Interview with Judi Rever, author of In Praise of Blood

On August 9th, 2018, I spoke by telephone with journalist Judi Rever about her recent book, In Praise of Blood, on the contemporary history of Rwanda and neighboring countries in Central Africa. She was in Montreal, and I was at my home in Japan, and the main news that day, like every August 9th in Japan, was the commemoration of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. At first it seemed odd that I was concentrating on the problems of Africa on that day, but the two issues are not so unrelated. There is a common explanatory thread connecting Rwanda to what happened in Nagasaki in 1945.
Both the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and the violent upheaval in Rwanda in 1994 were events which shocked a world that was unprepared for the news. Nuclear weapons were a new technology that had been developed in secret and deployed without any public awareness of the decision. Likewise, what came to be known as the “Rwandan genocide” alarmed an international community that knew almost nothing about Rwandan history and their own countries’ involvement there. The lack of public knowledge in both these cases meant the public was unable to put these events into any familiar context, and thus the public was vulnerable to being fed a preferred interpretation that went unquestioned for many years.
In the case of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the public was led to believe that they were morally justified because they were essential for ending the war quickly. It took about thirty years for an alternative and more plausible interpretation to emerge. In fact, there were numerous scenarios in which Japan would have surrendered quickly without the use of the atomic bombs, and the Soviet entry into the war on August 9th was later found to be the decisive factor that led the Japanese to surrender on August 15th. The atomic bombings came to be understood as a justification for the billion dollars spent on them and as a demonstration of American power to the Soviet Union.[1]
Something similar happened after the eruption of extreme violence in Rwanda in 1994. In Praise of Blood, and the interview that follows, describe how a particular narrative fed to the world concealed two things: (1) the crimes of one side in the conflict (the army of Tutsi exiles based in Uganda), and (2) the plan to turn Central Africa into a region of American control in the post-Soviet unipolar world order. Like the atomic bombings, this was an exercise in American power that was explained away as an unfortunate humanitarian tragedy, with the blame shifted to parties that were not wholly responsible, the Japanese in one case and Rwandan Hutus in the other.
Many people who followed mass media reporting about Rwanda in the late 1990s find it difficult to process the alternative narrative that emerged later. They may find the conflict to be too remote from their concerns and too complex to deal with (it is definitely a complicated history) or they may dismiss it as “genocide denial,” which it definitely is not. The mass violence perpetrated by Hutu militias in the spring of 1994 is undeniable, but what was lacking in the early reporting was an awareness of the massive war crimes against civilians by the invading Tutsi army (Rwandan Patriotic Front) in the preceding years, and the extent to which the United States had backed the RPF in the conflict and limited what would be achieved by the United Nations peacekeeping forces and the UN tribunals that followed. A full discussion of these issues, within a positive review of In Praise of Blood, can be found in Helen Epstein’s review for the New York Review of Books.[2] Other sources are listed after the transcript. I conclude this introduction with one source that might work best to undo the stubborn preconceptions about Rwanda. What could be more convincing than a leaked US diplomatic cable from 2008 that contradicts much of the official US narrative?   
While the Rwandan government (GOR) presents itself as a champion of national unity and equal opportunity, de-emphasizing ethnic identity and ostensibly opening positions throughout society to those of skill and merit, political authority in the country does not yet reflect this ideal. Ethnic identity is still keenly felt and lived, and ordinary Rwandans are well aware of who holds the levers of power… President Kagame is a Tutsi. So, too are the important Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Infrastructure, Local Government, and Information. Close Kagame confidant, Chief of Defense Staff General James Kabarebe, is Tutsi, as are the chiefs of the army and air force, the military district commanders, and the heads of the Rwanda National Police and the National Security Service… Indeed, all are English speakers who grew up in Uganda. Some major positions are held by Hutus, but their actual authority often appears limited… There are regular stories of splits between francophone and anglophone Tutsis, as well as among the “Ugandans,” those English-speakers raised in refugee camps in Uganda… As Ambassador Arietti noted in his departing message, Rwanda remains a deeply divided society, and average Rwandans still identify closely with their ethnic origins. Some Hutus argue that the massive gacaca program, now completing the judgment of over one million (Hutu) genocide cases, like the nationwide campaign against “genocide ideology,” which by definition only Hutus could manifest, particularly now that the 1994 genocide has been renamed “the Tutsi genocide,” are secondarily intended to keep Hutus off balance, unwilling to serve in high places (for fear of being brought low) and generally out of office. For example, new Minister of State for Education Theoneste Mutsindashyaka recently addressed 750 secondary school headmasters, and, according to the pro-government New Times, angrily told them that 80 percent of them were “masterminds of genocide ideology.” … For all the government’s exhortations to Rwandans to abandon ethnic identities and work in common on national goals, a policy that in fact has much to recommend it, the goals and the political reality is self-evidently otherwise. People remain keenly committed to their ethnic identities...[3] [excerpts of the complete memo]
Interview with Judi Rever, author of In Praise of Blood
August 9, 2018
To improve readability this transcript was slightly edited and reviewed by both participants in the interview.

