The Fallacy of Kenyan Counterterrorism Operations

Image via Global Panorama

Strategies for pursuing terrorist cells and insurgent groups in weak African states are still in their infancy. However the shocking disregard for human rights of minority populations by governments’ is a factor that is bound to complicate the search for liberty and security for countries in Africa involved in the Global War on Terror (“GWOT”).

Recent efforts by the Kenyan government to bolster its national security by conducting military operations  throughout Somalia since 2011 and its  harsh use of counterterrorism strategies  have not only failed to achieve their objectives, but have inadvertently exposed the vulnerability of the country’s governance and security institutions and infrastructure. Undoubtedly, Kenya does not have the financial muscle and infrastructural backbone to participate in the GWOT as a partner, unless it chooses to enroll as a proxy of the Western powers – something which it has already done – in order to benefit from funds availed to ‘surrogate’ states.

However, the approach that has been adopted by the Kenyan government to collectively target its minority Muslim population by ignoring its socially-contracted responsibilities and respect for the rule of law have become troubling and counterproductive. Specifically, the path that Kenya has chosen to follow in its counterterrorism operations has not only conflated historical injustices perpetrated by previous regimes on its marginalised minority populations with its current human rights abuses, it has re-opened ethnic and political fractures in Kenya. The strategies adopted by the government indicate that little has been done to counter-act or prepare for the spill-over and consequences likely to stem from the country’s involvement in a brutal asymmetrical war. The false promise that al-Shabaab will be crushed by a battalion of Kenya Defence Forces – infamously implicated in the lucrative Somali charcoal business in Kismayo – and antagonising the Somali and Muslim minorities in Kenya through extrajudicial killings and disappearances of Muslim clerics and faithfuls perceived to be radicals is not only misleading, but dangerously oversimplified strategically. The behaviour of the government in pursuit of its security obligations ought not to mirror the dehumanising excesses of a morally bankrupt terror outfit, but act as a responsible government aware of its mandate.

The recent admission by the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that misrepresented intelligence and planning errors was to blame for the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a candid statement by the foreign minister of Uganda, Sam Kutesa, that military solutions are not enough to tackle the rising tide of radicalisation and terrorism in Africa should serve as a stark reminder to Kenya about government operations in Somalia.


When Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011, it had unwittingly entered into an endless cycle conflict which has been misunderstood by nearly all policymakers. By choosing to pursue al-Shabaab in its heartland on the back of a ragtag tribal militia – the Ras Kamboni Brigade spearheaded by Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe – without paying attention to the consequences likely to stem from engaging this indistinct enemy in a brutal asymmetrical war, there was every indication that Kenya was punching above its own weight.

What remains unclear is the motives which prompted the country to decisively act and how it envisioned realising this mission after accomplishing its strategic goals. Indisputably though, it was clear from the outset that the Kenyan government could not commit to a long-drawn battle against al-Shabaab’s insurgency on its own terms, given its rudimentary war chest. Since this incursion was based on a unilateral decision without the blessings of either the United Nations or the African Union, there was no doubt that the financial cost of the war on terror was going to burden the country’s fledgling economy, which was still recovering from the aftershocks of the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

Nevertheless, there were multiple factors motivating Kenya’s military campaign. The Kenyan government’s intention to firmly align its interests with those of other states in the GWOT was poised to benefit the country by securing its borders and salvaging its economy – especially its tourism industry – from the reverberations of sporadic attacks by criminal elements from Somalia. Strategically, this undertaking also deliberately aimed at ensuring Kenya’s gains from streams of funds and resources available to proxy states in the fight against terror.

Navigating through Somalia’s clan-based politics, where shifts in dynamics and allegiances are unpredictable and confusing, was never going to be straightforward. Fighting alongside the Ras Kamboni Brigade alone compromises Kenyan credibility as a neutral actor in many quarters in Somalia. Similarly, there is little evidence to suggest any unity of purpose among the various state and non-state actors in Somalia. Somalia, as a theatre of war, is becoming overcrowded with actors out to pursue unilateral interests and in the process undermining each other. This is an extension of a problem that was manifest during the days of Operation Restore Hope – a factor that General Farah Aideed exploited dexterously to neutralise the United States and the UN. Somalia has also developed a concealed but elaborate political economy of war that has become malignant and capable of crushing competing forces out to change the status quo. Almost all contributing countries with forces in Somalia have wrestled with the challenge of their soldiers falling prey to the lucrative imperceptible network of the clandestine war economy.

This partly explains why defeating al-Shabaab in Jubaland has become a tough proposition for the Kenyan Defence Forces. These are some of the bottlenecks and strategic challenges which Kenya has to consider. On the other hand, the insecurity levels in northern Kenya have statistically shown, according to recent studies by the UN, to be claiming more civilian lives than the violence of al-Shabaab. Whether Kenya’s operation in Somalia is an existential threat to the country is debatable because of this.  Although the insecurity in northern Kenya is cumulatively destabilising in the long-term, the violence of al-Shabaab seems to be economically damaging and divisive in the short-term.

Image via The Guardian

Domestically Kenyan policymakers have embarked on an exercise of upgrading their lethal counter-terrorism measures in line with the intrusive expansion of the U.S military footprint and drone wars in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to fight insurgent groups.  These U.S drone wars, predominantly concentrated in Somalia and Yemen, have been conducted by the Obama administration and the CIA to hunt down and kill individuals deemed – through secret processes, without indictment or trial – worthy of elimination. These extra-judicial killings have, according to an internal 2013 Pentagon study, been carried out by secretive military unit Task Force 48-4 which wages a covert war throughout East Africa from outposts in Nairobi, Kenya and Sanaa,Yemen.  Camp Lemonnier, the main hub for these operations in the Horn of Africa, is the U.S military’s most active Predator drone base outside the war zone of Afghanistan.

These drone wars have been conducted in coordination with Kenyan forces providing information, intelligence and ground support to strike Al-Shabaab’s leadership. However, these drones, as with the Kenyan government’s security apparatus, remain a tool, not a strategy to effectively tackle the rising wave of terrorism in the region. It poorly addresses the symptoms of the conflict and neglects its root-causes in Somalia and its appeal to the marginal populations in Kenya. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S drone strikes are raising al-Shabaab’s profile and inflating its importance in Somalia. Similarly, according to Mary Harper, financial inducements used by military personnel to extract information on the whereabouts of al-Shabaab’s leadership is not appealing to the local populations for fear of reprisals from the group.

Equally these targeted killings have had immense limitations as innocent civilians have frequently been accidentally killed alongside specific targets. This was illustrated by the collateral damage of an airstrike in Dinsoor (January, 2015) which killed nine civilians as well as Yusuf Dheeq, al-Shabaab’s head of external operations.  The United States’ covert wars in Somalia has had the multiplying effect of propelling anti-American narratives and the Kenyan government has, inadvertently, fallen prey to the accusations of being a Western pawn. Likewise, the wider regional project of the Obama administration has filtered into Kenyan politics and has given the Kenyan government the impetus to disregard the international law and respect for human rights as exemplified by the abuses perpetrated by its security forces and intelligence operatives.

Image via Yahoo

These problems have been aggravated the Western-funded Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) which has carried out a string of target killings, abductions and torture (including waterboarding, electric shocks, mock executions, and food or sleep deprivation) of perceived ‘radicals’ and young men (predominantly Muslim) opposed to the government’s treatment of the minority Muslim population and its exclusive knee-jerk reactions to the unfolding events. These actions have been justified under the guise that they support the wider regional and continental war on terror against groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated cells.

Unfortunately, the counterterrorism narrative seems to have overshadowed the Kenyan government’s ability to address the long-standing historical injustices and marginalisation of its minority Muslim population in Kenya. In addition, it has given the state credence to pursue narrow political agendas, defined by tribal and ethnic politics as opposed to broader national interests. This has significantly strengthened al-Shabaab’s propaganda machine, amplified their cause and has appealed to those with short-term and long-term grievances against the Kenyan government to join hands with the insurgent group.

Image via CFR

Centralising terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda as the core military enemy in the Somali borderlands overlooks the positive role that Islam, as a religion, could inject in resolving the problems presented by modern Islamic-related militancy, insurgency and terrorism in the Horn of Africa. These extremist organisations are not monolithic constructs; they are fluid networks with differing methodologies and strategies (both violent and non-violent) to address socio-political problems. The disproportionate focus of the Kenyan administration on al-Shabaab’s operations, prioritising the pursuit of its leadership, shoring up an isolated government in Mogadishu, will not resolve Kenya’s security challenges and does not address the root-causes of problems within its borders.

