Palestine’s Autumn Storm: The Silent Intifada

Palestinian Throwing Stone

The shadow of Operation Protective Edge looms large over the fading weeks and months of 2014. It has in-part encapsulated the horrors and revolutionary changes sweeping the Middle East which John Simpson has correctly coined as ‘The Summer of Blood’. More importantly it has opened up a new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new intifada and how it evolves and ripens in both the short-term and long-term should be of important consideration to current policy-makers and the international community who wish to see the seeming impasse between occupier and repressed narrow.

The occupied territories have been under the Knesset and the Israeli Defence Forces’ control since  1967 (depending on your standpoint) in a conflict that has in truth been ongoing since the 1920s if not earlier. Nearly a century later in October 2014, there are mummers that the ‘third intifada’ is brewing in the streets of Jerusalem. This is a mistake. The third intifada began months ago with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers (June 2014) and the immolation of a young Palestinian boy at the hands of right-wing Israeli extremists both events signalling the beginning of protests and riots in the West Bank and the 2nd Gaza War between Israel and Hamas.

Operation Protective Edge has left Israel open to accusations of serious war crimes.

The summer campaign  left 2,189 Palestinians dead (of whom 1,486 are believed to be civilians, including 513 children) and has stoked the flames of the the conflict.

Amnesty International have accused “Israeli forces of having ‘brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes‘ while the UN has accused Israel of serious war crimes in their indiscriminate targeting of the Gaza Strip. Meticulous evidence on the ground conducted by humanitarian organisations, NGOs, papers and journalists indicate this. The Russell Tribunal in Brussels produced an even more disturbing report:

“In terms of the crime of incitement to genocide, the tribunal received evidence ‘demonstrating a vitriolic upswing in racist rhetoric and incitement’ during the summer of 2014. ‘The evidence shows that such incitement manifested across many levels of Israeli society, on both social and traditional media, from football fans, police officers, media commentators, religious leaders, legislators, and government ministers.”

The Gaza campaign in the summer of 2014 was the extreme misapplication of the ‘iron wall’ doctrine which includes indiscriminate targeting policy that affects civilians as well as militants on the ground and the brutal Hannibal Protocol which is initiated should a Israeli soldier be kidnapped.

The casualties were avoidable. The IDF as quoted by Haaretz ‘introduced a document defining rules of engagement for the military during combat in areas of civilian population. It incorporates lessons gleaned from Operation Cast Lead’ where similar charges of war crimes were brought up against the Israeli military as well as in the 2006 Lebanon War.

The campaign has also, courtesy of the Israeli military, refocused the international community’s attention on a subject which had taken a back-seat to the violent shake-up of the geo-political shape of the Middle East in recent years.

Originally the violence appeared to have died down after the withdrawal of the IDF (26th August, 2014). However the settlement expansion as much as anything has provoked continued instability and drawn fresh condemnation as several nations question Israel’s seriousness in applying a successful peace-process (not for the first time). Israel’s policies clearly illustrate they do not want a just peace.

As with the second intifada, the violence continues to grow in the heart of Jerusalem, the protests and riots of which originated in the Shu’fat district. Significant events have already occurred which include a Palestinian ramming his car into a group of passengers waiting in the light rail station which killed a 3-months old baby and injuring several others (22nd October, 2014).

This was swiftly followed by the shooting of a 14 year old Palestinian-American in protests two days later and the counter-terrorism unit killed a Palestinian man suspected of trying the night before to assassinate a leading agitator for increased Jewish access to the site.

The state of crisis the Holy City finds itself in has led to repeated closures of the Holy Sites the latter of which was central (some argue), along side the collapse of Camp David, to sparking the second intifada in the early 2000s and let us not forget that the catalyst for the first intifada was a road accident in the Gaza Strip in the late 1980s.

According to Benjamin Netanyahu, the latest car attack (5th November, 2014) which left many Israelis injured and one policeman dead, is ‘a direct result of incitement’ by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. This was hours after renewed clashed occurred at the Holy Sites and the resultant shooting of the driver has resulted in more riots across the Old City, Shu’fat and Sheikh Jarrah. On 18th November four Israelis were  killed and eight injured as two men armed with a pistol, knives and axes attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue.

Thus far the situation remains bottled up in the capital, however it is likely that in the coming weeks and months the chaos will ignite the rest of the region as the spontaneous situation worsens.

Netanyahu’s claims are somewhat contentious particularly as criticism of the continued expansion of illegal settlements (a key factor undermining any potential peace proposals) has been occurring during these protests. Mere days ago ‘an Israeli government committee on 2nd November advanced plans for 500 settler homes in East Jerusalem, an official said, in the face of disapproval from the United States at construction on occupied Palestinian land.’ This follows the proposed construction of 2,610 homes  the Givat Hamatos area which was disclosed by the activist group, Peace Now in early October.

The Israeli government by deliberately pursuing a policy of establishing ‘facts on the grounds’ is worsening the situation on the ground as the current semi-violent situation continues to deteriorate. This is inevitably tied with the fact that the Likud’s ‘Greater Israel’ project, its settlement project, its attempts to be rid of ‘the Palestinian question’ are doomed.

Israel faces a demographic crisis unless it implements a fair-two state solution. The Times of Israel itself states the facts (February 2014): ‘Statistics indicate there are 6.1 million Jews and nearly 5.8 million Arabs living in the Holy Land, threatening Israel’s Jewish character like never before.’

The refugee problem, which has remained unsolved since the Jewish-Palestinian civil war in 1947 is hitting home hard as reflected in the increasingly draconian immigration policies and the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank. Even Shlomo Gazit, the military man who oversaw the occupation with Moshe Dayan and helped construct the ‘Operational Principles for the Administered Territories’ (which include direct instructions for ethnic cleansing in Fundamental Guidelines (2) and (3)) in October 1967 is now stating an occupation conducted in its current form cannot work anymore.

The issue will not disappear, Jerusalem and the holy sites as always is an important stumbling block in the peace process, but the crux of the conflict is the refugee problem. It will be the cause of future war. Part of this problem is the state of mind surrounding the refugee problem. Many, including protesters abroad staunchly believe that everything will be returned to the Palestinians.

The reality is simple, and it pains me to say this, traditional Palestine is gone, it is unrealistic to assume everything will be returned and to some extent the PLO accepted that in 1988. The 500 or so towns and villages they once presided in are destroyed or built upon and the Israeli state is not going to vanish into thin air. This mindset has to change, they have to compromise. So as long as the Israelis and Palestinians cannot come to terms on the issue of ‘right of return’ and the ‘claims of return’ the peace process is doomed and future conflict beckons which will benefit neither party.

The Palestinians (now Israeli Arabs one of whom was shot dead during current protests, Kheir Hamdan, 22) who stayed behind, after events in 1947-1948 forced around 750,000 Palestinians to flee, have grown from 150,000 to 1.2 million. This is 22% of the population that suffer horizontal social, economic and political inequalities will increase and with the introduction of separate buses for different ethnic groups, the moves by the Knesset to ban Palestinian political parties, and other inflammatory legislative acts in recent years this equates to one thing (if it hasn’t already); apartheid.

Synagogue Attack

Something invariably has got to give as poverty, hunger, deep horizontal social inequalities that would have Nelson Mandela turning in his grave, racism, and the continued growth of the Palestinian population threaten to construct as Mark Fiore quotes ‘a little Mogadishu’ not just on Israel’s doorstep in the form of the Gaza Strip, but also amongst Israeli civilians. Demographics are not on Israel’s side and they certainly won’t be in the future.

Constant insecurity, revolt, and violence is all that Israel faces unless it compromises. This can only occur under intense pressure from the international community as Israeli politics plunges further and further into right-wing territory.

True, the Palestinians have squandered opportunities for a settlement of which the current generation would only dream of. Israel for all it cruel projects and policies in regard to the ‘occupied territories’ has been willing to compromise in the past. The Palestinians unwillingness to compromise (in some circumstances rejected under very fair pretenses) and the current divisions in Palestinian politics between Hamas (who are unwilling to recognise the state of Israel), Fatah, and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have played into Netanyahu’s hands and used to justify the unjustifiable policies of occupation.


Accelerating events on the ground are inevitably attached to how the world governments react to them. These illegal settlement expansions, alongside the bloody summer slaughter and ugly racist (and occasional genocidal) incitement, has increasingly isolated Israel from the international community further. Sweden’s historic decision to recognize Palestine and the United Kingdom’s symbolic non-binding vote, supported by 274 MPs with 12 voting against are important. Sweden became first EU member in western Europe to make the move, the new government stating that ‘It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, we hope this will show the way for others’.

What of the question of the contradictions in U.S – Israeli relations? The Obama administration’s relationship with Israel seems to have a hit turbulence in recent weeks the former stating that Israel faces isolation in the wake of its inflammatory settlement policies in October. Obama has also threatened to drop the veto at the United Nations Security Council that America uses to block anti-Israel measures, in response to continued rejection of US demands   regarding the Middle East peace process as the situation deteriorates on ground and abroad for Israel. The rhetoric is  unusually severe Josh Earnest stating in early October:

“The United States is deeply concerned by reports the Israeli government has moved forward with planning for settlements in a sensitive area poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but with the very Arab governments with which Netanyahu had said he wanted to build relations.”


The tensions seemed to have also boiled over in celebratory-esque tit for tat insults being flung between the Knesset and the White House. An official in the White House was reported to have called Netanyahu chicken s**t, whilst The White House refused to give Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon an audience with Vice President Joe Biden the former of who had previously accused John Kerry of being “messianic and obsessive” in regard to the latest failed peace-talks. John Kerry. The U.S Secretary of State was also forced to apologize for stating behind a closed-door meeting that Israel actively becoming an “apartheid state”.

However it no secret that U.S rhetoric is still being undermined by its continued logistical support for Israel. As Glen Greenwald puts it who covered the unique story of Edward Snowden; “Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise though as both the United States, the UK and others frequently supply Israeli Armed Forces with weaponry (the most prominent the Iron Dome missile shield) alongside intelligence. The latter in-particular (according to James Bamford of the New York Times) under the jurisdiction of Unit 8200 was accused by veterans ‘of startling abuses….that…the information collected..’ was being used ‘against Palestinians for “political persecution.”‘ Israel alongside the United States reputation is badly affected by the NSA scandal.

Historically the West has used Israel as a valuable buffer both in the Cold War era against the Soviet Union ideological expansion and post-9-11 era against Islamic extremism/conducting military operations in the Middle East. However it is clear that amidst an ongoing and growing Middle Eastern crisis surrounded by enemies such as Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, jihadist movements such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, strategically the long-term conflict with the Palestinians is unfeasible (even if they do possess nuclear weapons).

A rogue Israel is the last thing the Middle East or the West needs right now. Certainly the need for a strong Israel is a necessity in the regional crisis but not a volatile one that acts with relative impunity. Clearly the patience of the international community is waning as it continues to become clearer and clearer that support for Israeli belligerence, war crimes and policies based upon ethnic cleansing is counter-productive in the face of changing public opinion, particularly in the European states.

How should the West react to the current intifada? With other matters consuming the Middle East, it will be one amongst many grave issues plaguing the Middle East, but it must be regarded as equal importance as the war against ISIL.

The Palestinians methods of resistance are currently semi-violent, they have not evolved into conventional modern warfare. The latter is inevitably a battle they will lose, however the images of Israeli police and soldiers repressing and killing largely unarmed protesters and civilians will serve to further add to the horrific pictures that have emerged from the Gaza Strip. These will ruin the country’s already tarnished reputation. How the fragmented Palestinian leadership and Hamas also react to current events is of equal importance if peace talks are to come about in the future.

The Palestinians must break the bottle-neck in Jerusalem and embark on a massive intifada (largely without weapons) and the illegal settlements must be boycotted by the international community as they are direct breach of international law. A local issue must become a regional dispute.

As Ahron Bregman states in his new book Cursed Victory: The Occupied Territories ‘the international community and particularly the U.S will have to be tough with Israel and when necessary bribe it into compromise…that if Israel, Jordan  Egypt can come to compromise…something previously unthinkable then so can Israel and the Palestinians.’

The influence of the intifada on world opinion will and has to be nurtured by the increase of both Palestinian resistance and attacks and the repression of Netanyahu’s coalition government which will lead to substantial international pressure. As of now events must be allowed to hold course as trying to establish a cease-fire or call to the peace table would only benefit the Israelis as a stalling tactic to restore control.

The strong party (in this case Israel) must have its arm twisted at the right moment by external and internal influences if the partition plan/two-state solution  is to work. Timing is everything.

Matthew Williams


France’s Dance with Death in Rwanda

France has a both tempestuous and intriguing relationship with Africa. To be fair most former colonialists do given the brutality of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in the late 19th century and early 20th century. They are the most frequent interventionists in African conflict as we have seen in Mali and the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. France’s role in the Rwandan genocide still sparks controversy to this very day as relations between the two countries appeared to drastically sour after Kagame’s verbal condemnation of the French government who supposedly propped up Habyarimana’s genocidal regime known as the akuzu or ‘Network Zero’. 

Belgium created the unstable mainframe for Rwandan politics during its colonial rule of the country, the United States and United Nations did nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence that genocide was occurring but France were intimate allies with ‘Network Zero’. They bear the greatest mark of shame out of all the Western powers in the horrors of 1994. Kagame’s criticism is correct, but he is not without controversy funding a proxy war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nevertheless numerous authors including Daniela Kroslak and Andrew Wallis, journalists and high ranking officials such as Romeo Dallaire have given damning verdicts of France’s role.

Such a large group with such varying backgrounds cannot be mere coincidence. The facts are there; France provided the regime with diplomatic, military, and financial support. Their fingerprints are all over the place and though they may not have directly contributed to the slaughter on the ground they moulded a genocidal state. If they were so keen not be branded as the Machiavellian sculptor why does Madame Agathe (Mrs Habyarimana), regarded as the real power behind the presidential throne and central figure in the akazu, still reside in France and has not been long ago condemned as a war criminal or brought those they ‘mistakenly’ supported to justice?

Let us rewind back to 1987, seven years before the genocide. This was the year the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), originally a coalition of factions opposed to Habyarimana’s regime, was consolidated by a group of Tutsi refugees in southern Uganda.

Kagame 1990-1994 and the RPF were seen by the French as terrorists
Kagame 1990-1994 and the RPF were seen by the French as terrorists

The rise of the RPF coincided with another significant event. The previous year (1986) a thirty-nine year old began his role as adviser to his father on African affairs in the French government. His name was Jean Christophe Mitterrand, son of Francois Mitterrand (the former president of France). His appointment to the African Unit gave him direct access to all Francophone African state leaders and likely an understanding of inner circles of power in which they operated.

The seventeen francophone states in Africa constituted the only region in the world where France retained enough influence to support its claims to medium power status’ (Meredith, State of Africa, p.493) and its position as a major power on the international stage. France is one of the key five members on the United Nations Council. France like most significant Cold War powers did not want to lose influence in global politics and under such circumstances where Cold War ideologies, though dying in the 1980s, still held sway in halls of power and pervaded the psychologies of many politicians. The RPF (formed by commanders once loyal to the English speaking Uganda’s state) constituted a major threat to this status

The French in the late 1980s and 1990s seemed to be gripped by fears of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ influence in Africa and jealously guarded both her economic and cultural interests. The paranoia of this British neo-imperialism and the geo-political threat to France’s hegemony in Africa had to be dealt with even if it meant turning a blind eye to human rights abuses during the time of tyrants whereby political power and economic wealth remained in the hands of the few during the 1980s.

‘This included Habyarimana and his powerful Hutu clique (MRND) which had made considerable financial benefits under an abusive system of patronage and clientism since  Habyarimana seized power in 1973. In 1975 France had also signed a defence pact with the Rwandan government. Jean Christophe Mitterrand was to head operations to maintain and enhance relationships with the Francophone states in Africa. These leaders were quick to try to curry favour from his department which Mitterrand in turned into an extensive network of personal connections which in turn improved his ability to influence strategy across Africa. Naturally he would hold the ear of his father. Alistair Cole highlights some interesting facts about Francois Mitterrand’s political power:

“Portrayals of Francois Mitterrand as a republican monarch have claimed support for their theses by focusing on his use of patronage, especially in his promotion of members of his own family to prominent positions….which are informative of his political persona.”

Habyarimana similarly held a tight family based power structure from his home region of Gisenyi in northern Rwanda dominated by Hutus and it is a well-known fact that he developed a close friendship with Jean Christophe Mitterrand and Francois Mitterrand. Similar power structures equaled similar interests and the relationship between Jean Christophe and President Habyarimana was not solely a friendship, but a business partnership as Dallaire notes when he met military general Lafourcade  and his staff officers in Goma during Operation Turquoise (Dallaire, SHWTD, p.450). Jean Christophe, as did his father, had plenty to lose on a potential RPF victory in both their first invasion in 1990 and their second invasion in 1994 during the genocide.

Even Habyarimana’s death was coated in his strong relationship to the French President. His plane (a private Falcon 50 French-built super mid-sized, long-range corporate jet) was a personal present from Francois Mitterrand. It was shot out of the sky and sparked the Rwandan genocide. It should also be noted that Jean Christophe was inherently corrupt and greedy politician who given thirty months on probation for tax evasion and was imprisoned under allegations of complicity of arms traffic.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand

 The first invasion of the RPF (October 1990) sucked France into the genocidal quagmire as they deployed French soldiers to uphold the defence pact (signed in 1975). These included the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, the 2nd French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment and 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment; a considerable show of strength for a government claiming to be merely protecting French nationals in Rwanda.

Military support was also included considerable logistical support to the Rwandan Government Forces and financial support for Habyarimana’s sagging regime. The RPF guerrilla army (4,000 strong) was repulsed by the combined forces and the repercussions of the invasion were to be fatal for thousands of Tutsis, thanks to Operation Noroit. Gerard Prunier commented that their was little hesitancy in sending troops to Rwanda in 1990, that when ‘Habyarimana telephoned the Africa Unit to speak to Jean-Christophe Mitterand….he was reassured “We are going to send him a few boys, old man Habyarimana. We are going to bail him out” were Jean-Christophe’s words with an added wink…’ (Meredith, State of Africa, p.494)

This bail out mentioned was that had it not been for French intervention Habyarimana’s regime, already on its knees during a turbulent 1980s, would have fallen. Instead it was allowed to endure and use the ‘Tutsi’ invasion as a pretext towards extermination and consolidate its weakening power base, unifying opposition opposed to Habyarimana’s monopoly against the Tutsi minority.  France aided this consolidation of power and tightened the security of a regime making a transition to a genocidal one to remain in power.

It is highly unlikely that France did not possess vast quantities of information that detailed the vast human rights abuses of the Rwandan population. Thousands were detained by Habyarimana as political repression escalated and hundreds of Tutsis were slaughtered; a reaction to the invasion of the RPF in 1990. Also such a closeness to the regime would likely mean that the Africa Unit understood very the well the nature of Habyarimana’s and his compatriots ideologies and personal views on Tutsis.

This is where French complicity began to take shape. The problem in this debate is that it is difficult to garner whether the French government either made a serious error of interpreting the situation in Rwanda, turned a blind eye to the atrocities of a clearly genocidal regime or that they were directly aiding the Rwandan government’s planned violence.  The country’s political elite in a one-party state  embraced Paris as a source of cultural identity anprotection and France like any indulging parent provided such protection to a regime with devious intentions. My view is that it was a combination of serious miscalculations in turning the blind eye to the clear dangers of Habyarimana’s regime liquidating what France may have seen as opposition which eventually meant the entire ethnic Tutsi population. 

French Troops training the Interahamwe militia
French Troops training the Interahamwe militia

French complicity increased dramatically after 1990. The period between 1990-1994 brought about the biggest questions over the French government’s knowledge of the genocide. Was it sheer incompetence on the ground that they couldn’t see the sinister signs? Was it simply that what the French saw as a ‘defensive’ operation were misread? Or did they simply not care about the consequences for the Tutsis in the context of geo-political chessboard, that no one would notice or care like the Zero Network?

The latter seems the most likely as the French in-particular showed considerable prejudice towards the RPF whom some in government branded the ‘Khmer Noir’ (Khmer Black), a distasteful comparison to the rebels conducting genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot. The French military in Operation Turquoise continued to believe that the RPF were the enemy, the men behind the killings, and that the men they were safeguarding into Zaire were victims of the civil war started by the Tutsi rebels.

Numerous authors have illustrated the French military investment and training that was put into the extremist Hutu organisations such as CDR, akazu and Hutu Power. According to Meredith the Rwandan Government Forces were increased to from 9,000 men in October 1990 to 28,000 men by 1991 whilst France provided both counter-insurgency strategies and training to the incoherent ramble of soldiers. Alex Wallis provides even more detail;

“In the 1990-1994 period the French equipped the Rwandan army with…the most modern weaponry available. The French….had to finance and ship the armaments….officially and unofficially…. to the RGF and train…an unskilled army to use the weaponry….ignoring a new 1992 EU directive aimed at ‘ethical’ deliveries of arms to regions in a state of war or internal unrest.”

According to Wallis, French weapon exports to Rwanda  totaled $24 million (this included unofficial/black-market/illegal sales) out of $100 million of the total weapon imports to Rwanda in this period. When a particular journalist during this period questioned Colonel Bernard Cussac on supplying a regime known for its human rights abuses he retorted ‘are you saying providing military assistance is a human rights violation?!’

Hardly a direct answer given the circumstances and proof of brutal violence in Rwanda. Whilst the military expenditure was in excess, Rwanda’s economy nosedived and the people suffered in poverty. From this extremism grew, encouraged by the Rwandan government who needed a scapegoat for their economic woes.

The French trainers lived within the camps and helped train both the RGF and militias who would conduct the genocide. It would not be surprising if the French military, like most soldiers, would ‘form a strong bond with the RGF soldiers’ the French joining them at local bars to mix with them where naturally political views on the Tutsis and RPF would be communicated to the French.

These small things do make a difference as trainers and soldiers in Rwanda would have gained, after several years or even months on the ground, an understanding of the poisonous atmosphere in the country, nor would they have not informed headquarters of the problems. It is highly unlikely that the French embassy and military did not pick up on the extremist propaganda in the Kangura (which included a picture of Habyarimana and Mitterrand stating the latter was ‘a true friend of Rwanda’) and Hutu Power Radio.

Once the genocide began the French evacuated key members of the network and northern Hutu clique responsible for planning the genocide including Agathe amongst their nationals. Whilst they saved the elite bloated on the excesses of corruption and aid meant for the Rwandan people, they left thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus to die at the hands of the Interahamwe.

France, holding a key position in the United Nations, did not want 800,000 corpses to appear on their doorstep so they placed faith in the fact that the RGF would win the war whom the French continued to support during the conflict. Similarly Colonel Bagasora who was imprisoned for war crimes and was a key planner of the genocide was allowed to pass through the French’s safety net during Operation Turquoise in June 1994. He was followed by thousands of Hutus who had taken part in the killings.

The French adamantly opposed a Belgian request at the United Nations to intervene militarily during the early stages of the genocide as they knew foreign intervention like Operation Noroit in 1990 would spell doom for the RGF as French intervention had done for the RPF’s original invasion. European troops combined with that of Romeo Dallaire’s 2500 men would have given the RPF overwhelming superiority strategically as they were placed at the epicentre of both the government stronghold, Kigali and that of the genocide.

French soldier protecting Hutu refugees, amongst them many killers and Hutu extremists complicit in mass-murder
French soldier protecting Hutu refugees, amongst them many killers and Hutu extremists complicit in mass-murder×682.jpg

This would seem strange given the supposed military superiority of the RGF, but the French did not predict that the regime would invest so much time in conducting their liquidation of the Tutsi. This tactic was played by the Nazi regime during World War II to wipe out the Jews and this in turn had a debilitating effect on their ability to wage war on the Soviet juggernaut. The French were stalling to allow either their allies to regain their composure. It was embarrassing on all accounts both because they had invested millions of francs in a military which was still tactically inferior to the RPF and Kagame and they hadn’t trained the RGF on a balanced basis. Dallaire noted this even before the onset of genocide.

