History, Top Stories, World Affairs

The Scars of Rwanda, 25 Years On

I was home from University for the Easter holidays when the genocide began. April 7, 1994 is a date seared into my family’s psyche. My parents and I were transfixed by the news. They’d been front-line aid-workers for decades. My father was with the UN’s refugee agency. My mother, a child psychologist, worked with child soldiers. Neither were naïve about the world’s darker recesses, but the speed and scale of the savagery in Rwanda left everyone, even the most jaded and battle-hardened of my parents’ colleagues, reeling. The phone rang repeatedly. Meetings ran late. People we knew were dispatched to the region. 

Over the next 100 days, an estimated 800,000 Tutsi were hacked to death with machetes wielded by their Hutu countrymen. House by house. Village by village. Town by town. Often it was neighbor killing neighbor. Occasionally, family members butchered their own kin.

Two pieces of footage from those days remain clear in my mind. One was shot clandestinely, by someone hiding in some bushes. It filmed a makeshift roadblock with a few Tutsi cowering on the ground as a mob of Hutu, high on bloodlust, circled and yawped and brayed triumphantly around them. As the axes rained down one of the men put his hands up, an instinctive yet hopeless bid to protect himself. His hands were shredded before his skull was split. The other was footage from a car as it drove down a residential street lined with bodies, one on top of the other, all bearing deep, angry axe wounds. It is hard, thirsty work, chopping up another human being, so often just a few strategic hacks were made and the person left to bleed out, in agony, sometimes for days.

The Hutu achieved a death-rate three times more rapid than that of the Nazis with their technologically advanced killing chambers. The extent of the planning that had gone into the genocide was immediately clear. Within hours of the President’s plane being shot down on the evening of April 6, senior Tutsis were being rounded up, the stockpiles of machetes released to the hounds, and a local radio station began broadcasting calls to massacre. Within about 12 hours the country’s political elite were either dead or in hiding.

In the months leading up to the slaughter, Romeo Dalliare, the Canadian General in charge of the hopelessly under-manned force of UN peacekeepers in the country at the time, had warned of this. A few months earlier, Dallaire had started to receive credible reports of killings around the country, and of children being raped and strangled. Then a well-placed informant had given him the precise details of how the genocide was to unfold. Where the weapons were being kept. Who was doing the training. Who was compiling lists of “cockroaches” to be eradicated.

The massacres were planned as a final solution to long-standing tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu, many of them exploited by the German and Belgian colonial authorities who deemed the Tutsi more racially advanced. In the late 1950s, the Hutu rose up against the Tutsi elite in a revolution which saw several hundred thousand Tutsi flee to neighbouring Uganda over the coming years. It was from here that Tutsi soldiers with the Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded Rwanda in 1990, sparking the civil war. Dallaire was sent there by the UN in August 1993 ostensibly to oversee a peace agreement. But it soon became clear that few had any faith in the deal. The preparations for the genocide gathered pace almost as soon as it was signed.

Dallaire said the gathering sense of menace was palpable, and he sent message after frantic, exasperated message to the UN Headquarters in New York, pleading for a mandate to raid the weapons caches and prevent the genocide from starting. The peacekeepers were in Rwanda under a Chapter 6 mandate which meant they couldn’t even use fire to stop a murder, only in self-defense if their own lives were in immediate danger.

The UN Secretary General at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had no interest in Dallaire’s SOS. Only a few years earlier, as Egypt’s foreign minister, he’d overseen an arms sale to Rwanda. Nor did the Ghanaian man in charge of Peacekeeping, the future Secretary General, Kofi Anan. Their response to Dallaire’s repeated pleas were always the same. No, No, No, and No Again. These are the kind of diplomats who intone “Never Again” whenever the Nazis’ genocidal project is commemorated. That being said, it is not unlikely that, had the peacekeepers intervened, armchair critics would simply have carped and sneered instead about “neo-colonialism,” Western interference, and the “white saviour” complex.

Within weeks of the genocide starting, the UN Security Council actually voted to remove the tiny peacekeeping force. Dallaire had asked for a few thousand extra troops to be sent so he could halt the massacres. Instead, he was ordered out and the UN presence was reduced from 2500 to 300. Incredulous, a few hundred soldiers, mainly from Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Bangladesh and Canada, Dallaire included, stayed.

By staying in an effort to protect civilian life, they were disobeying orders. The UN headquarters in New York actually cabled Dallaire to remind him that he had no mandate to protect people. Dallaire says he stood on the runway with tears of impotent rage streaming down his face, watching as the “international community” sent 1600 soldiers from Belgium, France, and the US to evacuate all foreigners and abandon the Tutsi to certain death. Sometimes this was done in the most callous way imaginable—the Rwandan colleagues of a Western diplomatic mission were ejected from a rescue vehicle as the genocidaires circled.

The peacekeepers couldn’t do anything by staying. They were so ill-equipped that when tens of thousands of people showed up, they didn’t even have tarpaulins with which to shelter them. They didn’t have adequate rations for themselves, let alone the people they were shielding. They struggled to find clean water as the country’s rivers and lakes became contaminated by dead bodies. The scant aid sent was farcically inadequate.

All they could do was set up a few tiny, safe havens—their Headquarters, a stadium, a hotel, and hospital in the capital, and a few others—and use their wits and courage to play an exceedingly dangerous game of bluff with the genocidaires. This required them to count on the mobs not knowing that the peacekeepers were unarmed, that they were not permitted to fight, that they did not have the authority to protect their prey, and that the world would not have cared had they been hacked up too.

Conditions inside some of these havens became so awful that people were dying inside of disease whilst the killers waited for them outside. The Senegalese soldier, Captain Mbaye Diagne is personally credited with saving a few hundred people, including the children of the slain Prime Minister who he rescued from their hiding place. He used his considerable charm to smuggle people through checkpoints, hiding them under blankets and using jokes, cash, cigarettes and beers to ease them past suspicious militiamen. The peacekeepers only managed to save a few thousand people—a small victory as the bodies piled up in their thousands, then in their tens of thousands, and then in their hundreds of thousands. By the time it was over, 70 percent of the country’s Tutsi population lay dead.

All these men knew was that they couldn’t leave. And it mattered that they knew that—that those particular men did not fail as human beings when so many others did. The peacekeepers’ stand is one of the great acts of moral courage in history, and Dallaire was an exemplar of ethical conduct in the most terrible circumstances. Yet the personal cost of this stand, for many, was intolerably high. Captain Mbaye paid the ultimate price for his heroism and was killed at a checkpoint. Fifteen Peacekeepers died in total. Ten of them were Belgian soldiers tortured and murdered on the first day of the slaughter. The Interahamwe, the group orchestrating the killing, had calculated, correctly, that the murder of Western soldiers would be more likely to prompt Western countries to abandon Rwanda.

Dallaire, abandoned in hell, the commander unable to command, let alone protect, developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Towards the end he self-harmed, became reckless, driving maniacally through checkpoints at night, taunting death, storming up to the genocidaires, willing them to kill him. They describe it as a moral wound, a deep moral violation, this havoc done to a warrior’s psyche when they are not allowed to fight. 

Back home in Canada, the ghosts of Rwanda began to follow him through his waking day. To sufferers of PTSD, the apparitions appear more real than anything else. They would surround Dallaire, touching him, reproaching him, the smell of their rotting corpses infecting the air he breathed, driving him insane. He understood, in his wretched despair, that he would never be free of Rwanda. Several years later, he finally broke and at his lowest ebb was found passed out drunk on a park bench, still convinced that the genocide had been his fault.

Dallaire was under no illusions about what he’d been up against in Rwanda. “I know there is a God,” he said. “Because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God.” Dallaire said that when he had to shake the hands of senior members of the Interahamwe they were cold like the hands of the demonic undead. Their eyes, he said, reflected a deeper evil than most people are willing or able to accept exists.

If the Devil had been loosed in Rwanda, then Dallaire and his men were the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness does not understand.

Victims’ skulls at the genocide memorial in Nyamata, Rwanda (wikicommons)

*     *     *

My parents too were torn at by this evil. My father went to Rwanda in August of that year, as the slaughter was coming to an end. An army of Tutsi rebels had invaded from neighboring Uganda, systematically seizing land, stopping the massacres, and driving the Hutu out ahead of them. A tsunami of refugees, around two million people, now fled to what was then Zaire, since renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. The men who carried out the genocide mingled among them.

My father’s refugee agency sent him to the area to help organize the aid effort. He came back six weeks later, vacant and shell-shocked. He would avoid questions about what he had seen, talking instead about the land, its beauty and lushness, its flora and fauna. Then one night, at about one in the morning, he woke and came down to the living room where I was still up watching TV. He poured himself a whisky, sat down and started talking, not really to me, rather in stream of consciousness, into the night. He had woken from a nightmare, as he did most nights, in which my sisters and I were being raped and murdered. Unfathomable numbers of women and girls had been gang-raped before they were hacked up. My father said their decomposing bodies littered the countryside. Corpses on their backs, leg spread, with rotting underwear still clinging to their ankles.

My mother went a few months later. The night she came back I stayed up with her into the early hours as she drank herself into a state of utter despair, recounting what she had seen. A visit to a church at Ntarama. About 5000 Tutsi men, women, and children had been hiding there when the gangs attacked, breaking the doors apart with grenades. The site has been cleaned up now, the skeletons picked of their flesh and neatly arranged for observation—an obligatory stop for genocide tourists. When my mother visited, the bodies still lay where they had fallen—a mass of entwined, agonized, putrefying corpses. She said the stench was detectable from a distance, the evil hanging like a thick, menacing fog.

The plight of two children. Both were about 12. Both now orphaned, their extended families butchered. The boy had a vast, gnarled scar at the base of his neck where the Interahamwe had tried to hack his head off. The girl’s face was split in two. She had taken a machete blow that had opened her skull without killing her. It had healed, but lopsided, with a deep ridge right across the middle. “She will have to live with that face all her life,” my mother sobbed. “Every time she looks at herself she will be reminded.” My mother returned to that girl’s plight again and again, over the course of that night as she got increasingly drunk, and over the long, drunken years that followed.

She made her first suicide bid a year later. She had got blind drunk and climbed into a small, manhole in the corner of our garden. One of my younger sisters found her when she woke in the middle of the night to mumbling and wailing from outside. She and my father pulled her out, naked and blathering and weeping. She vomited all over my sister as she emerged, crying about Marie. “Who is Marie?” my sister asked.  “Marie!” my mother responded, irritated that my sister didn’t understand. “The girl in Rwanda! Marie!” My sister took the echo of “Marie” and the smell of her mother’s vomit into the exams she sat later that day.

My mother made her second suicide bid ten years later. None of the organisations my parents worked for offered any kind of psychological support to their employees, but the local, Swiss doctors who admitted her quickly diagnosed her with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. This was the legacy she carried from Rwanda and all the other hellholes she had been working in—Sierra Leone and Liberia during the civil wars of the nineties, Ivory Coast, Bosnia. Treatment was arranged with a specialist psychotherapist who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

*     *     *

Watching my mother unravel was terrifying. Amid a childhood of ongoing upheaval—from the age of two, my father’s job had seen the family move country every three to four years: England, Botswana, Zimbabwe, France, Switzerland, America, Turkey, back to Switzerland—my mother had been our only stable reference point. I tried everything I could to help and encourage her, but I only succeeded in getting pulled down with her.

People see my upbringing as akin to a permanent backpacking trip, full of positive multicultural, inter-racial exchange. A privileged “citizen of the world” upbringing to be envied by all. Glitzy. Glamorous. Jet-setting. I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who have ever come up with anything more nuanced when they hear about it. I got so fed up with these assumptions that I have long since avoided speaking about my childhood altogether.

In reality, I was a citizen of nowhere. Eleven homes in seven countries. Seven schools on three continents. Five different languages. Repeated, ongoing cultural change. Always the outsider, always the foreigner, always the “other.” No childhood friends. All childhood memories left in faraway places. No roots, no ties, no reference points. No extended family. No long-term friends.

As my mother lost her mind, she talked more incessantly about her work. Tales of the most depraved, degenerate parts of human nature became a routine backdrop to family life. The subject became so normal that my youngest sister, only four when my parents went to Rwanda, started playing make-believe games of genocide and child soldiers and orphaned victims of war. Dallaire once remarked that, upon returning to Canada, one of the things he found hardest to comprehend was that the world had simply carried on, oblivious to the genocide even having taken place. He couldn’t understand that people hadn’t risen up in protest at the evil unfolding before them. I have spent long stretches of my life wondering what it might be like to be normal and to not know all the things that my siblings and I came to know, to have parents who take you to a football match or the pub, instead.

The reprehensible “white saviour” slur is a means of accusing the white man of dehumanising his dark-skinned charge. Would that it were so. I would very much have liked it if my mother had failed to so humanise those children in Rwanda. I would have very much liked it if she could have walked away, unaffected and sane, and not turned a genocide in a far-flung land into a defining trauma in our family’s life; a permanent, disabling fracture in its consciousness.

The problem wasn’t an inability to humanise those children. It was the opposite. Dallaire, too, spoke of a particular fixation on one Rwandan boy the same age as his son, as well as the unbearable guilt he felt because he still had a family when so many had lost theirs. The problem was not dehumanisation but over-attachment and a failure to notice what my mother’s dissolution was doing to her own children. Even now, it is a picture of child soldiers she worked with that she has on her bedroom dresser, not one of her children or grandchildren. And yes, I know we are more fortunate than those children. Unimaginably more fortunate.


Jessica Robeson was raised in seven countries by front-line aid workers. She now lives in London and has started writing about multiculturalism, the aid industry, and international childhoods at www.jessicarobeson.com. You can follow her on Twitter @robeson_jessica


  1. Donna Reynolds says

    Horrifying, heartbreaking, sensitively written. Years ago I read “We Wish to Inform You…” — I read it, wrung my hands, then moved on. That was a privilege denied you, your family, and those who experienced the genocide. Thank you for reminding me of what I should not have forgotten.

  2. Craig DeLancey says

    Thank you for this honest, searing, and revealing piece.

    • Adam says

      Yes. Well said to the author and well done to calll out and name the globalist heroes. Contrast to Australia on East Timor part II with cosgrove’s description and appreciation of the indo paramilitary looking out to the bay and seeing a DDay horizon of grey Australian ships with guns pointed. The UN causing casualties abroad and at home. Poor bloke yo see your dear mum like that. God bless

  3. Stewie Griffith says

    What!!! Cultural and ethnic diversity didn’t make Rwanda stronger and more united?
    That is very surprising.

    Fortunately we in the west are far less primitive and far more evolved and will never experience anything remotely like this.

    Whenever in doubt just remember to recite the lines our elite leaders tell us every day:
    “Diversity makes us stronger and more united.”

    Upon hearing those words that will fix everything.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Stewie Griffith, if you were as clever as you think you are you would have kept your perverted bigotry to yourself.

      • Stewie Griffith says

        Why so we can read these horror stories and then scratch our heads at how these terrible things can happen and that it must be due to the evil in all of us, or how terrible racism is as though that explains everything, or that the UN is inept?

        The truth is far simpler; people generally want to live in their own societies, subject to their own cultural values and use the society that they build and invest in to help perpetuate their own values and culture. But of course we can never discuss these simple truths because it is perverted bigotry to even acknowledge it as a legitimate human desire.

        Yes it may not have been the article to cynically state the obvious, the piece is well written and the wellspring of emotional trauma that has given rise to it is both tragic and authentically and deeply personal, in this specific account of that particular horror. But is the purpose of it to have a pity party, and rage at the impotence of Bureaucracy and the UN, while ignoring the question that goes to the very core of the Rwandan tragedy – do people have the right to self determination?

        There was a right way and a wrong way, this was obviously the wrong way. But it is also wrong to forcefully inflict diversity on a people or culture and rob them of the society that they have built around themselves in order to perpetuate their culture and their values – just not in your opinion.

        • Ron Dobervich says

          Spot on Stewie – look at what progressive ideology unleashed after WWI under Wilson in the Middle East. Nothing like a box of crayons, a map and “I know best” mentality to secure short-term semblance of order, but long-term discord.

      • Jim Matlock says

        Andrew Worth, if you weren’t, in some dim way, afraid that Stevie Griffith might be correct, you wouldn’t have reacted to his comment in such a panicked, aggressive manner.

