Matriarch of the Unholy Trinity
Susan Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., has been waltzing (or should I say do-se-do-ing) with Africa’s slyest, slickest and meanest dictators for nearly two decades. More cynical commentators have said she has been in bed with them, as it were. No doubt, international politics does make for strange bedfellows.
Rice’s favorite dictators in Africa are the “Unholy Trinity” — Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia — all former rebel leaders who seized power through the barrel of the gun and were later baptized to become the “new breed of African leaders” (a phrase of endearment coined by Bill Clinton to celebrate the “Three African Amigos” and memorialize their professed commitment to democracy and economic development). She has been best friend for life and the acknowledged Guardian Angel, champion, apologist, promoter, advocate, grand dame and matriarch of the trio. She has shielded the “Fearsome, Threesome” from legal and political accountability, deflected from them much deserved criticism and thwarted national and international scrutiny and sanctions against the.
Rice, Rwanda and the Genocide That Was Not
In April 1994, when the Clinton Administration pretended to be ignorant of the unspeakable terror and massacres in Rwanda, Susan Rice — who by her own description “was a young Director on the National Security Council staff at the White House, accompanying the then-National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake” — and currently the putative heir apparent to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, was unconcerned about taking immediate action to stop the killings. Rather, she was fretting about the political consequences of calling the Rwandan tragedy a “genocide”. In a monument to utter moral depravity and conscience-bending callous indifference, Rice casually inquired of her colleagues, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Rice later shed crocodile tears for having made her senseless statement while simultaneously claiming she does not quite remember making it, but regretted “if I said it.” Lt. Colonel Tony Marley, the U.S. military liaison to the Arusha peace process (the Arusha Peace Accords which resulted in the 1993 agreement for power sharing between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda) was so baffled by Rice’s statement, he observed, “We could believe that people would wonder that, but not that they would actually voice it.”
In less than 100 days, 800 thousand Rwandans by U.N. estimate had been killed in the genocidal madness. For weeks, Rice, her boss Lake and other top U.S. officials labored and agonized not to call the monstrous Rwandan genocide, a genocide. They continued to play their sinister semantic bureaucratic games to make sure there were no official references to “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing”, “extermination” and the like in connection with the Rwandan tragedy. But far from regretting her role in underrating the Rwandan genocide and the massive and gross violations of human rights, over the past decade and half Rice has turned a blind eye, deaf ears and muted lips to extrajudicial killings, suppression of the press, decimation of opposition parties and imprisonment of large numbers of dissidents in Africa and aided and abetted Africa’s dictatorial trio. She has coddled, pampered, nurtured, protected and sang praises for these ruthless dictators.
U.S. policy in the 1994 Rwandan genocide will remain a testament to shame, diplomatic duplicity, bureaucratic sophistry and plain old fashioned callous deceitfulness. On April 6, 1994, the plane transporting Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, Burindian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and other officials was shot down as it returned from Tanzania. The prime suspects in the assassination are believed to be elements of the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF) who had rejected a power sharing agreement Habyarimana had reached with the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) a year earlier. Immediately following Habyarimana’s assassination, RAF members aided by extremist militia elements known as the Interahamwe (which in Kinyarwanda means “those who stand/work/fight/attack together”) went on a rampage indiscriminately killing government officials, ordinary Tutsis and other moderate Hutus.
Rice and other top U.S. officials knew or should have known a genocide was underway or in the making once RAF and interahamwe militia began killing people in the streets and neighborhoods on April 6. They were receiving reports from the U.N. mission in Rwanda; and their own intelligence pointed to unspeakable massacres taking place in Kigali and elsewhere in the country. In a Memorandum dated April 6, 1994, the day of the Habyiarimana assassination, Deputy Assistant Secretary Prudence Bushnell, the State Department’s number two official for Africa matters, predicted:
If, as it appears, both Presidents have been killed, there is a strong likelihood that widespread violence could breakout in either or both countries, particularly if it is confirmed that the plane was shot down. Our strategy is to appeal for calm in both countries, both through public statements and in other ways…
On April 11, 1994, in a Talking Points Memorandum prepared for the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Africa concluded:
Unless both sides can be convinced to return to the peace process, a massive (hundreds of thousands of deaths) bloodbath will ensue that would likely spill over into Burundi. In addition, millions of refugees will flee into neighboring Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire…Since neither the French nor the Belgians have the trust of both sides…, there will be a role to play for the U.S. as the “honest broker.”