The Kenyan government need only look at Boko Haram’s insurgency in northern Nigeria as an illustration of the dire consequences of a heavy-handed government crackdown on dissent. While the Nigerian government’s conflict with Boko Haram differs in many ways to the long-term and short-term problems afflicting Kenya, parallels can be drawn, particularly in how government actions could significantly contribute to fanning the flames of war and the process of radicalisation.

As Nigerian Senator, Shehu Sani recently commented: “The root causes of this insurgency was triggered by the killing of leader out the confines of the law and since then we never knew peace.” This extra-judicial killing alluded to by Sani was the murder of Mohammed Yusuf in July 2009. His death was accompanied by Abubakar Shekau assuming command of the organisation who substantially militarised the cause and adopted more brutal tactics to accomplish Boko Haram’s goals which have included kidnappings, mass-killings and suicide bombings which have killed thousands of Nigerian civilians and security forces.

Kenya’s problematic relationship with its North Eastern and Coastal provinces could face a similar bloody outcome should the government continue, as the Nigerian government did, to conduct extra-judicial killings, hollowing out civil society, expending blood and treasure on a prelonged war in Somalia absent a political solution, and economically, politically, and socially marginalising young Muslims and ethnic Somalis in Kenya. The horrifying U.S embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998, the Westgate Mall massacre and the slaughter of university students in Garissa, these events may pale in comparison to the cost of a fully-fledged insurgency and long-term armed conflict in northern Kenya. The Kenyan government and its security apparatus must conduct an comprehensive investigation into the extra-judicial killings of Muslim clerics and youths by bringing the perpetrators of these draconian acts to book. The state should also stop victimising and collectively targeting an entire religion and minority ethnic groups for the criminal action of hell-bent individuals and groups.

Matthew Williams and Mohammud Abdi


Questions of Faith; Islam’s Civil War

Boko Haram in Nigeria tahmasebi20130824010937633.jpg

“Sons of Islam everywhere, the jihad is a duty – to establish the rule of Allah on earth and to liberate your countries and yourselves from America’s domination and its Zionist allies, it is your battle – either victory or martyrdom.”

Ahmed Yassin

It has been branded a ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the pinnacle of terrorism courtesy of the images of 9/11  and has been been associated with repression, controversy and violence in the majority of the 21st century but what are contemporaries missing in the debate of Islam and extremism associated with it?  The question considers culture, history, and the misrepresentation of both in Western spheres and within that of the Muslim/Islamic community and thus far both ‘moderate’ sides that wish to co-exist have failed to answer the question with a degree of confidence required in the most complex of issues.


For years now, many look upon the external threat of Islam and ‘global jihad’ and there are many issues that come with the latter statement. What we must consider is that Islam and the Muslim communities are at war with each other as well the extremists being at war with the West and the rest of the world. It is an internal crisis that is easily forgotten and dismissed merely as an external challenge.

Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda. The most notorious group to emerge has been the ruthless jihad of Boko Haram which is tearing Nigeria in two with the objective of creating a Sharia state purged of Western influence and culture. In recent months the problem has evolved from sporadic but lethal attacks to a jihad insurgency, a full-blown out war against the government of Jonathan Goodluck (in itself a a-typical corrupt African state) with kidnaps and murder rife in an unstable country.

Mali has seen major upheaval that sparked a French intervention in 2011. Kenya is now embroiled in a conflict with Al-Shaabab in Somalia, the capital Nairobi persistently being shaken by Islamist suicide bombers.

It is an emerging problem that Nigeria and the West is struggling to contain much like the rise of Islamic extremism. Tony Blair’s speech highlighted various problems that the world faces when battling violent Islamism (including the words in which he conveyed this war against Islamism). Muslims around the world face a struggle with their religion. It is an identity crisis as much as a war and ideological conflict between two ‘civilisations’. For instance, those often murdered in their thousands and victims of the subverted and warped ideologies of the extremists are in-fact Muslims.

The anti-balaka are conducting the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Central African Republic

Incompetent portrayals of Muslim communities as a wholly anti-western pillar only serve to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.

Nor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.

Muslims are as much a victim of the extremists ideologies who commit atrocities in ‘their name’ as those who suffer in terrorist attacks across the globe and thirty-one innocent Muslims, ranging in age from their late 60s to a couple’s unborn child perished during the attacks on the World Trade Centre which has been regarded as the epitome (in images) of apocalyptic Islamist extremism.

Problems still remain within the faith though in terms of projecting the religion of Islam. Those who seek a world united by under the auspiciousness of Islam under radical Islamist though disregard the inherent cultural and religious dynamics that vary from continent to continent, regions,  linguistics and the varying interpretations of the Qu’ran. The cultural differences are also key and something which Islamic extremists often fail to recognise.

The Japanese Army slaughtered millions of people in the name of the Emperor and the radical segments of Shintoism in the 1930s and 1940s.

Historically we can obtain such evidence from the most unlikely of sources; the Japanese.  The Shinto ultranationalists had a vision of a New World Order united under the rule of the Emperor. Thousands of people were slaughtered in the name of Shinto-ultranationalism and the name of the immortal emperor. His words were considered a deity amongst the Japanese people and applied violently as such against the non-believers.

It was an ideal for which many Japanese were willing to give their lives for and European, American and Chinese soldiers and civilians witnessed first-hand this fanaticism in the form of kamikazes, banzai charges, suicide bombing, the utter contempt in many cases for surrendering Allied soldiers and ritual suicides in the face of surrender.

The reality was that Pan-Asiatic (a united Asia) aspirations, an Asia unified under the roof of the Emperor could not be applied to the realities of the 20th century as Asians came to despise what they saw as Western based imperialism on the part of Japanese expansion; sheer hypocrisy and failure to integrate and understand the dynamics and economics of other cultures. For this cosmic and warped war proclaimed by fanatics, the Japanese people paid with their lives as did the country’s ability to develop as a democratic entity.

The fanaticism, the cultural war against Western dominance and lack of realistic goals is very much amongst those who proclaim global jihad.  Islamic extremists will inevitably encounter similar problems when it comes to their global war on Westernism and ‘infidels’. Images of global jihad are unrealistic as they fail to recognise the pragmatics of cultural and religious dynamics that differ from region to region.

Kidnap, torture and drugs are at the centre of the extremist Islamist doctrines which besmirch the  faith once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse and like Europe has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period. Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance. Christianity and Islam are entwined in mutual history and experience and the latter isn’t the only faith marred by conflict and controversy.

Islamic women protest flogging

Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and it is a serious problem, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against  the imposition of extremist doctrines on both individuals and societies.

Understand this the problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam.

Enlightened distance between mosque and state which could potentially (I say this with caution after the failures of the Arab Spring) lead to healthy, liberal democracies has yet to take hold yet and with the Pax Americana waning, exhausted by war against extremist Islamism and loathed by much of the world population the future remains uncertain. 

In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable Islamic terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of terrorism in name of Islam in 2013 alone.

New enemies, new problems for the United States

The weakening of the United States in foreign policy in both Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and thus far Ukraine ensures that both individuals and terrorists will have free-reign to act with more impunity than before. The consequences of 9/11 and Iraq are increasingly ominous as each year goes by and has brought American foreign policy under greater scrutiny then ever before in the 21st century. Nonetheless the Russians have and will continue to encounter problems with Islamic extremism no matter the result of the Ukraine crisis.

Tony Blair was mistaken in his recent speech that there is a global struggle between Western democracies and Islamic extremism. Such words only stoke the belief of the fanatics that their cause is just. In every conflict there are dangers which cut both ways based upon economic, political and religious motives. It is identifying the moderates on both sides of the spectrum which will ensure more questions are answered than are being solved at this current and most difficult of times. Inevitably this is a war which neither side can win.

Matthew Williams




Evading Responsibility: The United States and the Rwandan Genocide

“We are doing our calculations back here, and one American casualty is worth about 85,000 Rwandan dead.”

U.S officer at the Pentagon (1994)

Fact: The Rwandan genocide (1994) could have been stopped. This is no exaggeration. The U.S.A, the U.N, the French, and Belgium in-particular had the power with which to halt it even when it was inevitable by late 1993.

The Holocaust and the Armenian genocide are ones that in their day and age were difficult to gauge because the word ‘genocide’ did not exist and was therefore more difficult to define. In the 1900s it was merely known by Lemkin (the man who invented the term ‘genocide’) as ‘race murder’. The mass-slaughter of 800,000 – 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the 1990s should have, in the hailed age of modernity and the relative globalisation of the world in the post-Cold War era, been prevented. Instead the U.S.A continued its unnerving trend of having not intervened in genocide even though they knew it was occurring. Clinton did not have one emergency meeting concerning Rwanda in his foreign policy agenda.