    • Harold Porter says

      @Stewie Griffith….”Fortunately we in the west are far less primitive and far more evolved and will never experience anything remotely like this.”…at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, may I suggest that you are wrong….

  4. Morgan Foster says

    @Jessica Robeson

    I just had a look at your web page. I found your two pieces to be very interesting. I hope you will have time to write much more, and to contribute more articles to Quillette.

    Thank you for this one.

  5. Cornfed says

    I wish I could find a positive lesson in the Rwanda debacle. But it only confirms that man’s inhumanity is alive and well. How Rwandans could do this is inexplicable to me, as is the inaction of the western world, which could so easily have stopped it.

    • E. Olson says

      They didn’t see themselves as Rwandans, only Hutu and another “privileged” tribe. This is what happens when social justice is taken to its ultimate level.

    • Angela says

      It was the disasvantaged Hutus seeking revenge on the privileged Tutsis. At least that’s what it was in their heads. They couldnt have cared less about Rwanda as a multicultutal nation.

    • Indeed! But what about the inaction of the Southern and Eastern world? Of Rwanda’s neighbors and the rest of Africa, until it was too late?

  6. Sonia G says

    I have no words for the absolute horror that is Rwanda, because there are no words for the inhumane brutality that occurred. Thank you for this piece. It is one that I hope gets spread around and read by everyone.

    • sumpin' says

      Inhumane is an odd word, given that “human” is the root of it. This massacre was done by humans, just as similar acts have been done by humans many times in the past. In fact those acts in the past are so recent that there is no way to conclude that they will never happen again. Consider the hate among people these days, what they say, and plan appropriately.

    • Harold Porter says

      @Sonia G…”absolute horror that [was] Rwanda”…the country has made remarkable progress since then, all things considered.

  7. David V says

    We would be naive to think this cannot repeat itself elsewhere. In Africa alone, there was also the Zanzibar killings in 1964 (Arabs slaughtered by African revolutionaries, which doesn’t fit the current narrative)… and now South Africa where a persistent demonisation of whites could be a prelude to something far worse while the international community ignores it.

    • peanut gallery says

      The arctic monkeys have it coming.

  8. Saw file says

    A timely and well written article. Thank you for keeping the memory alive, Ms. Robeson.
    The ethnic genocide in Rwanda also took a horrific toll on those who where forced to stand aside and witness it. They where prevented from interceding by the same organization (U.N.) that tasked them to the country as a peacekeeping force.
    I highly recommend Romeo Dallaire’s chronicle ”Shake Hands With the Devil”. As the commander of the mission, his perspective is quite encompassing. The experience of helplessly witnessing that multi part failure of humanity eventually drove one of our best soldiers to a near successful suicide attempt and a mental breakdown. His follow-up responses to the experience are profound.
    This book changed the way that I viewed peacekeeping in the modern world. I now know that peacemaking must be conjoined with it.
    I’m proud to know that this man is a fellow Canadian.


    • Larry Larkin says

      I was working for the Australian Dept of Defence, in their Public Information Branch during this.

      One day I was down at our Media Support Unit offices when a box of film rolls arrived from our photographer who was with the Australian troops in Rwanda, and it fell to me to do the initial development and contact strips.

      I blithely developed away, making sure that every roll was correctly identified and number in accordance with the numbers on the canisters, without bothering to read the enclosed documentation and commentary from Cpl White.

      Then I started doing the contact sheets……………………….

      Turns out Cpl White had been in the middle of the camp at Kibeho with the Australian force, who were prevented from doing anything by the UN’s “Rules of Engagement”, and so the only shots from them that day were those taken by Cpl White with her 200mm telephoto lensed camera.

      And she got it all, the killings, the bodies, and the faces of those giving the orders.

      It is the most horrendous thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

      And in the aftermath of it, the Australian Defence Force, for many years a mainstay of UN peacekeeping forces around the world, changed how they would participate in peacekeeping missions.

      From then on, if Australian forces were on a peacekeeping mission then the senior Australian officer present at an incident, even if they were a lowly Lieutenant, had the call as to whether or not they could shoot.

      Why was this, because at Kibeho, just as happened with the Dutch force in Sarajevo, the UN force were not permitted to use force unless they were attacked. But massacres could happen right in front of them, and I mean within arm’s reach in some cases, and they could not do a thing to prevent it happening.

      Since that time Australia has been asked to participate in UN peacekeeping operations on a much less frequent basis than previously, but those peacekeeping missions they have undertaken have all been successful, and several massacres, often planned ahead of time as was the case in Timor Leste, have been prevented by their presence and the knowledge that those Australian troops present would indeed shoot to kill to save lives.

  9. KDM says

    Wow! This essay has me tearing up. I was a teenager in the 90’s (safe and cozy in the USA) when all that went down so it was like a blip on my raidar. Ironically my son, who is 12, just finished a segment on this in his social studies class. Unlike hearing about some far flung place briefly on the ten o’clock news this essay painted a very real, gut wrenching, heart breaking, sickening portrait. I hope you contribute more to Quillette and other outlets.
    Yours is a true “diverse” and original perspective we need to hear more of.

    • Angela says

      I was a preteen in 94 when this happened, but the movie Hotel Rwanda really opened my eyes to this horror. You should watch it with your son hes just old enough to handle it.

      • Stephanie says

        I was a toddler at the time, and while I was made aware of it in high school, it was in a cursory way as one of many genocides. Perhaps this gap in education explains why people my age don’t see a problem with demonizing people for their “privilege?”

      • KDM says

        I will definitely look into that. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • I was in my mid twenties at the time in the U.S.. They showed the literal rivers of bodies on the nightly news and it looked like hell on earth. Our government was worried about Bill getting a blowjob or something. Today we have mass unfettered immigration in the west with tensions rising between different ethnicities and cultures as those who name this as unworkable are derided as racist when they’re simply not naive.

  10. Serenity says

    Thank you, Jessica. A heartbreaking story.

    Sometimes the road to hell is paved with tax payers’ money and the best intentions of governments spending it. Long-standing financial support – compensations to aboriginal populations, international support for the decedents of refugees, various foreign aid programs – accommodates the rapid population growth of beneficiaries. This leads to diminishing living resources and employment opportunities causing humanitarian crisis and psychopathy’s takeover.

    “…in the north western Rwanda, … in a community where virtually everybody was Hutu…, mass killings still took place – of Hutu by other Hutu.

    By 1994 Rwanda has prospered for 15 years and became a favourite recipient of foreign aid from overseas donors, who point to a peaceful country with improving health, education… Rwanda’s high population grew at an average rate of over 3% per year. [Rwanda’s] steep hills were being farmed right up to their crests. Even the most elementary measures that could have minimized soil erosion were not being practiced. Forest clearance led to drying-up of streams, a more irregular rain-fall. …famines began to reappear.

    Because all land in the commune was already occupied, young people found it difficult to marry, leave home, acquire a farm, and set up their own household. Increasingly, young people postponed marriage and continued to live at home with their parents.
    …most people were impoverished, hungry and desperate. The land disputes undermined the cohesion of Rwandan society’s traditional fabric. Traditionally, richer landowners were expected to help their poor relatives. This system was breaking down, because even the landowners who were richer than other landowners were still too poor to be able to spare anything for poorer relatives.

    Even before 1994, Rwanda was experiencing rising levels of violence and theft, perpetrated especially by hungry landless young people without off-farm income. …among different parts of Rwanda… high population densities and worse starvation were associated with more crime.

    The 1994 events provided a unique opportunity to settle scores, or to reshuffle land properties, even among Hutu villagers. …It is not rare, even today, to hear Rwandans argue that a war is necessary to wipe out an excess of population and to bring numbers into line with the available land resources.” Jared Diamond. “Collapse.”

  11. xyz and such says

    when one group demonizes and dehumanizes another this is the result.

    It doesn’t matter who is dehumanizing who… it doesn’t matter if you think you’re ‘right’ about why the ‘other’ group is ‘bad’; it doesn’t make it any less than what it is. This is what happens; all through history, over and over again. The ultra progressive left can keep rationalizing their de-platforming and violence because they are the ‘good’ guys… same as it ever was.

  12. Glenn says

    It’s funny how the West is to blame for every misfortune in the world. We did nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda! Had Clinton sent in troops people would scream bloody occupation.

