RWANDA: Did Paul Kagame trigger the genocide of his own people?
Rwanda President Paul Kagame seized power in the aftermath of the nation’s 1994 genocide, which was ignited by the assassination of then-president Juvénal Habyarimana. (CHIP SOMADAVILLA / GETTY IMAGES)
TORONTO STAR – Millions of lives were lost in the ethnic and political violence that embroiled Rwanda in the 1990s. Rwanda’s current president Paul Kagame was initially hailed as a hero for stopping the genocide, but, as Canadian journalist Judi Rever reveals in her new book, the truth is much darker
The following account of the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane is based on separate testimonies from former RPF to the 2006 French inquiry under Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Kagame and his inner military circle held a series of three meetings in late 1993 and early 1994 to plan to shoot down the plane. The commanders present at the meetings were Col. Kayumba Nyamwasa, Col. Steven Ndugute, Col. Sam Kaka, Lt.-Col. James Kabarebe and Maj. Jack Nziza. The RPF agreed to train a team to handle two surface-to-air missiles that the RPF had secured from its ally Uganda. This team brought the weapons from northern Rwanda into the capital to a farm in Masaka. On the night of April 6, after attending a summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, along with key members of the Rwandan military, boarded a French-piloted Falcon 50 jet and headed to Kigali. At 7 p.m., RPF Col. Charles Kayonga told his battalion at the Centre Nationale de Developpement (CND) to be on “stand by one” — in full battle dress and ready for an attack. By 8 p.m., the missile team in Masaka was in place, waiting for the plane to arrive. The first missile was launched but missed the plane as it approached the airport. A second missile, fired by Sgt. Frank Nziza, hit the mark, damaging the aircraft’s wing and fuselage.
The jet exploded, killing all 12 individuals on board, including the two heads of state and the three French crew members. Most of the plane’s debris landed in the backyard of Habyarimana’s presidential home.
Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana seen in 1975. His assassination in 1994 set up Rwanda’s genocide. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTOS)
Luc Marchal, the Belgian contingent commander and the Kigali section commander with UNAMIR, was astounded at how fast RPF forces — between 25,000 and 30,000 troops — moved into position after the plane was shot down. “The RPF launched a major offensive, which would have required weeks of preparation,” he told me. To undertake such an immediate, large-scale offensive, the RPF would have had to formulate orders, issue those orders, and ensure that the military leadership transmitted the orders to troops so that soldiers got into position fast. He points out: “They launched a systematic attack and had enough ammunition and other supplies — including equipment and food — to fight immediately. They had [already] brought it over from Uganda. The downing of the presidential plane was directly related to the RPF’s military offensive. You cannot improvise such matters. It is impossible.”
A day after the president was killed, all hell broke loose. Hutu soldiers assassinated Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband and then kidnapped the Belgian peacekeepers who had been sent to protect her, taking them back to the main military barracks, where they lynched them. Tutsis living in Hutu-controlled zones were targeted and slain, but also, while that was going on, Hutus living in RPF-controlled areas were tracked down and slaughtered.
The cover of In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, by Judi Rever (PUBLISHER’S HANDOUT)
Excerpted from In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front by Judi Rever. Copyright © 2018 Judi Rever. Published by Random House Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.