The Filimbi Affair and #Telema

In January of this year, protests erupted in Kinshasa, the capital of the DR Congo, against President Joseph Kabila. He came to power in 2001 as acting president when his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. He was affirmed as president by a 2002 peace accord, and he was elected in what was probably a fair election in 2006. He was re-elected in what was probably a stolen election in 2011. His second, and final, term is up in 2016. The protests, called the #Telema (the word means “rise up” in Lingala – the language spoken in the capital and elsewhere in the DR Congo) movement, followed the announcement by Kabila’s government of a proposed law that would delay the 2016 election until a census could be completed. In the DRC, a census could take years, a fact that Kabila was no doubt aware of when the law was proposed.

The protests were started at the University of Kinshasa and the initial demand was for the removal of the offending article of the law that required the census before the election. But over the next few days in January, the demands started to escalate to the removal of Kabila. The armed forces attacked the protesters, with tear gas and live fire (1). An African human rights group gave figures of 14 people killed on the 19th and 28 on the 20th, all by security forces, while the government claimed a lower death toll of 15 people, supposedly looters killed by private security forces (2). Human Rights Watch gave an estimate of at least 21 people killed by security forces (3).

With 42 student protesters killed, ongoing arrests, and a mass grave found in Kinshasa just days ago, the DRC has its own Ayotzinapa.

In the years leading up to these protests, Kinshasa has been the site of a police campaign of social cleansing that left 51 people dead, murdered by masked police on suspicion of being “gang members” in what was called “Operation Likofi” (4). According to HRW’s summary of the operation, “uniformed police, often wearing masks, dragged kuluna, or suspected gang members, from their homes at night and executed them. The police shot and killed the unarmed young men and boys outside their homes, in the open markets where they slept or worked, and in nearby fields or empty lots. Many others were taken without warrants to unknown locations and forcibly disappeared.”

The largest number of protesters were killed on Tuesday, January 20, but the protests continued. By Friday January 23, the government had reconsidered. The bill was amended as the protesters had asked (5). In early February, a spokesperson for Kabila said “President Kabila will end his mandate in 2016. You’ll see” (6).

The student youths that were major players in the Telema protests of January continued to mobilize to try to defend the 2016 election, fearing that Kabila would continue to try to find ways to hang on to power. One of the main pro-democracy youth groups is called Filimbi (“youth for a new society”). In mid-March, they held a two day long workshop, inviting pro-democracy activists from Burkina Faso and Senegal to discuss the movements in their countries. At a press conference at the end of the workshop, the Congolese military swept in and arrested everyone at the meeting – foreign and Congolese alike, thirty people in total. They continue to make targeted arrests of youth activists, and while the foreigners have been released, many of the Congolese arrested in March – and, indeed, in January – remain in custody (7).

An aside here is in order, because while Filimbi is an independent organization, one of the co-sponsors of the event on March 14-15, called FNJE (forum nationale des jeunes pour l’excellence, or the national forum of youth for excellence), was financially supported by the US pro-democracy programs. A USAID official, Kevin Sturr, was arrested at the event and later released. The US Embassy defended the event and its support for it. For those who have seen the damage done to democracy by USAID and similar programs in Venezuela and Haiti, the presence of USAID in this event is cause for caution. But Filimbi and the pro-democracy movement deserve support from everyone concerned with democracy, especially at this early stage, in spite of the presence of USAID at the event. They deserve support because, unlike some of the organizations supported by USAID, NED, and IRI in places like Haiti and Venezuela, their cause is just – they are seeking to uphold the very fragile democratic institutions that are available to them – and they are doing so through popular mobilization and civil resistance as opposed to seeking the violent overthrow of the government.

As Ben Kabamba of Filimbi, now forced to operate underground, said in an interview, “today we are considered enemies of the state, but if we had taken up arms and killed people, we would be rewarded with ministerial posts.” (8) Indeed, the chosen US vehicles for influence in the Congo are not traditionally pro-democracy students, but the armed forces, business groups, private armies, and armies of the DRC’s neighbours, especially Rwanda and Uganda. While the US leaves no stone unturned in the search for influence and does target civil society organizations, it is much more likely that it sees the Congolese pro-democracy movement, and especially its civil and political – as opposed to military – nature, as a threat. It is also unlikely that the US is looking to overthrow Joseph Kabila, who has done nothing against US interests in his 14 years in power.

Even though most political commentators (myself included) have focused on the Congo’s wars, the Congo has a very long tradition of civil, pro-democracy activism. The Congo’s independence was won by such people, and Patrice Lumumba and his companions who won it were also among the first martyrs of the pro-democracy movement. In the early 1990s, the pro-democracy movement forced the Congolese dictator, Mobutu, to agree to a sovereign national congress that was beginning to impose limits on his power. In both cases, brief democratic openings were closed by violence, and in both cases, truly horrific wars followed. Joseph Kabila arrived in the DR Congo as a soldier in one of those wars. If he releases the political prisoners, ceases the campaign of arrests, and steps down, he could still balance out near the right side of Congolese history, even after the 2011 election and even after his recent crimes. The Congo’s friends can, and should, help.

First published at TeleSUR English April 14, 2015:


(1) “Congo’s #Telema protests – in tweets.” UK Guardian, January 21, 2015.

(2) “Church backs Congo protesters, rights group says 42 killed”. Reuters January 21, 2015.


(4) HRW, “DR Congo: Police Operation Kills 51 Young Men and Boys”

(5) AFP, via UK Daily Mail, January 23, 2015. “DR Congo Senate backs down on electoral bill after deadly clashes”

(6) Malcolm Beith for Bloomberg, February 5, 2015. “Congo’s President Kabila Will Step Down in 2016, Spokesman Says”

(7) A basic website that includes some information about the Filimbi prisoners, demands, and ideas on how to help is



In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the city of Bukavu, in South Kivu, on the Rwandan border, Panzi Hospital has been a refuge for survivors of sexual violence. So why is the Congolese government using the tax system to try to shut it down?

The director of the hospital, Denis Mukwege (1), has argued that the pattern of violence that he and his medical staff have encountered there constitutes a new pathology, a kind of weapon of mass destruction (2), deployed by armed actors to destroy the social fabric of the eastern DRC and control the region and its resources. Dr. Mukwege has won numerous humanitarian awards for his work. As a regional hub for survivors of sexual violence, Panzi has attracted international attention and support. Beyond his medical work, Dr. Mukwege has been a strong voice in international forums reminding the world that, as long as weaponized sexual violence continues, the Congo cannot be said to be in a “post-conflict” situation.

The Kivus are still overrun with armed actors. The Congolese Army is a major human rights violator. Militias sponsored by the DRC’s neighbours, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as armed groups of exiles from these countries, operate in the countryside and victimize the civilian population. The Ugandan and Rwandan armies periodically enter Congolese territory to conduct operations of their own. And a multinational United Nations force, one of the UN’s largest missions, has been in the east for about 15 years. Against this backdrop, Panzi has been a haven for civilians, a place where women could heal, and a place from where a lot of the energy and organization to help the region recover has come.

A major driver of this chaotic armed violence is the region’s mineral resources, which have been plundered for more than a century, by Belgian colonialists, Western corporations, local dictators like Mobutu, and neighbouring powers like Rwanda and Uganda. In recent years, there have been numerous efforts to move the mining trade out of the illegal realm and into legal, corporate hands, through legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act. Perhaps the most visible face of corporate mining in South Kivu is the Canadian gold mining company, Banro Corporation, which inherited rights to two big gold mines from the state-run mining company and which, in 2013, had a gross revenue of $111 million USD from its mining operations. A look at Banro’s 2013 Annual Report describes the company’s tax arrangements with the Congolese government – arrangements that are always sought after by mining companies, even if they are not always obtained:

“In the Congo, the Company is subject to a mining convention signed with the Congolese government that provides the Company with a 10-year tax holiday from the date of commercial production. The tax holiday enables the Company to earn income in the Congo that is exempt from corporate income tax during this period of the tax holiday. ” (3)

Unfortunately for Panzi hospital, the Congolese government shows more generosity with its tax holidays towards mining companies than it does to public hospitals. At a press conference at the end of 2014, Dr. Mukwege described the persecution of the hospital by the state (4). The Congo’s tax office seized the hospital’s bank accounts last October. Panzi sued, and the tax office released the accounts on December 29 – then, re-seized them again the next day. In their press release, Panzi emphasized that none of the other 500 officially recognized public hospitals in the DRC pay taxes, but Panzi has been hit with taxes of $47,000 (already seized) and $650,000 additional dollars for 2013. “If we owe $600,000 in taxes,” Dr. Mukwege asked at the press conference, “how much are we supposed to have earned?”

The hospital, which serves an area of 400,000 people, is in danger of closing, and cannot pay its 500 employees. The Belgian government (5) called for the tax to be scrapped, stating that the tax “threatens the care provided to rape victims.” If others follow, there is no reason why the tax couldn’t simply be scrapped and the hospital return to its important work.

This is not the first attack on Panzi or on Mukwege, who survived an assassination attempt in 2012. The current persecution of the hospital is likely pre-electoral in nature. President Joseph Kabila was elected in 2006 by a population that hoped he would help to restore the country’s sovereignty after a decade (then) of proxy war and occupation. His re-election in 2011 was won only with recourse to massive fraud. In order to stay in power after 2016, he will have to change the constitution (it was changed for him once already, because he did not reach the age requirement of 35 when he was first elected). The “post-conflict” continues to be deadly to the people of the east (6). Instead of addressing the violence, Kabila’s government is attacking those who are trying to stop the violence and raising criticisms of it. The government would do better to study Panzi carefully, increase its resources, and try to emulate its work in other conflict zones.


(1) I profiled Dr. Mukwege for The Progressive Magazine in November 2009: “Healing in the Congo: A Profile of Dr. Denis Mukwege” -

(2) Mukwege and Nangini 2009, “Rape With Extreme Violence: The New Pathology in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo” PLOS Medicine 6 (12): e1000204 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000204. URL:

(3) Banro Corporation, 2013 Annual Report, pg. 47 URL:

(4) Panzi Hospital’s press release: Transcription of the press conference:

(5) “DR Congo tax on rape victim hospital sparks fury” France 24, January 3, 2015: Reuters story Jan 2/15:

(6) See the Congo Siasa blog for updates by academic Jason Stearns and guests like Rachel Sweet, who posted on Jan 6. on the ongoing violence in North Kivu, which has claimed 200 lives in the past three months:

First published on TeleSUR English

The BBC Documentary doesn’t deny the genocide

The BBC Documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, does not deny the Rwandan genocide against Tutsis. It is a documentary primarily about Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current ruler, who came out of the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1994 into a position of absolute power in Rwanda, from which he launched multiple invasions into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, invasions which resulted in well-documented mass atrocities. I wrote about the documentary after I watched it (“The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide”:, saying that I hoped that it would create an opening to talk about the current government in Rwanda and about Western support for Kagame. So did many others, including Jonathan Cook, who has done excellent work on Israel-Palestine and has a sharp critique of propaganda in that conflict (See his Oct 4 blog, “Why is the truth about Rwanda so elusive?”:

On October 12, a group of academics and writers wrote to the BBC to express their “grave concern” about the documentary. Their letter, which has been posted on media lens ( is supposedly about ‘genocide denial’, but since no one involved in the BBC documentary denied the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the letter is really about Kagame, and continuing to protect him from criticism using the slur of genocide denial. The letter seems designed to ensure that no discussion about Kagame or Western support for his regime occurs. It repeats the term “genocide denial” 10 times, but it centers on a number of factual claims which can be evaluated. In the spirit of the “utmost intellectual honesty and rigor” that they claim to seek in their letter, let us evaluate these claims.

1. The documentary features a woman, Marie, whose childhood involved living through an incredible number of horrors: first she lived through the Rwandan genocide, then she lived through being hunted as a refugee through the forests of the Congo as a refugee. The writers write that “the programme allows a witness to claim that ‘only ten percent of the Interahamwe (militia) were killers”. The letter counters with “eyewitness testimony by several militia leaders who cooperated with the ICTR”, who argue that “the majority of the Hutu Power militia forces – estimated to have been 30,000 strong – were trained specifically to kill Tutsi at speed, and were indoctrinated in a racist ideology.”

The witness is a survivor of the genocide, and a survivor of the RPF massacres in the DR Congo. Her estimate is obviously not the outcome of a detailed sociological study or survey, and viewers should exercise skepticism in interpreting it, but it is very, very far from “genocide denial”. The context was one in which mass numbers of Hutus were being punished collectively for the genocide – and the witness was trying to say that not all of those punished were guilty. That is not so far from what was written in the suppressed Gersony report, about the thousands of people massacred by the RPF during their advance: “It appeared that the vast majority of men, women, and children killed in these actions were targeted through the pure chance of being caught by the RPA. No vetting process or attempt to establish the complicity of the victims in the April 1994 massacres of the Tutsis was reported.” As Theogene Rudasingwa, a former member of the RPF who is now in exile, wrote in his reply to the letter (posted on medialens:

“The BBC documentary, in its opening moments captures the agony of the victims, as they are hacked to death by this militia. So what if they were 5,000, 10, 1000, 30,000? For the American Professors (note: Rudasingwa is referring here to Davenport and Stam, academics at the University of Michigan, to whom I will return), and the authors of the letter trading polemics on this matter, I would say this is not time well spent. The militia had to be defeated militarily. I am glad they did. Unfortunately, the military victors of 1994 went on a killing spree in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that is yet to be accounted for. That should be a subject of urgent interest rather than counting the number of militia that were involved in the genocidal madness.”

2. The second claim is that “the programme attempts to minimize the number of Tutsi murdered”. The programme presents figures by Davenport and Stam. Davenport discusses their study at length in this lecture: ( To me, the value of their study was in this discussion of their sources, the ranges of figures, and how they understood the violence in Rwanda in space and time. You can look at their data here ( Their figures should definitely be viewed with caution, but their analysis has several points of interest. They concluded that more Hutus died in the genocide than Tutsis, arguing that a specific dynamic occurred: once the killings started, people began to flee, and the killers, unable to distinguish between Tutsi and Hutu, killed indiscriminately; because there were many more Hutus than Tutsis, more Hutus ended up dying. Like Marie, the witness’s testimony, this analysis, and this conclusion, does not amount to ‘genocide denial’. Davenport and Stam set out to study the Rwandan genocide, and have never denied that there was an anti-Tutsi genocide that was carried out by the Rwandan government at the time. You can disagree with their analysis, or with their conclusions (I do disagree with the figure they gave in the BBC documentary, of 800,000 Hutus and 200,000 Tutsis killed, and I think Fillip Reyntjens’s estimates are the most accurate, of 600,000 Tutsis and 500,000 Hutus killed, and he has repeated his figures in a post about the documentary in facebook) but it is simply false to call them ‘genocide deniers’. They presented an analysis of data, not “a tactic of genocide deniers”, in the letter’s ugly language.

3. “The film argues that the shooting down of the plane on April 6, 1994 was perpetrated by the RPF.” The film presents RPF insiders claiming to have heard the planning of the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. The letter writers cite French magistrate judge Marc Trevidic, whose investigations suggest that the missiles could not have been fired by the RPF. Two other judges concluded otherwise: Fernando Merelles from Spain in 2008 and Jean-Louis Brugiere from France in 2006. Reyntjens and Rudasingwa, in their replies, have both pointed out that Marc Trevidic’s investigation is not over – like many others, they have concluded that the RPF shot down the plane.

I have reviewed the material that is available and I am not confident about who shot down the plane. But as a matter of logic, whether the RPF shot down the leader of their enemy government, or whether the government shot down their own president, culpability for the genocide does not change, does it? If – as the letter-writers, the BBC reporters, and all the people the BBC reporters interviewed agree – the Rwandan government and its militias organized and carried out the mass murder of Tutsis immediately after the plane was shot down, surely they are culpable for the genocide regardless of who shot the plane down? If the RPF shot the plane down, they would be guilty of assassination, but it would still be the Rwandan government that would be guilty of genocide. Regardless, the film presents some claims, the letter-writers present some claims, about an assassination that occurred at the beginning of the genocide. Whether the RPF shot the plane down or not, the genocide occurred. So, presenting a claim that the RPF shot the plane down cannot be ‘genocide denial’.