But Rice and company intentionally chose to minimize the extreme nature of the violence and kept on issuing empty declarations, pleas for a cease fire and calls to the parties to come to the negotiating table.
Two weeks into the genocide on April 22, presidential National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, Rice’s boss, issued a statement “expressing deep concern over the violence that continues to rage in Rwanda following the tragic deaths of Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burindian President Ntaryamira two weeks ago.” Lake called on “all responsible officials and military officers” to bring the “offending troops under control” and implement a “cease fire and return to negotiations.” By late April, the U.S. was still playing a “see no genocide, hear no genocide and speak no genocide” public relations game. On April 28, Bushnell “telephoned Rwandan Ministry of Defense Cabinet Director Col. Bagasora to urge an end to the killings.” Bushnell told Bagasora that in the “eyes of the world, the Rwanda military engaged in criminal acts, aiding and abetting civilians massacres” and demanded that the Rwandan “Government make every effort to implement the peace accords.” Three weeks into the genocide, Bushnell was still talking about “massacres” as others “expressed deep concern over the violence.
On May 1, the central issue facing the Defense Department intra-agency group established to generate proposals on what to do in Rwanda was how to characterize the mindboggling genocidal carnage (excuse me, “massacre”). According to the “Discussion Paper” of this group, participants were warned not to use the “G” word because using that label could result in U.S. taking preventing action, exactly the same kind of concern explicitly raised by Rice:
1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday– Genocide finding could commit USG to actually “do something”.
By May 5, the U.S. had considered jamming Rwandan radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines which was coordinating attacks and broadcasting highly inflammatory ethnic propaganda against Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Belgians, and the United Nations mission in Rwanda resulting in thousands of deaths. That idea was discarded as “ineffective” and “expensive costing approximately $8,500 per flight hour”.
A little over one month into the genocide, a Defense Intelligence Report dated May 9, 1994, concluded:
… In addition to the random massacre of Tutsis by Hutu militias and individuals, there is an organized, parallel effort of genocide being implemented by the army to destroy the leadership of the Tutsi community. The original intent was to kill only the political elite supporting reconciliation; however, the government lost control of the militias, and the massacre spread like wildfire. It continues to rage out of control.
By May 21, six weeks into the genocide, incredibly, U.S. officials were still debating whether they should call the carnage a “genocide” despite the open and notorious fact that tens of thousands of Rwandans were being slaughtered. In a May 21 “Action Memorandum” sent to Secretary of State Warren Christopher the question presented was “Has Genocide Occurred in Rwanda?” under the heading “Issue for Decision”, the Memorandum formulated the policy question as follows:
Whether (1) to authorize Department officials to state publicly that “acts of genocide have occurred” in Rwanda and (2) to authorize U.S. delegations to international meetings to agree to resolutions and other instruments that refer to “acts of genocide” in Rwanda, state that “genocide had occurred.
Of course, there was no question genocide was taking place in Rwanda. The Legal Analysis drafted on May 16, five days preceding the “Action Memorandum”, left no doubt about the occurrence of genocide. After citing the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which the U.S. is a party, the Legal Analysis concluded:
The Existence of Genocide in Rwanda
There can be little question that the specific listed acts have taken place in Rwanda. There have been numerous acts of killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm to persons. As INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] notes, international humanitarian organizations estimate the killings since April 6 have claimed from 200,000 to 500,000 lives. (INR also notes that this upper figure maybe exaggerated, but that is not critical to the analysis.).
[The UN estimated the number killed in Rwanda in less than 100 beginning on April 6, 1994 as 800,000; the Rwandan Government estimated 1,071,000 were killed in the genocide.]
Despite public protestations of ignorance of the Rwandan genocide, rivers of crocodile tears of not having done something to prevent it and moral expiations about Clinton’s “worst mistake of my presidency”, Rice, Lake, Christopher and others high in the Clinton Administration knew beyond a shadow of doubt that genocide was in the planning or underway from the day Habarymana was assassinated.
Rice, Kagame, Museveni, M23 and “Looking the Other Way”
In 1996, two years after the end of the genocide, on the pretext of pursuing Hutu insurgents and militia who were responsible for the Rwandan genocide and to prevent their incursions into Rwanda from bases in the Congo (at the time Zaire), Kagame began arming ethnic Tutsis in the eastern part of that country. He also sent Rwandan troops to support them. The so-called Congo Wars were underway and continue to rage to the present day resulting in millions of lost lives.
The First Congo War lasted from November 1996 to May 1997. Congolese rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila overthrew long ruling dictator Mobutu Sésé Seko. The Rwandan-created destabilization in eastern Congo was the decisive factor in the fall of Mobutu’s regime. Kabila seized power in May 1997 and was assassinated by one of his bodyguards in January 2001. In March 2012, former Kagame right hand man and secretary general of the RPF, Theogene Rudasingwa made the shocking revelation that “it’s Paul Kagame who assassinated the Congolese President, Laurent Desire Kabila; Kagame is the murderer of the Congolese President Kabila.” The Second Congo War began shortly after Kabila took power and continued until 2003. Eight African countries and dozens of armed groups were involved in the conflict.
In March 2009, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed a peace accord with National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) (an armed militia established by Laurent Nkunda in the eastern Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2006) making the CNDP a political party. In April 2012, several hundred ethnic Tutsi members of the CNDP turned against the DRC government over alleged lack of implementation of the March 2009 Accords and formed the M23 Movement [a/k/a Mouvement du 23-Mars] under the leadership of the notorious war criminal General Bosco Ntaganda, (a/k/a “The Terminator”). Ntaganda was initially indicted by the International Criminal Court on August 22, 2006 for recruiting child soldiers and committing atrocities. He was indicted by the ICC for the second time on July 13, 2012 on three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes including murder, rape, attacks on civilians and slavery. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Ntaganda’s boss and co-defendant, was the first person ever convicted by the International Criminal Court in July 2012. Last month, Ntaganda’s M23 rebels took control of Goma, a provincial capital with a population of one million people causing some 140,000 people to flee their homes. They were “persuaded” to leave mineral-rich Goma in early December under international pressure although they presumably rejected similar calls by Kagame and Museveni.
Kagame and Museveni of Uganda have been the prime supporters of M23. Various U.N. and other international human rights organization have documented Rwanda’s and Uganda’s ongoing support for M23. According to a recent U.N. Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (October 2012),
Rwanda officials coordinated the creation of the [M23] rebel movement as well as its major military operations… Senior Government of Uganda officials (GoU) have also provided support to M23 in the form of direct troop reinforcements in DRC territory, weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations. Units of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and the Rwandan Defesse Forces (RDF) jointly supported M23 in a series of attacks in July 2012 to take over the major towns of Rutshuru territory, and the forces armees de la RDC (FARDC) base of Rumangabo. Both governments have also cooperated to support the creation and expansion of M23’s political branch and have consistently advocated on behalf of the rebels. The M23 and its allies includes six sanctioned individuals, some of whom reside in or regularly travel to Uganda and Rwanda.
This past August, Museveni secretly met with Ntaganda and M23 rebels. Prof. Howard French of Columbia University, in his NY Times article “Kagame’s Secret War in the Congo” described the conflict in the Great Lakes Region (the seven great lakes in the Rift Valley region) since 1996 in which six million people have died in the from armed conflict, starvation and disease as an epochal event of the Twentieth Century. He argued:
Few realize that a main force driving this conflict has been the largely Tutsi army of neighboring Rwanda, along with several Congolese groups supported by Rwanda…. Until now, the US and other Western powers have generally supported Kagame diplomatically. Observers note that Rwandan-backed forces have themselves been responsible for much of the violence in eastern Congo over the years… The Rwandan Patriotic Front was directly operating mining businesses in Congo, according to UN investigators; more recently, Rwanda has attempted to maintain control of regions of eastern Congo through various proxy armies.