    • Harland says

      That’s precisely what happened when Clinton sent troops into Somalia the year before to stop a famine. The protests started immediately, people demanded the withdrawal of US troops, the troops themselves knew how to resist the Communist hordes spilling through the Fulda Gap not how to build a country, and the Somalians themselves resisted with armed force.

  13. Jean Levant says

    I remember this time. Total failure of ONU (which should have deserved its own termination). But the icing on the cake was the trial that followed of which the main culprits were become French and Belgian army officers, not only for letting do but also for organizing the killings. Incredible but true. And in this time, many people believed it and perhaps still nowadays.

  14. Daath says

    What happened in Rwanda brings to mind the argument Hitler used to silence naysayers of his policy to exterminate Poles. “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of Armenians?” And indeed, these days it for the most part dwells in the same depths of forgetfulness that the Rwandan genocide is sinking to.

    Holocaust itself is remembered because it’s useful when turned into a sort of mythical story about absolute evil. Many Westerners can’t really formulate what’s good (apart from a sort of crude utilitarianism), but thanks to this story, at least they know what true evil is. They might not be able to ask themselves, Christian-style, “what would Jesus do?”, but at least they can ask “what would Hitler not do?” The moment Shoah is no longer useful, its memory too will start to dim. So it goes.

  15. AndrewS says

    The truth is often bitter. Human rights organisations in the west are too easily seduced by utopian ideals, and at the same time sunken in moral relativism. Cravenly they pursue short term goals to promote themselves, and ignore wider, systemic issues.

    I remember a Kenyan lecturer talking about the declaration of human rights “In Africa we are chary about the concept of rights without responsibilities.” Those are the people who actually make a difference like Dallaire, who ask themselves ‘what is my responsibility here?”

    We need sober voices like these.

  16. Andrew Worth says

    What happened in Rwanda was truly horrific, the strategy of pouring troops in could certainly have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but there would have been a cost in terms of the troops becoming the new enemy for the genocidaires, and with the prevention of a genocide there would be no proof that the intervention was justified.

    The best crystal ball solution would have been to nip it in the bud in the earliest stages of planning, before President Habyarimana was assassinated, but you’re expecting way too much of UN bureaucrats if you think them capable of such intelligence, research and initiative.

    • TJR says

      This is indeed a key point.

      By definition, nobody knows when a genocide is prevented.

      Intervention will always be damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t (see Afghan, Libya, Syria etc).

      Sierra Leone seems the one clearcut case.

    • Stewie Griffith says

      “The best crystal ball solution would have been to nip it in the bud in the earliest stages of planning”

      Yeah – that would have completely eliminated all the social issues arising from the loss of cultural self determination and inter-community grievances, just “nip it in the bud” and the Tutsi and Hutu would have all been sitting around the campfire afterwords singing Kumbaya and laughing and joking at how close they came.

      Just out of curiosity was your ‘Crystal Ball’ solution to ‘nip it in the bud’ drawn up by the ‘Underpants Gnomes’ on a day when they weren’t working on their next business strategy?

      • Andrew Worth says

        Stewie Griffith, are you so ignorant that you don’t know the meaning of a reference to a crystal ball?
        My “crystal ball solution” was cynicism. Suggesting that such a solution would require clairvoyance, or nearly so.

        You imply that negotiated peaceful solutions would not have been possible, which doesn’t surprise me as you’ve already expressed your bigotry and inability to understand that people of different cultures can live peacefully together. The reason such peaceful coexistence sometimes fails is because of bigots who provide a platform for fascists, the Nazi slaughter of Jewish people was not an inevitability, it was the result of a few haters gaining too much power.

    • Shamrock says

      “The best crystal ball solution would have been to nip it in the bud in the earliest stages of planning, before President Habyarimana was assassinated,”

      Wouldn’t this just have moved the slaughter further down the road? The assassination was the trigger but the underlying problems were still there; not enough land and resources to go round for a large and rapidly growing population.

      I believe black Africa will continue to have problems like this as the population is growing too fast. Currently the population is about 1 billion people with a growth rate of 2.5% a year. Sometime around 2050 the population will be 2 billion. There is not enough land, wealth and resources now. What is going to happen in 30 years when there are twice as many people?

      The best thing the world could do to help Africa is to promote birth control.

      • Stewie Griffith says

        Perhaps we could have put Andrew on a plan and flown him to Rwanda where he could have lectured the Hutus on their bigotry and accused them of being Nazis? That would have surely shamed them into changing their mind.

        Personally I think you are closer to the underlying cause and your suggestion would provide a better long term solution than any of Andrew’s moral grandstanding.

        Multiculturalism is an inherently unstable social policy, that produces sub optimal outcomes for the majority of the population and can only gain a semblance of stability when the cultural differences are buried deeply beneath an economy that is sufficiently wealthy or well resourced to ensure that all the needs of the various communities operating within it are being met.

        The only reason Multiculturalism has appeared to work in the West is that until recently our economies have had the appearance of meeting these wants and needs. The moment our economies stop meeting the wants and desires of the different communities conflict will inevitably arise, and no amount of wishful thinking will avert it.

        • Shamrock says

          “The moment our economies stop meeting the wants and desires of the different communities conflict will inevitably arise, and no amount of wishful thinking will avert it.”

          Unfortunately, I think you’re right.

        • Andrew Worth says

          Stewie Griffith
          Your last two paragraphs are quite intelligent, where did you copy them from?

          Certainly if you have an economy that’s doing well you have less crime and social conflict, when the economy tanks crime goes up. If an economy is under severe pressure you’ll get society fracturing, cultural lines are one possible line of fracture, religion is another, levels of wealth another, ideology another, race another the US had a civil war over the right to own slaves, so there’s another. In a real dog eat dog situation the rabble-rouser, hatemongers and bigots will exploit any differences, but they’ll also create divisions out of nothing. When Hitler came to power Jews were well integrated into German society, many Jews found it incomprehensible that they were suddenly seen as the enemy, and there was no good reason for them to be made the enemy, it wasn’t a social division that would have led to such horrors without the bigots working at creating hate.

          • Stewie Griffith says

            Who bears responsibility for these genocides?

            The madmen and haters who provide the match, or the do gooders who refuse to accept fundamental truths about human nature, and help pile endless stacks of kindling for the eventual bonfire, saying all this fuel for potential conflict is irrelevant so long as no one lights a match?

            Shrugging ones shoulders and blaming it all on a mad man, when you know full well that there are some people who simply want to watch the world burn, leaves you just as culpable for the eventual calamity.

            The truth is, and I will say it again; people generally want to live in their own societies, subject to their own cultural values and use the society that they build and invest in to help perpetuate their own values and culture.

            Pretending that this statement is devoid of truth simply helps build the bonfire around your moral vanities a little higher and a lot hotter. IMHO just as much as fault lies with such people as the Hitlers and Hutus of this world.

            PS: You should examine the history around the Wiemar Republic a little more closely. Cultural issues arising from the mass migration of Eastern European populations and the overlay and promotion of new cultural values by the newly risen German elites, played just as large a role in the rise of Hitler as the economic factors.

          • Stewie Griffith says

            Who bears responsibility for these genocides?

            The madmen and haters who provide the match, or the do gooders who refuse to accept fundamental truths about human nature, and help pile endless stacks of kindling for the eventual bonfire, saying all this fuel for potential conflict is irrelevant so long as no one lights a match?

            Shrugging ones shoulders and blaming it all on a mad man, when you know full well that there are some people who simply want to watch the world burn, leaves you just as culpable for the eventual calamity.

            The truth is, and I will say it again; people generally want to live in their own societies, subject to their own cultural values and use the society that they build and invest in to help perpetuate their own values and culture.

            Pretending that this statement is devoid of truth simply helps build the bonfire around your moral vanities a little higher and a lot hotter. IMHO just as much as fault for these attrocities lies with such people as the Hitlers and Hutus of this world.

            PS: You should examine the history around the Wiemar Republic a little more closely. Cultural issues arising from the mass migration of Eastern European populations and the overlay and promotion of new cultural values by the newly risen German elites, played just as large a role in the rise of Hitler as the economic factors.

      • Andrew Worth says

        “the underlying problems were still there; not enough land and resources to go round for a large and rapidly growing population.”
        The population of Rwanda was 6.5 million before the genocide, today it’s about 12.7 million, if I recall correctly Jared Diamond was sure we were going to see another genocide before now.