The role of the international community changed my opinion on many things in the Western world. I don’t doubt I was a part of it and many stages but it was most certainly a serious problem for me that many parts of the Western world societies, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom suffer from; a culture of impunity. Naturally I do not suggest this should be prescribed to every individual in these specific countries.

My attitude of the United States was re-shaped (though I had heard of the controversy of Iraq, Afghanistan and more, yet not to such a detailed level) markedly by their role in the Rwanda’s plight in 1994 and beyond.  ‘Self-interest‘ or ‘American interests‘ shape their foreign policy and were so often repeated within the halls of the White House in the Rwandan debacle. I couldn’t fathom the possibility that such a selfish notion could come from a nation who believed in the ‘new world order’ after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Five years later the White House, without contest, let one million people die during the ‘Pax Americana’. Though ultimately the responsibility of the genocide lies with those who perpetrated it I found myself disillusioned; that the nation with the most powerful military and financial muscle of its time could not find the courage to halt the killings, that the European powers did nothing bar wagging their fingers at the extremist officials in the Rwandan government. The current United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers argues this with a stack of unmistakable evidence as does Romeo Dallaire (the Canadian U.N Commander of United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda or UNAMIR).

Now many of you who read may think “They didn’t know! How could they predict such an atrocity, a seismic event in human history?” I argue that they were not only well-informed, but also did everything within there power to not get involved and to uphold the moral rules of war that they were expected to obligate. After this clarified to me that the United States, and in-fact most big power players, largely don’t play by the rules of international law unless they feel it benefits them. The U.S.A, the most powerful military and intelligence gathering force on the planet were not only inactive during the genocide, they were embarrassed and ultimately suffered a diplomatic defeat at the hands of the alliance of extremist Hutu factions during and after the genocide. I do not entirely point the finger though at the United States. France, Belgium and the United Nations headquarters were also big players in failing Rwanda.

Build-Up of Evidence

The United States’ ability to collect, retrieve, and analyse evidence through the provision of intelligence is second to none.  For example as Samantha Power points out ‘no other atrocity campaign in the 20th century was better monitored…’ than the Serbs ethnic cleansing. Jon Western was apparently ‘sifting through some 1000 documents’ a day on reports from the front in Bosnia. 

They would certainly have had enough evidence during and even before the ‘Network Zero’ campaign that mass-killings were inevitable. Disorganisation and lack of cohesion between various nations, departments and institutions and not to mention ignoring facts proved to be a thorn in U.S defence that they couldn’t do anything about the genocide.

U.S Intelligence

  • 1992: Hutu Power had stockpiled eighty-five tons of weaponry
  • 1993: CIA study found that forty million tons of small arms had been transferred to Rwanda.
  • Several massacres of Tutsis had already occurred. Practice runs for impending genocide.
  • Extremist propaganda was rapidly increasing.
  • A U.N official had warned of an impending genocide (much like in the current crisis in the Central African Republic which increased intervention forces).
  • There was a U.S embassy in Rwanda so it was not like they would be misinformed of events occurring within the country nor would they be naive to the fact that France had close connections to the genocidal regime who they were supplying, training, and supporting politically. They had plenty of Rwandans within the embassy as well (who they kindly left to die when war broke out).
  • A government analyst in Washington predicted that the reigniting of conflict would result in the deaths of 1.5 million people.

International Commission of Investigation

The commission was created to investigate the increase of violence in Rwanda between 1992-1993 and they presented ominous evidence in March 1993.

  • Detailed the fact that 10,000 Tutsis had already been detained by Habyarinama’s regime and 2,000 murdered.
  • Detailed horrific crimes against humanity similar to the build up of violence in the former Yugoslavia.
  • Detailed the increase in racist and violent propaganda evoked by Hutu Power Radio and the Kangura (news letter) led by Hassan Ngeze, an entrepreneur recruited by the government including the Hutu Ten Commandments (pictured below)
  • Detailed the clear likelihood of genocide.

The ‘Dallaire Fax’

Romeo Dallaire, the commander of UNAMIR (the U.N’s mission to Rwanda had the odds stacked against him from the start. Despite the failure of his mission (largely due to United Nations headquarters and the Western powers stance) he adapted to and performed in circumstances of appalling moral pressure. He was given no preparation plans or details on the ground regarding the utmost seriousness of Rwanda’s predicament. The U.N, the U.S.A, the Commission, NGOs, no one provided him the key details of what he was really up against.

Despite a lack of manpower, institutional support, data, and logistical support he managed to come to conclusions fairly rapidly as to the intentions of several officials in Rwandan government. The ‘Dallaire fax’ (in the link below), sent to none other than Kofi Annan, detailed the information provided by the informant dubbed ‘Jean-Pierre’ (a former security member of the president) of the plans of Hutu Power in exchange for asylum for himself and his family. This included:

  • Death squad lists targeted at Tutsi politicians and Hutu moderates.
  • The location of weapon caches all over Kigali (Rwanda’s capital)
  • The training of Interahamwe militia to conduct killing of Tutsis at a rapid pace.
  • The existence of rogue factions in Habyarinama’s circle who opposed the Arusha Peace Accords.
  • The explicit intention of the Hutu extremists to target Belgian soldiers, kill them and force a U.N withdrawal. (Dallaire Fax)

Dallaire intended to take the initiative. Three things happened.

  1. Dallaire was told to not take action against the Hutu extremists in the face of overwhelming evidence of planned slaughter.
  2. He was instructed to tell Habyarinama and his inner circle the details of these discoveries (the men planning the genocide!)
  3. He was not to provide asylum to ‘Jean-Pierre’ and his family who had risked his life to provide the classified information.

The result was the loss of Dallaire’s initiative and ability to destabilise the plans of the Hutu extremists. The U.N did not want to risk the death of peacekeepers on the ground on the concerns of a cowboy commander. The U.N was on its knees in the wake of the campaign failure in Somalia and their were genuine fears that such actions and consequences of Dallaire taking action could result in the closure of the U.N. The U.N was a scapegoat of the U.S.A in the wake of their military disaster in Mogadishu (see film ‘Black Hawk Down’)

The combination of evidence that Dallaire lacked before with that of  his new found information in February 1994 pointed to clear  preparations for forthcoming mass-killings, ethnic cleansing and civil war, even if people including Dallaire weren’t clear that it would be genocide.

Reconnaissance Team 

According to Samantha Power, a reconnaissance team comprised of several members of the United States Marine Corps were secretly dispatched to Rwanda during the early stages of the genocide. They witnessed first hand the rapid pace at which people were dying on the ground and the gruesome way in which people were dying which according to the people they reported back to left them visibly shaken and horrified.

Direct first-hand evidence from the U.S military of slaughter on an unimaginable scale on top of hard-found evidence provided by different sources including the U.N ground commander, an International Commission, and various insiders including journalists which detailed, before and during the genocide evidence of methodical and planned killings.  No wonder people hold the U.S.A culpable in the Rwandan genocide for their inaction.

The Shadow of Somalia


Somalia was a disaster for the U.S.A and the United Nations. The timing of ‘Black Hawk Down’ could not have been more poorly timed for Rwanda in terms of U.N and U.S conduct in humanitarian affairs. The deaths of eighteen U.S servicemen and more U.N peacekeepers in Somalia meant that commitment to humanitarian missions was received coldly by U.S foreign policy makers. Effectively the U.N were made scapegoats by U.S policy failures. The shadow of Somalia severely strained relations between the U.N and the U.S and the latter decided that through the newly introduced ‘PPD-5’ document (created by Richard Clark pictured below) that humanitarian missions should involve zero risk and should only be of interest if the particularly country in question concerned U.S interests.

UNOSOM II and UNITAF were lessons that can be learned by states, global organizations and the United Nations in how not to conduct/enforce a peacekeeping population in a country ripped apart by civil strife. This is not simply eluding to the logistical difficulties facing the peacekeeping forces, nor the failure of the U.N to operate as a coercive unit (allowing the U.S to operate almost unilaterally in the stages before ‘Operation Gothic Serpent’), but also to the moral and humanitarian failure to the Somali people. I say moral failures under the illusion that the nation states and politicians contributing to the  peacekeeping forces entered Somalia considering the lives of their soldiers more valuable than the lives of the Somali people, an inexcusable idea to carry into a humanitarian operation.