4. “The film-maker, Jane Corbin… even tries to raise doubts about whether or not the RPF stopped the genocide.” The letter writers cite Romeo Dallaire (one of the signers of the letter) as “The authority on this subject”. But is Dallaire a greater authority than Kagame himself? At 20:38, there is an interview with Kagame, who was at the battlefront. Kagame is asked: “Are the massacres still continuing?” He replies: “Yes, the massacres are continuing, though on a lower scale, and this is not because the killers have stopped killing but because, I think, they have killed quite a big number of those they are supposed to kill.”

Now to the departures from the “utmost intellectual honesty and rigor” engaged in by the letter writers. There are many, including the systematic slinging of mud and the constant argumentation from authority, but let us take two.

1. Do the letter-writers really believe that the civil war between the RPF and the Rwandan government at the time, led by Habyarimana, which killed tens of thousands of people, is a mere “smoke screen”? Do they really believe that the term ‘civil war’ belongs in scare quotes? Do they really not believe that the civil war created the context for the genocide?

2. Are the letter-writers really blowing off the invasion of the DRC, the millions killed there, the stealing of elections, the testimonies of the former RPF who are on the run and in exile and admit to committing crimes at Kagame’s side? Do the Hutu deaths, even though they occurred on a smaller scale, really mean nothing to them?

The writers write that “Denial… ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived.” And yet, the letter writers do all of those things. If the victims of the RPF don’t count, as they do not seem to to these writers, then what is this except denial? All of the victims in Central Africa – of the defeated Rwandan government, of the RPF, of the RPF’s proxies and of their opponents – all deserve to be acknowledged, not denied. The BBC documentary deserved better than shoddy arguments and mudslinging. Kagame is still in power, and the only function of this letter is to provide him with cover. Rather than a letter about ‘genocide denial’, the authors would have been more honest to write a manifesto of unconditional support for Rwanda’s dictator.

The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide

First published on TeleSUR English:

At the beginning of October 2014, the BBC aired a documentary called Rwanda: The Untold Story. The outlet, the BBC, and the producer and presenter, Jane Corbin, don’t just possess impeccable mainstream credentials – they define the mainstream in the West. The one hour documentary is intended for a British audience, and Britain is a bigger supporter of Rwanda and its ruler, Paul Kagame, than even the US. Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda’s savior. The titular untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda’s president for the past 20 years.

In the documentary, Corbin talks to Rwandan dissidents who were once close to Kagame, but are now exiled and hunted – Kagame’s former army chief of staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa, has survived four assassination attempts so far. Kagame’s former intelligence chief, Patrick Karageya, was not so lucky, and was strangled in a hotel room in South Africa in January of this year. The documentary shows Kagame at a prayer meeting after Karageya’s assassination telling the crowd that anyone who crosses Rwanda will pay the price, and that “it’s a matter of time.” Details of assassination plots are provided by another exile, who fled the country rather than carry out a killing of these dissidents for Kagame.

Corbin also talks to a Hutu survivor, Marie, who was a school girl, whose family sheltered Tutsi children from the anti-Tutsi genocide in 1994, and who then fled and was hunted in the jungles of the Congo, along with hundreds of thousands of others, when Kagame’s forces invaded the DR Congo in 1996, and who can’t go back to Rwanda. Marie estimates that 10% of organized Hutu forces participated in the genocide – but all Hutus were hunted, indiscriminately, by Kagame’s forces in the Congo. Marie’s conclusions are similar to those reached by Robert Gersony, the author of a report on the Hutu refugees who were being killed in large numbers by Kagame’s forces. The report was suppressed, as the BBC documentary notes – in order to protect Kagame from criticism.

The Gersony report was not the only suppression of evidence which international institutions engaged in to protect Kagame. When Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) began investigations into crimes by Kagame’s forces, Del Ponte tells Corbin in the documentary, she was told by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, that the ICTR was political, and that there would be no tolerance for investigations into crimes committed by the winners in the war, only by the losers. When former FBI investigators were looking into the shooting down of the plane of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in 1994, an event that helped set the genocide in motion, they told Corbin, they were told to stop by Louise Arbour, then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and well known Canadian human rights advocate. Successive, well-documented UN reports on the exploitation of natural resources in the Congo and of human rights violations there, all of which attribute primary responsibility to Rwanda and Kagame, have been filed and ignored.

The BBC report also talks to academic experts who rarely get a hearing despite being among the most knowledgeable people on Rwanda: political scientists Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, and political scientist Fillip Reyntjens. Anyone who studies Central Africa knows Reyntjens for his role in compiling the annual L’Afrique des grands lacs journal, as well as his articles and books. Davenport and Stam are known for compiling all of the numbers and data sources on deaths in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Unlike Reyntjens, they are not experts on the region, but have worked to come to solid conclusions based on solid methodology and the available evidence. Good scholars, their academic publications show all of their data and the process by which they arrived at their conclusions, so that readers can come to their own conclusions.

