Part IV Genocide Denial – B: Conceptual and Historical Biases

Part IV Genocide Denial – B: Conceptual and Historical Biases


Howard Adelman

The BBC video is available at


The charge of genocide denial has been used to shut up critics by the Kagame regime. Well over 200 such critics have been jailed for terms of from 5-10 years to life imprisonment. Those charged included the leader of the opposition in Parliament. But the ferocity and murderous outreach of the Kagame regime cannot be used to distort what happened and feed the maws of waiting genocide deniers. At the very least, Stam and Davenport are guilty of this.

Dr, Andrew Wallis, author of Silent Accomplice: The Role of France in the Rwandan Genocide, has been the most devastating critic of the BBC documentary and of Stam and Davenport (S&D). S&D’s research “wasn’t used for another 10 years. No one would touch it and there are reasons for that. It’s not the people are covering up anything; it’s just that their research is full of holes. No scholar wants to associate themselves with work which is incompetent. I wouldn’t want to associate myself with such work, and indeed most scholars will not want to touch this research”. Is Wallis correct? If so, what are the implications?

The Conception of Genocide and Methodology

S&D wrote that, we adopt a position where the physical elimination of a group with a cohesive identity is the objective of the activity, and that the perpetrators of this behavior involve the state and/or its affiliates or agents.” Destruction of a culture is not included in this interpretation of the concept, only physical elimination – totally appropriate to this case because Tutsi and Hutu share the very same language and culture. For S&D, the motive can only be eliminating that group, not money, revenge, or pre-emption, a definition contrary to almost all genocide scholars who recognize that within a state-sanctioned genocide campaign, a complex of motives may be at work when individuals kill members of the targeted group. Further, in the S&D interpretation, the murder must be by the state, its employees and agents; killings by “volunteers” co-opted by militias to carry out the slaughter are excluded. Finally, a definitive determination of genocide requires not only premeditation, but a precise method of accomplishing the goals; but evidence for this, such as the contract to a French firm to excavate a very large hole with no apparent construction purpose, three weeks before the genocide broke out. That large excavation was soon used to throw in over 17,000 corpses of those killed at the technical school in Butare.

This very narrow definition of genocide a priori means that the majority of those killed could not have been eliminated by government forces or its agents since the government lacked the manpower to both fight the RPF and carry out such an extensive genocide. The discovery of lists of those targeted would provide definite proof, S&D suggest, but no lists have been found. Not having found lists of names of those targeted, there is no evidence of genocidal planning they conclude. In the Holocaust, the six million killed were not on a targeted list. As S&D have also written, Rwanda then was largely an oral society so how useful would a list have been to the many ordinary Rwandans co-opted or coerced into carrying out the killing.

A writer may refer to the genocide in Rwanda as a singular event, as the authors themselves sometimes do, though they disparage such usage, but, as they also make clear, this does not mean that a genocide cannot be parsed in both space and time and by different agents and groups of victims. Yet the authors give themselves special credit for breaking genocide down into component parts as if no one else has done this. Such an analytic conceit does not encourage adequate consultation of the works of other scholars and interferes with the quality of their research.

S&D did examine the literature to understand that autocratic in contrast to democratic regimes, especially those which keep close control over the population, in a context of domestic economic and political (both internal and external) crises, regime change and civil war, all enhance the possibility of genocide. However, at other times they will take self-evident truths as if they are amazing new foundations for research. Such propositions as,Causal effects of the accelerants and retardants will vary across the nation-state in question.” These are given a hefty weight of originality that is totally undeserved. More significantly, they say the killing in Rwanda is not akin to the Holocaust, but was more like the earthquake expected as a result of the San Andreas fault. The entire team, of which Astri and I were a part, proved the opposite – the genocide was a planned event and not at all akin to a natural phenomenon like an earthquake. S&D never consult this literature or even cite it in their bibliography.

The primary interest of S&D was never in genocide per se; their focus was on violent conflict of all kinds. If the genocide is viewed in the usual way, then the violence of other kinds becomes marginal, ill-suited to their larger academic agenda. This means that they will even include researchers of violent conflict using statistical analysis covering even forced displacement, such as my former post-doc student, Susanne Schmeidl. Her work was used as a reference for comparative genocide, which she has never done or professed to do. (Their reference is: Schmeidl, Susanne (1997) “Exploring the Causes of Forced Migration: A Pooled Analysis, 1971-1990.” Social Science Quarterly 78: 284-308.) This means that they have an academic interest in expanding those killed by other forms of coercion and violence and minimizing the numbers killed because of genocidal intent.

Scholarship focused on statistical and comparative studies of genocide and violence in general can be very valuable. But when it demonstrates only the most superficial acquaintance with substantive historical and anthropological in-depth analyses and specific policy studies, then quantitative studies can develop serious blinkers to its own false premises given the love affair with its process of data gathering and analysis.