This attitude pervaded operations in the Balkans and escalated in Rwanda where Romeo Dallaire, the commander of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) was told by a U.S official at the White House at the end of the Rwandan genocide that ‘it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans’ to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier and to have intervened in the butchery of eight-hundred thousand to a million Tutsi and Hutu moderates. That is roughly ten soldiers, whilst the Belgians insisted that, after losing ten soldiers in the early stages of the genocide conducted by Hutu Power, MRND and the Interahamwe that the lives of Rwandans were not worth risking one more Belgian soldier.

For more on Somalia and the events that occured read my post detailing the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu.


Yugoslavia: the war in the Balkans though mishandled by the United States, NATO and the EU was considered more important than Rwanda’s plight. Europeans mattered more than Africans, that was just the way it was to the majority of European and American policy-makers. This was similar of the international community and the media in general who were either preoccupied by Mandela’s triumphant election or the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Rwanda held no economic, strategic or political importance to the Western powers, a thing directly exploited by the genocidal regime in Rwanda.

Rules of Genocide Intervention

Madeline Albright played a key role in blocking the  United States role in Rwanda.
Madeline Albright played a key role in blocking the United States role in Rwanda.

The Americans deliberately, even against all the evidence on the ground of mass slaughter, refused to the use the term ‘genocide’. The use of the term would have meant they would have had to intervene under the U.N Charter, under moral obligation, and public pressure and indignity. This was a similar tactic used in the Balkans when the Serbs were methodically cleansing Muslims under the Bush administration. The rule of thumb was not to use the word ‘genocide’; it removed accountability to act. It paralleled  the killers tactics who used the word ‘work’ or ‘by-product of war’ knowing these words would not prompt moral outcry as they didn’t quite have the same ring as genocide.

They United States also played a key role with the rest of the U.N Council in reducing Dallaire’s ground-forces from 2,500 to 250 men.  Rwanda will be a stain on Madeline Albright’s career. At this precise point they opened the flood gates for increased killing and reduced even the capability of Dallaire’s forces to protect civilians, even though they could not engage the militia in armed combat. Dallaire and his brave 250 men saved thousands of lives simply because they bore the U.N insignia and wore the blue helmets and berets. Imagine what they could have accomplished with 2,500. The creation of UNAMIR II illustrated that the U.S.A and its allies had made a crucial error that affected events on the ground.

Pentagon’s Military Options

As the genocide got underway it was already clear the deployment of U.S ground forces was out of the question and that the U.S government already knew that hundreds of thousands would die. 

Yet they did nothing. They didn’t even consider indirect engagement in halting genocide via jamming Hutu Power Radio via aircraft. These broadcasts spread fear amongst the Rwandan populace, urged participation in the killing, shamed those who sought not to participate, and in many cases, specifically named and provided the whereabouts of those to be killed.  As such, the radio broadcasts were essential to the fulfillment of the program of extermination.

The answer was no. The Pentagon simply wanted the case of Rwanda to vanish, disappear amdist paperwork. Why did they rule out the option? The fueling costs were tallied at $8500 dollars. Essentially to the Pentagon, the some 8000 Tutsis (though not always killed as a result of the Hutu Power Radio tactics) who died each day were not worth $1.06. The latter sum was the amount required to save even one life. This was rejected on the May 5th so if you add the sum up of the remaining days of the genocide (which ended July 10th)  it would have cost them between $600,000 – $650,000, which is hardly a dent in the war machine of the United States when you consider the extent to which they invest in their military (trillions).

The excuse was that they had no secure area of operations, that mountainous terrain would reduce effectiveness, and that it was too expensive. They said the same thing of Bosnia, that it was a Vietnam waiting to happen because of its mountainous terrain, that air-support would not be effective in the Bosnian conflict. Yet when they changed their minds that turned out to completely break the back of Serb forces and alleviate pressure on civilians suffering in the siege of Sarajevo. Talk about double-standards and the fact that the RGF and militia were defeated by a small guerrilla army in the form of the RPF. Below is the Memorandum detailing inaction on Rwanda. The provision of supply by air would only benefit the men they were condemning.

Miscalculations and Embarrassment

Simply put, the U.S.A made grave miscalculations on the ability of the ‘Zero Networks’ to conduct an efficient genocide. They also embarrassed themselves both in the eyes of the extremists and their own abilities to gather and understand intelligence.

Firstly they did not seem to consider that the Hutu extremists knew more about the White House, the United Nations and their foreign policy than they did about them. The U.S, Belgium and in-particular U.N ground forces were impotent in the face of the RGF’s and Hutu Power’s gambit; that the death of U.N soldiers, particularly the strongest military units, would precipitate a withdrawal as it had done in Somalia in 1993. They targeted the Belgians, like the Somalians targeted Americans during their misguided raid on Mogadishu. They failed to assume that the sight of U.S soldiers being dragged across Mogadishu or the inactivity of U.N soldiers in Bosnia would not reach Third World T.V screens/ radios or that key Rwandan officials did not see the inherent weakness in peacekeeping operations during the 1990s.

Secondly the United States, like the French and a large sector of the international community, though stunned in the wake of the horrors of genocide were fooled again.  Rather than focusing on assisting the recovery of Rwanda itself they filled the coffers of the thousands of killers who had fled to the Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) who re-built the refugee camps into military bases. International aid workers on the ground, journalists and witnesses within camp (effectively hostages) saw the continued slaughter of Banyamulenge (ethnic Tutsis who lived in eastern Zaire) and citizens of Zaire. In effect they funded the continuation of genocide and helped kick-start a war which led to the deaths of over five million people in the 1st and 2nd Congolese civil wars instead of disarming the camps and capturing key perpetrators of genocide. Twenty years on the Democratic Republic of Congo is still as Joseph Conrad would label it our ‘Heart of Darkness’.

Even when the damage was done in Rwanda and their was clearly enough intelligence on the ground before and after the genocide of who the murderers were they were still out-witted and rendered incompetent by the killers. This reached such a level that Kagame and the RPA (Rwandan Patriotic Army) had to once again do the job themselves. They way in which they did it garnered much controversy especially with the killings at Kibeho.

Sheer underestimation based on underlying racist stereotypes and failing to notice the patterns on the ground were highly embarrassing for U.S foreign policy. Their conduct was particularly surprising given the topical nature of genocide in the United States. In 1993 the United States Government dedicated the ‘United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’ to the prevention of genocide and that Schindler’s List (released in November 1993), regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, received worldwide critical acclaim for its depiction of the Nazi’s genocide. There has never been a decent explanation for the indifference over Rwanda. After all they were all drowning in evidence that genocide was looming and of mass-atrocities occurring on the ground. Western governments – the US, UK, Belgium, France – continue to withhold plenty of information about events and it seems as if they have, albeit unsuccessfully, tried to sweep the issue under the carpet. 

Matthew Williams


Zero Networks

“Although I had seen war before, had seen the face of cruelty, Rwanda belonged in the nightmare zone where my capacity to understand, much less rationalise, was overwhelmed. This was a country of corpses and orphans…this was where my spirit withered”

Fergal Keane (Season of Blood, p.4)

File photo of a Rwandan boy covering his face from the stench of dead bodies

This weekend will herald twenty years since the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana which signaled the beginning of one of the world’s most devastating genocides in world history and modern Africa, exceeding the mass slaughter perpetrated in Burundi and rivaling that of Pol Pot’s killing fields in Cambodia and the Nazi Holocaust. The Rwandan genocide was ruthless and methodical, the most productive genocide in history and created by the Hutu extremists that dominated the heart of Habyarinama’s government also known as the akuzu or the ‘Zero Network’. The name paralleled  their objective; a Rwanda with zero Tutsis.

The genocide was as Romeo Dallaire suggests ‘the failure of humanity’ in every sense of the word. What separates Rwanda from the Third Reich and Cambodia is that it happened so quickly, the Nazi regime took years to implement its murderous policies. No one emerged with a sense of righteousness from the Rwandan Civil War. Mass-murder, devastation, and racism are the usual terms associated with genocide. With Rwanda however the terms injustice, cowardice and inaction, indifference and a marked culture of impunity also come into the equation on the part of the West’s response to genocide.

