By Howard Adelman

In 1994, between 6 April and mid- July—a period of 99 days of mayhem—approximately 500,000-800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered in Rwanda in a systematically planned genocide. (Alison des Forges, who provides the only analysis of numbers, suggests a figure of 507,000. Surprisingly, she does not take into consideration the counts based on bodies found in burial sites and estimates of corpses that were thrown into Lake Victoria.The latter produces a much higher total.) Like the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews, the genocide was a highly organized and centrally directed one. As indicated in the famous 11 January 1994 cable that the U.N. Force Commander in the field, General Romeo Dallaire, sent to U.N. headquarters four months before the genocide began in earnest, the genocidists, based on their practice runs, calculated that they could kill 1,000 every 20 minutes. This was the only genocide since the Holocaust that had occurred on such a scale. But it took place over three months and not three years. Largely executed with machetes, it was a low-tech affair, not a highly industrialized operation. Further, there was plenty of information in advance that the genocide was being planned. What stands out most, however, is that the genocide took place in a small poor country with a U.N. military force present. That peace force continued to control the airport in the Rwanda capital of Kigali throughout the civil war, a war that served as a semi-cover for the genocide.

Why had the genocide occurred? Why had it not been prevented? Why, once it started, had it not been mitigated? What roll did the outside “good guys” play in preventing, mitigating, or, perhaps, even facilitating the genocide?

These are major questions lurking behind the spate of recent books on the Rwandan genocide. The U.N. was created after World War II, in part at least, to prevent genocides. This was the most easily preventable genocide one can imagine. There was advance notice. The U.N. was in military control of the key centre—the airport. International law sanctioned intervention in the case of genocide, and in any case, the U.N. had already been given a mandate to protect civilians in Rwanda. Finally, those organizing the genocide were only a relatively small group—at most, 400 people in the extended extremist high command. Those executing the genocide were poorly equipped. General Dallaire, in an interview with me, suggested that a well-equipped company with armored personnel carriers and helicopters could have stopped virtually the whole slaughter if the intervention had occurred at the right point. And even once the genocide started, a well-equipped military battalion could have done the job. Why did we stand by and do so little to stop or even mitigate the genocide?

Why did the genocide occur in the first place? Can we learn anything from the Rwanda slaughter that can advance our knowledge of why genocides take place? Perhaps then future ones can be anticipated and then prevented.

The U.N. sent troops in July 1994 to protect and save the refugees (including many of the genocidists) who fled Rwanda when the Hutu extremists were defeated by the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). When the U.N.-sanctioned French troops of Opération Turquoise landed in June on only several days notice, it was ten weeks after the genocide had started and after it had almost run its course. Why had troops not been sent earlier to stop and hamper the genocide?

One explanation is that we are morally at war ourselves. On one side stand the morally righteous humanitarians who help refugees but have no control of military forces. They berate the political powers for failing to do their duty. On the other side stand the political realists who work for states that control military forces and frequently argue that the only reason intervention is warranted is if our self interests or the balance of power are affected. In fact, the realists often argue that intervention is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

There are, of course, philosophers like Michael Walzer, who claim that the above two options pose a false dichotomy. What is needed is a principled conception of politics and an application of principle to crises that takes politics fully into account. Elsewhere, I have dubbed that approach as humanitarian realism. The “thin” universal morality that unites all humanity has to be combined with the “thick” history and culture particular to the various peoples, including ourselves, that populate this globe and which nations stand ready to defend.. (Cf. Michael Walzer, Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad, Notre Dame University Press.) The application of such a moral outlook is particularly acute when it comes to Rwanda, for the Tutu and the Hutu practice the same religions, have the same culture, speak the same language and, with the exception of some members of each group, most are physically indistinguishable. The conflict between the extremist Hutu and the rest of the Rwandan population was over the “thin” morality which supposedly unites all humanity rather than over the “thick” cultural differences which divide peoples. On the level of “truth” and “justice” minimally understood, most people in Rwanda and in the West shared the same values. However, on the level of “thick” morality, Rwanda was not a place where one could find a “return of the tribes,” an assertion of particular ethnic, religious and national identity that has become so much a sign of our times.

However, “the return of the tribes” was the lens through which most of the media misread the conflict in Rwanda. There was no intractable differences between the Hutu and Tutsi. Yet this was the context where such a horrific and preventable genocide took place. The conflict was not between those with different “thick” cultures. On one side stood a small determined group manipulating identities without even significant cultural differences in the name of what Professor Melissa Orlie of the University of Illinois has called “unmixed difference” or “the desire for purity.” On the other side of the “thin red line” stood the rest of us who recognize that purity is a delusion inappropriately applied from physical hygiene to issues of identity.

Though one might expect a wide variety of interpretations, the books discussed in this essay offer variations on only a few explanations to account for both the genocide and the failure to intervene in a timely and effective fashion. One answer is moral bankruptcy. It is taken as self-evident that the genocidists were morally bankrupt. One does not expect to read that the organization that led the intervention and its members are also morally bankrupt. But this is precisely the charge laid by the Canadian Force Commander of the peacekeepers in Rwanda. General Romeo Dallaire, in his essay, “The End of Innocence: Rwanda 1994” in the Moore collection, saw himself and his UNAMIR forces as “attempting to balance moral concerns with practical considerations” in the Walzer spirit. The sovereign states who are members of the U.N., on the other hand, not only abandoned the Rwandese, but even abandoned its own emasculated U.N. forces to face the tragedy without a mandate, without military equipment to defend themselves (let alone the Tutsi being slaughtered) and without supplies. The survival rations were rotten and inedible. What is Dallaire’s explanation? The states suffered from an “inexcusable apathy,” “inexcusable by any human criteria” and “completely beyond comprehension and moral acceptability.” In other words, the depth of moral depravity was more in evidence and more incomprehensible when the treatment of their own troops was put under the microscope, for even self interest was not in play. This was already evident in the radical difference between the complex and desperately critical crisis that the troops were asked to deal with and the totally inadequate resources that they were given to accomplish their task. It was also evident in the fact that “70 percent of my and my principal staff’s time was dedicated to an administrative battle with the U.N.’s somewhat constipated logistic and administrative structure” than with the crisis they were sent over to address. Dallaire doesn’t detail that logistic nightmare in his essay, but one example should suffice. The troops were sent over and never received a budget to cover expenditures until six months after they were sent and only two days before the genocide exploded.

Apathy that is morally and cognitively incomprehensible is one interpretation of the moral failure of the West and the international agency that is supposed to embody our highest values—the U.N. Tom Longman (“State, Civil Society & Genocide in Rwanda” in the Joseph collection) has a different explanation. It was not apathy and moral indifference in not stopping the genocide but the involvement of western states in building state power that carried out the genocide. The West allowed the growth of a militant opposition to seize state power at the expense of the civil society. Gourevitch holds the same view. “Rwanda was regarded in much of the rest of the world as the exemplary instance of the chaos and anarchy associated with collapsed states. In fact, the genocide was the product of order, authoritarianism, decades of modern political theorizing and indoctrination, and one of the most meticulously administered states in history.” Not apathy, but a strong and activist state structure without a counterbalancing civil society, all reinforced by Western economic support—these were the conditions that fertilized the ground for the genocide.

Like virtually all the scholars who have studied the Rwandan genocide, Longman observed that the problem was not the result of a release of primordial tribal divisions as a result of a failed or weakened state. Rather, “the genocide was organized by state officials and their allies and was carried out using the instruments of the state.” The West, with their support of the Habyarimana regime, made possible the increased coercive capacity of the state. And the civil war was not only the cover for the genocide. The civil war allowed the regime to expand its weaponry and military personnel, to monitor and more effectively control the population and to organize and carry out criminal violence with rhetorical resources. (Presumably, this refers to Radio Milles Collines and the variety of extremist newspapers that led the racist propaganda campaign against the Tutsi.) The logistics were, in effect, supplied by Western support. In initiating the civil war, the RPF bears some of the responsibility for the genocide in Longman’s view, particularly since, without the war, Longman believes that Rwanda was headed towards increased democratization. But that does not mean that democratization would have included the repatriation of the refugees who initiated the war.

Peter Uvin (Aiding Violence) shares Longman’s view on the role of the West in creating what he dubs “structural violence.” Most of the book is spent documenting that structural violence in contrast to the image of Rwanda perpetrated by the aid agencies as the ideal recipient of aid until the late eighties. Rwanda had been portrayed, certainly by CIDA, as the best user of aid (for example, relatively little of the Rwandan state funds went to the military) until the crash of coffee prices in the late eighties. Though he cannot spell Ottawa when he indicts Canada (he spells it “Ottowa”), Gourevitch puts the case succinctly. In the eighties, “Rwanda was tranquil—or, like the volcanoes in the northwest, dormant; it had nice roads, high church attendance, low crime rates and steadily improving standards of public health and education [though Unwin claims it was very unevenly distributed]. If you were a bureaucrat with a foreign aid budget to unload, and your professional success was to be measured by your ability not to lie or gloss too much when you filed happy statistical reports at the end of each fiscal year, Rwanda was the ticket.”

In the Galtung tradition, structural violence entails conditions which offer radically different life chances to different groups because there is “great inequality, injustice, discrimination, and exclusion needlessly limiting people’s physical, social and psychological well-being.” Those in charge of or attached to the state sector enjoyed enormous privileges. Most were poor, suffering economic and social exclusion. They lacked information, education, or access to health services and other basic needs in spite of the macro-indicators that registered economic growth in the eighties. Structural violence results in frustration, anger, ignorance, despair and cynicism because the images of the good life turn the poor into self-haters without self-respect so they become vulnerable to manipulation and simplistic ideas. The civil society committed to moderation, pluralism and tolerance was weak. At the same time, development aid strengthened the state sector without any effective or persistent countervailing political conditionality placed on that aid or sufficient counterbalancing efforts to reinforce the civil society or, in the end, adequate provision from the donor countries for its peacekeepers. That is the argument, in any case.

Unvin unites the thesis of Dallaire and Longman, but treats their observations as symptoms of a deeper problem. On the one hand, the wealthy countries did not provide either a mandate or sufficient resources to intervene effectively in the genocide. On the other hand, aid was part of the process creating the conditions for structural violence when that same aid could have been used to prevent its possibility or to counteract its effectiveness once it became imminent. As Unvin documents, when conditionality was placed on aid, the Rwandan government did temporarily change its behaviour. Rather than apathy among donor states, the issue then is one of misplaced support to those who were themselves under threat of losing their power and privileges and susceptible to employing scapegoating strategies to deal with stress and lack of self-esteem. As Gourevitch put Helen Fein’s manipulation/revenge thesis as the root of genocide, “The specter of an absolute menace that requires absolute eradication binds leader and people in a hermetic utopian embrace, and the individual—always an annoyance to totality—ceases to exist.” When combined with a lack of external constraints, a recipe for disaster had been created.

Thomas Weiss largely accepts the Unvin thesis and reinforces it by recalling the earlier colonial efforts that reified differences between Tutsi and Hutu and created the basis for the construction of rigid ethnic divisions. Further, Weiss documents the huge expenditures in aid following the genocide. This economic support stands in such sharp contrast to the meager effort provided to the peacekeepers and the misdirected aid prior to the outbreak of civil war. For Weiss, the problem was not apathy or even a misdirected aid ideology, though the latter sewed the conditions for the civil war and the ethnic skapegoating. Rather, the focus is on the peacekeeping and its failure when the warnings of genocide were present or even once the genocide had commenced. The tardiness and meagerness in responding is rooted in domestic politics, according to Weiss. “There are fewer risks for politicians from humanitarian assistance, however costly and inefficient, than from earlier preventive action by military forces with possible casualties or the potential for protracted involvement in a civil war.”

Elliott Leyton also accepts the thesis that genocide is the use of violence by those who hold power in a modern state to “galvanize its citizens, divert public attention from the regime’s defects, steal the victim’s wealth and status, and terrorize the survivors into submission.” Leyton’s book begins after most of the others left off—the mass return of the refugees from Zaire in 1996 when they are freed from the clutches of their oppressors (the genocidists) by the Rwandan-backed rebellion in Zaire. The book includes pictures of the skeletal remains of the genocide in the Nyarama church. States seemed so unwilling to risk the lives of armed soldiers to prevent or mitigate the genocide. Leyton’s book is a personal account of doctors and medical personnel of Médecins Sans Frontiéres (Doctors Without Borders) who voluntarily accept risks to their health and well-being, and sometimes their lives. Leyton does not portray them as heroes but as individuals motivated by relatively mundane reasons. They needed jobs. They were bored with just dispensing pills to the secure and overfed. They liked adventure. According to Martin, a Canadian 10-year veteran of MSF, MSF’s historic and ethical responsibility “is first to bear witness to these genocides and famines for the world, then to help, and finally to assess more efficient ways of getting aid to the suffering.”

Though the book appears to include nothing about prevention and concentrates on documenting, helping and providing humanitarian assistance, in fact, Martin accepts the Galtung/Unwin thesis that humans deprived of needs and dignity bear grudges and are bent on revenge. MSF tries to reduce the need for vengeance. Though of various backgrounds and skills, and pushed by a variety of different motives, what seems to unite MSFers is that they are free spirits, impatient with bureaucracies as they build their own in order to be effective. As Leyton observes, “MSF is hierarchical and is “run along military lines” in spite of the sincere effort to be consensual and participatory. For Leyton, MSF volunteers— repelled by the impersonalism of modernity—are searching for disalientation.

Membership [in MSF] liberates them as human beings, allows them to explore fully their potential as they seize the opportunity to act. With that liberation comes a profound conviction of purity of what they do, of the moral superiority of their agency and themselves—a belief so powerful, a satisfaction so intense, that it sustains them through whatever they must do. To witness atrocity and fear, to treat vile diseases, to heal terrible wounds, to dig the latrine or deliver clean water are all part of a process in which they confront reality and construct their identities. In acting thus with such purpose and moral clarity, all other dilemmas dissolve. To act without ambivalence or regret, to cut through the mindlessness of conventional life, to revel in what one does is ofr them the only way to become whole. (p. 72)

As distasteful as I found the idea, I could not help reading this and thinking about the search for purity and meaningfulness of the genocidists. They, too, had a sense of moral superiority and were willing to take great risks and face atrocities—ones they of course committed, however. They too had a sense of purpose and moral clarity in their own terms. But the MSFers were dedicated to doing good, mending the world, while the genocidists were intent on committing evil and destroying others. What line differentiated the two groups? What unites them?

Gourevitch has an answer. Or at least the Hutu, Paul, has one, and his explanation reads as if Gourevtch endorses it. The genocidal leadership “understood that in order to move a huge number of weak people to do wrong, it is necessary to appeal to their desire for strength—and the gray force that really drives people is power. Hatred and power are both, in the different way, passions. The difference is that hatred is purely negative, while power is essentially positive; you surrender to hatred, but you aspire to power. In Rwanda, the orgy of misbegotten power that led to the genocide was carried out in the name of Hutuness, and when Paul, a Hutu, set out to defy the killers, he did so by appealing to their passion for power: they were the ones who had chosen to take life away and he grasped that that meant they could also choose to extend the gift of retaining it.” A simple answer. Power is creative. Power is misbegotten when it is motivated by hatred and then used destructively.

But then why did the genocidists engage in hatred? And why did Western states contribute to a system that fostered such hatred and then did virtually nothing when that misbegotten power was used to destroy a million people? Peter Unwin claims to offer a deeper answer. The genocidists are victims of the process of modernity from the perspective of a neo-Marxiist critique. If the genocidists are the victims of modernity, the humanitarians are the saviours. MSFers are in search of liberation from “the triviality and mindlessness of modernity” performing righteous penance for what Leyton calls “the machinations of racist imperialism” in a world run on fear and greed and a tissue of lies. While genocidists act on the basis of resentment, MSFers combine “self-serving desires and the needs of suffering humanity.” But then their satisfaction is totally dependent on a horrific world and, unconsciously, to obtain any satisfaction, it would mean they had a vested interest in perpetuating misery. Isn’t that an obscene thought?

Leyton’s book is a propaganda spiel for the dedicated and committed humanitarians of MSF. They deserve to be applauded. James Orbinski, an MSF Canadian physician who is also lauded by Gourevitch, deserves great praise. But the dedicated medical and other personnel who serve with MSF do not need the silly asides on the nature of the world derived from a simplistic leftist view of the its current state that Leyton provides. The combination suggests that the author is using MSF sacrifice and dedication to advance his own purist vision and the sense of ecstasy he obtains with such moral clarity.

I have the same sense in reading Philip Gourevitch’s interviews with the survivors of the genocide, though his account is by far the best written of the books under discussion. But he is another moralist on a superego trip, only his moral purity is not found in the humanitarians in MSF, but in Paul Kagame, the real leader of the RPF and current Vice-President of Rwanda. Widely and justly praised for capturing the horror of the genocide in Rwanda through the voices of the survivors, Gourevitch also provides an intellectual horror show in his own right. Though he does recognize the simplicity and moral absoluteness of the genocidists, he seems to be totally oblivious to his own simplifications and puritanism. If MSFers are intent on giving witness and healing, Gourevitch focuses on the witnessing largely by letting the victims speak.

Further, unlike the moral purists who speak with a pre-modern voice, Gourevitch speaks with a post-modern one. “Rwandan history is dangerous,” he says. “Like all history, it is a record of successive struggles for power, and to a very large extent power consists in the ability to make others inhabit your story of their reality.” In fact, this is Gourevitch’s definition of freedom. Freedom belongs in the imagination. “We are, each of us, functions of how we imagine ourselves and of how others imagine us.” Insofar as others project an image onto us, we are entrapped by their projections. We are free only insofar as we have freedom to imagine ourselves. As Gourevitch advises gratuitously, “perhaps you will want to guard the memory of those times when you were freer to imagine yourself as the only times that are truly and inviolably your own.” But since this schema provides no basis for differentiating truths from lies, the issue is not the lies of the state, but the narrative the state projects. “When death is always the work of enemies, and the power of the state considers itself in concert with the occult, distrust and subterfuge become tools of survival, and politics itself becomes a poison.”

But if freedom is merely the function of how we imagine ourselves, then the genocidal leaders are most free when they imagine the Tutsi are all out to murder them, and they see themselves engaged in a rite of purification. Similarly, when the U.N. Secretariat imagines itself to be governed by reluctant and unsupportive states, then apologist U.N. officials can assert of the famous 11 January cable that, “We get hyperbole in many reports….If we had gone to the Security Council three months after Somalia, I can assure you no government would have said, ‘Yes, here are our boys for an offensive action in Rwanda.'” Gourevitch feels no reportorial responsibility to check whether the cable was, in fact, treated by the U.N. Secretariat as just another hyperbolic report. Evidence had already been published that the U.N. did not regard this as just another false alarm before Gourevitch wrote his series of New Yorker articles which constitute the book.

But Gourevitch is not a researcher. He is an interviewer and storyteller. Otherwise, he would have known that when Iqbal Riza suggested that the cable was seen as an expression of hyperbole, it was not, in fact, viewed as such at the time. Gourevitch notes, without comment, that Riza looked surprised. “It’s astonishing—an amazing document.” But the U.N. Secretariat had recognized the cable for the astonishing document that it was from the beginning. After the genocide, they had engaged in a cover-up. And Riza’s feigned surprise was possibly part of the same cover-up.

Thus, though Gourevitch is great storyteller, he is a lousy investigative journalist. And when he offers interpretations of historical events, he is downright self-contradictory and confused. For example, Gourevitch tells the following story: In May of 1994, there was a threat by a military intelligence officer of the genocidal regime to kill all the Tutsi and moderate Hutu who had taken sanctuary in the Hotel Milles Collines. The Hotel manager called on all his contacts to lobby with the regime. Those taking sanctuary in the hotel were not killed. Why not? Gourevitch’s explanation is that UNAMIR facilitated a deal between the RPF, who held government prisoners, and the government. There was trade-off. The RPF would spare their prisoners if no one in the hotel was killed. In other words, two coercive powers faced each other and made a bargain facilitated by UNAMIR. The latter, according to Gourevitch, had not saved the refugees as widely reported at the time; rather, “they were saved by the RPF’s threat to kill the others.”

I do not know what all the factors were that saved those who had taken refuge in Hotel Milles Collines. I do know that Gourevitch presents his answer with total self-assurance and without evidence. And the fact that this realist, power-politics account seems to contradict his major theme not only does not faze him, he seems to be utterly oblivious to that fact. While Gourevitch is a great storyteller, he has little interest in separating out fiction from truth. In fact, his postmodernist outlook makes such discrimination largely irrelevant. And his explanations, and the moral blame he distributes so easily based on those simplistic explanations, are as much a mixture of fiction as truth.

For example, Gourevtich says that “The desertion of Rwanda by the U.N. force was Hutu Power’s greatest diplomatic victory to date, and it can be credited almost single-handedly to the United States.” It is certainly true that the U.S. wanted to avoid another Somalia and was wary of becoming involved in the midst of a civil war. The U.S. also deliberately chose to call the massacres “genocide-like.” However, the French journalists were keen to portray France as the key accomplice of the genocidists. Further, if the Belgians had not decided to withdraw their troops in response to the mutilation and killing of ten peacekeepers, and if they had not lobbied that everyone else should withdraw, the crisis over UNAMIR would not have been up for discussion. If the U.N. Secretariat had properly informed the Security Council of the warnings of the planned genocide, premptive steps might possibly have been taken.

The reality is that there were many actors and all played their respective parts in the disaster. But tellers of fables are prone to love a genre which focuses on the irresponsible cops (in this case, the U.S.A.), the simple hero who takes direct action (Paul Kagame) and a horrific villain—the genocidists. Further, the reading of the Genocide Convention as enabling rather than legally obligating intervention is not “an inventive new reading” by the U.S.A., but is one of the standard interpretations. It is peculiar how the person who believes that freedom is merely a product of how we imagine ourselves is so quick to see everyone else’s views that disagrees with his own as being not only a product of their imaginations, but a totally unwarranted one.

Gourevitch does not restrict this treatment to the U.S.A. even if he holds the U.S. to be virtually singularly responsible for the genocidist successes. He engages in the same sort of judgement when it comes to France. When he discusses Opération Turquoise, the French intervention in July of 1994, he says that “wherever they went, the French forces supported and preserved the same local political leaders who had presided over the genocide,” regarding the RPF as their enemy and the Hutu genocidists as the legitimate power. The fact that the foremost authority on French action in Rwanda, Gérard Prunier, provides a quite different account, is of no interest to Gourevitch, even though he credits Prunier in his acknowledgements.

But Gourevitch has not written an academic book. Do not read it for adequate explanations and judgements. They are the distractions for those who have a detailed knowledge of the genocide. Read it for providing the best taste and feel and horror of the genocide from a very humanistic and sensitive perspective. The problem is that when you turn to an academic account such as that of Klinghoffer, you have a tightly-written and extremely well-footnoted account of the international role in the genocide—but, unfortunately, it too is marred by a plethora of errors. Some are trite. Bruce Jones, though completing his PhD at the London School of Economics, is a Canadian and not a British specialist. The almost one million “refugees” displaced by the civil war prior to signing the Arusha Accords are not refugees at all but internally displaced. The famous Dallaire cable was dated the 11th not the 10th of January. Some errors, however, are much more serious.

Klighoffer’s account of UNAMIR is flawed in a number of respects. First, the evidence does not support any claim that Boutros Boutros-Ghali was “determined to strengthen UNAMIR” except after the end of April. Though the statement appears at the appropriate time, there is no qualification that this was a reversal of an earlier position. Further, in the introductory chapter, Klinghoffer openly states that Boutros-Ghali worked persistently in New York to organize collective action. This is demonstrably false, though Boutros-Ghali and the documents he had the U.N. issue would want you to draw precisely this conclusion.

Earlier, Klinghoffer stated that UNAMIR, since its mandate did not extend to protecting civilians, “kept a low profile as the violence escalated.” First, UNAMIR did have a mandate from the parties to the peace agreement to protect civilians, but the U.N. determined that the mandate would only be carried out with the cooperation of the gendarmie and Rwandan military forces, who happened to be controlled by the genocidists at the time . The lack of a mandate was not the reason for not protecting civilians. Rather, U.N. headquarters determined that the UNAMIR forces could not take an initiative in protecting civilians, though soldiers did so actively at great risk and continued to provide passive protection at several large locales, including the stadium in Kigali. The reasons were many. This interpretation of the mandate was the result of other factors and not the explanation for the limited action. Further, Klinghoffer claims that “UNAMIR kept a low profile as the violence escalated.” Trying to initiate a cease fire may have been stupid and futile, but it was not maintaining a low profile. Organizing the protection and exodus of the ex-pats in Rwanda perhaps should not have been its primary task. But UNAMIR was not maintaining a low profile. Regrouping and maintaining control of the airport was not maintaining a low profile. UNAMIR did not confine its troops to barracks after the death of the Belgian peacekeepers.

Part of the problem with Klinghoffer’s account is that it suffers from terseness. It is written as if the book is a series of notes strung together. But the errors aside, it does string the key items together in an easily read account that is well-documented in its footnotes. It echoes the unanimous view of all these books that the genocide was a systematically organized effort to eliminate the Tutsi population in Rwanda by Hutu extremists. The international complicity in the genocide is seen to result from the Belgian colonial legacy, foreign manipulation of the economy and, Klinghoffer adds, the population pressure and “triage,” the use of elimination techniques to respond to population pressures. But if Klinghoffer had read Homer-Dixon’s study—Homer-Dixon is one of the major proponents of the population and ecological pressure thesis as a prime cause of conflicts in Africa—he would have seen that even the staunchest proponent of the thesis found that the evidence in the Rwanda case did not support such an interpretation. Nevertheless, in spite of my differences with some of the factors cited, Klinghoffer does try to explain the many and varied factors that interacted to help bring about the conditions that fostered the genocide.

What are we left with in the end? The genocide was caused by immoral Hutu extremists. The genocide was caused by a system that built in structural violence. The genocidists were driven by hatred, and revenge is a misbegotten use of power. The major western powers failed to intervene because they were complicit, to different degrees, in building the genocidal regime. Unwilling to sacrifice their troops to save others, according to General Dallaire, the dominant powers were quite willing to put troops in harm’s way to give the appearance of action without the will or the moral fibre to do anything effectively.

I happen to find the range of explanations limited and too simplistic in general. The reasons were more complex than even Klinghoffer suggests, and he includes some factors that have little merit as explanatory ones. Nevertheless, Unvin has written the best-documented account of the economic factors behind the genocide. Gourevitch has written a most moving and compelling account of the feel and effects of the genocide. Klinghoffer has synthesized a large body of material in a very concise way, but one marred by too many errors of fact and interpretation. The volunteers of MSF deserve a better-written analysis of the context of their self-sacrifice and dedication, though Leyton’s praise is well-deserved. And the chapters in other books make their own valuable contributions. The problem is that not one of them is adequate in explaining and accounting for both the genocide and the impotence of those who could so readily have saved the day.

The best, longest and least simplistic book is saved for dessert: Alison des Forges’ Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. One of “a small number of foreigners [who] did fight passionately to stop the slaughter,” Alison, modest beyond belief about her own role (her own name does not even appear on the cover of the book), proves that intellect can complement passion.

Alison provides one of the briefest and best histories of the emergence of Hutu and Tutsi as distinct groups. The bureaucratization of differences, the solidarity of the oppressed and the opportunism of an elite combined to turn those differences into radical divisions. Alison describes in meticulous detail how Bugosora outfoxed the internal opposition within the army and the political establishment to pull off both the coup and the genocide. Though the RPF has to be credited with saving most of the Tutsi who survived, Alison goes into great detail in the role of the RPF in committing atrocities of its own—from 25,000 to 40,000. If Dallaire did not spell out the UN logistic nightmare, Alison does. And Alison is the first to document how our own head of the Canadian Armed forces, General Baril—then at U.N. Headquarters—continually undermined his fellow Canadian, General Dallaire. However, Alison does claim, erroneously I believe, that the U.N. representative accepted Bagosora’s efforts to install his puppet extremists as the legitimate government following the coup. Her evidence indicates only that he failed to report on the extent and organized nature of the genocide underway.

Unlike Gourevitch, she checks her facts and recognizes that the 11 January cable was put in a black file (actually, a box) because it was recognized as important. Alison confirms the accuracy of Gourevitch’s account of how the Tutsi were saved in the Hotel Milles Collines, but she leaves out the heroic genre for framing the tale. Her explanations are subtle and complex. Her emphasis is on the West’s failure to stop the genocide once that state power was seized to be used for genocidal purposes—an outcome far more contingent and uncertain than suggested by the other accounts. For Alison agrees with Dallaire, and explains in excruciating detail the reasons that the genocide could have been stopped with ease in the first two weeks after it had commenced. Unlike Gourevitch, Alison not only distributes the responsibility for failing to prevent or mitigate the genocide, but explains the different motives for the various failures. Belgium was concerned with extricating its peacekeepers with a minimum of dishonour. The U.S. was unwilling to commit resources in a country without strategic interest. France concentrated on protecting its clients and Francophonie. The U.N. leadership was preoccupied with not being blamed for another failure.

Alison presents reams of evidence to suggest that the specter of the Tutsi as an absolute menace requiring eradication was a strategic technique rather than a given psychological state binding Hutu leaders and followers. Far more organizational skill and effort were required to execute the genocide than simply repeated appeals. In fact, state machinery, the use of the media for propaganda purposes, and the intimidation and coercion of dissidents or those who tried to stand aside were all used brilliantly and efficaciously. Yet only a small but significant portion of the population, in the end, were induced or forced into killing their co-nationals. And they did so for many more reasons than Leyton suggested—not only power and pillage, but virulent hatred, real fear, ambition, and to save their own skins, or for more mundane reasons: they wanted to avoid the fines levied for non-participation.

Why had the genocide not been prevented or mitigated? Many reasons combined and came together, but none of the reasons excused those who had a role. Alison would have the bystanders as well as the perpetrators brought before a commission of truth if not a court of justice. She has been the strongest, and now establishes herself as the most articulate force in advancing the effort to bring understanding as well as justice to the Rwanda genocide.

Copyright © 2000, Howard Adelman, all rights reserved

Books Reviewed in this Article:

Alison des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999, 789 pages. ISBN: 1-56432-171-1.

Philip Gourevitch, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with all our families: stories from Rwanda. New York: Farar Straus and Giroux, 1998, 353 pages. ISBN 0-374-28697-3.

Richard Joseph, ed., State, Conflict, and Democracy in Africa. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999, 525 pages. ISBN 1-5587-799-0 (pbk 1-55587-533-5).

Arthur Jay Klinghoffer, The International Dimension of Genocide in Rwanda. New York: New York University Press, 1998, 219 pages. ISBN 0-8147-4721-3.

Elliott Leyton with photographs by Greg Locke, Touched by Fire: Doctors Without Borders in a Third World Crisis. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, 1998, 212 pages. ISBN 0-7710-5305-3

Jonathan Moore, ed., Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998, 315 pages. ISBN 0-8476-9031-8

Peter Uvin, Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda, West Hartford, Connecticut: Kumarian Press, 1998, 273 pages.1-56549-083-5

Thomas G. Weiss, Military-Civilian Interactions: Intervening in Humanitarian Crises, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999, 279 pages. ISBN 0-8476-8745-5




Comments are closed.