The Rwandan Patriotic Front: Unanswered Questions

(Originally published 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 amidst 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 Interahamwe (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. 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.

Not only is it intriguing 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 indiscriminately 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 organisation 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” 

 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.” The massacre at Kibeho was shocking and 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.”

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. 

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