No 1520 17th September 2017
Alongside capitulations to the “war on terror” the fake- "left" helps feed imperialist war-fever stampeding, latest around the hapless Rohingya people in Myanmar, swallowing wholesale monstrous imperialist BIG LIE hypocritical ”concern for human rights” etc and Goebbels lies about “genocide” in world media campaign. The monopoly capitalist system, facing Catastrophic failure and on a 20 year path to world war, could not care less about these poor victims or any other of a hundred or more desperate and harried national peoples and causes – many far greater and long lasting, from the Palestinians and the Kurds, to the Aborigines and Native Americans. Its record is endless callous suppression and even deliberate genocidal persecution throughout history and into modern times. The real purpose here stands alongside demonisation and bullying of workers state North Korea - against China too and escalating international bellicosity to escape crisis. New details show the deliberate way the Rwanda slaughter was provoked as part of imperialist skulduggery and manoeuvring in central Africa. Leninism is vital
The fake-“left” pretence of “fighting for socialism” or even “Marxist revolution” is now so hollow that nearly all the swamp groups swing behind whatever is the latest big lie propaganda stunt by crisis-wracked capitalism to cover up its ever fouler fascist massacres worldwide.
The latest stampeding of public opinion behind the sick and lying Goebbels propaganda war on Myanmar has seen another wave of self-righteousness to match their craven “condemnations” of terror (see EPSR last issue) and their sanctimonious “anti-nuclear no-to-war” failure to unconditionally support demonised and bullied workers state North Korea (and/or as well, failure to take up and dispute Beijing’s revisionist “don’t rock the boat” cravenness, tutting at Pyongyang and even going along with some of the imperialist sanctions “discipline”).
Across the board they bend before ever more lurid and ludicrous accusations poured out against Myanmar, today’s convenient target for scapegoating and blame (after Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday, Syria today, Zimbabwe or Sudan tomorrow), as monopoly capitalism’s desperate and catastrophic crisis drives it further and further into depraved warmongering and destruction.
This tragic Rohingya mess, the legacy of past (British) imperialist divide and rule manipulations, long-running deliberate separatist sabotage of post-1947 independence Myanmar (still arrogantly called “Burma” by the British Empire throwbacks), and callous hand-washing expulsions by next door Bangla Desh and India, is no more or less than a hundred such internecine conflicts which fester within capitalism and will continue to remain unsolvable until its antagonisms and ever deepening intractable contradictions are dealt with by revolutionary overthrow, establishing under working class discipline, world socialist cooperation.
Whatever “atrocities” there might be, in this situation they are on both sides and certainly not the sole or even main responsibility of the nationalist regime; its response might be heavy-handed but it has been provoked by initial murderous attacks of a “separatist” movement on not one but half a dozen police stations and military bases, killing many and triggering the whole of this latest crisis. But the real issue is that the subsequent conflict is being inflated out of all proportion by a Western media campaign of hype and even outright fabrication, with ludicrous hysteria about “genocide”.
This has nothing to do with “saving the poor oppressed Rohingya people blah-blah”, and everything to do with further stampeding the world into the outright war that capitalism alone needs and is deliberately heading for.
But so far are the posturing frauds of the “left” from the “revolutionary” politics they pretend to uphold, that every twist and turn in the Goebbels lies pumped out by the Western intelligence disinformation departments and disseminated by a willing and compliant monopoly-owned media, is swallowed wholesale (exactly as was seen in hyping up the Libya war or Syria, or toppling the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt etc etc).
On principle, any Marxist understanding should begin by denouncing this giant Western campaign for the stinking hypocritical diversion it is.
But the “lefts” let this warmongering and degenerate profiteering system off the hook.
Suddenly, the entire twenty year long record of imperialist crisis “shock and awe” blitzkrieg and its millions of slaughtered innocents, men, women and children, and the total destruction of country after country from Iraq and Afghanistan (and the “warm-up” dismantling of Yugoslavia and blitzing of Serbia) to Syria and Libya, all disappears from view – the world is diverted instead by a “look! – over there!” pretence of “concern for human rights” by a callous and manipulative “international community” of imperialist big powers, and their ever-more-craven stooge United Nations, all of whose cynicism and chutzpah would have taken Goebbels’ breath away.
The public looks away from the truly monstrous (and well proven) genocide underway in Yemen, at the hands of US and British-armed feudal Saudi Arabia, where 7 million people now face outright famine and thousands die from cholera because of endless bombing; or away from the 40,000 civilians “collaterally” slaughtered, and a million displaced, in Iraq’s totally razed Mosul (and many more in Raqqa and other cities in Iraq and Syria) as imperialism and its stooges put down the ISIS Iraqi anti-occupation rebellion; away from the stinking warlordist civil war hellhole created by the nazi-NATO invasion of Libya and the even more devastating civil war destruction deliberately fomented in Syria; away from the fascist, torturing and mass “judicial” execution dictatorship re-installed in Egypt by civilian bloodbath street massacre; away from the Philippines’ degenerate death-squad vigilante executions against “suspected” “drug dealers” (and multiple summary executions of poverty stricken users, as well as well as many political opposition figures who might “accidentally” be eliminated), all now totalling nearly 10,000 (!!) extra-judicial killings by the “rule of law” and “democracy” system in this Western-stooge country; or perhaps away from the non-stop, deliberately violent, counter-revolutionary “demonstrations” and economic sabotage of Venezuela’s attempts to head towards socialism. It looks away from the slaughter of much of East Timor (again with British weapons - sold by a Labour government) and the ongoing genocidal suppression of Irian Jaya by Indonesia.
And all that of course piled on top of the endlessly tyrannical colonial and post-colonial periods, of massive, real, total and near genocide and enslavement of nation after nation over 500 years (multiple Africans, Incas, Aztecs, Caribs, 100 native American tribes, Zulus, Aborigines, Maoris, Sudanese, Armenians, Chechens, the Jews and Gypsies in nazi-Germany, millions of Russians in WW2, the post-war Palestinians, and in fact millions of the very Bengalis now in question, starved to death by Churchill’s deliberate famine policy).
It was followed by another 400+ (and counting) post-WW2 coups, bombings, assassinations, massacres (Indonesia 1965, El Salvador, Guatemala eg), invasions (Grenada, Iraq, etc), manipulated installation of fascist dictators (Iraq, Haiti, Egypt, Panama, Iran, Congo, etc etc, etc etc) and outright war, notably Greece, Malaysia, Kenya Mau-Mau, Vietnam and of course North Korea, both the latter seeing pulverising bombing on a gigantic scale, with multiple millions killed and many more permanently maimed with “ordinary” and chemical weapons or residues like depleted uranium and Agent Orange (dioxin) still causing cancers and deformities to this day.
Concentration camps, torture, psychopathic levels of depraved abuse, unbelievably cruel and degenerate killings and rape have been widespread (with the “democratic” UK a leading “developer” of new torture techniques, see Ian Cobain’s excellent Cruel Britannia book).
But the “lefts” are so bemused by their reformist “democracy” illusions and posturing mechanical “principles”, and their failure to relate one issue to another through lack of any perspective whatsoever (let alone a Marxist revolutionary class-war world perspective), that they all dutifully pivot about to focus attention on supposed “horrors” on the Bangla Desh border.
They cannot even connect it with the North Korean demonisation and the renewed US invasion of Afghanistan (5000 more troops just sent by Trump), though all three are on the periphery of China (current number one trade war target and potential hot war victim) and under attack as much to disrupt Chinese trade, investment and growing economic power as to take on these individual targets.
If that regional connection is not seen, how will the overall world collapse and failure of the entire capitalist order, led by bankrupt “topdog” US imperialism be grasped?
But without such a perspective and a without a (very) healthy dose of contempt for the West’s total hypocrisy in pretending to “protect and care” for any hapless people, least of all a group of poverty stricken semi-refugees, many comprising those rejected by India and Bangla Desh (both imperialist dominated capitalist states and both looking to deport many of this population currently in their territories) the “lefts” are simply lining up with this crisis system.
There could be all kinds of things to say about this situation but before posturing about “self-determination” rights for the Rohingya, how about asking about the “rights” of 7 million Palestinians deliberately and cynically driven from their own lands, continuously inhabited for at least 1500 years, by a coordinated world conspiracy of the “international community” (including Stalin’s USSR) and the “concerned” United Nations, and now permanently and continually subject to repeated genocidal onslaughts (well testified and witnessed without any resort to mysterious hearsay accounts).
Or perhaps asking about the rights of the Kurdish nation, with its own language and culture which has inhabited its own area of the Middle East for at least as long, and likely much longer, than the Rohingyas, but which is denied any nationhood, and is routinely and frequently blitzed and massacred, particularly by Turkey, a NATO-member and aspirant member of the (Nobel Peace Prize winning!) EU, all without a word of comment by the US-led “international community”, let alone United Nations statements, resolutions and declarations?
Or the rights of the Chiapas indigenous people in Mexico? Or other such peoples in Latin America? Puerta Rico? Haiti?
Or how about the rights of the original peoples of the north American continent, whose few surviving descendants are mostly herded into scrappy, poverty-stricken lives of unemployment and alcoholism on “reservations” (only to be thrown off should oil be discovered or pipelines need to be built) and frequently persecuted and harried as “criminals”.
Or the same for the Aborigines in Australia?
Or dozens of disputes and conflicts throughout Africa?
Etc etc etc ???
For most of the above, solutions could be found, reparations be made and justice be restored more easily, quickly and directly than for this deliberate Myanmar provocation.
But they simply fester.
This is not some “whataboutery”, the standard sophistic evasion used by shallow philistine petty bourgeois argument to bureaucratically shut down discussion, but precisely the vital context to show what a monstrous diversionary and hypocritical stunt the whole suddenly inflated crisis is.
Secondly the deluge of propaganda lies and distortions makes any kind of assessment of the actual events on the ground even more difficult in themselves.
So it is in Myanmar’s case, with the added nonsense of the laughable 180 degree handbrake-turn, going from blaming “Muslims and jihadists” for the world’s problems to elevating the Islamic Rohingya people to the ranks of the “terrorised”, and going from demented campaigns supporting violent Buddhist right-wing pro-West demonstrations just a few years ago, when it suited the CIA’s sabotage agenda against the bourgeois-nationalist pro-China military regime (and adopted unthinkingly, as always, as a “solidarity and democracy” cause by the petty bourgeois “lefts”) – to making them the new demons against whom any amount of specious lies about “torture, “beheadings”, “ethnic cleansing” and “atrocities” can be poured out entirely without proof, as in this letter uncritically published in the “liberal” Guardian echoing the bourgeois propaganda campaign:
Some 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state in Myanmar for Bangladesh since the outbreak of violence last month, with whole villages being burned down and the government accused by the UN of ethnic cleansing (Report, 12 September). Given reports of beheadings, rape and children being deliberately shot, it raises the question of why the UK government continues to train the Burmese military. Based on reports from the UN, human rights organisations and Rohingya organisations, we are witnessing human rights violations on a scale extreme even by the standards of Myanmar’s history. Before we pontificate on the actions of the Burmese military, it helps if we put our own house in order, and that means immediately suspending training the soldiers of this brutal regime. Alex Orr
Babies were eaten too?? But so far we are not “witnessing” any such things, in the scientifically understood meaning of the term, of verified, cross-examined and tested accounts, and nor do “accusations” and “reports of” constitute proof except in the bourgeois media’s book of unproven slander.
There is certainly no basis for automatically concluding the “poor Rohingyans” are the innocent party in the latest events and that the Myanmar nationalist state is another “evil rogue state” (thus setting it up for war and invasion).