Dennis Riches (DR): Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. I was really impressed by your book. I’ve seen some of the reviews and it seems to be well received.
Judi Rever (JR): Pretty much. I’m encouraged by a lot of the reactions, but there are a lot of critics as well. I’m sure you’ve read some of those comments which are a bit more negative or critical, and that’s fine. I’m interested in a debate on these things, but I’m confident about the research because I’ve worked on it for so long, and I confirmed so much in the book. And in fact after the book was published, a number of people came to me—RPF insiders, people who had worked for years with Kagame, and some people in the higher echelons of the military—and they said, “Very good job. There’s nothing in it that is untrue or exaggerated, but actually it’s worse than what you’ve written.”
There are things that this regime has done historically that are very difficult to prove and even talk about, so it will take many years to actually uncover all the crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. It’s very chilling. I thought when I was researching this that there were certain aspects that I was discovering which led me to think, “Well if I understood the movement more and what happened, and what was buried, then it would be less scary.” There was an emotional aspect to doing this work, obviously, but I didn’t actually find that it became less scary. I just thought that in life when you try to figure something out and work on it, it should be demystified, and it should make you understand. It should help your comprehension, but it doesn’t make it less daunting, in the end. The history of Rwanda is still very scary.
DR: As I told you, I’m focusing on the language policy of Rwanda. I realized it’s probably not the most important priority for people living in Rwanda. Maybe it doesn’t get talked about too much, but it’s my field anyway, and I always find in language teaching we tend to talk about methods and motivation and how to teach better, but very few people talk about where the policy is set at the very top in a government, and why it’s set in a certain way, and I just thought Rwanda was an extreme example. There was a violent shift in the language policy that made English the official second language and excluded the previous generation of French-speakers, overturning everything that had been built up there as far as the education system was concerned. So I’m looking for people who can give me some first-hand accounts of what language use was like, and is like now, in Rwanda, and how people feel about the switch from French to English. So first, how many times have you been there?
JR: Just once because I had so many problems when I went there. I was there for a while but I had so many problems interviewing people, and I had to get out. I never went back.
DR: Yes, I remember that in your book you describe your trip into Rwanda. So in your time interviewing Rwandans outside the country, have you ever heard them talk about this shift away from French and forcing everyone to learn English? Did you ever hear any resentment about it?
JR: Yes, but it’s been more in recent years that I’ve heard this. I think it’s an important area of research that you’re doing. It’s something that hasn’t been explored fully, but I have heard complaints. Although I haven’t done any particular interviews on these issues, there were significant events relating to language policy. One was in 2008-2009 when French was replaced with English.
DR: Yes, it became official in the school system.
JR: That was an issue that people have spoken of in passing. Then in 2014 there was the closing of the French Cultural Center. Then in 2017 there was the introduction of Swahili as an official language, so of those three events, let’s look at the third one because that’s more recent, and it’s more interesting in my memory and in the conversations I’ve had with Rwandans. To be fair to the Rwandan government, Swahili is a language that spoken in Burundi, eastern Congo and in Tanzania, and of course Uganda. So on the surface it would appear that there’s nothing wrong with the introduction of Swahili as an official language. The RPF argued that it’s a language of business, and they needed to do that. But in reality there was a strong message that was sent when that was made official. I recall in my conversations with Rwandans—this is them saying it, not me—that Swahili is not a Rwandan language. It was never meaningfully used in Rwanda, so the idea of making it an official language was a strong message once again that Ugandan-raised Tutsis, who use Swahili, have an advantage.
It’s a military language. Not all Ugandans speak Swahili, of course. There are a few areas of Uganda where people do not speak Swahili, but it is the military language that was used by Yoweri Museveni [president of Uganda, 1986-present] in his rebellion and in his army, and that is very clear. Then you have Swahili being used in the ingando. I don’t know if you’ve studied ingando, but these are the “solidarity and re-education camps,” and the instruction in ingando is in English and Swahili, and most Rwandans do not understand Swahili, so if you’re poor in the provinces, in the countryside, it’s not a language that you understand. Even educated Hutus don’t understand it. They are forced in ingando to be subjected to a lot of military instructions, bewildering pronouncements and military drills. All the physical and military drill commands are in Swahili. As the nation under Paul Kagame has become militarized, this is the language of intimidation and bewilderment, and it’s in a language that many people don’t understand. So I think the use of Swahili was once again a sign for many people that Ugandan-raised Tutsis were in charge. The RPF has cleaned house and the Hutus are not masters of this house anymore, and so you see language being used in really not subtle ways at all. And so this historical specter of ethnic, social and economic indenture has reared its ugly head again.
