Indeed, the success story of Kagame’s post-genocide Rwanda has served as a foil to the seemingly relentless gloom reported from elsewhere on the continent. It is backed by a genuinely felt desire to fight the image of a basket-case continent. But as the chief chronicler of Rwanda’s post-genocide era, Gourevitch’s writing has proved as polarizing as the country and its leader, attracting huge praise for what it reveals and damning criticism for what it omits.
Unlike most other leaders on the continent, Kagame sets a good example: he abhors the corruption that blights his neighbors. He calls himself “Rwandan,” not “Tutsi,” as he tries to build a non-ethnic Rwanda, something that is a social imperative as well as politically expedient given that Tutsis make up just 15 percent of the population.
In some ways his Rwanda is a burgeoning success story, representing the gradual realization of a man’s vision on a continent where political inspiration can be hard to find. But worrying currents have swirled through the new Rwanda from the start, some of them finding their origins in Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Soon after arriving in Rwanda, Gourevitch crossed the border to the Congo (then called Zaire) and visited the vast, squalid refugee camps that had been established by international humanitarian organizations to house the genocidaires—the soldiers, militias, and ordinary people responsible for the killing—as well as Hutu civilians who had fled the RPF advance. He met Hutu Power leaders who had organized the genocide and were still ordering incursions into Rwanda from the safety of Congo, where they were fed and watered by charities. Gourevitch wrote:
In the summer of 1994 some two million Hutus fled into exile at the behest of the leaders and radio announcers who had earlier urged them to kill. This most rapid exodus in modern history made the RPF victory possible and, at the same time, rendered it incomplete. In effect, the refugees, clustered in camps just beyond Rwanda’s borders, constitute a rump state; the government, the army and the militias that presided over the genocide remain intact and in arms around the camps, reminding Rwanda by both their absence and their presence that the fight is not over.
In late 1996 Kagame ordered his troops to break up the camps and repatriate the Hutus. Soon after, Gourevitch described a “boiling swarm” of hundreds of thousands of Hutus being marched back into Rwanda. “The homecoming mob, as a rule, was ominously mute,” he wrote.
An unknown number more fled west into the Congolese forests, and were pursued by the Rwandan army and its allies under Laurent-Desire Kabila, a Congolese insurrectionist who was appointed leader of the rebellious forces, thus cloaking the Rwandan invasion in the garb of a national rebellion. There followed a series of ethnic massacres of fleeing Hutus, militants, and civilians alike.
For some reporters, the massacres in Congo in 1996 and 1997 were an early indicator that perhaps they had not got the full measure of Kagame. “I started to realize things were going wrong when Rwanda invaded Congo,” recalls Chris McGreal, former Africa correspondent for London’s Guardian newspaper. “When we saw the scale of the killings of refugees it was quite apparent that the RPF was behaving one way in Rwanda and quite another outside its border.”
But where some saw worrying signs, Gourevitch did not; instead, he saw in the camps a justification for the attacks that followed. His witnessing of the camps also molded his long-standing antagonism toward the humanitarian organizations that sheltered the Hutus and enabled the command structures of the genocide to persist.
In a 1997 New Yorker article, Gourevitch discussed the attacks on Hutus in Congo. “Many of the killings appeared gratuitous, and several death-squad-style massacres had been reported,” he wrote. But later in the piece he allows Kagame ample opportunity to dismiss the reports: Kagame “was not denying that a lot of Rwandan Hutus were being killed in the Congo. But, he said, ‘these are not genuine refugees. They’re simply fugitives, people running away from justice after killing people in Rwanda—after killing!’ They were still killing, he said.”
In the same article, titled “Continental Shift,” he wrote of “the nebulosity known as the international community [that] is ultimately accountable to nobody. Against such impunity, the Congolese rebellion offered Africa the opportunity to supplant the West as the arbiter of its own political destiny.”