10 July 2021

The Guardian: “America’s secret role in the Rwandan genocide”

The Rwanda genocide has been compared to the Nazi Holocaust in its surreal brutality. But there is a fundamental difference between these two atrocities. No Jewish army posed a threat to Germany. Hitler targeted the Jews and other weak groups solely because of his own demented beliefs and the prevailing prejudices of the time. The Rwandan Hutu génocidaires, as the people who killed during the genocide were known, were also motivated by irrational beliefs and prejudices, but the powder keg contained another important ingredient: terror. Three and a half years before the genocide, a rebel army of mainly Rwandan Tutsi exiles known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, had invaded Rwanda and set up camps in the northern mountains. They had been armed and trained by neighbouring Uganda, which continued to supply them throughout the ensuing civil war, in violation of the UN charter, Organisation of African Unity rules, various Rwandan ceasefire and peace agreements, and the repeated promises of the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni.

US officials knew that Museveni was not honouring his promise to court martial RPF leaders. The US was monitoring Ugandan weapons shipments to the RPF in 1992, but instead of punishing Museveni, western donors including the US doubled aid to his government and allowed his defence spending to balloon to 48% of Uganda’s budget, compared with 13% for education and 5% for health, even as Aids was ravaging the country. In 1991, Uganda purchased 10 times more US weapons than in the preceding 40 years combined.

Helen C Epstein

How many conflicts could have been avoided, or at least vastly diminished in size, if the US would have stopped arming one (or even both) of the parties? The practice of unaccountable ‘defense aid’ is unfortunately alive and well in recent times, as evidenced by the fight against ISIS and the subsequent devastation of Syria.

A worker of the Murambi genocide memorial shows the skulls of victims of the 1994 genocide
A worker of the Murambi genocide memorial shows the skulls of victims of the 1994 genocide, near Butare, Rwanda. Photograph: Jose Cendon/AFP

Earlier this year, President Macron has asked Rwandans to forgive France for its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide – will we ever see a similar acknowledgement for the US? Highly doubtful.

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