        Africa is capable of supporting far more than its current population, or the population it’s expected to have in 2050. Africa’s problems aren’t a lack of resource but a lack of the good economic management that should happen under a free market and honest democratic system, corruption is endemic in many countries. I think there’s a problem in that many Africans see the sophisticated bureaucratic government systems in Western countries and get the impression that these expensive systems create wealth, when in reality they can only exist because they’re supported by the economic productivity of the private sector. When Western countries were as poor as African countries are today government spending typically constituted only around 10 – 15% of GDP, many African countries today have government expenditure at 30%+ of GDP, which is a huge burden on their productive sectors, crippling economic growth.

        • Shamrock says

          Rwanda is only doing better now (ie not relying on subsistence farming) because of the substantial aid that gets pumped into the country, In the 70’s and 80’s Rwanda was receiving US Aid of approximately $7 million per year.
          “USAID assistance from 2000 to 2003 averaged $34.7 million annually.”

          “Since 2003, USAID/Rwanda has worked in close partnership with the Government of Rwanda (GOR) to advance the objectives outlined in its Vision 2020 and Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies. Over the last 10 years, annual funding to USAID/Rwanda has increased from about $48 million in 2004 to over $128 million in 2016”. (https://www.usaid.gov/history-usaidrwanda )

          The above is just the US aid to Rwanda.

          According to Wikipedia Rwanda received $285 million in 2015 alone from all donors ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Rwanda )

          Do you believe Rwanda would be doing this well without the aid? Or would they be back to subsistence farming and land/resources tension? Of course if you keep pumping aid into a country it will keep the population happier.

          You say Africa could support 2 billion. It couldn’t on its own. It would require ‘white saviours’ to do everything for them.

          • Andrew Worth says

            Rwanda would still have good economic growth without the aid because the country is reasonably well run in economic terms, GDP has climbed rapidly and is now over $9 billion US.

            No, it wouldn’t require “white saviours”, several African countries have gotten good leadership into place and are doing fine.

          • Andrew Worth says

            One of the most useful indicators of how well the economy of a country is run is the Ease of Doing Business index, the US is ranked 8th in the world, Australia 18th, Germany 24th, Rwanda 29th, France 32nd, Switzerland 38th, Japan 39th, China 46th, Italy 51st, Greece 72nd.
            Expect the 6 – 7% economic growth rate of Rwanda to continue.

          • Shamrock says


            “several African countries have gotten good leadership into place and are doing fine.” Haha, is that why tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, want to leave Africa?

            You seem to believe that black countries can do as well as western countries and it’s just around the corner. Yet no black country has been successful despite the hundreds of billions of aid sent there.

            “The best crystal ball solution would have been to nip it in the bud in the earliest stages of planning, before President Habyarimana was assassinated”. It is delusional to believe this act alone caused people to go on a murderous rampage. There had to be a very strong underlying tension for people to commit genocide. Do you know the mindset it takes to kill people in such an up close and personal way as to hack someone to death? Each time you hack them their blood will spray on you. They will scream and beg and chunks of flesh will be hacked away from them. Their screaming will intensify and you will probably have to hack them several times to kill them. Then you will move on to the next person and do it again. People who were your neighbours, children.

            But if you are right, and this assassination alone caused people to hack others to death, what does it say about them that so many Rwandans could so easily adopt such a genocidal mindset? And these same people are going to create Wakanda?

          • Shamrock says

            The Rwanda economy is growing due in large part to foreign aid. My household economy would grow if someone would give me money.

            In April 2005 it cost 548 Rwanda Francs to buy 1 US dollar. Today it costs 903 Rwanda Francs. If Rwanda was such an economic success, why don’t the international money markets recognise it?

          • Andrew Worth says

            “Haha, is that why tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, want to leave Africa?”

            Your logic is awful, plenty also what to leave countries in North America, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t countries in North America that don’t have good leadership, though I admit that none spring to mind.

            “Yet no black country has been successful despite the hundreds of billions of aid sent there.”

            There are several that are right at the top of the world economic growth rates and have now developed into tidily functioning democracies, by all metrics African countries are rapidly improving, you should try to not let your bigotry get in the way of objective assessment of the data.Africa is much where Europe was a century ago and where much of East Asia was 50 years ago, 50 years ago Most African countries were less than a decade old, with no experience in modern democracy.

            “It is delusional to believe this act alone caused people to go on a murderous rampage.”

            Wow, it’s a good thing that I’d never suggest that it was President Habyarimana alone that caused the rampage, it was just the spark, that set the fuel alight, to stop the spark would have deferred the violence, but the fuel would still had needed to be dealt with to prevent something else setting it off.

            “Do you know the mindset it takes to kill people in such an up close and personal way as to hack someone to death?”
            While I don’t have the mindset to kill lots of people, I have seen, though not in person, such things, and I’ve killed farm animals with knives to the heart and bludgeoning, so I think I get it, it’s unlikely most of the deaths would be a graphic as you describe, humans can kill reasonably efficiently, just by aiming at the neck with a machete, or the head with a hammer.

          • Very Thin Blue Line says

            Andrew W

            You say “I’ve killed farm animals with knives to the heart and bludgeoning, so I think I get it, it’s unlikely most of the deaths would be a graphic as you describe, humans can kill reasonably efficiently, just by aiming at the neck with a machete, or the head with a hammer.”

            The big difference is farm animals are used to being handled by people and they will let you approach them with knives, hammers etc without expecting you to kill them, so it is relatively easy to get a blow/cut in and make it quick and painless.

            When a person sees you coming at them with a machete they know what’s coming and will at the very least curl up into a ball covering their head with their arms or put their arms up to block the blows. I worked as police officer and while I have never investigated or seen a crime like this, I did attend a course where they discussed this blood lust/frenzy and people in that state just wildly hack away.

            After attending this course, I had nightmares for a month.

          • Shamrock says

            My post with links didn’t post for some reason. Maybe too many links.

            Anyway, if you look at the World Bank website and search GDP per capita you will see Nigeria drop from $3,221 to $1,968 US from 2014 to 2017. I couldn’t find 2018 data.

            The website also shows other African countries dropping over the same time period using the same metric, including Congo, Mozambique and Sierra Leone among others.

            “Real GDP contracted by an estimated 3.8% in 2018, following a contraction of 6.3% in 2017” this is on South Sudan’s economy from the African Development Bank

            Check the Wikipedia page on South Africa and you will see the murder rate climbed almost 19% per 100,000 people from 2011to 2018.

            So, no, no all metrics show rapid improvement. I could find more but my point is proven.

            Merriam Webster offers one definition of bigotry as intolerance to opposing views. This is you. I am fine with people having viewpoints different to mine. I don’t resort to trying to apply negative labels, like you do. You’ve done similar things to other people’s comments.

        • ga gamba says

          The population of Rwanda was 6.5 million before the genocide, today it’s about 12.7 million, if I recall correctly Jared Diamond was sure we were going to see another genocide before now.

          Of course it’s a bit more complex than raw numbers, isn’t it? Certainly there’s population density to consider, number of farmer led households per hectare, productivity per hectare, crop diversity, per cent of population not working in agriculture, etc.

          Very densely populated Singapore is able to thrive yet it grows almost none of its food. Its population is engaged in value-added activities and imports almost all of what it eats. Until a few years ago it imported most of its fresh water too. Presently agriculture employs 70 per cent of Rwanda’s labor force; in 1999 is was 91% of employment. Further, Rwanda’s foreign aid from both donor government and NGOs increased. Rwandans received the largest amount of donor aid per capita in the region and this aid still makes up 30 to 40 per cent of Rwanda’s total budget. Moreover, the per cent of people living below the poverty line reduced from 68% in 2000 to 39% today.

          I don’t know whether Diamond predicted another Rwandan genocide would happen, and a search for comments to that effect find nothing, but if Rwanda increased food security, reduced the population of subsistence farmers, and implemented other polices that reduce tensions these may explain why another outbreak of violence hasn’t occurred.

          But I think there may be more than that. Reports the Economist: At home, however, he [President Kagame] maintains a suffocating grip over his people, fretting that if he lets go, they will rise up and wipe out the ruling Tutsi elite. His party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has eyes in every village, and enforces obedience through fear. Peasants face ruinous fines for minor offences, such as looking scruffy or refusing to dig communal ditches. Any criticism of the RPF can be deemed “divisionism”, or incitement to genocide. Speech is less free in Rwanda than in any other African country, except Eritrea. “Everything is taboo,” says one opposition candidate who has been barred from running for president.