DR: This is just layers and layers of colonization—first through European languages, and now through the imposition of Swahili.
JR: I think so, and it’s the same issue with English because if you look at English being mandatory and being a dead language taught in school, I recall a number of people telling me that this was a move that greatly destabilized Hutus, educated Hutus as well, because what that meant was the phasing out French in schools. This was a radical message at the time. The educated Hutus would be relegated to even lower echelons because English and Swahili are now the languages that you need to master in order to reach the higher positions in institutions and in higher education, and those posts are coveted. There isn’t an unlimited amount of areas that you can attain and strive for easily in Rwanda, so when you eliminate French, the language of educated Hutus and poorer Hutus, then you’re basically closing a window on many people and sending very strong messages of exclusion.
DR: What’s your impression of the success of French language education in the period between the revolution in 1959 and the fall of the Hutu regime in 1994. Did it succeed, with French as the language of instruction, in educating the majority of people?
JR: A majority? I don’t know that it did because I only have anecdotal evidence. My anecdotal evidence would be all the people [Rwandan refugees] I’ve interviewed in the jungle, and also people who fled who were in the military and who I needed interpreters to talk to [i.e. they spoke neither French nor English]. I’ve interviewed people in the refugee camps in Nakivale in Uganda. I’ve interviewed former soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army. I interviewed a lot of people [refugees from Rwanda] in Congo, and a number of these people did not speak French. I’m talking about Tutsis and Hutus, so that says something about how successful the French language instruction was, but I’m unable to assess it. At the same time, there were a lot of others who mastered French. They were interior Tutsis [not exiles]. It’s striking the number of interior Tutsis who did not go on to higher education who speak French and speak it very well in my estimation—also middle class Hutus. There were a lot of people that I met throughout my research and throughout my travels who spoke French really well. On the one hand, it’s very interesting to see how many people have mastered French, but I still I have to say in my research I met a lot of people who could only communicate in African languages.
DR: That agrees with what someone else told me last year. I interviewed him in Montreal actually last year, a Rwandan who was in his twenties when he left, and he said French wasn’t universally spoken. Not everybody achieved high levels, but the education system did succeed in producing people who could go to universities in Europe, so it was successful in that way. Did you ever hear about Tutsi French speakers going to Uganda, joining the RPF army then being sent back to work as infiltrators?
JR: Absolutely. In my book I mentioned Abdallah Akishuli. He’s a francophone Tutsi, an interior Tutsi, and he was recruited and he ended up going to Uganda and doing some military training. He didn’t become a full-fledged soldier, but he was a cadre. He became an intore—a civilian member of the RPF—which is like a militia. The intore undergo military exercises and indoctrination campaigns, so that’s one person. Yes, there were a number... Basically, all the interior Tutsis [not the exiles outside Rwanda] who joined the RPF during the struggle did that. Most of them, if not all of them, were sent to Uganda to do training and came back.
DR: And then of course after the genocide, French was used as a way of discriminating against people, of identifying refugees.
JR: Yes. The other thing that is interesting but tragic is that—and there’s reference to this phenomenon in some of the confidential documents I have—the francophone recruits, at the level of the training wing, were always viewed with great suspicion, and so many of them were eliminated. I’m talking about the Tutsi francophone recruits in the early areas of RPF training. There were a few areas in the north. There was an area in Uganda, but also a few areas in northern Rwanda during the invasion where the RPA had its training wings. And then as soon as the genocide started they moved the training wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Army to Gabiro, and during the invasion war and also during the genocide in 1994, and after, francophone recruits were taken and assessed, and in many cases eliminated—not all of them, of course, but there was an automatic suspicion of these people that they were collaborators with the Habyarimana regime and still might be loyal to their opponents, to the former regime. So they were executed. This was something that I mentioned in my book. I brought it up with Deus Kagiraneza who worked at the training wing and was accused of overseeing these killings. He’s an interior Tutsi as well, a francophone, but he was accused of directing the selective killing of some of these young men because he had the contacts and he knew who was who, so the RPA and the Ugandan military elites actually needed to co-opt and use some of the interior Tutsis who they trusted to single out all these young men. So they used interior Tutsis to kill other interior Tutsis.
DR: Have you any contact with Rwandans in the Montreal area?
JR: Yes, I do. There are so many groups, as you might know, and now there seems to be this new political military grouping which is getting a lot of attention. They’re supposedly, purportedly behind this rebellion that has staged a few attacks in Rwanda. The membership of this new group is varied, and it’s quite interesting, but time will tell what happens there.
DR: The big fear is it’s not going to be a peaceful transition, or not necessarily anything better than what exists now.
JR: I think there might be another round of violence. It’s a scary scenario.
DR: When I read in your book the description of how determined the exiled Tutsis were to get back their land and push people off it, it seemed like a real class war much like the French for Bolshevik revolutions where the people who had lost power and been exiled we’re just so determined to restore the old regime at any cost. Did you ever get the impression this was ideological and class warfare?
