Stephen Kinzer’s Tendentious Editorial on the Kabuye Arrest

by Kevin Jon Heller

As most readers likely know, Germany recently arrested Rose Kabuye, the President of Rwanda’s chief of protocol, on behalf of France, who intends to prosecute her for being involved in shooting down then-President Juvenal Habayarimana’s plane, the event that triggered the Hutu-led 1994 genocide.  It appears that Kabuye actually wants to be prosecuted, because it will give her — and by extension the Rwandan government — a public platform to discuss France’s role in the genocide.  Indeed, the Rwandan government has  announced that it intends to indict a number of high-ranking French officials for being complicit in the slaughter, including former Prime Ministers Dominique de Villepin and Edouard Balladur.

Both issues — whether Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, assassinated Habyarimana and whether France helped enable the genocide — are extremely complicated, with more than enough room for reasonable people to disagree.  That’s why Stephen Kinzer’s editorial in the Los Angeles Times yesterday is so disappointing.  To read Kinzer, Kabuye’s arrest is little more than France’s last-gasp attempt to undermine Rwanda’s government and prevent Rwanda from defecting to the British Commonwealth.  Here is a sample:

Kagame and others now in power in Rwanda grew up as refugees in neighboring Uganda, speak English and reject French influence. France’s leaders rightly fear that if Rwanda is able to get away with quitting the Francophonie, other French-speaking countries might follow. Because France’s claim to global power is based largely on its influence in Africa, that would be a grievous strategic blow.

It has become clear in recent years that the former genocide army, now based in Congo, does not have the power to overthrow Kagame. So its allies in France have adopted another tactic. They are trying to undermine Kagame’s moral legitimacy and that of his government.

In 2006, a French judge issued arrest warrants for nine Rwandan officials, including Kabuye, linking them to the killing of Rwanda’s former president, whose plane was shot down in 1994. It was an odd indictment by international standards; the judge did not consider alternative theories, did not visit Rwanda and did not conduct any investigation of his own. Yet it served the French goal of painting Kagame’s government as a gang of criminals.

Rather than being cowed, though, Kagame has raised the ante at every turn. Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations with France after the indictments and then established a commission to investigate France’s role in the genocide. After months of hearings, that commission concluded that France’s support for the genocide “was of a political, military, diplomatic and logistic nature” and named high-ranking French officials who should be brought before international tribunals…

As if this impertinence was not enough, Rwanda officially applied to join the British Commonwealth, and Kagame was photographed in London with Queen Elizabeth. Then, last month, Kagame announced that English would replace French as Rwanda’s official second language.

In short, Kagame is doing something no African leader has ever dared: pulling his French-speaking country out of the Francophonie and into the world of the dreaded Anglo Saxons.

Kabuye, who is highly intelligent, poised and articulate, is an ideal figure to represent Rwanda, even in the defendant’s dock. She grew up as a refugee, fought in the rebel army and, after victory, became mayor of Kigali, the capital city. Later, she headed the security and defense committee in the Rwandan parliament and directed the Kigali AIDS commission before becoming national protocol chief.

Kinzer’s small-country-versus-evil-colonial-power narrative is breathtakingly one-sided.  He rightly points out that France bears a great deal of moral responsibility for the genocide — supporting Rwanda’s racist Hutu regime for decades prior to the genocide, arming the regime during the early days of the RPF’s rebellion, helping the remnants of the regime escape the country after the RPF came to power. Concerning the RPF’s actions, however, Kinzer is completely silent.  No mention of the tens of thousands of innocent Hutus that the RPF murdered before, during, and after its rebellion.  No mention of the the RPF’s authoritarian rule over Rwanda.  No mention of Rwanda’s invasions of the Congo, which helped trigger the genocides there.  No mention of Rwanda’s open support of the murderous Congolese rebel, Laurent Nkunda.  And, of course, no mention of the (strong) possibility that the RPF did shoot down Habyarimana’s plane.

This isn’t editorializing — it’s hagiography.  And by obscuring the complexity of a complex situation, it’s counterproductive.

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/11/15/steven-kinzers-tendentious-editorial-on-the-kabuye-arrest/

2 Responses

  1. It’s a matter of fact, the editorial could have being wrote by a Rwandan official !!!
    Some already antifrench biased journalists should not allowing themself to be blinded by the Hollywood good guy-bad guy spirit.
    Its nor ethical neither professional.

  2. Kevin, I’d agree that Kinzer’s editorial is a black vs. white take on a gray issue.  I’d also like a more detailed reckoning of French interest in Rwanda than the simplified domino theory he offers. 

    That said, I find the French indictment curious – though to be honest I’ve yet to read it.  On what basis does France assert jurisdiction over the murder of a foreigner (President Habyarimana)?  Could jurisdiction be based on the French nationality of at least two of the victims (the pilots)?  Both grounds seem dubious. 

    At best, the indictment seems like poorly-concieved and unjustified interventionism; at worst, a neo-colonialist power play. 

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