What are their conclusions? In other words, what is this untold story that is so shocking, 20 years later? To look into it requires some careful study of the death counts, which, while simultaneously gruesome and dehumanizing, is politically important. One scholar, Gerard Prunier, who wrote one of the standard accounts of the Rwandan genocide, and who was at the time very sympathetic to Kagame and the RPF (more recently, like others close to Kagame, he has had experiences that drove him out of sympathy), reasoned as follows based on the 1991 Rwandan census and a growth rate of 3.2%. The Rwandan government said Tutsis were 9% of the population, 700,000 people, but Prunier bumps this up to 12%, 930,000 people. Based on figures of Tutsi survivors after the genocide, of 130,000 in refugee camps, Prunier estimated roughly 800,000 Tutsi deaths in the genocide.

Davenport and Stam, by contrast, encoded all of the massacres described in all of the human rights reports, including Alison Des Forges’s field study for Human Rights Watch, a definitive report from African Rights, and government and other scholarly sources. Where the records showed a range of casualties, Davenport and Stam included the range in their analysis. Using this method, they produced a wide casualty range for the genocide and settled on a mean value of 1,063,336 deaths. This is very close to Filip Reyntjens’s estimates, which are based on tallies made in refugee camps in the three years after the genocide. These estimates are between 1,069,643-1,143,225 deaths. Most of Davenport and Stam’s 1,063,336 deaths, 891,295, were in areas under Rwandan government control. A much smaller, but substantial number, 77,043, were in areas under RPF control. Analyzing the available figures for Tutsi who survived the genocide, between 130,000-300,000, the range of Hutu victims is as low as 28,573, but as high as 958,573. Their best estimate, they tell Corbin, is of about one million killed in the genocide, 800,000 of which were Hutu, and 200,000 of which were Tutsi. Thus in Davenport and Stam’s estimation, Hutus were the majority killed.

In Reyntjens’s calculations, Tutsi were 10% of the population, or about 800,000 before the genocide, and 600,000 Tutsi were killed. This means, according to Reyntjens, 500,000 Hutu were killed. While not the majority, it is still nearly half of the victims.

How, if the Rwandan government set out to organize people to kill Tutsis in organized massacres, could so many of their victims have been Hutus? For several reasons. The main reason cited by Davenport is that the civil war and the massacres were creating massive displacement, of nearly the entire population. Even though local organizations were responsible for the killing, and locally, the killers could distinguish Hutu from Tutsi, in a situation where nearly everyone was fleeing from somewhere, and in a situation where admitting to being Tutsi was certain death, killers would have faced potential victims who were claiming to be Hutu, and killed them anyway. Many of the people who were killed as Tutsi, were Hutu.

Hutus were the demographic majority, so if there was a random element as well as a systematic element to the killing, this random element would led to many more random Hutu victims than Tutsi. I would also add a third possibility: that many Hutu were killed trying to protect Tutsi. The idea that the killers in the genocide were everyday Hutu neighbours of the Tutsi is quite pervasive, but it is also likely that many of these Hutu neighbours tried to protect the Tutsi members of their community and died doing so.

Davenport and Stam concluded from their analysis of the timing of the massacres that they occurred in government-held areas just before the arrival of RPF troops. The pace of the killing was set by the pace of the RPF advance. The Rwandan government turned away from its military enemy and instead committed genocide against its own population.

This was, as the BBC documentary shows, a matter of complete indifference to Kagame. His RPF rejected a peace deal with the Rwandan government because in his assessment, total victory was within his grasp. The BBC documentary argues that Kagame did not stop the genocide at all. Instead, it was actually the victims of the genocide who paid the price of the RPF’s victory. Contemporary footage, shown in the BBC documentary, shows Kagame telling the camera that the killing is slowing down as the RPF advances, not because of the advance, but because most of those who were to be killed had been killed.

I should note here that I disagree with writers Ed Herman and David Peterson on the interpretation of this evidence. Herman and Peterson conclude that it was Kagame’s RPF who did the majority of the killings. In their book The Politics of Genocide, they suggest that “Davenport-Stam shy away from asserting the most important lesson of their work: not only that the majority of killings took place in those theaters where the RPF “surged,” but also that the RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994, and the only one that planned a major military offensive.”

I disagree with Herman and Peterson because the RPF was not “the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994”. The RPF was fighting a “well-organized killing force”, in the Rwandan army and its militias, who turned primarily on the civilian population instead of fighting Kagame’s RPF forces.

The BBC documentary also does not accuse Kagame’s RPF of primary responsibility in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The truth of Kagame’s acts is bad enough without adding this crime: Kagame’s invasion and the civil war set the context for the genocide; Kagame’s massacres of Hutus in areas under RPF control were smaller in scale but were also crimes against humanity and were also genocidal like the Rwandan government’s massacres; Kagame’s massacres, proxy warfare, and occupation of the Congo have led to the deaths of, by best estimates, millions of people; Kagame’s suppression of human rights and freedom in Rwanda have created a brutal dictatorship that has somehow been sold to the world as a developmental miracle.

Up until now, these discussions were impossible to have in the West, even on the left. One did not have to argue, as Herman and Peterson do (incorrectly in my opinion) that Kagame conducted the Rwandan genocide, to be labeled a genocide denier. Indeed, anyone who suggested that Kagame’s forces committed crimes against Hutu civilians in Rwanda and Congolese civilians in the Congo was eventually labeled some kind of genocide denier, or a proponent of something called double genocide theory. Rather than coming to some kind of shared understanding of events in Rwanda, as Davenport and Stam tried to do, or as scholars like Reyntjens and Rene Lemarchand have tried to do, proponents of Kagame’s government have smeared those who seek to understand the full magnitude of crimes and criminals in Central Africa in the 1990s as genocide deniers. In doing so, they have of course participated in their own kind of genocide denial, but worse than that, they have helped prevent any actual reckoning with the past, any end to impunity, that might help prevent the repetition of genocides in the future, including in the region. As Reyntjens said in the BBC documentary, there might presently be a lid on the volcano there, but it may erupt again.