Let’s start with some facts courtesy of

  •  8,00,000-1,000,000 Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus were murdered in total in 100 days (April 7 – July 15 1994)
  • This is 20% of the country’s total population and 70% of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda.
  • 8,000 people were murdered on average a day
  • Around 333 people were murdered an hour.
  • 6 men, women and children were murdered every minute.
  • Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped (67% of women who were raped during the genocide were infected with HIV and AIDS.)
  • Phillip Gourevitch: ‘In 100 days, 800,000 Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus were exterminated by Hutu Power extremists, this equates to 8,000 people on average a day and 333 every hour. The Rwandan genocide (1994) was the most efficient mass killing since the use of the atomic bombs in 1945 and three times the rate of Jewish dead in the Holocaust.

It has become customary for those with less understanding of African history to think of the genocide in Rwanda as a sudden catastrophe, a simple product of ‘ancient tribal hatreds’, triggered by the plane-crash in which Rwanda’s president was killed. Far from that, the genocide was the climax of years of subjugation, isolation and violence towards the Tutsi minority decades before 6th April 1994. What I seek to explain predominantly is how the genocide occurred, how it was organised.

Rwanda formerly belonged to Belgium and operated as a colony in which the colonial masters exploited the local populace, carving society as they saw fit, re-moulding the delicate webs that was traditional African culture alongside the larger territory of Zaire (Now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The terms ‘Hutu and Tutsi’ were manipulated by the Belgian colonists. Originally socio-economic titles; for example a person with a lot of cattle would be called ‘Tutsi’ and when he became poor, he was called ‘Hutu’ so a person could be both ‘Tutsi’ and ‘Hutu’ in one lifetime. The story is well-known; the Tutsi’s were seen by the Belgians as the superior governing elite. The Tutsi’s were classified as the superior ethnic group and as a result were the only ethnic group that could participate in the colonial government. Such discriminatory policies created resentment as the classification/ identity cards that specified which ethnicity you belonged to. This form of identification which could not be changed split Rwandan society between Tutsi’s and Hutu’s, the latter in particular developing a pathological hated for the Tutsis. A culture of rapacious, barbaric rule by a Belgian elite which had absolutely no interest in developing the country or population was created. The resultant product was an unstable mainframe for Rwandan politics.

The Rwandan ‘revolution’ (1959-1962) prompted the beginning of recurrent genocidal violence which reached its zenith in 1994 under the extremist Hutu regime, the MRND and volatile ‘Hutu Power’.. The revolution witnessed the overhauling of the two-tier educational system that favoured Tutsi hegemony by Hutu nationalists who in the years proceeding the revolution had published the Bahutu Manifesto which proclaimed the need for liberation from both white colonialism and the Tutsi minority. The Bahutu Manifesto established two enemies (the Belgians and Tutsis) and distinguished the Tutsi as a separate race who had, with the assistance of Belgian power, established a political, social and economic monopoly at the expense of the majority.


The revolution that struck the shackles from the Hutu population was near sacrosanct and the extent to which some Hutu politicians would try to gain, consolidate and maintain the power seized by the social revolution were shocking before the eventual genocide. The machete, clubs (often embedded with sharps nails) or blocks of wood were cheap and preferred alternatives to dispose of and maintain control of  the Tutsi minority by the newly installed government. Effectively one repressive regime replaced another and massacres occurred frequently. Between 1957 and Rwandan eventual independence in 1962, thousands of Tutsi’s were slaughtered and over 100,000 were forced to flee the country most of whom became refugees in southern Uganda and would remain so largely until 1994. The RPF was formed by the refugees who had fled to southern Uganda by Paul Kagame. They vowed to return to their homeland.


Terms of distinguishing ‘genocide’ or simply put for now ‘genocidal violence’ was complicated in the Western world. After all when the term genocide is contemplated the first thought is of concentration camps, gas,  an almost industrial style conduct in the extermination of an ethnic group. No one even decided to admit that walking across your neighbour’s lawn and bludgeoning them to death with a club or hacking at them with a machete could be determined as genocide.

Rwanda was seen as the atypical failed African state in the Western media, the reality however was that Rwanda was one of the most codified, authoritarian and methodically ruled police states on the planet in the early 1990s under an organized regime which was prepared to make the transition to a genocidal one to remain in power after the RPF (Tutsis refugees who had been in exile since the rise of the Hutus) invaded Rwanda in the early 1990s. All levels of Rwanda’s society, the political hierarchy and the tools it used (the army, church, police etc.) combined to provide Hutu Power the springboard under which it could attempt to wipe out the Tutsi minority. Their were even ‘practice’ runs of slaughter done in 1993, kidnappings, the reduction of Tutsis economic rights and access to government and more. These were all springboards to eventual genocide.

Gasoline was thrown on the fire by the persistent political instability in Rwanda’s southern neighbour Burundi, which, like its northern brothers has experienced persistent socio-economic problems and conflict between Tutsis and Hutus but in reverese with the Tutsi government keen to supress the Hutu majority. Over 100,000 were massacred in a ‘selective genocide’ by the Tutsi army in 1972 who liquidated all educated Hutus. Hutu Power, the CDR and the MRND were given further ‘evidence’ by the murder of the newly elected Burundian president (A Hutu), the death of some 150,000 and the creation of 300,000 Hutu refugees at the hands of Tutsi hardliners that the Tutsi inyenzi (cockroach) in Rwanda could not be trusted. ‘Know that the person whose throat you do not cut now will be the one that will cut yours.’ was a statement issued by Mugesera, a MRND militant in 1992. The outbreak of violence  again in Burundi (1993)  was a short-term external factor that contributed to genocide in 1994, whereby many conservative Hutu factions united behind Hutu Power and the akuzu.

The setting for mass-violence was long term and building to a climax, the economic and social instability in both the 1980s and early 1990s severe. The final catalyst needed to start the descent into bloody violence, as with any major genocide in the 20th century, was war. In 1993 Rwanda was effectively bankrupt, awash with refugees and dependent on emergency food supplies.

The economic and social issues originally a problem to the sagging government of Habyarimana, were eased by the government party’s construction of a radical ideology which distracted the Hutu population from the politicians with whom they had recently been disenchanted.  The creation of the unholy ‘Hutu Ten Commandments’ has been seen as the worst excesses of ‘Hutu Power’ ideology and ‘draw direct parallels to extremist ideologies in other genocidal and racist regimes such as the Nuremberg Laws and the Bosnian Serbs’ 1992 edicts, which hoped to impose specific rules on the minority.

The international commission and a UN rapporteur who soon followed warned explicitly of a possible genocide in 1993. Added to this ominous prediction was the fact that Rwanda, though supposedly wanting a ‘peaceful’, multi-party government was quite literally overflowing with weapon imports be it grenades and Kalashnikovs to machetes. The government’s military expenditure alone was hardly a sign that the  country was paving the way for a transition towards peace.

As early as 1993 lists were being drawn up, stockpiles of weaponry were overflowing with the influx of machetes, grenades and rifles from abroad, and RTLM (Rwanda’s national radio) and the Kangura paper was spouting out racist, anti-Tutsi propaganda encouraging the destruction of all ‘cockroaches’ and the need to maintain ‘Hutu Power’ by whatever means necessary.

The emergence of the Interhamwe and the Impuzamugambi militia/paramilitary  trained by the army and to be used in ‘emergency’ situations would prove to be a harrowing reminder of the genocide. Dallaire described them as ‘clowns’, a group of men who looked to be dressed for a carnival or celebration, the reality however was far different.
Hutu Power rally

Armed with axes, machetes, clubs and a crude array of weaponry with potent banana beer in hand or a hate radio encouraging violence and trained by the elite members of the RGF; these men were the main tools under which the regime would conduct the slaughter of the Tutsi’s. It was not hard to encourage many of the young men who composed the Interhamwe and Impuzamugambi to join; idleness, unemployment, lack of opportunities or education and the continuum of poverty ensured that many were willing to find a new purpose in life. This would constitute violence through which wealth and land was obtained by plunder, wrested from the corpses of Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus.

The Presidential Guard were armed and trained by the French military and the akazu or the ‘Zero Network’ the real power behind Habyarimana’s throne, composed of Madame Agathe and a tight circle of family members and the military command including Bagasora (pictured above) ensured that the Western powers and particularly the United Nations mission in Rwanda under Dallaire remained on the periphery. They were also the key perpetrators and force behind the genocide. Dallaire was undermanned, poorly equipped, possessing an archaic Cold War peacekeeping policy, and fighting with the UN bureaucracy. Dallaire spent a good seventy per cent of his time fighting the organization he represented which was reeling in the wake of the disastrous U.N mission in Somalia (October 1993).