S&D are admirers of the work of Helen Fein on genocide. Whatever quarrels top scholars of the Holocaust, especially noted historians like Michael Marrus, have had with Helen Fein’s quantitative methods, she did provide a model for dis-aggregating motives and factors conducive to enhancing genocide. However, she never set as her task minimizing the number of genocidal killings in the Holocaust as the definition adopted by S&D does.

Finally, Kagame may use all kinds of rituals, ceremonies, halls of remembrance and publicity about the genocide to solidify his rule, intimidate and even assassinate his critics, but hyping genocide for political purposes does not mean the actual genocide should be minimized and trivialized by critics.

Historical Background

Let us then turn to the evidence S&D offer, misrepresent and ignore, beginning with their sketch of the history of Rwanda. Neither is a historian. Yet, with a very few exceptions, Stam manages to offer a succinct and reasonably accurate history of Rwanda – at least until he gets to the late nineteen eighties when he discusses the economic pressures that the West placed on President Habyarimana in 1988, with the implication that this was done in concert with Paul Kagame to weaken the regime. After that, the errors and omissions begin to pile up like the bodies of murdered Rwandans.

  • When the Tutsi elite fled Rwanda after the assumption of power of the Hutu in 1959, then again in 1962, and thousands were killed, it was not simply because the Tutsi did not want to live under Hutu rule; though not a genocide, Hutu were killing the former ruling Tutsi to eliminate their rivalry and to prevent their return by force
  • Although, after his coup in 1973, Habyarimana ran a reasonably honest government with relatively modest allocations to the military compared to other African states, Rwanda in 1988 was in an economic bind with state expenditures far in excess of income because coffee (the main export crop of Rwanda) as well as tin prices had collapsed
  • The IMF (International Monetary Fund) put pressure on Habyarimana to cut government expenditures
  • The motives for this were purely economic, though some interpret the implementation of the policies recommended by the Chicago School of monetarists to be simply a vehicle for enhancing American economic imperial control
  • There is no evidence whatsoever of Kagame or other members of the Rwandan Tutsi exile community, having any direct influence over these international decisions, or on the West’s pressure for Rwanda to move to a multi-party system of government more akin to a democracy
  • Kagame, like other Tutsi exiles then living in Uganda, helped Yoweri Museveni in his overthrow of Obote; Kagame did become head of Ugandan intelligence; however, Tutsi in Uganda only decided to return to Rwanda when the efforts of Museveni to persuade his Parliament to grant the Tutsi citizenship in Uganda failed – a critical piece of history again omitted in the S&D account
  • President Habyarimana, though he had a deserved reputation of treating the Tutsi in Rwanda much better than his predecessor after he obtained power in a coup in 1973, would not permit the Tutsi stateless exiles to return to Rwanda, a very important fact in understanding the adoption of coercion by the RPF, a fact omitted in Stam’s sketch
  • In the S&D potted review of Rwandan history, they claim they naively initially accepted the belief that the Rwandan government under Juvenal Habyarimana was said to have the obje)ctive of eradicating the Tutsi. No reputable scholar that I know of made such an assertion. Quite the contrary. Most scholars claimed that when Habyarimana first came to power in a coup in 1973, he protected Tutsi. Further, though he denied the Tutsi in exile a right to return to Rwanda, even when the invasion took place, his political policies were in tension with those of his wife and other members of the extremist Akazu faction in the MRND. Habyarimana himself was rarely accused of having genocidal intentions, though he was often accused of catering to the extremists
  • S&D omit the fact that Paul Kagame received his first military training abroad when, in 1986, he went for nine months to Cuba where his propensity for puritanism was reinforced and where he learned a great deal about what Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) called “mass lining”, the method used to co-opt a population through the use of media and public ceremonials
  • Kagame, along with three other Tutsi Rwandan military leaders from Uganda, formed the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF) and adopted the option of returning by force
  • Just after he was married to his wife Jeanette, a marriage attended by Roger Winter, then Executive Director of the U.S. Committee on Refugees, Paul Kagame disagreed on the timing of the invasion (in one version of his personal history); he went into self-exile in the USA and enrolled, with the help of Museveni, in the Joint American-Ugandan Combined Exchange Training Program to study at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas; there is no evidence that the US selected Kagame for training because he was identified as a future African leader
  • Paul and Jeanette Kagame had only been in Fort Leavenworth a relatively short time when the RPF invaded Rwanda on 1 October 1990 with a military force estimated to have been 5,000 under the leadership of Kagame’s colleague, Fred Rwigyema, who had been Deputy Minister of Defence in the Ugandan government; when the invasion was stopped in its tracks by Habyarimana’s FAR with the help of the French and the backup of Belgian forces, Rwigyema and another co-leader who formed the RPF, were both killed; Stam is simply wrong when he says that Kagame led the invasion of Rwanda
  • What was the motivation for the invasion? According to S&D, “(I)f there was no political violence before the international invasion, then how should we frame what takes place after 1989?  Were the Tutsi in the country somehow communicating that life for them was unlivable and the RPF were simply responding to this call?” Why that speculative question? There is a general scholarly consensus that, relative to his predecessor, Habyarimana did not persecute Tutsi. Further, the RPF was not primarily motivated to invade Rwanda because of how Habyarimana was treating Tutsi citizens of Rwanda, but because:b) they did not want to remain stateless;
  • c) they could not prevail upon Habyarimana – especially given the extremists in his party – to permit their return
  • a) they could not get citizenship elsewhere, even in Uganda where they had served Museveni loyally;
  • There is an inconsistency in the writings of S&D for they sometimes refer to the war in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 as a civil war and at other times as an interstate war; the latter is the general position of genocide deniers who view the RPF as an extension of American imperialism and, on the regional level, of Ugandan imperialism
  • S&D do characterize the 1990 invasion of Rwanda as akin to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 1991 though, other than the term invasion, there is no parallel to exiles using force to win a right of return and an American-led attack on Saddam Hussein’s fictional nuclear program, unless, of course, one wants to allude to a common possible imperial conspiracy at work
  • Kagame was then called back to Africa to take over leadership of the RPF and he led the remnant of 2,000 rebels to the Virunga mountains and rebuilt the RPF by 1991 to its original strength; in 1992, the RPF numbered 12,000, in 1993 at the time of the Arusha Accords in August, 20,000, and by April 1994 when the civil war resumed, Kagame commanded a force estimated at 25,000 (not 50,000 as Stam contends) in opposition to the FAR that had grown from 7,000 to 30,000 but was better equipped than the RPF
  • Kagame and the RPF were accused of killing Rwandan Hutu civilians – from 25,000 to 100,000 – in the territories they conquered between 1991 and 1993, but Stam leaves out the fact that, though the RPF was led and manned by a large majority of Tutsi, it also consisted of Hutu opposed to Habyarimana’s rule, including the president of the RPF, Alexis Kanyarengwe, a former ally of Habyarimana
  • Roger Winter, who had a stellar reputation for integrity and honesty, when he was in Rwanda, was asked to investigate stories of RPF atrocities; he visited the north and reported back that he found no evidence of RPF atrocities, and, given the puritanism and discipline Kagame instilled in his forces, the likelihood of rogue RPF soldiers undertaking killings on their own seems minimal
  • According to S&D, U.S. and U.K. governments were guilty of inaction in Rwanda when a military intervention to protect the Tutsi was in order.  That inaction was the result of actively standing by Kagame, shielding his 1990 aggression from international action, vastly expanding his RPF into the armed force that overthrew the Habyarimana government and conquered the Rwandan state, and preventing the ICTR from bringing any indictments against Kagame’s RPF, even getting ICTR chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in 2003 fired as a “Special Investigator”; no evidence is provided to support any of these implicit or explicit allegations
  • When the RPF was in control of the north of the country, were there revenge killings? Was there killing of captured FAR troops? Were there killings of Hutu leaders in the north? I do not know, but other than the rumours of RPF atrocities, allegedly traced back to the UNHCR, which refused to confirm or deny the rumours, rumours that induced hundreds of thousands of Hutu to flee the northern captured territories, I have not seen any hard evidence of massive atrocities committed by the RPF; there certainly could have been, even though such atrocities would be totally inconsistent with the military doctrine Kagame instilled in his forces to concentrate only on fighting the FAR, a policy that would later mean, as S&D correctly point out, that Kagame never diverted his forces to save Tutsi citizens of Rwanda when he was driving the FAR and the Interahamwe out of the country in 1994
  • Though the BBC documentary makes clear that the director and producer endorse blaming Kagame for the downing of Habyarimana’s plane on 6 April 1994 that triggered the coup and the genocide, S&D, as far as I could find out, do not take a position on this issue and do not disparage standard accounts of assigning responsibility for this incident to Hutu extremists who faced a loss of power and privileges when Habyarimana finally agreed to implement the Arusha Peace Accords
  • For S&D, the government of Habyarimana could not have been guilty of planning the assassination of the Tutsi without the Tutsi members of the government knowing about it, but, in fact, that government never did plan the extermination of the Tutsi; it was the extremist leaders of the coup that did
  • S&D claim that Bill Clinton had to have known about the genocide within six days of the massive genocide breaking out on 6 April 1994, whereas our research found that although he could and should have known, we found no evidence that he did know

Does such a conceptual narrow presumption and so many egregious historical errors constitute genocide denial?

Tomorrow: An examination of the statistical evidence.


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