“I visited the RGF side of the demilitarized zone…the front-line units of the army were composed of poorly trained recruits…using children…. who lacked weapons, food, medical supplies, and above all leadership and morale. There was a double standard in this army:  high for the elite units (including the Presidential Guard) and low for the rest of the army.” (Dallaire, SHWTD, p.68)

Operation Turquoise evidently was done to prop up the regime and the French military safeguarding the passage of millions of Hutu extremists and Hutu refugees. However it was clear that the reality of genocide brought those who saw the RPF as the prime enemy to their senses as well as the French media. Many became disgusted with their role in helping the Hutus escape and the conduct of the massacres.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise though as French soldiers had witnessed butchery in the early stages of genocide during the evacuation of refugees.The government meanwhile shifted uncomfortably in their seats as their hands were stained with the blood of thousands. If they had been so determined to halt the killings why hadn’t they provided information at the U.N Security Council?

The clothes of victims killed during the Rwandan genocide laid out in the Nyamata Church in Nyamata
The clothes of victims killed during the Rwandan genocide laid out in the Nyamata Church in Nyamata

Rwanda is France’s Machiavellian jungle. The lack of investigations into their role in not just funding the slaughter, but aiding the escape of thousands of war criminals is both shocking and perplexing. For sure Kagame’s accusations were harsh in light of his own flaws as a leader, but Kagame is a soldier at heart, not a democrat and he has witnessed many of his friends and soldiers die at the hands of French allies supplied with French weapons, can you blame him for pointing the finger? The French government held the RPF in contempt before, during, and after the genocide and as Nicolas Sarkozy recognized serious errors of judgment” and “a kind of blindness” by France over the issue when he visited.

Instead of helping them escape, why have they not essentially tracked down  the ‘Hitlers’ and ‘Himmlers’ of Rwanda, the planners of mass-atrocity? France, only less than a month ago, on 15th March 2014 made their first conviction against the former Rwandan government. After twenty years of failing to answer questions and problems that still reverberate to this very day, you must suspect that France are trying to bury something sinister.

Madame Agathe is still at large and in France. She is wanted for war crimes.
Madame Agathe is still at large and in France. She is wanted for war crimes.

These problems must be understood in the wider context not simply because it is a key historical debate but also in the understanding French motives for current operations in the Central African Republic. Is this an opportunity for them to banish the ghosts of Rwanda by saving Muslims being ethnically cleansed from the anti-balaka?

This is not a problem of the past. It is a contemporary problem and must be addressed. Even if they did gravely miscalculate and were mistaken to supply a murderous regime, they still have blood on their hands and as yet have not investigated or even attempted to wash their hands of the accusations that they directly aided a genocidal regime. As such can the French government complain that history judges them so harshly in the wake of some of darkest moments in world history? The French people, Rwanda and the world need answers from a government’s unanswered questions.

Matthew Williams

Impasse Crimea: A matter of perspectives

It has been nearly twenty days since the Russian Federation responded to the ‘dangers’ to ethnic Russians in the Crimea and often we have been asking ourselves who is in the wrong, is it the Russians. Certainly under international law they have violated several rules under the United Nations Charter. However Western hypocrisy has so often rendered many areas of the world a war zone, and on many disastrous occasions left regional crises worse than before. We can point to Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the splintering of Yugoslavia as several examples whereby NATO and the United States have bungled flare points in international and regional affairs either by inaction or military inflexibility.Irrespective of the past the situation does remain very dangerous.

The Russian Federation can argue that thus far their intervention has ensured a relatively stable process whereby the Republic of Crimea has gained it independence and moved towards it preference; that being a satellite in the Russian sphere of influence. Still it will remain only a partially recognized subject as many across the world contend the autonomy and the fairness of the election.

Let’s look at the potential ‘what ifs’ scenarios had the Russian not intervened; who have on the face of it ensured a stable, if illegitimate referendum to break-away from a disgruntled Ukraine. The Russian military swiftly mobilised and encircled locations where the Ukrainian were located on the Crimean peninsula denying them the ability to engage with the Crimean people or intervene in the referendum. The question is what if the Ukrainian soldiers had been able to engage with the ethnic Russians who strongly protested for secession, especially the self-employed/volunteer militia? Perhaps a bloodier result would have emerged had Ukrainian soldiers and police loyal to Kiev clashed with ethnic Russians. Similarly would this have sparked more violence in the other places dominated or partly occupied by other Russian speaking people and prompt a more bullish response than we are currently seeing by the Russian Army?  These potentially violent splits and threats to Russian security could have prompted a far more serious crisis than the one we are already witnessing unfold.

Neo-Fascists in Ukriane.

Let us look at it from a Russian perspective and that of the Crimea. Physically and politically, Crimea belongs to Ukraine; mentally and emotionally, it identifies with Russia and makes many Ukrainian citizens feel like strangers on their own territory. One of my close friends also noted an interesting point.

‘The problem is that the newly installed government in Ukraine do have strong neo-nazi elements, which is worrying. The last time Russia had Nazis on their border 30 million or so Russians were killed. Crimea used to be part of Russia, and it is like the Falkland Islands, choosing to be part of a country by popular opinion. The people in the Crimea deserve a say in which country they want to be part of. Russia also needed to secure its only ‘warm water’ naval base, which is key to its sphere of influence.’

Is simply a case of deja vu? The outcome is very similar to the current outcome of votes at 97%. Undoubtedly the opposition within the Crimea to the vote boycotted the vote, nor can you blame them. Who would vote in the shadow of Russia’s military might or the appalling pressure of some militant ethnic Russians (not all) and no government or election would win by such staggering proportions as we witnessed on Sunday. There are dangers on both side of the political spectrum be they Russian ultranationalists and the empowerment of extreme Ukrainian nationalists and neo-fascists is no less a menace than Putin’s use of force in the Crimea for example Svoboda and the Right Sector. Those who dismantle a government or attempt to as seen in Syria have their own clear faults. Hence the need to secure Russian interests and as I have repeated on numerous occasions the Western hemisphere condemn in wake of their own violations of international politics “don’t break agreements (let’s exclude the one not to expand NATO eastward), don’t invade countries on controversial pretexts (except Iraq) and don’t support minority secession movements (except Kosovo).

A matter of perspective? U.S Soldiers in Iraq’s occupation.

