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When victims apologise to the executioner

By Andrew M. Mwenda

I was in Kigali last week when the Rwanda government released the report on ‘The Investigation into the crash of the Dassault Falcon 50 on April 6, 1994 carrying former President Juvenal Hanyarimana.’ It was both a triumph and a humiliation for the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), the citizens of Rwanda and the people of Africa.

It was a triumph because after years of speculation, misinformation and lies an investigations committee released a meticulously researched report based on two years on good work. The committee travelled in Africa, Europe and North America to interview those who knew anything about Habyarimana’s death.

It interviewed eye witnesses at Kanombe airport including people in the control tower that night; then diplomats, UNAMIR officials, ballistic experts etc. Over 600 people were interviewed. It also combed all judicial documents that were in the public domain.

From this extensive work, the conclusion was that Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by a missile fired from the military camp at Kanombe airport which housed the presidential guard. Nothing was surprising because anyone who cared already knew that Habyarimana was killed by his own soldiers. Gen. Romeo Dallaire who commanded UNAMIR during the genocide has published what he witnessed in his book, Shake Hands with the Devil.

On the night the plane was shot, there was a meeting at army headquarters chaired by Theostene Bagosora who had taken control of government under the guise of a ‘Crisis Committee’. They were waiting to hear the final report from the airport. Finally, someone called and an officer of the Rwandan army picked the phone. Upon receiving the report, he turned with a face beaming with an undisguised smile and reported to Bagosora and everyone else that Habyarimana was actually dead.

It should have been clear to anyone even with basic information about how Habyarimana died that the RPF did not have the capacity, the opportunity and the self interest to kill him anyway. The RPF was located at parliamentary buildings in Kigali, a long distance from the airport that did not give them clear sight of any plane landing there. In the charged atmosphere in Kigali at that time, it would have been suicidal for Tutsi officers to begin moving around with missiles.

Yet any RPF officer should have been proud to kill Habyarimana. It is a great honour in any military conflicts to kill your enemy. In Rwanda of April 1994, Habyarimana was planning the mass extermination of Tutsi. The RPF was largely commanded by Tutsi officers. Their greatest triumph would have been to kill the man planning their extermination. Sadly, Hutu extremists snatched this prize from them. The RPF should be angry that they lost the opportunity. Instead, here was RPF struggling to exonerate itself from Habyarimana’s death.

Thus, as I sat in the press conference listening to the Rwandan officials explain details of their findings, I wept. Regardless of whatever the RPF can say, it was the ultimate humiliation. Here were victims of genocide desperately trying to exonerate themselves from allegations that they killed a man who had been plotting their extermination.

Habyarimana was a villain ‘ a president who organised the mass slaughter of over one million of his own citizens. He established a private FM radio station, Mille Collin, which constantly broadcast calls for the mass extermination of Tutsis and any Hutu suspected of harbouring sympathy for them. He had a newspaper, Kangura, which conducted an effective genocide sensitisation campaign. Habyarimana also trained a militia, the Interahamwe for mass murder.

Elsewhere, such a criminal minded president would be a target for legitimate assassination ‘ just like Adolf Hitler was during the World War 11 or Saddam Hussein during the US invasion of Iraq. The difference is Habyarimana was a president of a poor country Rwanda, located in Africa and populated by poor people. But he was also an ally of a rich and powerful nation based in Western Europe, France.

The plane on which Hanyarimana had been given to him by France; the crew on board the ill-fated flight were French. The army that defended Habyarimana was trained by France; its battles were sometimes commanded by French army officers. The weapons used to kill Tutsis were supplied by France or bought with French financial aid.

Even in the midst of the genocide, France did not give up. Under the guise of Operation Taqoeurse, the French army entered Rwanda and provided a safe passage for the Rwandan army and interahamwe to escape. It proceeded to provide weapons and ammunition to this criminal army inside Zaire, now Congo hoping to topple the RPF government. Up until recently, France has been trying to avenge the death of his mass murderer. Let us not forget that the investigation by the Rwanda government into Habyarimana’s death were launched after a French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, indicted top RPF leaders in 2008 for killing France’s beloved allay.

On September 11th 2001, Osama bin Laden killed only 3,000 Americans. As a consequence, ‘the world changed’: the US got the right to invade and occupy other nations. It got the right to take fingerprints of any person entering its territory, to force other nations and banks to open all financial details of every person to US security services. It got the right to kill ‘ pre-emptively ‘ anyone it suspects of trying to harm Americans.

Some have argued that it is Habyarimana’s death that ’caused’ the genocide. Yet for three years, Habyarimana planned genocide against Tutsis and anyone who was suspected to be sympathetic to them. Arms were procured, militias trained, lists of people to kill drawn, radios and newspapers controlled by him were spewing genocide propaganda daily, calling on Hutus to wait for a signal to begin killing every Tutsi.

What rights do the people of Rwanda have under international law to punish France for sponsoring genocide in their country? Instead, France is projecting Habyarimana as a victim and his victims as the guilty party. Assuming a plane had bombed Hitler’s bunker and killed the psychopathic German leader during the Second World War. Would the allies ‘ Britain and the United States ‘ have spent years struggling to ‘clear’ their name for his death? Africa should begin thinking.

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