Rwanda: separating myths from reality

by Linda Melvern, Scottish Review

‘Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad’ by Michela Wrong (published by 4th Estate London, 2021)

‘Of all the liars in Africa,’ wrote the English colonialist Ewart Grogan after visiting in 1899, ‘I believe the people of Rwanda are by far the most thorough’. Grogan’s appalling quote is used in the introduction to Michela Wrong’s book, Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad. Not much has changed, the author believes. Rwandans are always telling her how mendacious they are: the country ‘glories in its impenetrability’ and ‘sees virtue in misleading’, Rwandan children are encouraged to develop the quality of deception. Michela Wrong admits that such a society poses a ‘bit of a challenge’ for a non-fiction author.

The offensive paragraphs are reminiscent of the racism of Hutu Power, of the hate propaganda that portrayed Tutsi as natural-born liars, a part of the ideology that underpinned the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi. This is not a book ‘about a genocide’, we are told, but a story of a group of exiled Rwandan fugitives, a ‘small, tight-knit elite’. They seem to have been brought together by their loathing of the government of Rwanda and its President Paul Kagame – a sentiment the author shares.


The Money Man: the arrest of Felicien Kabuga

The arrest of Félicien Kabuga in a Paris suburb on May 16 is hardly a cause for celebration.  A prime suspect for his involvement in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi, Kabuga had been on the run for twenty-six years and is now an elderly man. One of the world’s most wanted fugitives there was a bounty of US $5 million under the US Awards for Justice program on his head. Somehow, he had managed to outwit everyone who searched for him including the international crime agency Interpol and undercover and specialised tracking teams with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).


We may soon learn France’s real role in the Rwanda genocide by Linda Melvern

In a milestone court case in Paris, unprecedented testimony could reveal the Elysée’s links to the 1994 génocidaires

‘The policy was devised in secret … within the confines of the Africa Unit. At its heart was François Mitterrand.

The trial this week of a Rwandan genocide suspect in a Paris courtroom is a well-earned victory for the French human rights groups who lobbied so hard and so long for justice. The milestone trial signals the end of France as a safe haven for génocidaries. But more than this, the trial is likely to see intense public scrutiny of one of the great scandals of the past century – the role of France in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi of Rwanda, which for 20 years journalists and activists have tried so hard to expose.

Pascal Simbikangwa, the defendant in Paris, is said to have been a member of an inner circle of power in Rwanda that devised genocide as a planned political campaign. Developed by Hutu ideologues, it was intended to prevent a power-sharing system of government that was to include the minority Tutsi. The genocide claimed up to a million lives.


Rwanda 04: Vestiges of a Genocide

by Pieter Hugo – Essay by Linda Melvern

In 2004 South African photographer Pieter Hugo was astonished by a photograph used to illustrate an article on the Rwandan genocide. The picture showed a human skull on an altar inside the Catholic church at Ntarama, south of Kigali.

Ten years previously an estimated 5,000 Tutsis were massacred there by government soldiers, civilians and the feared Interahamwe; across Rwanda many victims had believed, mistakenly, that churches would provide secure refuge. But what most arrested Hugo was the fact that a decade after the killings (the photograph was made in 2004) the evidence, remains and detritus of genocide were still to be seen. He resolved to visit, ‘photographing and contemplating’ the sites of Rwanda’s carnage. The results of that journey are now published as Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide offering, he writes, “a glimpse of what I saw there before the reburials took place.”

Kigali International Airport. Over a period of four days, some 3,900 people of 22 nationalities left Rwanda with the help of European troops flown in for that purpose. © Pieter Hugo