The timing of ‘Black Hawk Down’ could not have been more poorly timed for Rwanda in terms of U.N and U.S conduct in humanitarian affairs. The deaths of eighteen U.S servicemen and more U.N peacekeepers in Somalia meant that commitment to humanitarian missions was received coldly by U.S foreign policy makers. Effectively the U.N were made scapegoats by U.S policy failures. The shadow of Somalia severely strained relations between the U.N and the U.S and the latter decided that through the newly introduced ‘PPD-5’ document that humanitarian missions should involve zero risk and should only be of interest if the particularly country in question concerned U.S interests.

Effectively Dallaire had his hands tied on the ground and the very extremists he was fighting knew this. They knew that the death of U.N peacekeepers would force a withdrawal and that the likelihood of intervention in a country on the periphery of U.S interests was unlikely. Their targets were the missions’ best soldiers, the Belgians.

The introduction of a multi-party system, the assimilation of the RPF on the borders of Uganda into the political scene meant that men who were currently in power faced punishment and questions for their past crimes in the regime including Habyarimana. The latter’s signing of the Arusha Peace Accords were to be his death warrant as the men who had grown rich were not about to let go of their privileges gained under an abusive system of patronage and clientism.

The scene was set, the regime was armed, the U.N was hamstrung, and the economic and social conditions primed for mass-violence. Rwanda and the surrounding region was locked and loaded for self-destruction, all was needed was an incident to trigger a chain reaction. The assassination of Habyarimana, his aircraft shot down out of the sky by a rocket killing all on board, proved to be the catalyst for bloodshed.

With astonishing speed,  Bagasora and the Presidential Guard seized control and roadblocks were set up by the militia. Tutsi politicians and Hutu moderates were executed by death squads in the early hours of the 7th April and the extremist government seized power.

In the chaos of night, the presidential guard captured fifteen Blue Helmet troops from UNAMIR, who had been protecting Hutu moderate and  Prime Minister, Madame Uwilingiyimana (later executed). The ten Belgians were held hostage before being tortured, mutilated and hacked to death with machetes (the Ghanaians were released). Their gruesome deaths were the designed to cripple Western will for intervention and precipitate a U.N withdrawal and fatally weaken UNAMIR (the Belgians being the backbone of the armed forces of UNAMIR). France and Belgium proceeded to evacuate their civilians and eventually the U.N forces were reduced to a poultry token force of two-hundred and fifty men under the indignant Dallaire.

These evacuations were the cause of two very large controversies. The first is over whether the genocide could have been stopped at the outset by nearby Western troops. They abandoned the Rwandans begging for help on the roadsides and drove through the checkpoints at which Tutsi’s were being slaughtered. A soldier follows orders but  common sense that dictates military thinking should have halted the atrocities. Belgium and France disregarded a inherent value in war; saving lives and protecting civilians.  It was unforgivable conduct, unprofessional, and something you can still fail to comprehend to this day.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front under the command of Kagame warned that if the killings did not stop that war would resume, and on 8th April civil war restarted.

With 20,000 Tutsis already dead the violence escalated and engulfed the rest of Rwanda  as the agricultural genocide began. Those who were shot were the lucky ones and few and far between. The majority or deaths were down to the use of rudimentary crude methods such as machetes, axes, clubs, strangling, being buried alive and drownings. Neighbour murdered neighbour, wife murdered husband, husband murdered wife, child murdered parent, friends murdered each other, doctors killed patients and teachers killed students as the Hutu’s went to ‘work’ (their description for killing Tutsi’s). Many moderate Hutus were murdered as well even though the identity cards specified between who was Tutsi and Hutu.  After years and years of intermarriage, differentiation was vague at best. A paradise, supposedly where God went to sleep at night, had become the scene for genocidal carnage.

Opportunism to seize loot, land and belongings played in big role in the massacres in many parts of Rwanda. Nowhere was safe; schools and churches, ( particularly the latter were the main places were massacres occurred and so often it was the priests, whom the victims had placed their trust, that helped the Interahamwe conduct their bloody work under the eyes of God, bludgeoning and hacking their victims to death over several hours. It was a sickening, unimaginable betrayal of trust for those desperate for help.

Hunts over several weeks were conducted in the hills and swamps to find Tutsi’s in hiding and Hutu Power made good their promise that they send the Tutsi’s back to Ethiopia (their apparent ‘homeland’ before they inhabited Rwanda) as countless bodies clogged the rivers, the stench of rotting flesh all-around as corpses, if not thrown into the mass-graves, baked in the tropical sunshine. Mass-rape and sexual violence occurred, victims either being murdered, gang-raped by Hutu militia, kept as ‘comfort’ women, left with horrific injuries, pregnant, with psychological trauma or HIV and STIs. STIs and rape were used as a weapon of war to create divisions within the Tutsi community. Hundreds of thousands of children were slaughtered or maimed. They were seen as a key target by the militia to wipe our the future generation of Tutsi and as such were not exempt from the violent butchery.

All this occurred as the RPF slowly forced its way towards Kigali, the RGF spending too much time implementing the extermination of the Tutsi’s and eventually the RPF seized Kigali declaring the civil war at an end with hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians, government officials, militia and the army fleeing across the border to Zaire (The Democratic Republic of Congo) where they would continue their genocidal violence against Tutsi’s across the border.

By June, in just about one-hundred days 800,000 – 1,000,000 Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus were dead, millions more were refugees scattered across central Africa, Rwanda was the poorest country in the world, all infrastructure had been stripped, destroyed or pillaged, and Kigali and surrounding towns and countryside reeked of death. The world was finally stunned by the sheer barbarity that had consumed Rwanda. The descriptions by witnesses on all sides, journalists, U.N officials, politicians, soldiers, civilians, and the silence of the victims and the killers portray violence and brutality of a stomach turning level. These are two of hundreds of examples.

“A group of soldiers and Interahamwe attacked the church. They made holes in the back walls and threw grenades through the holes…..the Interahamwe then came in with their machetes and began massacring. At least one uniformed soldier continued to shoot into the church to protect the Interahamwe until they were right inside the church and had begun their ‘work’. The Interahamwe included women and young boys, about eleven to fourteen, carrying spears and sharpened sticks. They used these to beat a lot of children to death. When researchers from African Rights arrived at Ntarama two months later, the church was still full of decomposing corpses…every inch of the inside of the church was taken up by corpses…it was impossible to enter the church.” (Martin Meredith, State of Africa, p.514)

“When we arrived, I looked at the school across the street, and there were children, I don’t know how many, forty, sixty, eighty children stacked up outside who had all been chopped up by machetes….their mothers had heard them screaming and had come running, and the militia had killed them, too.  We entered the church. There we found 150 people, dead mostly. The Polish priests told us they had been incredibly well-organized. The Rwandan Army had cleared out the area, the gendarmerie had rounded up all the Tutsi, and the militia had hacked them to death.” Beardsley

What of the international community? Why did the world become bystanders and watch millions of people die in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo? Why did they blunder so badly when they did act upon the regional crisis produced by the Rwandan genocide? Why was the U.N mission a disaster, to the point that it left the commander Dallaire and many others suicidal, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and unable to comprehend the shocking behaviour of the international community? It was a combination of a basic lack of understanding of Africa, the bureaucracy within the United Nations, media focus upon the civil war in Bosnia, racism, the sheer lack of will across the Western spectrum and the usual assumption that the horrors that were unfolding in Rwanda were another African ‘mess’.

Strategically Rwanda held no particular significance economically or politically for the Western powers.  France’s involvement with the genocidal regime was controversial as seen by their role in ‘Operation Turquoise’. They have been accused of directly standing-up the genocidal regime before and after the genocide. They trained the Rwandan forces under Bagasora, the Presidential Guard, and directly assisted them in their fight against the RPF between 1990-1993, whether it be supplying weapons, training or direct combat. In the early days of the genocide they also provided transport for certain perpetrators of genocide to escape, for example the malevolent Madame Agathe. Washington fared no better in the debacle, refusing to use the term genocide under any circumstances as to avoid the need, under the U.N protocol, to intervene to halt the massacre. Belgium’s indifference to and eventual withdrawal from the mess it had created, courtesy of its legacy as colonial masters, was equally controversial. The Western world has to come under severe scrutiny, their inaction enough to suggest that morally they are certainly culpable as they so frequently claim to champion the halting of genocide, humanitarianism and moral righteousness.

Rwanda must be remembered, a warning for the ages that despite the horrors of the Holocaust, Cambodia, and more that man is still capable, even in the 1990s and 21st century, of astonishing cruelty and violence. Nearly one million Rwandans are testimony to this reality. Rest in Peace.

Matthew Williams

2014: A year of uncertainty or hope?