          Seems strong-man rule may account for keeping the peace as well.

          Africa is capable of supporting far more than its current population, or the population it’s expected to have in 2050.

          I think this needs to be scrutinised. At 30m square kilometres it’s almost twice the size of Russia and treble the US, though 2/3rds of the continent is sub Saharan. About 875 million hectares of Africa’s land is considered suitable for agricultural production. Of this, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN says about 83 per cent have serious soil fertility or other limitations and will need costly improvements and amendments to achieve high and sustained productivity. Nutrient depletion is common in Africa and represents a significant loss of natural capital. The US has 255 million hectares of land used for agriculture, a mean farm size of about 180 hectares, and not only is it food self sufficient, it’s a large exporter. Africa has about 3.5 times the hectares and 4 times the population of the US currently. For it to sustain a population estimated to grow to 2.5 billion (double present’s number) by 2050, Africa will need to massively increase productivity, urbanise, and find economic opportunities for this urban population. I don’t think it’s impossible, though I wouldn’t bet on it given the track record. In the next 30 years the US will grow by about 100m people.

        • Shamrock says

          “you should try to not let your bigotry get in the way of objective assessment of the data”. So rich from you the comment about data. But then that’s what liberals do, smear those who disagree with them.

          Care to share information “.. by all metrics African countries are rapidly improving,”

          • Andrew Worth says


            If you want further information on per capita GDP, literacy rates, political stability, growth in industry, school attendance, raw IQ, road construction, life expectancy, infant mortality rates, you can find it yourself easily enough, it’s what you should have done prior to opening up from a position of ignorance.

            The real challenge would be to find a metric by which Africa is not rapidly getting better, That’s a challenge for you.

            You accuse me of smearing you, I’m not, your own words convict you.

            You say “that’s what liberals do, smear those who disagree with them.”

            I define a bigot as someone who preaches identity politics, though it is animal nature, I think as soon as you start down the road of using group identity as a way to judge people you’ve taken the first step towards fascism. As you may have noticed – if you’ve been paying attention, many people such as yourself who call yourselves conservative right, and people on the far “liberal” left both choose to practice such identity politics, I fit neither category, I try to see people as individuals first and deemphasize the importance of the groups they belong to, it’s the position that libertarianism demands (don’t be confused by people like Molyneux who call themselves libertarian because it sounds a hell of a lot better than “alt-lite”).

  17. Pingback: #rwanda did not have enough #oil for the West to give a funk https:… | Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊)

  18. bumble bee says

    But..But..But, the Clinton administration told us, the world that there was “no genocide occurring in Rwanda”. “There were possibly ‘acts’ of genocide”, but denied what was going on so that little if any help from the US was all they would do. To this day they should be ashamed, and all their subsequent attempts at playing concerned about people, any people is an utter sham.

  19. Chad Chen says

    Not to sound cynical, but the Rwanda massacres have spawned a cottage industry of recollected stories.

    Romeo Dallaire returned to Canada, covered in glory, received numerous awards and accolades, wrote three books about Rwanda and PTSD, was appointed to the Senate of Canada, and apparently now heads his own not-for-profit organization in Montreal. Not bad.

    The Tutsis are made to look like pure victims in this article, which makes no mention of the Hutus who were massacred. There is reason to believe that the most prominent Tutsi leader, Paul Kagame, provoked the massacres by shooting down the plane of the Hutu president.

    Rwanda is a better place because of these terrible events. The bitter, resentful tone of the author indicates to me that she may be overlooking other factors in her family’s meltdown.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Chad Chen

      Proletariat Hutu victims and aristocratic Tutsi oppressors?

      Lenin told the story better.

  20. Heike says

    President Bill Clinton’s administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by genocide in April 1994 but buried the information to justify its inaction, according to classified documents made available for the first time.

    Senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene.


    It took Hutu death squads three months from April 6 to murder an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and at each stage accurate, detailed reports were reaching Washington’s top policymakers.

    The documents undermine claims by Mr Clinton and his senior officials that they did not fully appreciate the scale and speed of the killings.

    “It’s powerful proof that they knew,” said Alison des Forges, a Human Rights Watch researcher and authority on the genocide.

    • ga gamba says

      On 11 April 1994, the DoD’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy was briefed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East and Africa that a “massive (hundred of thousands of deaths) bloodbath” would ensue unless both side returned to the peace process. Kind of difficult for those peace talks to happen at the time when a large part of the population is intent on murder.

      I’m no fan of Clinton, but I’ll take a look at the context of the time. He was elected on the “It’s the economy stupid” platform. Under prodding by UNSECGEN Boutros-Ghali, the US sent troops to Somalia which led to the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3–4, 1993 and humiliation for the US. The civil war in the former Yugoslavia was ongoing. North Korea declared its intention to withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. In late ’93 the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that North Korea had separated about 12 kilograms of plutonium; an amount enough for at least one or two nuclear weapons. On 7 April 1994, ten Belgian UN peacekeepers captured by the Hutus were tortured to death. Their Achilles tendons were cut so they couldn’t escape or fight back. The Belgian soldiers were emasculated and died choking on their own genitalia. The intent was to scare off intervention by the westerners. It worked. Did the US public have an appetite to intervene? I reckon most of them had never even heard of Rwanda (or Burundi) prior to the massacres.

      And we haven’t even considered the logistics of mounting such an operation. The nearest large number of US troops was in Germany, about 6000 km away. Sure, the US can fly in several thousand troops (assuming it secures overflight rights from each nation as well as permission from the host nation – if not US – where US expeditionary forces are stationed), but they are lightly armed – this is why the US pre-positions overseas heavy war fighting equipment in a few critical countries such as Kuwait and Korea. The C-5M Super Galaxy’s payload is fitted to carry about 75 soldiers plus their cargo, or two tanks, or a few MRAPs, which didn’t exist in 1994, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and helicopters. For each type of equipment you also need to bring in its logistics support of maintenance personnel and equipment, fuel, ammunition, etc. If you deploy a rapid response unit such as the 82nd Airborne, that means it’s unavailable for other more important missions. For the evacuation of noncombatant Americans from Rwanda, it was done over land to Burundi where about 300 US Marines had been sent from US naval vessels positioned off Somalia’s shore. These small rapid-response units are not designed for sustained operations – it’s get in and get out.

      Let’s not forget that the security of the airport and its vicinity needs to be established prior to the arrival of the bulk of the force. In Rwanda were surface to air missiles (SAMs) which already had been used to shoot down the president’s aeroplane on its approach to Kigali Airport. The two missile tubes found were of Soviet make and had been sold to Uganda. When Museveni’s rebels took power of Uganda in 1986, a quarter of them were Rwandan Tutsi refugees, and Ugandan President Museveni granted them high ranks in Uganda’s new army. One of these Tutsis was Paul Kagame who became Museveni’s chief of intelligence. Kagame would became Rwanda’s president and has ruled – de facto and elected – since ’94. (What is very peculiar is the Arusha Agreement between the Rwandan Patriotic Front [RPF] and the Rwandan government of 1993 included the agreement by the gov’t to shut down one of the airport’s two runways. Certainly this made planning attacks on aircraft easier since their sole approach was known.)

      For more about Kagame’s regime this is a good brief, economist(dot)com/leaders/2017/07/15/many-africans-see-kagames-rwanda-as-a-model-they-are-wrong

      Here’s a report of the relief operations, one that’s far easier to execute than sending in an army. It was a mess.

      The only way I’d send troops is under a free-fire or engage if you verify a weapon rules of engagement (ROE) where those running around with weapons are given one warning to drop them and that’s it. Such permissive ROE are almost never given in zones not cleared of civilians because of the optics. You also have the optics of a US force gunning down Africans to contend with. Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson won’t approve. The problem with Rwanda was it was largely civilians organised informally into death squads doing the killing. Good luck differentiating friend from foe.

      Ultimately, a nation has interests and priorities. Some places are much more important and others are inconsequential. Sending in the troops to places poorly understood results in setbacks and worse. And if one analyses the number and frequency of military stand offs between states such as Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Angola, and Congo, their ever shifting alliances, as well as the infestation of these states by rebel militants, it’s clear no good can come to outsiders who think they’ll fix the region’s problems.

