A version of this appears on the May 2019 edition of www.americandiplomacy.org
Books about Rwanda (from my bookshelf)
Prior to the genocide, not much was written about Rwanda. Rene Lemarchand’s Rwanda and Burundi was an academic tome that covered the history and culture of the region. Dian Fossey wrote Gorillas in the Mist about the gentle creatures she encountered. Diplomatically, a Doonesbury strip poked fun at Rwanda when a group of political contributors bought embassies at auction. “No bid, Rwanda goes to a career diplomat.” “Those people are so good in sticky places.” However, the genocide sparked off many books - histories, analyses, memoirs, explanations, polemics and fiction. Given that several were only published during the past year, the parade seems to never end. Why not? If someone has something to say or a new perspective to offer, then publish, let readers learn and decide.
Books are ordered more or less as a chronology of central developments.
Gerard Prunier’s The Rwanda Crisis - History of a Genocide is an excellent overview of the situation and events leading up to the violence. Ambassador David Rawson’s Prelude to Genocide goes into detail about the Arusha negotiations designed to bring peace between contending parties. The final accords were fatally flawed and led directly to the genocide. Kigali DCM Joyce Leader’s forthcoming From Hope to Horror: The making of the Rwandan Genocide ably recounts what was going on in Kigali - political maneuvering, assassinations, intimidations - in the months before and during the first few days of genocide. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch provides gripping intimate details of how the genocide affected a set of representative individuals. Another gripping compendium of personal stories is the Human Rights Watch publication Leave None to Tell the Story. General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping operation UNAMIR laid bare his soul and regrets in Shaking Hands with the Devil.
Colonel Tom Odum, who arrived just after the genocide as the U.S. Defence Attache wrote about the internal and regional turbulence in Journey into Darkness. Shaharyar Khan who became the Secretary General’s Representative in 1995 expanded on peacekeeping problems and troubled relations with the new Tutsi led government in The Shallow Graves of Rwanda. Robert E. Gribbin’s memoir (mine) In the Aftermath of Genocide - The U.S. Role in Rwanda continues the chronology of events including return of refugees and wars in neighboring Congo. It also details how Rwanda began the process of returning to normalcy. On a lighter note Rosamond Carr’s memoir Land of a Thousand Hills recalls her long happy life in Rwanda, but culminates in her decision at age 85 to open an orphanage for victims of genocide.
Gerard Prunier returns again to the list with his book Africa’s World War - Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Makings of a Continental Catastrophe. Prunier grinds an anti-Rwanda (and anti-U.S.) axe in this exposition of how the genocide spilled over into the Congo. Colin M. Waugh weighed in with Paul Kagame and Rwanda, an authorized biography of Rwanda’s leader. Stephen Kinzer’s biography A Thousand hills - Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It is better giving more details about Kagame’s early life.
American diplomats who dealt with Rwanda devoted chapters or comments regarding their involvement in after-office retrospectives. Assistant Secretary for Africa Herman J. Cohen described his involvement in the Rwandan crisis in Intervening in Africa - Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent. He began with the RPA invasion in 1990 and continued with the Arusha negotiations. He lamented that the American effort was not more productive. In Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright recounted how the April 6 downing of Habyarimana’s plane was viewed in New York and how the Security Council was stymied from action over the next two months, in part due to U.S. reluctance. In Freedom on Fire- Human Rights Wars and America’s Response Assistant Secretary for Human Rights John Shattuck provided insight into the policy deliberations in Washington, how the dimensions of the catastrophe, and guilt from non-action, began to shift the dynamic. Included in a more appropriate response was creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which Shattuck began and which was continued by David Scheffer, Ambassador at large for War Crimes. Scheffer presided over the implementation of the ICTR . In All the Missing Souls - A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals he related all the difficulties inherent in getting such an undertaking operational. Finally, President Bill Clinton mentions Rwanda in his memoir My Life. Recalling his visit to Kigali in March 1998, “I acknowledged that the United States and the international community had not acted quickly enough to stop the genocide or to prevent the refugee camps from becoming havens for the killers, and I offered to help the nation rebuild and to support the war crimes tribunal that would hold accountable the perpetrators of genocide.”
In the years after the genocide there was an effort to look back, to determine the causes, to spot warning signs and to speculate if anything could have been done differently. The most definitive of these works is Rwanda - The Preventable Genocide, the Report of International Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events. Sponsored by the Organization of African Unity the report is a quite readable summation of what transpired. Academics too weighed in. Howard Adelman and Astri Suhrke edited a number of essays in The Path of Genocide - The Rwanda Crisis from Uganda to Zaire. Essays cover a range of topics from, for example, the role of France, UN Peacekeeping Operations, U.S. television coverage, etc. John Pottier also took an academic approach to the sweep of events in Re-Imagining Rwanda focused primarily on communications - how narratives drove the genocide, framed initial understandings of it (and drove policy) and how narratives were revised afterwards. Bruce Jones’ Peacemaking in Rwanda - The Dynamics of Failure analyzed why the various efforts - negotiation, external influence, mediation, peacekeeping - failed to jell.
Rwandans too finally began to publish. Marie Beatrice Umutesi wrote of her ordeal and tribulations as a Hutu refugee on the run in Zaire in Surviving the Slaughter. Another more recent book on the travails of refugees is The Girl who Smiled Beads by Clematine Wamariya. It is the harrowing story of a girl who fled the genocide at age six, her wanders around Africa and finally settlement in the U.S. Back in Rwanda two defectors from the ruling Tutsi elite recite their fallings out with the power structure. First former Speaker of Parliament Joseph Sebarenzi in God Sleeps in Rwanda tells how he was hounded from office on account of policy disagreements with the president. Even more disturbing is former Rwanda Patriotic Front chief Theogene Rudasingwa’s Healing a Nation - A Testimony a book which details the inner workings of the current government. Ambassador Rudasingwa does not hesitate to levy charges of abuses against his former colleagues. Judi Rever picks up on that theme in her polemic The Price of Blood - Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. She marshaled an impressive array of “evidence” to support her strong condemnation of the Kagame regime.
In Stuck Marc Sommers took a hard look at contemporary Rwanda and found that social engineering by government fiat, while appearing to be progressive, in reality undermined traditional cultural norms which govern everyday rural life. As a result tens of thousands of young rural citizens are stuck in a non-escapable cycle of poverty. In Rwanda - From Genocide to Precarious Peace Susan Thompson went further in chronicling the incumbent government’s dictates to regularize and control all aspects of Rwandan daily life. She concluded that while the ruling hierarchy is now sufficiently strong to counter any challenge, things might change.
Works of fiction certainly contribute to understanding of events, especially as fiction can delve deeply into individual emotions and motives. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron and Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin describe how every day people dealt with ethnicity, how they confronted the genocide - what they did or did not do - how it affected them and whether they persevered or not. Another novel The Rebels’ Hour by Lieve Jaris set in Zaire relates the story of a Tutsi boy who became caught up in the Rwanda/Congo war and rose to prominence in Kabila’s entourage before he became disillusioned.
Conclusion: As this list indicates, there is much to choose from and much to ponder in looking back at the tragedy that swept across Rwanda twenty-five years ago.