• In 2004, 10 years after the Rwandan Genocide, classified documents were publicised to the effect that the United States had known of the full extent of the massacres but chose not to act. Bill Clinton’s administration had denied the appreciation of the scale and speed of the killings claiming the defense of ignorance but 2004 exposed them for what they were; liars. The United States has for long played the big brother role in world affairs with wide ranging influence on other countries. Where the US seems disinterested, other countries follow suit. In the genocide, U.S simply would not use the word “genocide” and when it did, it reduced the massacres to “acts of genocide” in fear of public opinion which would demand some sort of action. In the “Clinton Apology” of 1998, the then President said, “We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name; genocide.” Why? Why did the US choose to make light of the situation though their surveillance would have obviously highlighted the level of atrocities being committed in Rwanda? Samantha Power in her wildly acclaimed book, A Problem from Hell says, “When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act.” What stopped the U.S then?

    Between 500,000 and 1 million Rwandans were killed in the genocide of 1994 where Tutsis were targeted in a “tribal clean-up” along with Hutus seen to be sympathetic to the Tutsis’ cause. The exact toll is not known and further killings resulting from the instability caused by the genocide also stand at largely unconfirmed but astronomical numbers. These were dark times in the history of Rwanda. Bill Clinton of the United States of America had come into office on a “moralpolitik” ticket. He had campaigned on the Bush administration’s failure to contain the Bosnian genocide and yet his legacy is not one of fundamentally different philosophy to that of Bush. His ultimate test was the Rwandan genocide but the Clinton administration not only stayed out of it but also advised others to do the same

    “After Hutu soldiers murdered 10 Belgian peacekeepers on April 7, 1994, the Belgian government made it clear to the United States that it would pull out unless the UN presence in Rwanda was reinforced. The United States advised pulling out….,” said Chaim Kaufmann in a Foreign affairs essay.

    The UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda was reduced from 2,500 to 500 just two weeks after the genocide began. United States actions have always had a domino effect on the actions other countries take and in this case, because the U.S. would not intervene, other countries followed suit. One cannot really blame the U.S. for being followed but considering the position the U.S. has always taken in world affairs- the front, this is to be expected. The international community therefore pretended to not be aware of the genocide until after the killings.

    In trying to explain why the United States sometimes ignores atrocities of such proportions, some have argued that the U.S will not simply establish a military presence where there is no oil. In other words, where there are no capitalist interests of theirs, they will not intervene. Rwanda does not prima facie strike anyone as a country with some resource the U.S would have wanted thus explaining the actions of the U.S. This is a however a simplistic view as American politics go deeper than just capitalist interests. An immediate stultifier was the failure of the Battle of Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down), Somalia and this made the Clinton government apprehensive. Washington’s reluctance to act goes back to the ratification of the Convention on Genocide which Chaim Kaufmann in a Foreign affairs essay says took the U.S 40 years yet it had participated in drafting it. The final treaty itself is a shadow of what it should have been. The version is almost incapable of being invoked against any state.

    Power’s A Problem from hell illustrates how the American intervention matrix works citing the Serbian war crimes in Kosovo and how they were deemed genocidal because America wanted in on the action while in the “more obvious case of Bosnia, State Department officials carefully picked their way around the g-word”. These decisions were driven by the administrations in power’s “political calculus” and not the mass-killings themselves or humane principles. The New York Times review of Power’s book also succinctly explained the mind-set of the American leadership saying, “Self-interest trumps humanitarian concern in United States foreign policy with striking consistency,” adding that, “Washington, of course, is a place of defeatism, inertia, selfishness and cowardice. Warnings pass up the chain and disappear. Intelligence is gathered and then ignored or denied.”

    It is a political game; there are Cold Wars being fought and capitalist interests to protect. African interests do not necessarily come out tops on the priority list and it is time everyone accepted that. America is not Africa’s guardian angel and even where it is involved in causing the crises, it may simply decide to withdraw being part of the resolution. Africa should therefore be ready to protect itself through its own sovereign regional blocs and alliances. Interventions are defined less by the loss of lives in Africa but by the potential of loss of power in Washington and on a balance of scales, power is more important to the leaders so that they stay leaders.


    Image Credit: Daily Sun