Just weeks after the Nkunda report was published, Gourevitch returned to Rwanda for the first time in years. The report was the talk among Rwandans: it fell like a bomb, damaging Kagame’s carefully maintained international reputation. The New Yorker published Gourevitch’s most recent full-length article on Rwanda in May 2009, a few months after the UN report had been published. Yet Nkunda is not mentioned until the third-to-last of fourteen pages, after which the links between the warlord and the Rwandan regime are briskly dismissed in a series of quotes from Kagame and his generals.
More recently, the signs of growing repression in Rwanda itself have grown more clear. International press coverage of Kagame’s landslide election victory in August 2010 was dominated by stories of a pair of local-language newspapers being closed down, opposition parties banned from running, an attempted assassination of a dissident general in exile, and two gruesome murders of Kagame critics. An editor working for one of the banned newspapers, Umuvugizi, was shot in the face and killed in Kigali, a virtually crime-free city; and in the southern town of Butare, a senior figure in one of the blocked opposition parties had his head all but severed by machete in an attack echoing the genocidal murders of 1994.
Kagame’s inevitable victory marked no change in leadership, policy, or style of government, but there was a departure in his portrayal in the Western press. “Doubts rise in Rwanda as election approaches” was the New York Times headline before the vote. “Rwanda’s success story fails to silence concerns about rights,” said The Washington Post. “In the run-up to the election we saw unprecedented reporting on Rwanda exposing the repression and abuses inside the country. We’ve never really seen that before,” says Carina Tertsakian, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who was thrown out of Rwanda in the months before the vote.
Worse was to come in October 2010, when a UN report looking back at a decade of horrors committed by various armed groups in Congo from 1993 onward revived accusations of war crimes and ethnic massacres against Kagame’s forces. The report was the result of a ‘mapping exercise’ to assess the extent of infringements of humanitarian law in the Congo. It found that tens of thousands of Hutu civilians and fighters alike were hunted and killed in a series of massacres following Rwanda’s 1996 invasion, perpetrated by Kagame’s and Kabila’s forces. In its most incendiary passage, the report’s authors said the attacks, “if proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide.”
Many observers—including some human rights activists—say the counter-genocide allegation goes too far. Gourevitch was certainly quick to slam the report, in a posting on his New Yorker blog that closely resembled the Rwandan government’s own response, quoting Rwandan officials, questioning the standards of proof and sourcing, and suggesting—as Rwandan officials also did— that the initial leak was designed to detract attention from the UN’s own failings in protecting civilians in the Congo. Gourevitch’s review of Linda Polman’s book, The Crisis Caravan, followed in October, in which he reminded New Yorker readers that, “fugitive Rwandan genocidaires were succored by international humanitarians in border camps in eastern Congo, so that they have been able to continue their campaigns of extermination and rape to this day.”
In Gourevitch’s view, responsibility for the massacres that followed the break-up of the camps by the Rwandan army is laid at the feet of the humanitarian organizations, not the Rwandan government. “The Goma camps figure as the ultimate example of corrupted humanitarianism—of humanitarianism in the service of extreme inhumanity . That there would be another war because of the camps was obvious long before the war came,” he wrote. The tens of thousands of Hutu deaths that the UN Mapping Report chronicles were, then, “the ultimate price of the camps.”
Yet events in Rwanda are precipitating an overdue reassessment that sees Kagame in a more complex—and accurate—way, than the dominant narrative long nourished by Gourevitch’s work. “The change is down to this concatenation of events: the Nkunda report in 2008, the elections, and then the Mapping Report,” says Jason Stearns, a former coordinator of the UN Group of Experts and author of a forthcoming book about Congo, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. “To keep reporting the old success story of how far Rwanda has come since the genocide is to ignore these things.”