Show Business and ‘Lawfare’ in Rwanda: Twelve Years After the Genocide

Show Business and ‘Lawfare’ in Rwanda: Twelve Years After the Genocide

Government repression in Rwanda.

Twelve years ago this summer, over a period of a hundred days, between five hundred thousand and eight hundred thousand Rwandans—mostly Tutsi—were slaughtered with a brutality that shocked the world into paralysis. Although Tutsis were the main targets of this genocidal killing, Hutus who opposed the extermination campaign were also massacred. The killers ranged from the Presidential Guard to many members of the former army to the interahamwe militias, propelled by extremist elements within the then-ruling regime: friends and neighbors of the people they murdered. All had fallen prey to the genocidal political ideology of Hutu Power, which reached the population via the airwaves with anti-Tutsi refrains of “The graves are not yet full!”, and “Remember to kill the little rats as well as the big rats,” and “Leave none to tell the story!”

Rwanda, so the story goes, has a culture of obedience: those who were told to kill simply obeyed. But this is too simplistic a summary of why and how the 1994 Rwandan genocide happened. For the current government, whose most powerful members are Tutsis who grew up in exile in Uganda, the genocide narrative is convenient. The government’s relations with international donors depend largely on the legitimacy it derives from its military role in stopping the killing. But evidence of its own gross human rights violations—perpetrated by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the military branch of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), since it invaded Rwanda on October 1, 1990—is actively suppressed and denied. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that Paul Kagame, commander of the RPA and current president of Rwanda, gave the order to shoot down the plane carrying former president Juvénal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart on April 6, 1994—the event that triggered the genocidal campaign. But not all of the evidence is available, and the full story of what happened in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994 has yet to emerge. While publicly maintaining that “reconciliation” between genocide survivors and perpetrators is one of its primary goals, the present government has actively obstructed the discovery of the truth about those years, which is indispensable to long-term politico-ethnic reconciliation.

Rwanda remains a country in which stories of living citizens cannot safely be attached to names, especially when such stories implicate the current regime. Kagame and his army are credited with stopping the genocide, and that is true enough. But it is becoming clearer that Kagame’s activities were driven by something more complex than an altruistic regard for human rights. Even Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian lieutenant general who decried the international community’s failure to intervene and whose own efforts to stop the genocide were thwarted by the UN’s refusal to supply him with enough troops, acknowledged in his memoir that “ . . . the deaths of Rwandans can also be laid...


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels