Although Chris McGreal of The Guardian was one of the only journalists whose quotes made the final edit, I interviewed others who had reported the Congo massacres at the time. The difference is that in Gourevitch’s writing, there is something akin to an acceptance of these atrocities because of the weight of the earlier ones committed during the genocide.
Howard French was another interviewee and I would not presume to defend his position myself. He was not an “overseer” of any kind. My connection to CJR is simply as a commissioned writer and my connection to French was interviewer to interviewee.
I included his comments about the Holocaust because it was interesting that Lemarchand had made the same point.
The article is largely based on what Gourevitch has written about Rwanda. What was striking was how much more measured he was in talking when I asked him to respond to his critics, as reported at length in the article.
Clearly Gourevitch takes a critical assessment of his work very personally. But the thesis of the article is that there are varied views of Kagame, that they are shifting, that we as journalists should try to represent those changes as they occur, that none of this is monolithic, that there is a debate to be had.
This article and Gourevitch’s response, are a contribution to that wider, and I believe valuable, discussion.
The best evidence, ironically, of Philip Gourevitch’s outsized influence on the issue of Central Africa (or at least of his belief in it) comes in his unmeasured response to this very measured and at all times respectful criticism of his work. At this late date, it seems to come as a surprise to Gourevitch that informed people could disagree with him, except perhaps as the result of an unholy cabal.
On that subject, let me just say that I had never heard of Tristan McConnell when he called me to request an interview for this article, whose preparation I had known nothing whatsoever about. Moreover, I initially resisted granting an interview because I have never thought it useful to personalize the discussion of the fates of millions of people, and to encourage a me versus him debate might do just that.
On substantive matters, Gourevitch definitively lost me on Central Africa
way back in October 1997, with a piece he wrote in The New Yorker titled
Stonewall Kabila. In it, he seems to argue against holding the new, Rwanda-backed government of Laurent Kabila in Congo to account for recent large-scale massacres of Hutu in that country. “It’s hard to imagine that anybody in the Congo stands to benefit from this test of wills,” he wrote, speaking of the UN’s efforts to pursue a doomed investigation into mass
graves. Tellingly, Gourevitch’s bile in this piece is reserved for the UN and by inference for sticklers for human rights. One detects very little energy and no outrage whatsoever on the subject of the atrocities themselves.
Congo’s history, however, provides an eloquent and deeply tragic
answer to Gourevitch’s question of whether anyone stands to benefit from a
test of wills over what might best be called impunity. With Gourevitch often providing rationales like those he marshaled in Stonewall Kabila, the international community sided with continued impunity the region, helping usher in a reign of bloodshed and mayhem in the Congo that by some estimates has cost that country over five million lives. As we know from recent reports from the United Nations, and might well have known, or even prevented at the time, these included several tens of thousands of Hutu, including Congolese (not Rwandan) Hutu, women, children and the elderly, who were systematically exterminated by Rwandan forces or their surrogates simply because they were Hutu.