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.
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.