The BBC documentary is not perfect. It shows Tony Blair smiling all over the place next to Kagame, and even a shot of Clinton, but a whole other hour could be spent with the evidence on economic interests unearthed by the UN investigations into the exploitation of natural resources in the Congo, the parallel genocides and wars in Burundi, the Western interventions that set all these horrors in motion in the 1960s, and the disgraceful role of most Western media and scholarship in covering it all up. But for one hour, on the BBC, it is a remarkable opening to think about Central Africa and the West’s role. It remains to be seen whether the BBC and Jane Corbin will now be accused of genocide denial, or whether this documentary can help Westerners begin to understand what they are actually supporting in Africa, in Reyntjens’s words, “the most important war criminal in office today”.

Note: On Oct 18/14, Ed Herman and David Peterson’s reply to the above article was published on ZNet. I wrote a comment underneath their article just clarifying my disagreement, which I’m reproducing here:


Ed, David:

First, I didn’t want you to think I was singling you out just to disagree with you. When the BBC doc came out, I, like Jonathan Cook, thought back to that ugly McCarthyite episode with Monbiot. Because Monbiot’s particular focus was your writing, I thought I had to address your writing – and my disagreement with it. I was trying to model how I think people should disagree, just sticking to the facts and trying to point out exactly where the disagreement is. That was why I mentioned you in the first place.

As for the disagreement. You write above that you “hew closely” to Davenport and Stam, and you do, until you make the leap that Davenport and Stam don’t make, in which you attribute to the RPF massacres their data attribute to the Rwandan government and militias. Their animations show most of the biggest massacres taking place in areas under Rwandan government control. And the datasets they based their work on, including the African Rights and the HRW report by Des Forges, describe a lot of these massacres in a lot of detail, including who did them. It’s the same types of reports, with the same types of testimonies, that describe massacres by Kagame’s RPF, including Kibeho and others. Even after reading your reply above, I continue to think this is a big leap you guys are making, beyond the evidence.

As for the numbers, I think, and I think Davenport and Stam acknowledge, all of the estimates are pretty rough, including the ones Davenport and Stam give. On their genodynamics website, they summarize Ibuka’s data (which I am not very familiar with, I only know about it through them) by saying it is an enumeration only for Kibuye prefecture. Is the estimate of 300,000 survivors a scaling up of some kind? You guys know that Prunier bumped the pre-genocide population of Tutsis up from 9% to 12% for his calculation. In his 1997 article, Reyntjens proceeds by assuming the pre-genocide population of Tutsis was 10%, and that 3/4 were killed in the genocide, which is where he arrives at his estimate of 600,000 Tutsis and 500,000 Hutus.


Small Genocides

First published at Telesur English August 12, 2014.

When the word genocide is invoked, many people might think of Rwanda 1994. In that genocide, the government of the country targeted a minority population for massacre during a civil war that had begun three years before, and killed hundreds of thousands of people, from both the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. That government lost the civil war, and was replaced by the regime that still rules Rwanda today, the RPF government of Paul Kagame.

Others might think of the Nazi holocaust. In the holocaust, Germany invaded many of the countries of Europe, captured and killed millions of people. The German Nazi government, like the Rwandan government of 1994, lost the war, and was occupied by the very country (Russia) that it had invaded.

We remember these genocides. We remember their victims. We remember their perpetrators. There are museums dedicated to them, and academic scholarship, and media attention. We are taught the slogan, never again.

But these genocides are unique mainly because their perpetrators lost. In many cases, including recent cases, genocide has been a path to power, a way of achieving a goal. The perpetrators have power. No one is able, or willing, to stand up to them. This is frightening for the rest of us because the powerful can, in fact, get away with genocide.

Returning to Rwanda: Kagame’s RPF, which defeated the Rwandan government in
1994 and took over the country, massacred tens of thousands of Hutus in Rwanda in ‘reprisal’, in highly organized massacres. Then, in 1996, Kagame’s RPF invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, directly and indirectly over the next 15 years, occupied it. The violence of Rwanda’s occupation of the eastern DR Congo has led to excess mortality in the millions, hundreds of thousands of which were from direct violence not unlike the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But Kagame remains in power, his regime is a highly unequal police state, and wealth continues to flow from the eastern Congo, through Rwanda, to the West.

In the film “The Act of Killing” (, documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer meets some of the men who organized and carried out the mass political murder of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists in the 1960s. Oppenheimer has these killers re-enact their killings as a horror film.
At one point, he asks one of the killers, “what you have done could be considered war crimes, couldn’t they?” The killer responds: “What is and isn’t a war crime depends on who has won. I am a winner, and I get to decide what is a crime and what isn’t.” Elsewhere in the film, the killers go on television, laugh and joke about their killings with approving talk show hosts. The killings of the 1960s in Indonesia set the political context for decades to come – including the present.