“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein

As we enter 2014, it is becoming ever more clear that the world is a fast-changing place, one increasingly more violent and less safe. As 2013 fades into distant memory, the snow in Volgograd is stained red with the blood of many (including a year old baby) killed in a series of terrorist attacks, a political statement from extremists in the neighbouring region of Chechnya, (though currently it is yet to be seen). It seemed a depressingly fitting end to one of the most uncertain years on the international stage, certainly bloody like most years in the 20th and 21st century, but more uncertain than most I remember.

Parts of Africa continue to be gripped by turmoil, and what has caught the attention of many is the increased Islamic extremism that is developing across the continent; some formed by Al-Qaeda, others by the Al-Shabaab, or some simply splinter groups inspired by the notorious terrorist organizations. Somalia, Mali, Nigeria were all torn by civil strife and insurgents, the former of course is of no surprise and I fear it may be too late to correct the course Somalia is on, thanks in part to our neglect of the country since the 1990s. Al-Shabaab has made its intent know, and has shown it has the capacity to affect not only internal affairs in Somalia that provides the foundations for continued instability, but also their capacity to affect the entire of East Africa. This was best illustrated by firstly their attack on Uganda in 2010, and this year illustrated by their attack in Nairobi which claimed the lives of seventy-two. This certainly gained more international attention and it seems it will not be the end of the Islamic insurgence. Mass-graves in the South Sudan, and the threat of genocide in the Central African Republic

The season of hope in 2011 and the onset of the Arab Spring is but a speck on the horizon, the assent of democracy in Egypt, a corpse and the strong people fighting for democracy, a better standard of living and human rights find themselves trapped between two warring factions, the military and the now branded ‘terrorist’ organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. The army certainly played a massive role in overthrowing Mubarak in 2011 and helped pave the way for Egypt’s democratic elections, however in 2013 their coup which removed the incompetent Morsi from power, came across so badly that it has left Egypt looking like a potential hot-bed for civil strife for years to come. Undoubtedly Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood blew a unique opportunity; to prove that an Islamist government could govern effectively and relive the economic stress of previous years. They failed, abusing their privileged position as a fairly elected government as seen by the seeming relapse in women’s rights and continued economic deterioration and Morsi proved foolish enough to call himself ‘a Pharaoh’. Undeniably the government had to go, but the manner in which it was removed has left it looking like a legitimate government has been unlawfully ejected from power, and the result has been that extremists within the party or outside of it have exploited the situation created by the army. They can argue that Egypt is now simply a military/police state, that their cause, which is starting to involve more radical tactics, is just. A just cause for an Islamist party and hard-liners within is very often a potent cocktail.

The Middle East is a black hole, Syria the epicentre for a potential regional catastrophe, at worst a very serious international war which nearly proved to be the case in late August 2013. Who knows what would happened if the U.S.A had decided to act unilaterally in response to the use of gas by the Syrian government (certainly it has the capacity to do so). I would never argue that the use of gas against soldiers or civilians is ever right, far from that it a war crime, a crime against humanity, the images streamed across the world the most horrific to behold. However the U.S.A has tied its own hands in the region by invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s without the approval of the U.N and international community. It has left Iraq in a mess, and let’s face it Afghanistan is not looking like it is paving the way to a prosperous and peaceful future. Quite rightly in my opinion the United Kingdom remained away from Syria, we have neither the capacity militarily or economic and financial stability to be involved in another Middle Eastern conflict, it is harder to talk about wars than they are to win and we should longer follow the policy of blindly following the U.S.A into a quagmire from which it very difficult to detach as seen in Iraq, a legacy left behind by Tony Blair. I certainly do not condone what is happening in Syria, the appalling slaughter, the Youtube footage of butchered children, the siege at Aleppo, the starvation of thousands, and the humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. What I find baffling is the lack of cohesion between the big players such as the United States, Russia and China to end the Syrian conflict and lift the tensions of the region, and they do have the capacity to act more effectively. It is too late for that now, the result is that the entire region has become a training ground for extremism, left, right and centre which has spilled over into Lebanon, Iraq (increasingly resembling a failed state), Yemen and Turkey, with the potential to drag in more dangerous players such as militant Israel, Iran and deteriorating Egypt. Outsiders including myself are finding very difficult to define who the enemy is in Syria, the shame being that the Free Syrian Army has splintered into radical factions, eclipsing those fighting for democracy against Assad’s government.

It is nearly one hundred years since the First World War began and many on-lookers are beginning to compare the Middle East of today to that of the Balkans in the early 1900s; a ticking time bomb, two sides building up, with the capacity to ravage the entire region and the consequences would be severe upon the international community. Certainly both regions are different and there were different reasons for conflict starting, a century divides the problem areas in question and they are undoubtedly hard to compare in many ways. History may not repeat itself, but it does certainly rhyme, the most worrying thing is that this is the 21st century, and mankind has developed the weapons and means by which in can wreak havoc and death upon itself more efficiently and effectively than in 1914. Machine guns in 1914 were the killing machines, now incomparable to drones, hydrogen bombs, nuclear devices and long-range missiles. I don’t usually predict events, but genocide and a nuclear device are most likely to be set off in the Middle East at the moment, I pray it doesn’t.

Mass graves in South Sudan as ‘The White Army’ threatens to run riot, the threat of genocide and religious conflict in the Central African Republic between Christian and Muslims, the growth of radical Islam and the continuation of civil war in Africa and the Middle East, and economic uncertainty across the globe, not to mention continued and increased tensions this year between China and Japan, not to mention frayed nerves over North Korea in March 2013; it certainly doesn’t bear well for 2014. We haven’t even mentioned the problems afflicting the Democratic Republic of Congo, development issues across the globe and the continued and pressing matter of combating the issue of HIV/AIDs, poverty and environmental problems. Attacking these basic social, political, economic and environmental problems are the most likely solution in the long-term to prevent the ascension of extremism. Certainly at this moment in time I am inclined to agree with the lyrics of ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath because sometimes I do not understand politicians and their sense in some matters. Power and greed, the need of the vote over the welfare of their people too often plague governments these days. Perhaps it is men in power who grew up in the Cold War era that still dictate politics today, the idea that there are two sides, that there are power blocs, acting in the irksome words ‘national interest’, which the United States has always used on an infuriating basis. Moral and muscular government is needed in these uncertain times, that transcend simple national interest and be focused upon international, worldwide ones.

I won’t say the cliché statement that we are all human and that everyone can be saved from poverty, death, and destruction, nevertheless a more positive focus on development, poverty would be a more constructive way of expending our money.  However this has to be done with realistic options and given the current situation in many areas of the world such a statement is not ready to be deployed and as such would be unrealistic and naïve for now. The world is like each individual. There are always problems, during the course of life whether you like it or not personal problems sometimes. Despair, frustration, anger, sadness, hard-work, anxiety , hopelessness, death, fear, cowardice and an endless array of conditions that stalk us continuously are simply things that will always exist whether we would like it or not. There will never be a time where we all sit down, that terrorists will skip merrily into the setting sun hand in hand with Obama and the West, good as gold friends forever, there will always be people that seek to harm us and commit violence. There is always a problem on an individual and collective basis and ultimately how to deal with and adapt to those problems is the bigger question. For example Nelson Mandela (very topical in recent months) did not find that his release from prison was it. In fact he found that it was one of many simply stating that there will always be more mountains to climb, those being combating the legacy of apartheid and both social and economic problems in South Africa. Certainly the world is approaching/at a juncture and is facing severe problems and how individuals, nations, the international community act at this divide in the road is of great interest.

Matthew Williams

The Day of the Rangers: Ghosts of Mogadishu


The bloody events witnessed since the scenes in Kenya’s Westgate Mall re-opened the debates of the well-known but emerging threat of al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization and in my mind summed up the problems left behind in Somalia twenty years ago by the United States and the United Nations peacekeeping forces.

Twenty two years of civil war and counting since the ousting of Siad Barre in 1991, descent into inter-clan, famine and political warfare that is at times incomprehensible to understand on the diplomatic table, Somalia is the standardized example of reference to a failed state. It was from this lawlessness that pervaded Somalia, that al-Shabaab emerged, and the chaos that was permitted to continue was allowed by none other than the Western powers in the 1990s who turned their back on Somalia, unable to confront their own incompetence in handling the humanitarian crisis all those years ago.

This can directed in particular at the United States and the Secretariat General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Secretary General of the United Nations) who failed to understand the civil war, Somalian culture and its history which, when allied with the inflexible bureaucratic nature within which the U.N operated at the time, would lead to unparalleled consequences for the continent of Africa.