JR: Absolutely. I think very few people who were founders of the RPF, RANU and then the RPF, will actually admit that, but Tutsis in exile now, especially interior Tutsis, will tell you that’s what happened. And a number of Rwandans who were raised in Uganda who are anglophone let it be known to me that these were the most pressing issues. In their conversations, when you have hours and hours of conversations with some of these people, it becomes clear that the land issue and the sense of place, and the injustice of being displaced and not having a homeland for so long was of utmost importance, and it drove, it formed their ideology. It drove the struggle. There was this moral outrage. It was an outrage that underpinned a lot of their policies and even their military campaign.
Alphonse Furuma, whom I’m no longer in touch with, is one of the founders. He did admit to me he was fairly clear about this. And he has written about this as well, or made public statements about it: that the RPA in in their scorched earth campaign during the invasion war created a Tutsiland in the north. So as they were seizing territory in the north, they were also bringing their relatives over from Uganda across the border. By 1993, as I say in my book, and as others have pointed out, the RPA had displaced up to a million Hutus to open up land. That land was now barren, and that gave them the opportunity to start bringing people over. The land policies were being carried out before the genocide. It was clear what the RPF objectives were.
DR: Did you ever find any information on the pre-colonial period, about what this class system was like before European colonization? I’ve heard a lot about it which I suspect of being whitewashed. They say that it was not so bad, nobody could tell who was Tutsi and who was Hutu, and sometimes they changed positions if a Hutu got enough cows, or a Tutsi lost wealth. But I always wondered if it was not more clearly delineated as a class system, a rigid hierarchy.
JR: I think it was a more of a class system, and it was clear where Hutus stood in that system. And when I say class I mean there were a lot of poor Tutsis as well in that system. But I’m not the best person to speak on that. I think I should probably refrain from it. It’s just not an area that I’ve studied, but it’s so evocative and still I think the stories and the experiences of grandfathers and grandmothers and how they’ve related their families’ experiences to their children and their grandchildren are very important. And so all of that sense of hurt, loss and loss of status, I think, is felt very acutely even by the younger generation. So it’s a very complex issue, and one of the things that is interesting to me regarding the Western academic accounts of that time, and even some of the intrigues and the violence of the Tutsi royal court history, is that a number of people have said to me that there’s a whole part of history that’s been left out.
There was tremendous violence among the Tutsi royal families, the clans, for example, and not all those conflicts have been fully explored for some reason. So the people who controlled that history might not have explained them fully to Western academics, although Jan Vansina, who wrote his seminal work on some of that period, did a great job. His work is phenomenal, in fact.  Yet some of the sub clans which are considered Tutsi, like Kagame’s Abega clan, were majority Hutu. I don’t think Vansina covered this. People have told me that the Hutu-Tutsi concept was not well explained. And there are people like Faustin Twagiramungu [Rwandan prime minister, 1994-95] who made a point about history not being explored or not being reflected accurately by Western academics. If you speak to Faustin, maybe he could expand on this. It’s not something that I delved into in depth with him, but he said what he has read in history books written by Western academics and Westerns experts (so-called experts) does not reflect what his father told him. I don’t know how old Faustin is. He’s a bit older than Kagame, I believe. So he’d be in his late 60s maybe. I think there’s a frustration with how some of these stories and actual history—lived  history—was then spun and written about. So I wouldn’t want to make any grand statements about that, but I think it’s worth talking to people. You could start by talking with former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu to see if he has some opinions on it, but if you can get a hold of any interior Tutsis, ask them about the clan wars and the clan struggles, and the violence of it which was quite sordid and brutal.
And then there is the other problem of RPF propagandists—Rakiya Omaar and Jean Paul Kimonyo’s work filtering down into mainstream Western scholarship. It’s a serious concern.
DR: Sometimes I see the French media and the French left being very harsh on the French government for how they behaved before and during the genocide. What do you make of that tendency?
Yes, there’s a real problem in France. There’s a whole history there of French academics but mostly people who worked in the humanitarian field quickly getting on board with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and I think it speaks to how effective some of the ideologues, some of the founders were in courting French public opinion and actually making contacts with French media, and also with humanitarian workers on the ground.
There were a number of journalists who were contacted right away, if not in the early stages of the genocide, but even before it. There were also humanitarians like Bernard Kouchner, who ran Médicins Sans Frontières, and he quickly chose sides in the sense of where he saw the violence that was unleashed, as executioners versus saviors. So in other words he aligned himself with the RPF and stated that the RPF stopped the genocide, and that the RPF were saving Tutsis, and that the Hutu regime was killing Tutsis and had planned this for a very long time. Even though he made a trip to Rwanda during the genocide and should have been looking more closely at what was actually happening on the ground, and he should have been looking at this in a very dispassionate way, he really started to make quite alarming statements about who was at fault, who was killing, and who was saving people. So he had an enormous impact, and he’s somebody who has a lot of ties with the media. Bernard Kouchner is a very charismatic figure. He seeks attention in the media, and he did so even when he was the foreign minister under Nicolas Sarkozy. He was on TV every day, and he cultivated very close personal ties with Kagame. So that’s clear.
