Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

15 Years after the Rwandan Genocide: Hutu Power and its Friends

Posted in African Politics, Global Africa, Rwanda by ruben eberlein on April 2, 2009

On Monday, 6 April 2009, 15 years have passed after the launch of the genocide in Rwanda. Commemorations will take place in the Central African country, but also in Berlin and in other cities around the world. Five years ago, I wrote this article about the international dimensions of the mass murders in Rwanda.

It was already several days after the death squads in Rwanda’s capital Kigali had begun to rage. Inside the French embassy, some eminences of Juvénal Habyarimana’s regime assembled. A part of the Hutu Power group – in particular the entourage of Agathe Habyarimana, wife of the just murdered President – prepared for their departure arranged by the embassy. One of the few members of the opposition present there was Joseph Kgarambe. ‘What is he doing here?’ wondered health minister Casimir Bizimungu.

The extremists felt perfectly at home, and they had good reasons for doing so. Belgium, Germany and Switzerland financed and advised the dictatorship of Habyarimana on differing scales as well. The US and Great Britain ignored their own secret service information about the upcoming catastrophe. After the genocide began, they blocked every initiative by the UN Security Council. But the most reliable partner of the Hutu Power which dominated the Rwandan state after 1990 proved to be the Cellule Africaine at the Élysée under François Mitterand.

No superpower masterminded the killing of at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu that was clandestinely planned but repeatedly announced. Though, it can’t be apprehended without a look at the colonial history of Rwanda and the neo-colonial connections to European countries.

The racist identity politics of the German and Belgian colonial powers, continued after the Hutu ‘revolution’ of 1959 under changed signs, prepared the basis for the fascist ideology of the Hutu Power. The one party regime under Habyarimana, at the controls since 1973, was the darling of European Christian Democrats and Catholic missionaries. Until August 1993, advisers from Europe – one of them a German – helped the dictator. At that time, the existence of the Network Zero, a communications network of the death squads, was a well-known fact for at least ten months. Since the invasion of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in October 1990 from Uganda, exactly planned massacres of civilians (most of them Tutsi) as well as politically motivated assassinations of oppositionist Hutu in all parts of the country increased.

The murderous one hundred days after 6 April 1994 that stopped only on 18 July with the occupation of Gisenyi by the RPF were also a disaster for the UN mission Unamir stationed in Rwanda. Two weeks after the start of the mass killings, the Security Council decided to reduce the contingent of the force to a symbolic strength. The U-turn three weeks later – now 5,500 UN soldiers were supposed to be sent to the country – was simply ignored by the major powers.

Rather, France favoured her own operation named ‘Turquoise’ in May 1994. 2,500 troops, equipped with everything that was lacked by the UN, established a ‘security zone’ in the South West of the country. Romeo Dallaire, commander of the 270 left Unamir soldiers who was informed about the secret armament of the Rwandan government by France, was frantic about weapons imports to the government. The general is reported to have threatened in a private conversation that he will order to shoot down French planes if they bring in arms.

Not only Hutu trying to escape the vengeance of parts of the RPF arrived in the French-occupied zone in the South West. Also those who turned many ordinary villagers into murderers on pain of force arrived here: local party functionaries, militia leaders, mayors. A lot of refugees came as hostages of the mass murderers. Not uncommonly, people wishing to stay at their homes were shot dead.

What was the motive for the French government and their fellows to support a dictatorial regime unconditionally and right to the extremes? The reasons are possibly lost forever with the documents that were shredded inside the French embassy in Kigali. Probably, a paranoid fear of an ‘Anglo-Saxon conspiracy’ against the French Pré Carré in Africa combined with the interests of free-lanced lobbyists paid by Habyarimana’s regime. Add the cold-blooded calculation that the relationship to Rwanda can continue as usual once the massacres are over.

The consolidation of US influence in Central Africa became a self-fulfilling prophecy because of the alliance between Francafrique and the Hutu extremists. Great Britain and the US – the most important partners of the RPF government after mid-1994 – tolerated and supported the intervention of Rwandan troops and its then ally Uganda into the East of Zaire (now the DRC) in 1996. It was supposed to hunt down the Hutu Power militias that took refuge there. Zaire’s dictator Mobutu warmly welcomed the newly organised Génocidaires. In 1997, he was overthrown by a rebel alliance assisted militarily by Rwanda.

In the course of time, the legitimate security interests of Kigali were replaced by the private economic ambitions of the military elite. The great powers increased the pressure on Uganda and Rwanda in order to withdraw their troops from the DRC. At least officially, no Rwandan soldiers are stationed in the East of that country any more.

The relationship between France and Rwanda reached an all-time low during the last weeks and months. In March 2004, a French investigating judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, submitted a report which alleges that the RPF is responsible for the shot-down of Habyarimana’s plane on 6 April 1994. Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s President, rejected these claims. Moreover, Kagame said in an interview, the government is in possession of video recordings showing French soldiers participating in the selection of Tutsi at checkpoints during the massacre.

The Rwandan catastrophe is utilised today in parts of the academic and political discourse as an argument for the forced militarisation of African policies. The aims and backgrounds of the politics at play in 1994 are often ignored in this debate. ‘Because of enlightened self-interest (…) multilateral military pacification interventions’ should become a ubiquitous instrument of EU and OECD countries, writes Rainer Tetzlaff, professor for politics at the University of Hamburg, with reference to Rwanda. But in 1994, it was in congruence with the ‘enlightened self-interest’ of the US and Britain not to intervene, and in the interest of France to collaborate with the murderers and to help them escape by way of a ‘humanitarian intervention’.


Published originally in German by Jungle World 15/04 under the title ‘Die Freunde der Hutu-Power’. Other articles on Rwanda in that edition dealt with the propaganda for the genocide by the radio station RTML, the history of the country, the denial of the genocide, and its internal judicial consequences.

The writings of Linda Melvern, Gérard Prunier, René Lemarchand, Alison Des Forges, Romeo Dallaire and others about the Rwandan genocide are indispensable sources for my view on the subject.

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