There are legitimate fears amongst the Tartars who have a tarnished history with the Russian state, that old wounds will re-open similar to the chaos in Chechnya, the harrowing explosion at the station and markets in Volgograd 32 (+2 perpetrators) are testimony to the continued tension between the Kremlin and Islamist militants in Caucasian Emirate (a self-proclaimed virtual state entity in Russia). Note: Each region has its different objectives. In response to the increasing terrorism, Russia tightened its grip on Chechnya as well as expanded its anti-terrorist operations throughout the region. Russia installed a pro-Moscow Chechen regime. In 2003, a referendum was held on a constitution that reintegrated Chechnya within Russia, but provided limited autonomy. According to the Chechen government, the referendum passed with 95.5% of the votes. Nevertheless not everyone will welcome becoming part of this New Crimea.

Certainly there are exceptional dangers on both sides and Putin, though his actions have been likened to previous dictators is not a 19th century imperialist, nor can he in any sense of the word be a 20th century genocidal leader, that is unrealistic. His actions are a direct violation of international law, but so far direct Russian military action has not resulted in the death of any civilians, though a disturbing reports while I was writing this has revealed in Simferopol that a Ukrainian serviceman was shot and killed this afternoon. It is no longer a bloodless intervention. Our values in the West have changed as supposed to what we believe we represent and how international affairs should be conducted. NATO and in particular the United States are enduring a severe identity crisis in foreign policy. The rhetoric does not match the actions nor do the actions taken match the aggressiveness of the speeches and threats. Although the Kremlin should always be monitored with a mixture of respect and caution, antagonising its hard-line elements without sufficient muscle to back up your convictions and opinions is a dangerous game which has already branded both ‘rude and reckless’.


It would also be fair to point out that despite the underlying problems pervading Russian society and government we have set ourselves giddy heights by which our own societies should be judged, as the United States and many others are pervaded by some very serious problems of their own that some overlook whether it be oligarchic power, politicians that lack any sort of identification with their own people and certainly in some circumstances moral and political apathy. Of course it difficult to compare different societies and cultures but we misunderstand Russia so frequently. Nevertheless any further action by the Russians in Ukraine would certainly escalate the crisis. Based upon the West’s impotence you wouldn’t doubt Putin to be bold and press further to defend the interests of Russia.

Which ever route Europe decides go to on Putin’s actions we have little economic, moral, and military leverage by which to outwit the bear which currently deals with its cub’s tantrums Economic sanctions would spark a trade war and worsen relationships which have already been set back by the current situation, perhaps this is why NATO, the EU and the U.S.A choose (thus far!) not to impose further sanctions than banning travel visas. Certainly the whole scenario has already weakened Western credibility and Russia though it has exaggerated the threat to the ethnic Russians and has overseen an election surround by barbed wire has acted in a way that the got the objective completed without soiling its reputation to the extent the cumbersome, head strong United States has done so often in history be it Vietnam, Angola, and the Middle East.

The Russian Federation is hardly in the right, nor is it a perfect state, nor is its history.  What we are witnessing is a marked decline in the idea that reciprocal hegemony and liberalism in international relations are realistic. It is an unrealizable dream, a dangerous illusion, that politics like human nature is rooted in self-interest, and self-centered objectivity and most big powers players will do anything to hold on to their position on the international stage. Unilateral power-politics either of a military or arbitrary nature still and probably will always trump economic and soft power.  

It is not a Second Cold War, there are dangers on both sides of the spectrum, the question is at the moment as this who is provoking who? Who are the antagonists? The Russians? The Western Powers? Or the extremists on both sides? Does the threat lie in Western Ukraine or Crimea? Perspectives are of critical importance at this juncture as well as actions.  All it takes is one individual action or misinterpretation to change everything. For example Ukraine’s military says an officer has been killed in an attack on a base in Crimea. Ukraine has now authorized its troops to fire in self-defense. Alternately everything I have written could completely flip and the Russian Army could make a hash of an already dangerous situation as provocations increase between all sides. No side will win in these circumstances.

Matthew Williams

The West’s Impotence in the Face of Putin’s Gambit

“We cannot afford to be killing one another”

Nelson Mandela

Between the 21st and 23rd February we were talking of Putin’s impending political defeat in the wake of the Ukrainian revolution in Kiev. The reality is that, it is a potential diplomatic and political disaster for the United States, EU, NATO and the United Nations.

On the face of it, under international law, on so many different levels this intervention is wrong. The Russian Federation is defending its interests, but their are many other ways of protecting their interests which would not require the extremity of military force. Furthermore this intervention in Ukraine, ‘the greatest crisis in Europe we have seen’ according to our foreign minister Hague, will perplex many as it undermines the restraint and subtlety shown by Putin in Syria where the United States was halted in its tracks on carrying out a strike against Assad’s regime.

The Kremlin can argue that the United States condemnation of Russia particularly by Kerry, though justified in my opinion, were hypocritical in the light of the controversy of the United States’ foreign policy in the last decade or so. That also includes the United Kingdom. However in the case of Libya, they could argue that supporting the Libyan rebels removed despot Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The counter-argument to that is the grounds for the invasion of Iraq and the controversy surrounding the existence  of the WMDs. On top of that are the casualties sustained in Iraq and the failure that came with it (Iraq is in a worst state than which the U.S.A and United Kingdom entered it). We also forget the  U.S’s killing of Osama Bin Ladenwhich as Amnesty International states ‘was conducted under the US’s theory of a global armed conflict between the US and al-Qaeda in which the US does not recognise the applicability of international human rights law.’ It was a violation of Pakistani airspace, an illegal operation, even though his death was welcome to those across who have lost so much in the wake of his terrorist attacks. Simply put the West is culpable to similar controversies committed by their opponents across the international spectrum. Not to mention we should not forget that thus far the affair has been bloodless in comparison to the Western led operations.

The use of force is a mistake by Kremlin as the authorization of the deployment is that it has not only led to condemnation in the West, but also the threat of looming economic sanctions. They are unlikely to deter (even if they are deployed, the United Kingdom not even planning to impose trade sanctions) Putin as his grip tightens on the Crimea and holding Ukraine within his sphere of influence. NATO can do little as geo-politics and even if they chose to act upon the military option (which they won’t) military pragmatics are set firmly against them. Like Poland in 1939, it is on the other-side of Europe out of reach, thousands of miles away from the United States; deploying military operations (even with NATO military bases scattered across Europe) when 150,000 Russian soldiers are already deployed on the borders of Ukraine, and already dug in the Crimea would incur heavy, unacceptable casualties. Putin, the Russians and the Crimea care more deeply about the outcome than the average citizen in the United Kingdom than we would be willing to risk or Europe would be willing to risk (one of them a potential European war). The Western powers have little economic, geographic, or some even moral leverage by which to outmaneuver the Russian Federation. Nevertheless in the UN Security Council, it was clear that Russia  faced a verbal onslaught by most members in face of byenlarge condemnation.