The other element in this phenomenon was a guy named Jean Carbonare. I don’t think I mentioned him in my book, but I should have. I’m just telling you how I see a process of very important people being approached by the RPF or people getting onside politically with RPF propaganda and how that filters down. So Jean Carbonare was part of a very crucial human rights undertaking, a probe that I mentioned in my book, at the very beginning of 1993. That investigation was carried out by Human Rights Watch and FIDH [International Federation for Human Rights] and a few other people—the Canadian William Schabas. This was a very influential investigation, the findings of which had great impact on future events.
Alison des Forges, William Schabas, and Jean Carbonare, among others, did an investigation in early 1993 which all but concluded that the Habyarimana regime was beginning to commit genocide or certainly creating death squads that were resulting in the massacre of Tutsis in Bugesera and in a few other places. So this was very dramatic and very troubling, and at that point, after that very important human rights investigation was carried out and the findings were released, the sanctions against Habyarimana’s regime began. The West said this is a dangerous government and we have to stop whatever it’s doing and isolate it. So there was enormous pressure on the Habyarimana regime after that report was released. One of the guys who was very instrumental in doing the interviews for this investigation was Jean Carbonare and he ended up working for the RPF. He continued for a number of years as an influential lobbyist in France, having founded the organization, Survie, which  promotes the interests of genocide survivors, but it’s controlled by a lot of pro-RPF lobbyists in France.
But more specifically what did Jean Carbonare do in in terms of his research that resulted in the 1993 report? He went into Habyarimana’s prisons and interviewed someone named Janvier Afrika, and a lot of the conclusions in the human rights report are based on this man’s testimony. Janvier Afrika said at the time that he was a member of the Interahamwe [the Hutu paramilitary group]. He said that he was a journalist. He said that he had attended meetings and been present in meetings in which Habyarimana discussed the creation of this commando death squad. He said a lot of things to Jean Carbonare and to the FIDH and Human Rights Watch researchers, so they concluded that this was a regime that was committing crimes against humanity already, and was very dangerous, and had to be reined in. It turned out that Janvier Afrika was also collaborating with the RPF, and this has been documented. He admitted this and he fled after the genocide in July 1994. He had actually been staying with one of Kagame’s aunts in Kigali, and his ties with the RPF were very much known. And he admitted that he fabricated some of this testimony.
So it really is quite interesting that Allison des Forges and Bill Schabas, and certainly Jean Carbonare did not come forward later and say, “Well, we were wrong here and we used an informant and based so many of our allegations and our research on this person who was not reliable, who had infiltrated and was spreading false propaganda which had a real impact.” It’s funny that they didn’t own up to this. They certainly didn’t, but Carbonare in particular was crucial in bringing to light the testimony of Janvier Afrika, which had quite an impact. I don’t know where Janvier Afrika is now, and Jean Carbonare died in 2009, but all this is to say that in those early years he and Bernard Kouchner and a number of others worked hard to promote the interest of the RPF’s official narrative.
There’s another guy named Jean Francois Dupaquier who was a fervent RPF ideologue. He’s French, and has been very successful. He wrote a libelous article about me and my book and called me every name in the book, and stated things that were absolutely not true about my research and who I interviewed. He seems to work night and day peddling RPF propaganda. There’s also a French couple named Alain Gauthier and his Rwandan wife Dafroza who work for the Collectif des Parties Civiles Pour le Rwanda. They work in conjunction with Rwandan government. Dafroza Gauthier is a cousin by in-laws to James Kabarebe [chief of Rwandan Armed Forces]. They are the so-called genocidaire hunters. For the Rwandan government they seek out and try to find Hutu genocidaires who they believe are lurking everywhere in the West. So there’s a whole group of people who are very active and who’ve been very effective. The French journalist Pierre Péan has written about this as well. He’s done excellent work.  If you look at how the media, from very early on in France, was dealing with the genocide, reporting on the genocide as it unfolded, I think you’ll get some clues as to how very quickly the French media, for the most part, came in line with the RPF official narrative.
There are great exceptions of course, in addition to Pierre Péan, such as Stephen Smith, who worked for Libération, a brilliant journalist who now works in academia. He stands out as somebody who was there during the genocide and then continued to go to the Great Lakes region. He did brilliant reporting during the invasion of Zaire by the RPA, and then he did wonderful reporting in the years after. He’s one of the first journalists ever to talk about the unmitigated violence of Kagame’s regime after it seized power. If you look at 1995-1996, his reporting stands out. There are very few people who were able to do the kind of reporting and analysis that he did.
I worked at Radio France Internationale. That’s how I started to get interested in Africa and started covering this this region. As soon as I started working for the English service I was directed to—not because I had colleagues who were intentionally biased or not good reporters—but I was directed to go first to certain analysts, and the people we went to were at the NGO African Rights, especially Rakiya Omaar. So if you wanted an interview with someone who was an expert on Rwanda, you called up Rakiya Omaar. And Rakiya Omaar, I now know, had created an organization that was a front for RPF interests. If you look at Luc Reydam’s work—he’s a scholar at Notre Dame University in the US—it’s clear. Rakiya Omaar received money from the RPF. And she admitted it to me during an interview I did with her in 2017.  African Rights was not an independent human rights organization in any way. In fairness, we as journalists would also go to Filip Reytjens who has remained an independent, a shining light as a scholar on the Great Lakes. He is excellent. I can’t say that people were always going to Rakiya, but we often did.
There was already in 1996 a clear sense in the newsroom and in the media in France that the RPF were the good guys and the Hutus were the bad guys. There was a bit of nuance of course with what we saw as the moderate Hutus, such as Seth Sendashonga [Minister of the Interior in the first Rwandan government after the genocide] who ended up being assassinated in 1998. He was truly good, from every standpoint, but also because he had been a member of the RPF, a political group that was given automatic legitimacy. There was an enormous lack of understanding of history, I think, by people like me. I’m talking about my own lack of understanding at the time, the habit of using the language of “moderate Hutus.”
This usage implied Hutus in general were not moderate. Hutus were considered extremists, and so we used this moniker. I think in that respect we’re getting back to the language issue—the way language has been used in a devastating way to view people and convey ideas. You don’t have to be an expert to understand that the words we use and how we speak affects what we think of people in terms of their humanity. It wasn’t until many years after that I started understanding this—all the propaganda I too had absorbed. At first when I was interviewing people, not only in refugee camps—a lot of them had been dismantled—but also in the forest because I would meet a Hutu refugee, a male, and I have to say I was automatically suspicious of him. I would ask, “What happened in 1994? Why did you stay in Zaire?” I was suspicious. Of course, I was very open, as well. I didn’t understand why so many people, women included and all these children, had stayed in Zaire, so that was one of the principal questions I asked: “Why did you not go back to Rwanda?” Because I still thought, even though I was collecting all this testimony of Kagame’s troops killing these Hutu refugees in Congo, that Kagame had stopped the genocide, that these were the good guys during in 1994. I initially framed the massacres I was investigating in Congo as a spasm of reprisals and revenge. Even if it did not ultimately make sense to me.
So I started to look at my own inadequacies as a reporter, and think about language. I was actually taken to task recently by some young people who asked me why I used the word genocidaire in my book. It’s written on the jacket of the book. I said, “Well, yeah it’s a very complicated issue for me.” I felt I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the word, but at the same time I feel if someone kills another individual or targets them because of their ethnicity—if a Hutu targets a Tutsi and uses violence against that person, then that person to me in a sense exhibits behavior of a genocidaire. In the same respect I think there are Tutsi genocidaires, people who targeted Hutus. I have kept some of that language which has been pointed out to me has been very hurtful because I used the word genocidaire in my book to describe the Hutus who killed Tutsis. Where I think the criticism is valid, maybe, is that I did not call any Tutsis genocidaires. So what I say is I’ve listed the twenty most notorious criminals in the appendix of my book, and I accused them of committing genocide against Hutus, but I still don’t use the word in my book that these Tutsi senior commanders are genocidaires. I had to think about that and I see a point there. I understand their argument. This is still evolving. My use of language and how I use it, and how I understand the history, how I phrase it is still something I’m working on. But I think a lot of us have to work on it.
DR: Genocide is a very contested word. Some say you have to prove planning at the official level, a lot of organization and deliberate plotting to call mass violence a genocide, and in that sense most things are massacres and wartime violence. The reason I asked you about the French before is that before I was writing about this, I wrote about nuclear disarmament and actually wrote a book on it last year, and I got to know Paul Quilès. He’s the former French defense minister. He was defense minister at the time, and just by getting to know him through his anti-nuclear work he’s doing in retirement, I came across some of the writings he did on the genocide. He was responsible for compiling the 1500-page report to the French parliament. He made a very good defense of everything France did at that time to send in the UN mission during the genocide. He totally denied the standard narrative that had come out of the media and from critics within his own country.
JR: I recall the conclusions of the Quilès inquiry, but I’m less aware of his work since, and I certainly haven’t read the 1500-page report, but I think, unfortunately, on the topic of what the French were doing before the genocide and how the Operation Turquoise was carried out, I think there’s been a tremendous amount of misinformation. I think the fault lies in the media. We’ve had the work of Patrick Saint-Exupéry, who worked for Le Figaro and France Soir, who came out many years ago and said that France was complicit in the genocide against Tutsis, and he’s seen as this maverick, tremendous journalist, but he has been convicted in French court for libel. He has not been able to back up his accusations, and so the work of Paul Quilès, if I recall, was overshadowed by the reporting by Patrick Saint-Exupéry and the journal Jeune Afrique, which is a French magazine on African politics and African news that has received money from the RPF.