Rice has been shielding Kagame and Museveni from scrutiny and sanctions in their role in the DRC. She has made every effort to suppress U.N. investigative reports showing Kagame’s role in supplying and financing M23. According to the National Journal, Rice “has even wrangled with Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, and others in the department, who all have been more critical of the Rwandans.” The Journal reported that Rice was dismissive of the French ambassador to the U.N. who advised her of the need for the U.N. to do more to intervene in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She reportedly told the French Ambassador, “It’s the eastern DRC. If it’s not M23, it’s going to be some other group.” The Journal quoting Prof. Gerard Prunier of the University of Paris reported:
When Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice came back from her first trip to the Great Lakes region [of East Africa], a member of her staff said, “Museveni [of Uganda] and Kagame agree that the basic problem in the Great Lakes is the danger of a resurgence of genocide and they know how to deal with that. The only thing we [i.e., the US] have to do is look the other way.”
Such is the true nature of Rice’s crocodile contrition for the Rwanda genocide. Simply stated, Rice’s attitude towards Africa’s Unholy Trinity can be summed up as “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” of genocidal dictators.
Susan Rice and the Adoration of Meles Zenawi
“Palpable sorrow felt here in Addis Ababa. We extend our condolences & best wishes to the Ethiopian people.” “Meles leaves an indelible legacy for the people of #Ethiopia, from opposition to extremism to support for the poor.” “I am honored to represent the United States at the funeral of late PM Meles Zenawi of #Ethiopia.”
Rice may have believed she “represented the United States” in her appearance, but her funeral oration for Meles Zenawi was personal and bordered on beatification. She described Meles as “an uncommon leader, a rare visionary, and a true friend to me and many.” She said he “was disarmingly regular, unpretentious, and direct. He was selfless, tireless and totally dedicated to his work and family.” Rice reminisced about her close familial ties and deep friendship with Meles:
Whenever we met, no matter how beset he was, he would always begin by asking me about my children. His inquiries were never superficial. He wanted detailed reports on their development. Then satisfied, he would eagerly update me on his own children. Meles was a proud father and a devoted husband. As he laughed about his children’s exploits and bragged about their achievements, a face sometimes creased by worry, would glow with simple joy. In his children and all children, Meles saw the promise of renewal and the power of hope.
She said Meles “retained that twinkle in his eye, his ready smile, his roiling laugh and his wicked sense of humor.” In an incredibly insensitive and callous manner, she related how Meles “was tough, unsentimental and sometimes unyielding.” She announced that Meles “of course had little patience for fools, or idiots, as he liked to call them.” (These “fools” and “idiots” are, of course, Ethiopian opposition leaders, dissidents, independent journalists, human rights advocates and regime critics.)
But Rice’s adoration of Meles would put the Three Magi who followed the star to Bethlehem to shame:
For, among Prime Minister Meles’ many admirable qualities, above all was his world-class mind. A life-long student, he taught himself and many others so much. But he wasn’t just brilliant. He wasn’t just a relentless negotiator and a formidable debater. He wasn’t just a thirsty consumer of knowledge. He was uncommonly wise – able to see the big picture and the long game, even when others would allow immediate pressures to overwhelm sound judgment. Those rare traits were the foundation of his greatest contributions.
Still, there was no shortage of occasions when, as governments and friends, we simply, sometimes profoundly, disagreed. But even as we argued – whether about economics, democracy, human rights, regional security or our respective foreign policies – I was always struck by two things: Meles was consistently reasoned in his judgments and thoughtful in his decisions; and, he was driven not by ideology but by his vision of a better future for this land he loved. I will deeply miss the challenge and the insights I gained from our discussions and debates.
In her “Adoration”, Rice was completely blinded to Meles’ atrocious human rights record. She was willfully ignorant of the findings of her own State Department U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia issued in May 2012, which stated:
The most significant human rights problems [in Ethiopia] included the government’s arrest of more than 100 opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers… The government restricted freedom of the press, and fear of harassment and arrest led journalists to practice self-censorship. The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law) continued to impose severe restrictions on civil society and nongovernmental organization (NGO) activities… Other human rights problems included torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; allegations of abuses in connection with the continued low-level conflict in parts of the Somali region; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement; police, administrative, and judicial corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM); exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; clashes between ethnic minorities; discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS; limits on worker rights; forced labor; and child labor, including forced child labor.