The Americas are the most dramatic example. Hitler himself saw the expansion of the United States and the destruction of the indigenous populations of the Americas as a model. If the US could do it to the indigenous, Hitler reasoned, why could Germany not do it to the people of Eastern Europe? Even today, you can go to museums in the US that describe how indigenous people “left” their territories after “raids and counter-raids”. As the Indonesian general said, the winners have decided what constitutes crimes and what doesn’t. The winners have decided how history is to be remembered.

Massacres of indigenous people in the Americas didn’t stop in the 19th century. The Guatemalan civil war in particular had a genocidal character, with hundreds of thousands of indigenous people murdered by the state. The war was ended in 1996 through a UN peace process, but, like elsewhere, the victors remain in power. The president in 2012 denied that there had been a genocide.
How could there be? he asked, if the armed forces were indigenous. A report from January 2014, “Guatemala: El haz y el envés de la impunidad y el miedo”, shows how the Guatemalan establishment defends the political and economic status quo established during the genocidal civil war, through political murder, through legislation about ‘terrorism’, and through propaganda campaigns.

But these are whole states, or, in Rwanda’s case, regimes, that came to power, and strengthened their power, using genocide. But genocide can also be a tool for individual political figures.

Consider India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He arrived in the Prime Minister’s palace from the state of Gujarat, where he had been Chief Minister since October 2001. Just a few months after he became Chief Minister of Gujarat, in February 2002, a highly organized, state-sponsored massacre, mainly of Muslims, occurred in Gujarat. The massacre was documented by Human Rights Watch in a report titled “We Have No Orders to Save You” ( Modi remained Chief Minister for over a decade, then, this year, rode all the way to the Prime Ministership. He has dodged all legal proceedings about his role in the deaths of 3,000 people, which helped re-shape the politics of Gujarat – and of India.
And even though, as Nirmalangshu Mukherji has written (, millions of people are waiting for some key questions to be answered about the Chief Minister’s role in this well-organized slaughter, today Modi is moving forward with an agenda of re-making India in Gujarat’s image.

Or take Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is credited with ending the threat of the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, defeating them militarily in 2009 in what is called Eelam War IV. Filmmaker Callum MacRae gathered footage by Sri Lanka soldiers, ‘trophy’ footage of crimes being committed, and by victims, that show a pattern of slaughter of a trapped civilian population, in his film, No Fire Zone ( Rajapaksa has gone from electoral strength to strength, and having terrorized the Tamils, his regime is now terrorizing Muslims and even Buddhist monks.

Viewing this whole global panorama, several examples of which Israel loaned a hand (Sri Lanka, Guatemala), should anyone be surprised that Israel does not understand why it should not be allowed its own genocide against the Palestinians? And, like Modi or Rajapaksa or Kagame, Israel is being given a pass. At the end of a month-long war specifically against the children of Gaza, celebrating murders in demonstrations, in the parliament, and on social media, Israel is working hard to ensure that the Palestinians return to starvation and imprisonment, and that they have fewer means to resist the next massacre.

American writer Barbara Coloroso wrote a book, “Extraordinary Evil”,
( linking the logic of bullying to the logic of genocide. Genocide, like bullying, is a crime of power, and a crime of contempt. Like bullying, genocide is an act that depends on a bully, and on a bystander. If the bully can demonize his victim, then he can demobilize bystanders who might otherwise intervene and protect the bullied.

Can anything be learned from these genocides? Yes, but the lessons are not the ones that we are usually taught. The truth will not necessarily come out. The perpetrators will not necessarily be brought to justice. People’s consciences will not automatically be activated after some horrible threshold is reached.
There is nothing so terrible that it won’t find apologists, as anyone who has had to watch one of these massacres unfold in North America, having to listen to the vilest talking points, knows. Those who commit genocide have power, and they hope to silence, or even attract, bystanders with their power. They want to use their power to get the bystander to suspend reason, fact, moral sense, and compassion. And they very often succeed.

So what can stop them? In each case, genocide occurred after resistance was broken. Whether armed or civil, it is resistance by the victim that provides the greatest chance of survival. Even if unsuccessful, resistance can help enough survive for a community to persist after a genocide. Look at the current Israel Gaza massacre, the so-called “Protective Edge”. Compared to Israel’s 2008-9 massacre in Gaza (“Cast Lead”), the Palestinians were more effective in their military resistance. Israel responded by going for mass civilian casualties and avoiding any close-quarters battles where they might lose soldiers, engaging in domestic and international campaigns to try to desensitize Westerners to Palestinian civilian deaths.

This Gaza genocide, a Western genocide, paid for and armed and covered by the West, is a test for Western bystanders. Many Westerners have sided with the bully, adopted the bully’s contempt for the victim, and in the process are helping speed up the genocide. On the other hand, for bystanders, genocide prevention is simple to understand, if difficult to enact: it means standing up to the bully, standing with the victim who is resisting, sheltering the victim and isolating the bully. Specifically, in the so-called ‘ceasefire negotiations’ and after, it means insisting that:

* The side that targets children and celebrates their deaths, killing overwhelmingly civilians (80%) does not get to proscribe as ‘terrorist’ the side that attacks overwhelmingly military targets (95%).

* The side that kills civilians must be disarmed before the side that focuses on military targets. We cannot arm the bully and insist on the disarmament of the victim. Security is for both sides. Freedom is for both sides. Full rights are for both sides.

* The blockade must be lifted, the siege must end, people and goods must be able to come and go freely from Gaza.