Ukraine will realistically not be saved by diplomacy and economic isolation nor can it realistically confront the Russian Army successfully. The former is better equipped, numerically superior, technically advanced, and also possessing considerable strategic initiative in the Crimea Ukraine’s forces all but surrounded. The Russian forces also potentially have their sights trained on Donetsk and Kharkiv (other Russian-speaking regions). To add insult to injury Ukraine cannot expect to join the EU when it has internal unresolved territorial disputes in the form of the Crimea, the pro-western government already has an unlikely future under such circumstances of combined economic, military and political pressure. As seen by the horrors of Syria, war would leave the country shattered and massively de-stabilise the region and benefit no one as the Russian bear wrestles with its overtly rebellious cub. 

As the United States and NATO retreat from the Middle East amidst the public divisions in individual countries over the necessity of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the horrific losses that came with it. Military exhaustion, economic weakness, a lack of political will, and Putin’s masterminding of Russia’s return to the international stage as a serious power player have contributed to the West’s decline in the international theatre. 


Nevertheless the relationship between the Russian Federation and United States with NATO is at a crucial juncture in its history, and both hold the key (particularly Russia) to complications in the Middle East, particularly on the mediation of Iran’s nuclear programme and the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Putin’s actions though very much a decisive and well-played calculation will affect their relationship for many years to come, to the point perhaps that their may be a Second Cold War where the West and Russia would gain little.

For Russia this invasion to defend the human rights of ‘ethnic Russians’ will have consequences of the global stability and security structure (undermining the credibility of NATO and the United Nations) that has been tested since the end of the Second World War and Cold War. Sure, if the U.S.A national interests were threatened, hypothetically they would do the same as the Russians now, as shown by their willingness in the Pay of Bigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis to occupy Cuba and many other scenarios during the Cold War. What would we do if our citizens were under threat?

You can hardly say the protests starting in November/December looked like an ultranationalist/fascist movement. They only became violent when fired upon and killed by the corrupt thug Yanukovych a few week ago and as I have re-iterated before no president or prime minister, no matter the fairness of their election in my view has to right to put down legitimate protests in such a manner and expect to remain in power.

If Russia and NATO were to engage in an economic conflict (highly likely) the capability of them to both cripple each other would be disastrous, a war cataclysmic. As seen already this week the crisis has impacted the Russian economy, the stock markets falling and the value of the rouble against the dollar at an all time low against the U.S dollar, whilst Russia holds the key to much of Europe’s gas supplies. The long-term winner would be Chinese dragon who have observed the ongoing Ukrainian crisis as a concerned but distant observer, more critical of the West’s bellicose than of Russia’s actions, but nonetheless distant.

The greatest impact  a potential Ukrainian-Russian war will have will be upon the U.S.A and the West already divided, suffering from post-economic stagnation, and deficits and now a identity crisis in their foreign policy. The consequences could see the end of the the United States as the world’s modern policeman as it recedes in influence across the globe with Russia standing to  gain another victory against the Obama administration. Make no mistake we are living and breathing historical times. I sincerely hope the Russian Federation backs down in the face of international scrutiny and that this current stand is corrected on what is unfolding in the Ukraine.

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

Blog Archive: The Rwandan Patriotic Front; A Government’s Unanswered Questions

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

On the 20th June 2013 the Swedish government condemned, for the first time ever, one of its citizens for collaboration in genocide. The man, named Stanislas Mbanenande and of Rwandan origin as agreed by Stockholm played a major role amongst Hutu extremists in the one-hundred day genocidal butchery of the Tutsi minority. The Rwandan genocide resulted in the death of eight-hundred thousand people providing the catalyst for Africa’s ‘continental war ‘which resulted in over five million deaths, the most savage conflict since World War 2. Aged fifty-four when jailed for life, aged thirty-five when he committed his crimes against humanity in 1994. Why has it taken so long to track down many of the men complicit in the objective to commit genocide? To what extent does the current Rwandan government have a role in this problem?

The association with mass murder in Rwanda is normal attributed by the average person of the international community to Hutu extremists such as Mbanenande. Mbanenande not only recruited young men to take part in the killing orchestrated by quasi-military organizations Interhamwe and Impazamugumbi, but also took part in massacres at a school, a Catholic church, a hotel and a stadium in Kibuye. Like Mbanenande many of the Hutu extremists and perpetrators of genocide fled the country, and Paul Kagame was heralded as hero. ‘Paul Kagame is an excellent man, hero is the right word.” claimed Jean Gatabazi from the town of Nyamata. Nyamata was the site of one of the worst massacres of 1994, the site being at a church where over 2,500 people were killed and it has become a symbol of the brutal treatment of women during the murderous 100 days of genocide. As mentioned in my previous blog on ‘Congo’s Silent War’, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), also know as the Rwandan Patriotic Army led by Kagame, Rwigyema and Bayingana ‘ended’ the genocide ‘officially’ in July 1994. The RPF with its Ugandan origins, formed by young men brought up and moulded by civil war, brutality and violence amdist the Uganda’s civil strife is something that people often forget to bear in mind. The result was a mass exodus of two million Hutus, the Rwandan Armed Force (FAR) extremists, and collaborators in the Interhamwe (around one-third of the population) from Rwanda, fearful of the RPF and Tutsi reprisals. The hunt and continental war had begun.