On October 27, 2012, Rice attended a “Memorial Service for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi” at Abyssinian Baptist Church and gave a second eulogy:
I come again both as a representative of the U.S. government and as a friend of a man I truly miss… The Meles I knew was profoundly human and down to earth. He probably often figured he was the smartest person in the room, and most of the time Meles was right – at least about that. His legacy is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. He laid the foundations for Ethiopia’s sustainable development. He gave new momentum to Africa’s struggle to address climate change. He spurred his nation to double its food production and redouble its commitment to forestall another famine that could snuff out so many innocent lives. He played mid-wife to the birth of South Sudan and worked energetically to help South Sudan and Sudan resolve their differences peacefully. Last month’s accords, though fragile, are a monument to his unyielding efforts. Meles helped build the African Union. He sent peacekeepers to the world’s hottest spots and countered terrorists such as al-Shabab who target the innocent….
May the spirit of Meles Zenawi spur us all to work ever harder, together, for a better Ethiopia, a better Africa, and a better world.
Rice completely ignored the fact that 200 unarmed protesters were massacred in the streets and nearly 800 seriously wounded by police and security forces under the personal command and control of Meles following the 2005 elections. She turned a blind eye to crimes against humanity committed in Gambella in 2004 and war crimes committed in the Ogaden in 2008 . She had forgotten the stolen election of 2010 and fact that Meles’ party won 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament. She was completely oblivious of the thousands of political prisoners, including opposition leaders, dissidents and journalists, rotting in Ethiopian prisons as she was waxing eloquent in her emotional eulogy. She could see Meles’ “brilliance” but not his arrogance. She could see his “world-class mind” but not his black heart. She said he was “uncommonly wise”, but could not see his common folly. She “profoundly disagreed with him on democracy and human rights”, but she would ignore all his crimes against humanity because he was “a true friend” of hers.
The words of contrition Rice gave when she visited Kigali on November 23, 2011 could have been incorporated in her eulogy in Addis Ababa on September 2:
Today, I am here as an American ambassador. But I also will speak for myself, from my heart. I visited Rwanda for the very first time in December 1994, six months after the genocide ended. I was a young Director on the National Security Council staff at the White House, accompanying the then-National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake. I was responsible then for issues relating to the United Nations and peacekeeping. And needless to say, we saw first-hand the spectacular consequences of the poor decisions taken by those countries, including my own and yours, that were then serving on the United Nations Security Council.
I will never forget the horror of walking through a church and an adjacent schoolyard where one of the massacres had occurred. Six months later, the decomposing bodies of those who had been so cruelly murdered still lay strewn around what should have been a place of peace. For me, the memory of stepping around and over those corpses will remain the most searing reminder imaginable of what humans can do to one another. Those images stay with me in the work I do today, ensuring that I can never forget how important it is for all of us to prevent genocide from recurring.
How important is it for all of us, particularly Susan Rice, to prevent extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention, infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, illegal searches, restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement… on the African continent?
Susan Rice and the Ghosts of Ethiopia
On September 2 and October 27, 2012, Rice had no idea, no recollection, no remembrance of the hundreds of unarmed protesting Ethiopians who were massacred in the streets, the thousands of political prisoners and hundreds of dissidents and journalists languishing in jail in Ethiopia today. In 1994, Rice was willfully blind to the genocide in Rwanda. In 2012, she was willfully blind to the long train of human rights abuses and atrocities in Ethiopia. America does not need a friend and a buddy to African dictators as its Secretary of State. America does not need a Secretary of State with a heart of stone and tears of a crocodile. America does not need a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” Secretary of State. America needs a Secretary of State who can tell the difference between human rights and government wrongs!
Is it not true that one can judge a (wo)man by his/her friends?
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: