book does indeed engage in genocide denial.
Offering the bland statement that she knows “genocide did occur” does not exonerate her from serving the cause not only of its deniers, but its perpetrators, who are often one and the same people.
Wrong is happy to twist the facts here and there, to fit her story. Can someone who has reported across Africa really be unaware that the absurd term, “naif comme le blancs” is more commonly used in West Africa, and barely known in Rwanda? But it fits the story, so it becomes a Rwandan expression.
It is in the Spectator however, that clearly inadvertently, if carelessly, we get a full hearted perpetuation of Hutu Power Propaganda. And where predictably, we are also treated to every Western cliché and stereotype about Africa, and Africans. At the mere mention of Congo, and in a misunderstanding of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, they are unable to resist calling President Kagame, “a black Mr Kurtz.”
The magazine was once edited by now Prime minister Boris Johnson, whose opinion on colonialism in Africa, is that “the continent might be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”
The Spectator’s reviewer does not really consider Rwanda, as a particular country, or society. He sees a benighted Africa, with Rwanda as a prime example.
“When I hear Rwanda” he writes, “I think of a diabolical humanitarian crisis that seems to have raged on for years: the worst-case scenario of what happens when colonisers leave, and ethnic enmities flare.”
What, one wonders, would the Spectator make of the scenario, as in the case of Rwanda, where “ethnic enmities” were unheard of, until the colonisers arrived there? What if the “diabolical” crises were the result not of the leaving of the colonisers, but of their coming?
Taking their cue from the book, the reviewers of course focus on international aid, and why it should be denied to Rwanda, or at the very least, used as leverage to punish the country.
The reviews bemoan that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will be in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, giving the country international attention and legitimacy.
The Spectator is unable to resist a little fabrication for colour to drive the point home.
Kigali, we are told, is advertised to the Commonwealth Heads of Government, by their “Tutsi host” as the “Davos of Africa.”
The notion of the reticent, self-effacing Paul Kagame, bombastically boasting about his city, is risible at best.
What is most striking about the reviews, is that Wrong’s book is regarded as gospel. She has tried, judged Rwanda, and there is an end to it. All are guilty. Anyone refuting her verdict, is an apologist for “the regime.”
Wrong herself demonstrates, and is allowed a breath taking degree of conceit. Of her depiction of Rwandans, she writes, “this is their story, whether they like it or not.” It is so, because she has so ordained and pronounced it.
The reality of course, is that this is neither a book about Rwanda, the RPF, or least of all, the Rwanda head of state, Paul Kagame.
It is about one skilful journalist, tendentiously stringing together well worn allegations, largely from individuals with axes to grind, all seasoned with suppositions, insinuations, and presented as original work.
Like Jude Rever before her, we are told that this is a “brave” book. The clear implication is that anyone revealing the hidden truth about Rwanda, the “Untold Story” could be murdered, any moment, by Rwandan agents, who apparently stalk the world, in search of courageous truth tellers to silence. Somewhat self reverentially, Wrong informs us that, “as this book makes clear, such fears are justified.”
Wrong’s main theme is the murder, of the former head of Rwandan of intelligence, Patrick Karegeya, in a South African hotel room.
She has determined that Rwanda, or rather ‘Kagame’ was responsible for the murder. And the reason? Patrick Karegeya’s conscience, we are told, could no longer allow him to be part of the supposed despicable crimes of the RPF, and so he flees, pursued by the “regime.”
We are assured there would be incontrovertible evidence attributing the murder to Rwanda, were the government of South Africa not supressing it.
Recordings of alleged Rwanda agents instructing the would-be assassins in methods of murder, are brandished as damning proof.
On this occasion, it would seem the “Mossad like” Rwanda intelligence neglected the basic precaution of not talking on an open telephone line.
And claims of South Africa suppressing evidence to shield Rwanda, ignores the fact that relations between the two countries, deteriorated to the point of tit for tat expulsion of diplomats, precisely because South Africa jumped to the conclusion advanced by Wrong. Rwanda’s position was that all evidence should be investigated, and any suspects brought before the courts. But what need of investigations and court proceedings? Wrong has declared the case open and shut, and there is an end to it.
It has now become the norm to quote the undoubtedly harsh words from President Kagame, about the murder of Karegeya, during which he denied any involvement in the murder, but adds that he wished Rwanda had done it.
Oddly, this is always interpreted as an admission of guilt. One review claiming “Rwandan ministers” speak ill of Karegeya.
A total of two officials commented on Karegeya’s murder. President Kagame himself, and then Minister of Defence, General James Kabarebe.
So much has been made of these comments, that it is worth putting them into perspective.
The Rwanda National Congress (RNC) founded by Karegeya, with former head of the Rwanda armed forces, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, was alleged to have been involved in a spate of grenade attacks in Kigali, between 2009-12.
In launching these attacks, the RNC stood accused of cooperating with the so called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) an armed group, composed of the former Rwandan army, and Interahamwe militias, who spearheaded the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
Karegeya and Kayumba stood with the RPF, in the fight against the perpetrators of genocide. To then form an alliance with the FDLR, in attacks on Rwanda, which left ordinary people dead, or maimed, was regarded by their former brothers in arms, including Paul Kagame, and James Kabarebe, as an unspeakable betrayal. The no doubt hurtful comments, were spoken from hurt.
There is something poignant about Wrong’s book. Here is a highly experienced journalist, and writer of some considerable talent, who has toiled long, only to turn her gifts to twisting the truth to in the service of some agenda.
Wrong’s book is a reminder that there is a great need for a book about the RPF, written without any agendas, with the truth as the only objective. Until then, we remain witnesses to attempt, after attempt to rewrite history, Do Not Disturb being only the latest.