The men who hunt the war criminals, the men who claimed to have saved Rwanda from genocide, war and political strife have and continue to possess a certain sway over Western and African influences in the region. When I first heard of Kagame and his role in halting the Rwandan genocide, you originally think “What a hero, what a man to save a country from the abyss of slaughter.” This was at seventeen, then at twenty I returned by coincidence to my unanswered questions over Rwanda in 1994. Exhausted from rowing winter training camp, I had awoken up at a most inconvenient time (3.00 a.m), my sleeping pattern ruined by falling asleep at 15.00 p.m the previous afternoon. I started to watch Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s documentary ‘The Long Way Down’, detailing their trip through Africa, which included passage through Rwanda. They met Paul Kagame, and questions have naturally been asked of Kagame’s role in the beginning of the genocide, Ewan McGregor highlighting the uncertainty over his part in one of the greatest and tragic mysteries of the late 20th century, namely the shooting down of Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira’s plane over Kigali. The debate is clearly unsolvable although unofficially most blame the RPF (Kagame’s organization) for the incident that proved the catalyst for the genocide. However in official government reports the Rwandan government labels Hutu extremists as the ones responsible. The UN and Belgium have refused to comment, whilst France outright blame the RPF for the incident, the events that occurred most certainly under the category of a war crime.

Ten years in, the average member of the international community possesses a one-dimensional understanding of Kagame as a guerrilla commander who marched from the jungle to the capital Kigali, it was him who ended the nightmare and, his champions say, encouraged reconciliation instead of a revenge campaign against the ‘genocidaires’. This is one-side of the story and with the 20th anniversary approaching, the ground is fast disappearing around Kagame that holds him up as a visionary, democratic leader. In fact not only is it fascinating to hear that in recent years former allies of Kagame have described his regime as a a one-party, arbitrary and secretive police state, but also to understand that the RPF engaged in systematic slaughter of the very people they were trying to save. Gerard Prunier, an expert on the Continental War (1994-2005) and the Rwandan Genocide claims that between early April and late September the RPF ‘killed between 25,000 and 45,000 people including Tutsi’ with almost complete indifference to their plight. The obviously selected killer teams, assembled the people for a “peace and reconciliation meeting” before indiscrimantly slaughtering them and disposing of the corpses in mass graves or incinerating the corpses. Moderate Hutu’s were often not spared. Necessity? Revenge killing beyond the control of the new government? It seems unlikely given the discipline and organization of the RPF.

“The point was that they, the victims had the capacity to pose a political risk. The RPF vision of the Hutu masses as a permanent threat. Random mass killings to instill fear and to de-fang potential leadership” (p.16)

Small and decentralized the killings may have been, but in brutality they matched that of the Interhamwe, the latter of whom, the villains on the international stage were blamed for the atrocities. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned in horrendous conditions, Tutsi and Hutu’s, and the RPF stormed into the Democratic Republic of Congo to deal out their own form of justice upon the war criminals, the likes of whom Stanislas Mbanenande (second picture) have been dealt with in the proper form abroad, whilst in Rwanda and the neighboring country it is a far different story. The RPF have been instigated in various massacres both in their own country and in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo), the most notorious off which being the Kibeho massacre, where over 4,000 refugees composed of Rwandan civilians were slaughtered by members of the RPF, to this day the figure calculated by Kagame stands at 338 dead despite several eyewitnesses including thirty-two quickly dispatched Australian soldiers and medical officers In the Austrailian Army Journal, Paul Jordan stated; “While there little that we could have done to stop the killings, I believe that, if Australians had not been there as witnesses to the massacre, the RPA would have killed every single person in the camp.” Kibeho was butchery that matched the atrocities of the Hutu extremists, the only difference being that whilst the Hutu’s took pleasure in glorifying the bloodbath, the RPF were more methodical and content to conceal their role in murdering their own civilians. The UN, the U.S.A and other Western powers have not been able to intervene against the “victims”, the RPF composed of Tutsi’s who were attempting to “restore peace and stability to the region”, the guilt of the failure to intervene in the genocide still weighing heavily on the shoulders of the West, the RPF’s argument being that effectively that the perpetrators of genocide lay within the camp, which in reality was a minority at best. It is a difficult issue, for the refugee camps and how the international community dealt with the camps was a disaster to add to the international community’s half-hearted attempts to prevent genocide. Nevertheless this is no form of proper justice and Kibeho was the most notorious of many brutal acts carried out by a underestimated and potent government. As Gerard Prunier contends: “The RPF calculated that guilt, ineptitude, and the hope that things would work out would cause the West to literally let them get away with murder.” (p.23) Though the violence itself has declined, particularly in Rwanda, the opposition to his routine has increased with Paul Kagame being accused by the UN of supplying and supporting the most recent militia M23 wreaking havoc in eastern Congo, seizing Goma in 2012. (Now defeated)

Undoubtedly some credit must be given to Kagame for stabilizing the economy of Rwanda and tackling some severe issues that plagued the country on top of genocide. The mass exodus from the country of two million people included an entire former government and administration would have placed any government in a situation many would struggle to cope with yet alone consolidate. The cost however for the humanity of many within the Rwandan government is high and with former allies now beginning to condemn the regime, twenty years on has the legacy of genocide really buried? This will continue to remain a difficult issue with the “second mass-murders” of 1994, the various massacres perpetrated by the RPF and organizations sponsored by the Rwandan government in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the continued presence of Paul Kagame as head of state. More questions are being asked and the answers contrary to horrific evidence past and present are eating away at the reputation of Kagame and his administration.The RPF was a government that originated in and was formed by war and catastrophe in both Uganda and Rwanda, its legacy so far being a elongated, unsavory involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 93% victory in 2010, with three major parties excluded from the ballot. As Joseph Habineza, who fled the Rwandan government states to Tony Blair who called Kagame a “visionary leader”;

“I ask him to always request President Kagame to look at these issues: democracy and economic development go hand in hand. We are saying Rwanda is ready for democracy. Tony Blair should tell him this. There cannot be democracy in a country where there is no opposition party and no freedom of expression.”

Habineza one of many who have spoken out against Kagme’s regime
It is a similar sad story in which democracy and freedom of expression cannot flourish in Rwanda, relations with the UN, the United Kingdom and neighboring countries beginning to sour. The ‘victims’ tag exploited by the RPF to veil their political present and violent past is being to slip in the gaze of international community, a veil much of Africa was certainly not oblivious to; a mask under which the RPF was evidently involved in violence before, during, and after the genocide. Blood is very much on the hands of both sides, not simply the Hutu’s meandering in the jungles of the Congo with over a million dead and many questions unanswered. The longer that the current government remains in power ensures that Rwanda will remain attached to ghosts of the past and future problems.

Matthew Williams