The rebirth of a nation from the ashes of genocide, of course, was a beguiling tale and Gourevitch is far from the only journalist to have been won over by it. “There has been a tendency in the media in North America and in the U. K. to treat Kagame with kid gloves,” says David Anderson, professor of African politics at the University of Oxford. “A trope has emerged that sees Kagame and Rwanda as ‘the good guys,’ so that is how it is covered.” That has continued. In 2007, for example, Fortune published an article titled “Why CEOs Love Rwanda.” In 2009, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria described Rwanda as “the biggest success story out of the continent” and “a poster child for success.” That year Kagame made the “Time 100” list of the world’s most influential people, and in the accompanying hagiography Kagame was described as “the face of emerging African leadership” by the influential evangelist Rick Warren, a member of an international fan club that includes Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and the heads of Starbucks and Google.
Gourevitch’s writing “was extremely influential in helping Kagame establish a degree of international traction,” says Anderson. “It gave Kagame a credibility and a profile, portraying him as a force for good.”
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.