On the evening of October 4th 1993, the sun set ending a two day battle of intense brutality, blood and death in the streets of Mogadishu. This was nothing new, for several years now Mogadishu had been a battleground fought over by warring gangs, illegitimate governments, militia and clans reducing one of the most beautiful cities in Africa to rubble. This time however the context and impact of the day reverberated across the world. Eighteen U.S soldiers were dead, eighty more were critically wounded or suffering and between 1,500 – 3000 Somalians littered the streets of the capital.

Operation Gothic Serpent though a tactical victory, was a Pyrrhic victory, the cost too high for the Clinton administration to tolerate and for the U.N’s strategic and humanitarian objectives. The result was the consequential failure of ‘Operation Restore Hope’ and UNOSOM all of which had been supported by the previous President Bush in December 1992 and the withdrawal of all peacekeeping forces. Following the battle, President Clinton ordered for a full withdrawal and that all military actions to be ceased on October 6th. Clinton called for a full withdrawal by 31st Match 1994. Conforming to this request, most troops were out of the country by March 1994. U.S actions promptly gutted UNOSOM resulting in the abandonment of the peacekeeping mission under Chapter VII of the U.N Charter.

It is undoubtedly clear the sheer magnitude of the task facing the U.N in addressing the humanitarian crisis and civil war in Somalia. Operations to force a political agreement between rivals warlords, gangs and clans was an impossible task, the result of the U.N’s bureaucratic peacekeeping structure which had been moulded by Cold War, rather than post-Cold War situations. The U.N was not simply ready to deal with this sort of a conflict. As Mary Harper contends ‘one of the most important is that the Somali clans…were fluid and ambiguous’ the clan serving as a formidable obstacle to the formation of a stable, modern nation-states.

‘Alliances between these almost infinitely divisible groups shift frequently, making it very difficult for outsiders to understand what is going on. A seemingly united clan can split into two or more sub-clans, which turn on each other’

Each country in Africa maintains different internal relationships and Somalia’s borders are simply a European carving, and although the emergence of al-Shabbab has somewhat diluted the concept of the clan theory, it remains an important consideration to how Somalia operates. Certainly in 1991-1993, many officials, namely Boutros Ghal,i clearly illustrated the lack of understanding of this system as did U.S policymakers. Mohamed Sahnoun dismissal as head of UNOSOM in October 1992 represented this, a month before the UN and Western powers, unnerved by the horrific stats (300,000 dead by famine, 3000 dying a day), the continued seizure of food aid, and the death of NGO and U.N officials enforced more aggressive policies towards aggressors and neutrals on the ground .

Sahnoun in difficult circumstances worked assiduously to gain the trust of different fiefdoms earning the respect of both Somalis and the international aid community. Martin Merdith quotes Somali Hussein Mursal who praised Mohamed Sahnoun; ‘He was the first who came and saw there were alternatives, he was the first to meet the elders of the Hawiye clans, the neutral clans, who are not involved in the fighting…He used to reason like Somalis.’

Yet despite the progress he made in securing the trust of the Somali factions, he was dismissed by Boutros Ghali for his complaints that the United Nations and the international community were failing to heed the very real humanitarian plight in Somalia. Pragmatism and important small details, the most important link to understanding the cobweb of Somali culture and society was replaced for an overbearing grandiose approach preferred by Boutros-Ghali, the latter of which lacked the personnel, resources and realism to be deployed successfully and without  excess casualties. This was reflected in forceful intervention, the deployment of over 28,000 troops in Somalia in response to plight of thousands of refugees seen starving on CNN.

All in all only 10,000 lives were saved by the US forces, and their response to the murder of twenty-six Pakistani U.N soldiers significantly escalated their direct involvement in the conflict which they did not understand. Their blame for the massacre fell on Aideed and the hunt culminated in the events at Mogadishu in October, the U.N and Western powers now regarded by neutral Somalis as an enemy rather than an ally, particularly after indiscriminate bombing and attacks on towns by U.S Cobras.


After the battle of Mogadishu, an daylight raid which had culminated in the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters, the deaths of eighteen and the wounding of seventy three U.S soldiers. The Clinton administration decided that enough was enough, that another Vietnam and the gruesome parading of dead U.S soldiers on the streets of Mogadishu was a step too far in humanitarian intervention. Vietnam for starters concerned solely American interests in containing ‘communist expansion’ and secondly what kind of humanitarian intervention isn’t expected to make sacrifice for a greater cause.

Finally, the parading of dead American soldiers on CNN for the whole world to see, a brutal act carried out by angry mobs, the hatred shown towards the Pakistani soldiers who were mutilated and butchered, the hostility towards the U.N and American soldiers was a direct result of their inability to conduct operations in a humanitarian and pragmatic way.

‘The Day of the Rangers’ was celebrated by Somalis as the day rag-tag militias won the battle against the world’s most powerful army leaving them and their peacekeeping forces fleeing in humiliation. Boutros-Ghali veiled over tiny details replacing them with grand ideas that simply could not work in civil war, which to be fair was a product of the lack of understanding of the new post-Cold War period.

UNOSOM II and UNITAF are lessons that can be learned by states, global organizations and the United Nations in how not to conduct/enforce a peacekeeping population in a country ripped apart by civil strife. This is not simply eluding to the logistical difficulties facing the peacekeeping forces, nor the failure of the U.N to operate as a coercive unit (allowing the U.S to operate almost unilaterally in the stages before Operation Gothic Serpent), but also to the moral and humanitarian failure to the Somali people.

I say moral failures under the illusion that the nation states and politicians contributing to the peacekeeping forces entered Somalia considering the lives of their soldiers more valuable than the lives of the Somali people, an inexcusable idea to carry into a humanitarian operation. This attitude pervaded operations in Bosnia and escalated in Rwanda where Romeo Dallaire, the commander of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda), was told by a U.S official at the White House at the end of the Rwandan genocide that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier and to have intervened in the butchery of eight-hundred thousand to a million Tutsi and Hutu moderates.

That is roughly ten soldiers, whilst the Belgians insisted that, after losing ten soldiers in the early stages of the genocide conducted by Hutu Power, MRND and the Interahamwe that the lives of Rwandans were not worth risking one more Belgian soldier. France’s role in the Rwandan genocide was not even bystander, they were strongly aligned with (and still refuse to admit) the Hutu-led government of Juvenal Habyarimana arming and training the Presidential guard and supplying the militia with the means to exterminate the Tutsi’s and Hutu moderates.

The disaster of Mogadishu had terrible consequences for Rwanda

A startling change in attitudes and an eye-opening day once again into how the U.S.A conducts it foreign policy repeatedly emphasizing a need to adhere to ‘national/self-interest’, with a narrow minded attitude of how to solve a civil conflict and divided societies whether it be Vietnam, Somalia, Rwanda (the latter of which the U.S was non-existent) and even as far back as it attitude to the Turkish committing atrocities against the Armenians in World War 1. Hutu Power in Rwanda before the genocide calculated that the Western powers would not act and would withdraw under the illusion that their soldiers’ lives were too valuable to sacrifice in the name of protecting civilians and humanitarian causes. These subtle calculations were all done under the events of Mogadishu, the previous failures in Somalia by the U.N and Western powers and the reaction of the U.S.A to the loss of their men, which who I like to add were lost under tough conditions doing their duty.

Forty-four plus dead in the UNISOM and as Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the U.N) branded the ‘Shadow of Somalia’ had shaped this new attitude, the idea that many in the developed world act in a way that indicates that our lives are worth more than the lives of other citizens and people on the planet. This putrid notion unconsciously pervaded the international community by enlarge and has hampered many of the U.N’s operations since.

The warlord era in Somalia was replaced by the emergence of  terrorist cells such as Al-Shabaab, which after the 2006 U.S sponsored Ethiopian invasion declared its presence at an international threat after killing seventy in an attack in Uganda (2010) and an almost equal amount mere weeks ago. The emergence of al-Shabaab and the continuance of twenty three years of civil war, now affecting the entire region is once again another dark legacy left by western politicians in Africa in the 1990s.

This has left them (and rightly so) with their hands tied when it comes to negotiating settlements in former regions and influencing African politics who they first exploited as overlords and then abandoned as humanitarian operators in their hour of need. Somalia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo joined the other countries in Africa that continued to be ignored by the world powers in the 1990s. Though they did not take part or bear a large part of the responsibility for the deaths of millions of Somalis, Rwandans and Congolese civilians.

Matthew Williams