I think there are tremendous problems in the French media in how it reports. I think it has been devastating for a lot of the French military who served in Operation Turquoise. There were Tutsis who were saved by the French operation, not enough obviously, but there were Tutsis survivors and those voices have been silenced. I’ve done a few interviews with people who insist that their families are alive today because of French soldiers, but we don’t hear anything like that in the French media.
DR: You also have to ask how much violence was prevented just by them being there and letting the Hutus get out of the country. There was going to be a final clash, and they wouldn’t have been taking prisoners.
JR: That’s right.
DR: So who do you think was helping and teaching the RPF how to influence the media this way?
JR: That’s a very good question. I think that some of the founders didn’t really need too much help. They knew how to talk white and appeal to Western intellectuals and Western government officials, and I don’t know if you’ve interviewed any of these people, but they’re really top-notch talkers.
DR: I teach a contemporary world history course, and I’ve learned a lot about what the US was doing in the 1970s and 1980s preparing to dismantle the USSR and Yugoslavia with propaganda campaigns and other active measures. Have you come across any other research about a similar plan for Central Africa? I often hear talk about it but not a lot of in-depth research or facts.
JR: There’s an American named Roger Winter who was very tight with the RPF even as early as maybe 1987, certainly by 1990, who was influential. Roger Winter has been one of these unusual characters who’s worked for humanitarian missions, for USAID, and also I think he’s linked with the US military establishment, and he’s been one of these covert figures. Roger Winter was very much involved with Kabila and Kagame during the invasion of Zaire. So he was going back and forth, working with the RPF. If I’m not mistaken, he was at Mulindi, at RPA headquarters in northern Rwanda before the genocide. That’s where the military headquarters was. Roger Winter was there in the run up to Habyarimana’s assassination, when the plane was shot down and the genocide began. He was at RPA military headquarters at Mulindi. Now why was an American at military headquarters in early April, a few days before the Rwandan president was assassinated? That raises a lot of questions and sets off alarm bells, but I think he is the figure who helped the RPF when it was fundraising in the late 80s and early 90s, gathering money from the diaspora Tutsi, helping the RPF get money, working on helping push policy and helping Western policymakers understand the importance of the return of Tutsis in exile, Tutsis in Uganda, Rwandan Tutsis in Tanzania, the Rwandan Tutsis who were in the United States. He was somebody who helped formulate our understanding of the pressing need of the disenfranchised Tutsis, and the fact that they were a persecuted minority. So there have been people who have helped the RPF in the West and I think he’s central to it. But on the other hand, going back to my earlier point, a lot of these guys who were the founders had been well-educated in Uganda and in other places. They knew how to talk, and they knew what the West wanted to hear. They mastered the language and that way of communicating, but also were clever enough to identify people, not only in government, but in academic circles, humanitarian organizations, and the media that they needed to approach.
DR: They’re all very clever for sure. It seems like they were underestimated, too. What do you think of Clinton? Was he disingenuous when he said he regretted not acting sooner to stop the genocide, or was he deliberately holding back to let the RPF have its victory?
JR: The United States was interested in the RPF seizing power. Bill Clinton, as Samantha Power points out in her book, A Problem From Hell, knew what was going on during the genocide.  She says clearly in her book, and I think this has been documented by the National Security Archive as well, that the Clinton administration had a lot of knowledge in real time about what was occurring in those first few days in April. They knew. Bill Clinton appeared to know the level of violence, the loss of life. He had the cables. He was getting those reports. They had the satellite technology to understand what was going on, and so for him to say years later that he didn’t know and he wishes he had acted is, I think, disingenuous. Samantha Power’s book was critical of the US administration, and yet she went on to congratulate the RPF and Kagame for their achievements. She is somebody who has helped espouse the RPF narrative.
DR: Well, I’ve almost finished my questions, but I’m just wondering what’s next for you?
I’m not really sure. I’m trying to still promote my book and I seem to be working with some people or talking about my research now and then, if not in official interviews but with people who are doing their own research like yourself who are calling upon me a lot. I’m actually now working on getting the book translated for different markets. That’s taking up some of my time, but I have to stay I’m at a crossroads because there are two phenomena that I’d like to research, if I continue with this, and I’m not certain I will. If I do continue researching Rwanda, I will pursue the whole issue of propaganda. The effective use of propaganda is something that interests me, and I already have a fair amount of research done, but I’d like to do a lot more on it—white, gray and black propaganda. And also the level of RPF infiltration in Hutu militias. That is, how the RPF was able to infiltrate Hutu militias and Hutu political parties, and the effect it had. I’ve already talked about some of the research I’ve done and some information in the confidential documents that I managed to confirm and expand on in my interviews with RPF defectors. But this is a very explosive issue, and it’s a very difficult one to probe in depth, but I may work on that. I’m not sure. There are certainly other things I’m interested in, but those are two that I could possibly pursue. I’m just not sure of it yet.
DR: You described some harrowing experiences in your book. Have there been any more times when you didn’t feel safe in Montreal or when travelling?
JR: There have been a few incidents, some problems. There has been some troubling kind of talk about what the RPF is doing and how it’s planning or not planning to target people they believe I’ve interviewed to expose these crimes. There have been a few incidents in Montreal, but I’ve mostly been worried about my sources because this is something I agonized over and struggled with throughout my research and in writing it. As one exposes crimes and makes a detailed account of them, the very nature of telling these stories signals to some extent who could have revealed them, especially when it comes to the former soldiers and officers from the Rwandan Patriotic Army. This was something that I really had to work on and I was always worried about. With the testimonies of the people who spoke to me, I decided to describe the crimes in a way that would keep them safe, but I still worry about them, and there are a number of people that I interviewed in Africa, so I’m in constant contact with them and we’re always vigilant. I’m most worried about my sources, but I still have to watch what I do every day in terms of my movements.
DR: The threats you experienced made for a very chilling part of your book. I think you didn’t talk about until the last half of the book, so it comes as a shock to the reader.
JR: It is shocking. It is shocking to me that this government continues to threaten and attack people abroad and yet is still a staunch ally of the West, and is used in peacekeeping, and it has a powerful place that the United Nations. It boggles the mind.
DR: OK, I’ve finished most of my questions, but there’s one more thing I meant to ask: Do you know any of the Canadian lawyers who worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [1994-2105]?
JR: I do know them. Christopher Black has helped me. I mentioned him in my acknowledgement section at the end of my book because he and Peter Erlinder have actually made available a lot of documents to journalists and researchers, and so I think documents from the tribunal are really helpful to understand the history better. If you go through line by line some of the court proceedings, you get a completely different view of what happened in 1994, and it exposes the lack of professionalism and the lack of expertise of Western experts on Rwanda, especially how they describe, for example, this plot—not only the whole idea of akazu [an informal organization of Hutu extremists whose members were accused of the killings of 1994] but also the conspiracy theory that Western experts and Human Rights Watch, Alison des Forges and Rakiya Omaar formulated and that was absorbed by the tribunal and used in a lot of the indictments against Hutus.
The conspiracy alleged that genocidaires had plotted for years to kill Tutsis, to commit a genocide, and a lot of that stuff came from Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal. Alex de Waal admits that he created a narrative, he created the conspiracy. He takes credit for it as though he’s bragging, but it was certainly taken up by Alison des Forges. A key lawyer in the Military 1 prosecution would not go on the record unfortunately. We’re not talking about defense lawyers such as Christopher Black or John Philpot or Alison Turner. We’re talking about someone working at the office of the prosecutor that sought convictions of prominent Hutu figures. This prosecutor said that the whole akazu and conspiracy was full of holes, that it was ludicrous. The people who espoused this, that came to the tribunal as experts and said that this was the reality, did enormous damage not only to history but to judicial proceedings and to our understanding of what happened in Rwanda. This is something that is very serious.
The documents, some of the testimony, and the court proceedings as they unfolded over the years illuminate historical reality. It’s very good to go through them, and I think Christopher Black, Peter Erlinder and André Guichaoua have done an effective job of pointing people in the right direction, for people who really want to understand historical events.
DR: I’ve taken a lot of your time Judi. I really appreciate it, so thanks again.
JR: You’re welcome. I hope that was helpful. Good luck with your research, and please let me know how it develops.

Other Sources

Black, Christopher, “Kagame’s Mass Atrocities in Rwanda and the Congo,” Global Research, August 26, 2012.

Conroy, John (director, producer) and Corbin, Jane (producer, narrator), “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” BBC Productions, 2014.

Desvarieux, Jessica (producer), “Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame,” The Real News Network, April 8, 2014.

Herman, Edward S. and Peterson, David, Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later (The Real News Books, 2014).

McBride, Jesse, U.S. Made (Christian Faith Publishing, 2015) ISBN 978-1-68197-015-8.

Prunier, Gerard, Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Reyntjens, Filip, Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Vltchek, Andre (director, writer), Rwanda Gambit.


[1] Gar Alperovitz, “The Decision to Bomb Hiroshima,” Counterpunch, August 5, 2011.
[2] Helen Epstein, “The Mass Murder We Don’t Talk About,” New York Review of Books, June 7, 2018.
[3] Ann Garrison, “Wikileaks: Rwandan Reconciliation Is a Lie,” Black Agenda Report, August 8, 2018.

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