We have a long and arduous path to travel to make genocide no longer a rational choice for the powerful. In the West, it begins with taking a stand, even if it means risking something.

A short course on development in “Post-conflict” Congo. A Radical Teacher article.

Podur, J. (2014). A Short Course on Development in “Post-conflict” Congo. Radical Teacher, 98, 52-57. doi:10.5195/rt.2014.70

This article, published in the journal Radical Teacher, is about higher education in the eastern DR Congo, based on my experience teaching a course at the Universite Evangelique en Afrique (UEA) in Bukavu in 2011.

Partition talk

When Belgium realized in the 1950s that, given that France and Britain were losing their African colonies, it would no longer be able to hold on to Congo, it set about trying to guarantee continued control over the strategic aspects of the economy, especially the mines. At first, it sponsored its local political groups, but lost control of these. The next step, just after the Congo became independent, was mercenaries and proxy warfare – a huge international crisis and United Nations mission that was, in the 1960s, called “The Congo Crisis”. The political strategy accompanying the acts of Belgium’s mercenaries (many of which were from apartheid South Africa) was to support the secession of Katanga province from the Congo. Once a dictator, Mobutu, came to power, the international community allowed him to crush the secessionists.

Decades later, the international community was not capable of stopping a real genocide in Rwanda. After the Rwandan genocide, when the victors in the Rwandan civil war took over that country and the losers of the civil war fled into Congo, the international community helped Rwanda invade the Congo. Rwanda’s reason for invading was to force the Rwandan refugees to return and stop them from continuing to threaten the new Rwandan regime, headed by Paul Kagame. Rwanda’s reason for staying in the east, however, was economic control. In the 15 or so years that followed, Rwanda has effectively controlled the eastern provinces of the Congo. The mining business goes through Rwanda. Several political and armed groupings (the RCD-G, the CNDP, now the M23) work on Rwanda’s behalf to control the east and provide a local cover. Each time the Congolese government tries to assert control over the east, there is a flare-up, a rebellion, in which the Rwandan proxies rise to the challenge. The latest flare-up, in November 2012, in which M23 took Goma and are now negotiating with the Congolese government in Uganda, was indicative of this pattern.

The Economist analyzed this latest round accurately as follows:

“Goma’s fall humiliated Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, who yet again watched his army crumble and a chunk of his ramshackle country fall into rebel hands with Rwandan support. But nor was the M23’s victory a rousing success for Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame. Foreign donors have cut tens of millions of dollars in promised aid to his country as punishment for helping the rebels.” (1)

The cutting of aid to Rwanda, now a member of the UN Security Council, was a political setback for Rwanda’s ambitions in the Congo and is the reason M23 is negotiating instead of advancing to the next military objective, at great cost to civilian lives on its path. Because Rwanda’s ambitions cannot be fulfilled without the international community, that complex set of donor countries and powers that has the ultimate say in that part of the world.

It is in this context that some of the recent commentaries about “solutions” to the Congo conflict should be read. The key piece is J. Peter Pham’s NYT op-ed, “To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart” (2). Pham, who works for the NATO-affiliated think tank the Atlantic Council, writes:

“Rather than nation-building, what is needed to end Congo’s violence is the opposite: breaking up a chronically failed state into smaller organic units whose members share broad agreement or at least have common interests in personal and community security.”

Pham concludes that “at least in some extreme cases, the best way to break a cycle of violence is to break up an artificial country in crisis and give it back to its very real people.”

Such a plan, if it were accepted by the international community, would be the perfect culmination of Rwanda’s plans: the Kivus would become occupied statelets, whose mining wealth flows directly to the West, via Rwanda and Uganda and the various networks that the UN Expert Panels have repeatedly described in detail over the past decade. There is no reason to think that destroying the Congo’s sovereignty would lead to democracy. Rather than reversing the de facto occupation, it would give it legal status.

The current Congolese government is unpopular in the Kivus, but this is at least in part because it has neglected the east and failed to protect it from external predation by the Congo’s neighbours. The solution to this cannot be to hand the east over to those neighbours. Federalism and decentralization are popular proposals in the Congo, but Congolese nationalism is strong – no one is interested in breaking the country up.

But even if no Congolese are interested in the breakup of their country, Pham is not alone. Sam Akaki, writing for a Ugandan newspaper, The Daily Monitor, asks the rhetorical question: “Should Uganda and Rwanda be condemned as meddlers or applauded as midwives in the inevitable birth, by caesarean means, of the Republic of Eastern Congo?” (3) Akaki compares the eastern Congo to South Sudan, but the comparison doesn’t make sense. South Sudan fought a war of independence for decades, leading up to a referendum in which the people of the country voted massively and overwhelmingly for independence. The eastern Congo has been under foreign occupation by a country (Rwanda) that has invaded the whole of Congo twice (in 1996 and 1998), an occupation that has led to a broad social collapse and the unnecessary deaths of millions of people.

Territorial integrity and sovereignty are not outmoded concepts, nor are they luxuries for the rich and powerful. Those who talk about partition of the Congo as a solution are offering a prescription for expanded and continued violence.

Justin Podur was in Bukavu in 2009 and 2011.


1) The Economist. December 8, 2012. Power Vacuum: Although they have handed back a city, the rebels have not faded away.
2) J. Peter Pham. November 30, 2012. “To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart”. NYT.
3) Sam Akaki, November 23, 2012. “Will eastern DR Congo be Africa’s next baby state?” The Daily Monitor (Uganda).