Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Empirical Record on Habyarimana's Death

On 1 October 2011, Rwanda National Congress co-founder, Theogene Rudasingwa confirmed that his former Rwandan Patriotic Front colleague, Paul Kagame, is personally responsible for downing Habyarimana's plane -- the event that initiated the Rwandan genocide. Certain segments of the Disapora lit up social media sites with sentiments of praise and relief at the willingness and ability of Dr. Rudasingwa to express what has long been an open secret in Rwanda. The academic and policy worlds, in careful assessments of the available empirical record had established as early at 2000 that Kagame ordered the downing of Habyarimana's in a bid to secure political power, not to save Tutsi lives. A good representative article is Kuperman's 2004 "Provoking Genocide: A revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front". Indeed, more careful academic work from Guichaoua and Straus suggests that the military actions of the RPF along with its unwillingness to negotiate in good faith at the Arusha Peace Accords, combined with the surprise downing of Habyriamana's plane, meant that extremist elements within the interim government only planned the genocide on the evening of 6 April 1994.

There has been virtually no response from Kigali on Rudasingwa's allegation, although I hear from trusted sources that Kagame is fuming mad. A representative reaction that minimises the historical importance of the downing of Habyarimana's plane comes from one of the many journalists known to be in Kigali's employ, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi. Golooba-Mutebi's article makes the requisite personal attacks on Rudasingawa, urging him to notice that his position is one that divides Rwandans, and is rooted in colonial thinking that promoted exclusionary politics in the first place. As is standard in government-sponsored media, Golooba-Mutebi does not directly engage the empirical claims of Rudasingwa's article; instead he launches into a standard government narrative of the root causes of the genocide, seeking to strip Kagame's personal accountability and minimise the importance of engaging Rudasingwa's allegations.

I think both sides of the 'Who-Downed-the-Plane' debate miss a larger point that is important for Rwandans to know as they seek to build an inclusive polity (the stated goal of both the RPF and the RNC). What happened that day in Arusha, during the power sharing discussions, that made 6 April 1994 the day to bring down Habyarimana's plane? There is no available transcript of the 6 April talks that I've ever been able to find, and folks like Rudasingwa, with intimate knowledge of the political and military posturing and strategy of the RPF before, during and immediately after the genocide, are well placed to reveal something more than which actors downed the plane that started the genocide.

If they could introduce new empirical evidence on why the downing of the plane was the defining event that launched the genocide, and on the motivations and political interests of all the actors to the Arusha Accords (including international observers), we could break ground that not only reveals the culpability of key RPF actors in downing Habyarimana's plane, but shows the political machinations of political leaders in both the Habyarimana and interim regimes that carried out genocide. It could also reveal that the RPF are not the saviours of post-genocide Rwanda, and that its leaders are also responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Without a sincere reckoning of why Habyarimana's plane went down when it did, and why, a big part of the puzzle is missing. Can the RNC and other political actors flesh out the empirical record? Will they?

1 comment:

  1. Personally I do not find Rudasingwa's comments credible. If it is, as you also allege, common knowledge and if he was as close to things as he says, then he would be able to tell us exactly and in full detail how it was done. But so far there is nothing from him only the allegation. Remember he was a public servant in Rwanda but his former house is now a hotel.