Among foreign reporters working in Africa, the New African leadership was in vogue, and Gourevitch embraced this: Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, and, of course, Kagame—all were widely lauded as guerrilla-democrats who would steer Africa in a new direction. To that list Gourevitch was quick to add Kabila, in 1997. “Like his chief political allies, the leaders of Uganda and Rwanda, who are pragmatic advocates of national self-reliance, Kabila must now translate the liberation struggle from a fight against a corrupt old order into a fight for a new and exemplary model of governance,” he wrote in an article called “The Vanishing.”
Kabila went on to reveal himself as yet another greedy despot and, to his credit, Gourevitch wrote a long corrective in 2000 entitled “Forsaken.” “Three years after Laurent-Desire Kabila proclaimed himself President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the streets of the capital are draped with lies,” Gourevitch began.
By then, it was increasingly clear that Kagame’s own rule was tipping toward autocracy and that he too was capable of a ruthlessness in Congo and at home. The late Alison Des Forges, of Human Rights Watch, perhaps the other most high-profile foreign chronicler of the Rwandan genocide, published her detailed account of it in 1999. Of the 590 pages in Leave None To Tell The Story, a dozen deal with war crimes allegedly committed by the RPF. She argued that RPF leaders should be held to account for the murders of perhaps 30,000 during and immediately after the genocide.
“In their drive for military victory and a halt to the genocide, the RPF killed thousands, including noncombatants as well as government troops and members of militia. As RPF soldiers sought to establish their control over the local population, they also killed civilians in numerous executions and in massacres. They may have slaughtered tens of thousands during the four months of combat from April to July,” Des Forges wrote after her extensive investigations.
Des Forges, who had signalled the Rwandan genocide to a disinterested world in its first days and provided evidence against genocide perpetrators at an international tribunal, nevertheless insisted all along that Kagame’s regime also be held to account for human rights abuses, ethnic revenge killings, and oppression. Des Forges was eventually blocked from entering the country after publishing a report in 2008 criticizing the lack of fair trials in Rwanda. (Des Forges was killed in a plane crash in the United States in February 2009.)
In that first Rwanda article in 1995, Gourevitch references Des Forges three times. But in the years thereafter her absence is startling. So is the absence of criticism of Kagame and his rule, despite the accumulating evidence against him.
In the same 2000 article in which he turns on Kabila, Gourevitch wrote that, “Despite Rwanda’s size, General Kagame, who became the country’s President in April, has built its Army into the most formidable fighting force in central Africa what distinguishes his commanders and soldiers is their ferocious motivation. Having single-handedly brought the genocide to a halt, in 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Army has continued to treat its almost ceaseless battlefield engagements as one long struggle for national survival.”
And then Gourevitch all but stopped reporting on Rwanda, Congo, Central Africa, and the genocide. He returned to the United States, where his career flourished. His second book, A Cold Case, was about an unsolved New York murder. He reported on domestic politics for The New Yorker, was appointed editor of the literary magazine the Paris Review, and co-wrote The Ballad of Abu Ghraib with Errol Morris, about torture and abuse by U. S. forces in Iraq.
As the years of Kagame’s rule—now as president—went on, the dominant narrative around him of reconciliation and visionary rule was buffeted by growing evidence from Congo—of ethnic murder, political meddling, and economic exploitation—as well as by increasing repression at home in Rwanda. Yet the broadly positive reception that Kagame received in the media persisted. “The authoritarianism has deepened with time, not lessened,” says Anderson. “Sometimes the rose-tinted spectacles can be blinding.”
Rwanda’s misadventures in Congo have been the basis of criticism of Kagame beyond the two Congo wars fought between 1996 and 2002. In December 2008, a UN report detailed links between the Rwandan elite and a rebel Congolese Tutsi warlord, Laurent Nkunda. The UN’s Group of Experts on the Congo, appointed to monitor violations of international sanctions imposed in the Congo, showed what many already suspected: that Nkunda, a rebel general accused of war crimes, was supported by members of Kagame’s inner circle, and that Rwanda was directly benefiting from the theft of minerals dug from the resource-rich hillsides of eastern Congo.