  21. Fred LaSor says

    I was the press officer in the American Embassy in neighboring Kenya when this genocide took place. We were reporting on it as much as we could, with incomplete information. Our Consul, who had regional responsibility, was in Rwanda when the genocide started, and I greeted her when she got off the transport plane evacuating her from Kigali. She was shattered. I understood. I gave several stand-up interviews to international press organizations. People in the west knew what was happening — they just ignored it. The worst was Samantha Power, who was then Bill Clinton’s UN Representative. She refused to use the word “genocide”, which would have triggered some military assistance General Dellaire had requested. Armored personnel carriers, which had already been painted UN white and were on the docks ready to ship — Clinton refused, because he didn’t want the world to know how bad things were. Dellaire said those personnel carriers, without any weapons, would have saved thousands of people. Clinton later stopped in the airport in Rwanda to “apologize” for his inaction. Too little, too late.

    Phillip Gourevitch, a Belgian journalist, wrote an absolutely shattering book “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be dead” about the genocide. I talked to him several times a few years later, when I was planning to go with USAID to set up radio programs in Rwanda. USAID killed that program.

    All in all, the world’s response was staggeringly incomplete, incompetent, blind. As the author of this article notes, many foreigners were left devastated for the rest of their life, so it was not just Tutsis who suffered. A truly tragic page in world history.

    Thank you for this fine article.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Fred LaSor

      You seem uniquely qualified to give some additional insight regarding the Clinton administration’s behavior during the long process of the Rwandan genocide.

      Surely, indifference to crimes committed by black people against other black people cannot be the entire reason.

      If you can do so without creating legal difficulty for yourself, I believe we would all welcome it.

    • MJC says

      I think you may mean Madeleine Albright; Samantha Power was a 24 year old journalist in 1994, though she did go on to write some penetrating work on the failures of the Clinton administration in Rwanda, part of the reason President Obama hired her as his own UN ambassador almost 20 years later

    • Harland says

      So, are we completely unaware that just the year before, Clinton intervened in Somalia? And the Somalians were so happy about it that they attacked the US soldiers? The Americans fired back, of course, and the result was the Mogadishu Massacre. Five thousand black Africans dead from the guns of white soldiers, something remarked upon by many NGO and UN observers.

      How would Rwanda have turned out any differently?

  22. Has anyone else noticed the juxtaposition of these two essays? The less powerful individual males bond together (“The Goodness Paradox”) to bring violence against others (“The Scars of Rwanda”).

  23. Fred LaSor says

    Morgan Foster —

    I wish my memory was still what it was 25 years ago so I could better fill you in on the details. I highly recommend the books that have been mentioned above: the one by Gourevitch and the other by Dallaire. They have many of the more or less public details, plus insights about the armored personal carriers that were never shipped. I have always considered this refusal a major point of shame on the part of Bill Clinton and the American government.

    My recollection is that it was Samantha Power who made the decision not to call it genocide, possibly with the memory of Somalia (Black Hawk Down) still vivid. I do not think race played into the decision, but that might be too much of an assumption on my part. I cannot remember what was happening in the UN at the time, and there could well have been something that made Ms. Power make the decision she did and President Clinton’s willingness to follow her lead. Or it could have been something in domestic politics that led to the decision not to call it genocide, but I am not a good source for that kind of information because I was living outside the US and would not have been attuned to what was happening domestically.

    I can tell you the genocide happened very quickly. Our embassy in Kigali reported within hours of the shooting down of the plane carrying President Habyarimana, and of rioting breaking out the next day, and our embassy in Nairobi was hearing from the missionary radio network of the genocide, so we knew (and were reporting to Washington) about the killings. Missionaries all over the African continent are linked by radio nets, and our embassies routinely monitor those networks.

    The scope of the killings was truly unimaginable. As someone points out above (correctly), some 800,000 people were killed in a matter of months. And outside observers kept thinking other countries must have been supplying arms, because we just could not imagine that so many people could have been killed by hoes and machetes — which indeed turned out to be the case. What we did not know about was the domestic radio broadcasts instructing Hutus to “kill the cockroaches.” I do not know this for a fact, but I suspect that American officers in our embassy in Kigali might not have understood the local languages. Certainly they would have heard reporting from Rwandese who did, but that would be a somewhat delayed process.

    Even if we had heard about that in real time, we would not have understood its import or the depth of animosity it stirred up.

    And no one who did not live in Rwanda at the time would have appreciated the continuing nature of the hatred between Hutus and Tutsis. I mean, we all knew about it historically, but by 1994 the two groups were living together in relative harmony, working side-by-side, and often intermarrying.

    And no one who did not live in Rwanda could have appreciated the land hunger in that country, but it is a very small country and at the time had a population of approximately 3 million people. In about 12 weeks, that number was depleted by more than one third, including death and fleeing across the border with a neighboring country.

    I don’t remember what was being said in our intelligence reporting, but I am certainly willing to believe it was tracking our embassy reporting, which was trying repeatedly to alert the State Department and White House just how horrific the situation was. And as I said, I gave stand-up interviews to the international press, but I don’t know how much circulation that got back in the US.

    The fact that Clinton later “apologized” to the Rwandan people tells me he knew he had made a serious mistake when he decided not to call it genocide. If Samantha Power ever apologized, that escaped my awareness. When I learned later that we had APCs ready to go but did not send them, I really felt like we had dropped the ball.

    • ga gamba says

      The scope of the killings was truly unimaginable. As someone points out above (correctly), some 800,000 people were killed in a matter of months.

      No offence, but you didn’t need imagination. In 1645, the Manchus slaughtered up to 800,000 Chinese in Yangchow (today’s Yangzhou) in 10 days using mostly swords, spears, arrows, and horses after they had captured the city. It probably could have gone faster had the Manchus not been distracted by looting and raping.

      And no one who did not live in Rwanda could have appreciated the land hunger in that country,

      Really? No one? Not even the US National Institute of Health?

      The Rwandan population is characterized by rapid growth, a young age structure with 49.0% under 15 years, a very small proportion urban (8.0%), and predominance of agriculture. Rapid growth and density among the highest in Africa are responsible for imbalances and poverty. As the average size of family plots become incapable of supporting a family, the fertility of the soil is reduced by the disappearance of fallow, overexploitation, and erosion. Declining crops at a time of rapid population growth brought the return of famine in late 1989 for the 1st time in over 40 years. Population growth exceeds the capacity of the economy and resources of Rwanda to absorb it, increasing poverty and worsening existing problems of health care, nutrition, education, and employment.

      That’s from 1991.

      The US Committee for Refugees, 1991: Longing for a homeland blinds many [Tutsi] refugees to the realities of Rwanda. They believe there is land for them in the national parks. Used to Uganda’s fertility, many appear unwilling to contemplate Rwanda’s poor soil and shortages of food. They appear to know little about the Hutu in Rwanda. “I have never been with Hutu,” said one refugee who was born in Uganda. “I just hear the stories about what they did to us. How they killed our grandparents and elder brothers with knives.”

      Watson added: Some refugees, perhaps many, might return but decide not to stay when they see Rwanda’s land shortage and conclude that opportunities were better where they were. . . . It is essentially impossible for the refugees to return to their old family homes. The RPF leadership is aware of this, one executive member saying it would be “catastrophic”, were it to be attempted. There is little doubt that the population in Rwanda would vehemently oppose repatriation if they thought refugees might displace them from plots and houses they have occupied for 30 years. Repatriation will increase the already great pressure on Rwanda’s national parks . . . . many refugees feel militantly entitled to park land, often complaining that the Rwanda government has treated animals better than them.

      Dooms, P. 1989. “Utilisation des terres pour l’agriculture: extensions potentielles et productivité des terres en fonction de la superficie des exploitations.” Ministère de l’Agriculture, de l’Elevage et des Forêts, Kigali. This government report stated 43 per cent of poorer families owned only 15 per cent of cultivated lands, with average FLH area varying from less than 0.25 ha to 0.75 ha. About 50 per cent of rural families had to hire land to produce for their basic subsistence needs. On the other
      end of the spectrum, 16 per cent of land-rich families owned 43 per cent of cultivated lands, with an average family land holding area of more than 1 ha. As a result, poor farmers were squeezed in steep unproductive lands, where the soil is constantly removed by erosion, becoming ecological refugees. In 1989, it was estimated that 50 per cent of cultivated soils had slopes higher than 18 per cent.

      Rwanda’s National Agricultural Commission (NAC) in 1991: It can be concluded that if the country does not operate profound transformations in its agriculture, it will not be capable of feeding adequately its population under the present growth rate. Contrary to the tradition of our demographers who show that the population growth rate will remain positive over several years in the future, one can not see how the Rwandan population will reach 10 million inhabitants unless important progress in agriculture as well as other sectors of the economy were achieved. Consequently it is time to fear the Malthusian effects that could derive from the gap between food supply and the demand of the population, and social disorders which could result from there. (Bold text mine.)

      Your assertion is dubious because it had been reported by analysts. Further, it’s irresponsible. It is the duty of the embassy staff, people hired by the taxpayer to go abroad and study the host country, to gather information, perform analyses, and make assessments. Heck, the NAC made an assessment that could have been used by US Embassy Kagali. Let’s not forget that Rwanda and its twin Burundi had experienced frequent massacres of massive size and significant population dislocations. Prior to ’94, in Rwanda and Burundi, Hutus have massacred Tutsis and vice versa in 1959, 1963, 1970, 1972, 1988, and 1993.

      I’m getting the impression the US embassy was staffed by jobsworths little better than those who staff the DMV. “We couldn’t know” ought not be acceptable excuse for an FSO.

    • Samantha Power was indeed a 24-year-old journalist at the time, reporting on the ex-Yugoslavia wars. She only became a US citizen in 1993 and held no US government position until 2009.

  24. Fred LaSor says

    One other hazy memory: about 20 years earlier I was stationed to our embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I remember attending a press conference being held by the Burundian ambassador to Tanzania, who was reporting on a similar genocide in his country. Burundi and Rwanda are similar-sized countries between Tanzania/Kenya and Zaire (now Congo). Both had Hutu-Tutsi tribal issues. In the space of 20 years, both had massive tribal conflagrations — Rwanda’s much worse than Burundi’s.

  25. Donnerhauser says

    That was a beautiful essay. What happened in Rwanda was abominable and the fact that the international community seemed to care so little makes it even worse. Something should’ve been done. I do not deny it would’ve been incredibly difficult – Rwanda was hundreds of miles in land and had just two airports that could take cargo aircraft and even then only like aircraft like C-130s. The airport was also guarded by troops supportive of the genocide, so any intervening forces would’ve been fighting their way in, while early paradrop forces would’ve been on their own for a good while. In addition, Rwanda’ infrastructure was poor, meaning any transport cross-country would be difficult, while the violence was extremely grass-roots, meaning it would be hard to eliminate it by taking out what little leadership there was. Thus it is unlikely that international forces could’ve arrived in time to prevent most of the genocide.

    However, they could’ve helped – ten to thirty percent perhaps. That is still tens to hundreds of thousands of people who could’ve been saved, tens of thousands of souls that would not have been extinguished so cruelly.

    When we say “never again” we have to mean it, we cannot just make it an empty phrase. Rwanda is a monument to our failures. If they want an image to be in the UNSC chamber, make it a photograph of the ruins of Ntarama church,

  26. Sydney says

    Every genocide needs to be remembered again and again and again and again…always. Because most people choose either to forget about history, or to lie about it altogether.

    Ironically, you needn’t look any further than at the review here in ‘Quillette’ for Ben Shapiro’s book. Near the very bottom of the comments section is a deeply anti-Semitic comment that includes a hateful, anti-Semitic fiction about the Holocaust itself. Sick!

    That’s what we’re all up against when we try to remember and to pay homage to genocide victims. It’s an uphill battle that never ends.

    Good luck to the author in her future writing.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Sydney, I agree the comment is anti-Semitic, “Judeo-Christian” is just another bigot.

  27. Marlow says

    Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh. . . my life and livlihood during the last decade of the last century. Now my nights reek with the horror, my days are befouled with memories of the horrors, the horrors, the horrors. Tiny events, even the ring of a mobile phone, reignite, inflame. debilitate.

    There is a devil, I’ve met him, and there are no holidays in hell, but where is this god of which you speak?

  28. TMac says

    Another gripping first-person account of the Rewandan genocide: “Left to Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza.

  29. Pingback: The Scars of Rwanda, 25 Years On | Converse Africa

  30. There are striking parallels between what happened in Rwanda and what happened in Haiti (and many other places …) after it gained independence.
    The Tutsis are, by all evidence, a lighter-skinned Nilotic population who came from the north and conquered the Bantu Hutus, forming the upper class in the ensuing kingdoms, before the Europeans’ arrival.
    As in Haiti, this “lighter-skinned” elite (NB: I make no claim about actual skin tones, but this is how all parties perceived them) was used by the Europeans as trusted intermediaries. Under the successive colonial administrations, the Tutsis were better positioned in a number of ways.
    The PC view is that these divisions between Hutus and Tutsis don’t exist. A more Marxist-influenced school of historiography denies that the Tutsi conquest ever occurred (just like the Indo-European conquest in Europe is held to be a racist 19th century myth). In this view, Europeans cleverly exploited the purely formal distinction between Tutsis and Hutus to keep them divided and unable to fight back. Hutus and Tutsis are brothers who should join in the fight against the white cis-patriarchy already.
    Of course, this is all a big lie. Rwanda uncomfortably reminds leftists that these enmities exist, are real, predated the Europeans’ arrival, and, as in Haiti, were by no means healed by chasing the Europeans out. These resentments were never forgotten.
    Beneath the official pieties about brotherhood and human rights, the natural leftist sympathy for the historically oppressed Hutus made Western governments, most of which were getting information from left-leaning diplomats, reluctant to intervene, until it was too late. This is a direct consequence of leftist ideology. Even here and now, some leftists are still saying that the Tutsis had it coming, because they were the oppressors.
    This is not working. Despite leftists’ best efforts (the constant refrain that they brought it upon themselves, they had it coming), it is impossible to blame this genocide on the white patriarchy or even on Tutsis, the more powerful and prosperous “lighter-skinned” ethnicity.
    Africa was not a paradise before the Europeans’ arrival. The modern weapons and means of communication brought by Europeans are used to settle conflicts that have been stewing since time immemorial, which are now exacerbated by the population explosion due to modern agricultural techniques, medicine, and relative lack of conflict.
    This is why Rwanda is conveniently forgotten nowadays. It cannot be used to teach the lesson leftists want to teach us. It is not an intersectional story.

    • Sydney says

      @MB, Interesting.

      The left can’t speak honestly about any genocide at all. It needs to concoct lies about all of them because of the ideological holes it has dug itself into (no dark pun intended).

      The left can’t be honest about Islam, so it will lie or ignore the Turks’ genocide of the Armenians. And the left needs to ignore all horrors of Islam in order to retain its fantasies about ‘diversity’ and multiculturalism.

      Hitler’s Third Reich was leftist, so today’s left needs to lie about that. Additionally, Jews are generally hated in intersectionalism, so we needn’t feel badly for Jews anyway (owning all the banks and ‘colonizing’ Israel, blablabla…).

      ‘Quillette’ commenters noted repeatedly how left-wing hero Noam Chomsky lied about the Cambodian genocide because it didn’t fit his ideological parameters. And the left manages to ignore the genocides by Communist Chairman Mao and the left-totalitarian genocide of the Ukraine.

      On a ‘micro’ level, the delusional hysteria of the mainstream American left against Donald Trump suggests how the left whips itself up. Anecdotally, from public incident to incident, it’s shocking how otherwise-normal citizens reacted to Trump’s election, and how they react daily to MAGA hats they see on fellow citizens in the street. This story from the other day was amazing:


      Am I wrong here? Thinking off the top of my head after reading @MB’s comment.

      • David V says

        Countries like Turkey and Russia engage in industrial-scale denial of their own histories. Turkey flat out denies genocide of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians, while Russia whitewashes the entire Soviet era and the enslavement of half of Europe by Communism, and spreading it around the world. Every May 9 Russia celebrates its “victory” day, while Poles, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians and others find it deeply offensive.

  31. Joe Jones says

    This is what comes when identity politics goes to its logical conclusion.

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