The Mass Murder We Don’t Talk About

Ronald Kabuui/AFP/Getty Images
Rwandan president Paul Kagame receiving the Pearl of Africa Medal from Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, Kapchorwa District, Uganda, 2012

During the 1990s, unprecedented violence erupted in Central Africa. In Sudan, the civil war intensified; in Rwanda, there was genocide; in Congo millions died in a conflict that simmers to this day; and in Uganda, millions more were caught between a heartless warlord and an even more heartless military counterinsurgency.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Although the US had for decades backed dictatorships and right-wing rebels across the continent, George H.W. Bush had declared in his 1989 inaugural speech that “a new breeze [was] blowing…. For in man’s heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing…. Great nations of the world are moving toward democracy through the door to freedom.”

Bush and his successors supported peace on much of the African continent by funding democracy promotion programs and sanctioning, or threatening to sanction, South Africa and other countries if their leaders didn’t allow multiparty elections and free political prisoners. But in Uganda, Ethiopia, and a small number of other countries, the Bush and Clinton administrations lavished development and military aid on dictators who in turn funneled weapons to insurgents in Sudan, Rwanda, and Congo. In this way, Washington helped stoke the interlinked disasters that have claimed millions of lives since the late 1980s and still roil much of eastern and central Africa today. The complicity of the US in those disasters has not yet been sufficiently exposed, but Judi Rever’s In Praise of Blood explores how Washington helped obscure the full story of the genocide that devastated Rwanda during the 1990s and cover up the crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which has ruled the country ever since.

The familiar story about the Rwandan genocide begins in April 1994, when Hutu militias killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, mostly with machetes and other simple weapons. The RPF, a Tutsi-dominated rebel army, advanced through the mayhem and finally brought peace to the country in July. The RPF’s leader, Paul Kagame, eventually became president of Rwanda and remains in power today. He has overseen a technocratic economic revival, the installation of one of the best information technology networks in Africa, and a sharp decline in maternal and child mortality. Political dissent is suppressed, many of Kagame’s critics are in jail, and some have even been killed—but his Western admirers tend to overlook this. Bill Clinton has praised Kagame as “one of the greatest leaders of our time,” and Tony Blair’s nonprofit Institute for Global Change continues to advise and support his government.

Over the years, less valiant portraits of Kagame and the RPF have appeared in academic monographs and self-published accounts by Western and Rwandan academics, journalists, and independent researchers, including Filip Reyntjens, André Guichaoua, Edward Herman,…


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