As always (Libya and Syria war chaos for example) there is nothing but a concerted deluge of media stories around “as yet unverifiable” accounts, or “analyses” delivered by “informed diplomatic sources” (the CIA, MI6 etc) or by axe-grinding (and frequently well coached) local “witnesses”, reporting supposed events that they had “heard about”, backed-up by artfully staged, breathless “on-the-spot” TV reports which never actually show anything of the supposed grotesqueries, except vaguely in the distance – like the Channel Four News report last week trudging theatrically through jungle to find a bit of disturbed ground with some branches on it, alleged to be the “grave of a farmer blown up yesterday by a landmine” by a shifty local villager, obviously so poor that a half a day’s expenses for a film crew would have been a life-changing fortune to him.
This to “prove” that the Myanmar army was “laying land mines”, allegedly an “international crime” (though neither Myanmar nor the US are signatories to any treaty) and obviously with no actual proof at all, and completely denied by Myanmar.
It was certainly not proof of “genocide” or that there was any kind of body there at all.
Having manipulated public opinion, this itself is then used in turn as more “proof”, as with the “online petition” against the former British-trained Oxford socialite “democracy hero” Aung San Suu Kyi over her Nobel Peace Prize.
So cowed are the “liberals”, Labourites and the fake-”lefts” by this artificially-levered mass media deluge that they have gushingly rushed out too, to add to this tide of denunciation, embroidering their own stories of “self-determination oppression” and suddenly repudiating Aung San Suu Kyi, now Myanmar president.
Their self-righteousness is particularly stung on this because it was she who personified the previous imperialist skulduggery and subversion against alleged “military regime dictatorship tyranny” (all uncritically supported by the Trots etc).
Now she is now subject to “outraged” demands that she be “stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize” because some trace of principle has informed her latest stand, denouncing (correctly) the “iceberg of disinformation” being bucketed out for this provocation.
But what is all this sudden “left” concern for the Nobel prize at all?
Since when has this deliberately anti-communist Western stunt “award” ever been anything but the sickest upside-down double-think propaganda joke anyway, comprising, mostly, a list of imperialism’s most depraved and reactionary warmongers from Henry “Dr Strangelove” Kissinger himself, (responsible, among much more, for the Vietnam war – at least 4 million dead – and the illegal blanket bombing of Cambodia, alone massacring hundreds of thousands, and for the Pinochet coup in Chile); to the entire European Union (!!) and all its colonialist interventions (Algeria, Tunis, Cote d’Ivoire, eg and participation in much US suppression); to drone killer president Barack Obama (the prize given “in advance”!!!!); the ultra-reactionary Orange “Northern Ireland” colonialist leader David Trimble (for grudgingly conceding to the brilliant republican national-liberation victory of the IRA/Sinn Féin in the Good Friday Agreement); the genocidal Palestinian-slaughtering Zionist monsters Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin (and PLO stooge Yasser Arafat); Chinese dissident “pro-democracy” Tian an Men anti-communist subversive, Liu Xiaobo; and even Anwar Sadat, western-supported reactionary dictator of Egypt.
And in the list too is the stinking South African anti-communist, anti-ANC armed-struggle stooge “archbishop” Desmond Tutu, who has long been at the forefront in feeding out the propaganda hatred on Myanmar (see EPSR 1254 26-10-04), and is currently leading the Western campaign to de-frock Aung San Sui Kyi, who has not been compliant enough with Western subversion plans she was supposed push through.
To raise all these issues does not imply at all any support for the Myanmar regime as such, and particularly not for the more reactionary wing of its Buddhist nationalists who have previously, and now, helped inflame this crisis with hostility and sectarian attacks and who could well be used yet again by the West to try and topple the regime (because it is too close to China and not compliant enough with Western demands to open its economy to monopoly capitalist corporate plundering).
It does say that the automatic and unthinking assertion that the difficult conflict is down to genocidal “oppression by the military government” and that the Rohingya have a “right to self-determination” or national citizenship is by no means a proven case.
It is not clear at all that this population is wholly indigenous, and particularly as the border with heavily overpopulated Bangla Desh is quite porous, with numerous crossing points over the river boundary for example.
As one or two limited paragraphs in the capitalist press have explained, most of even that section of the population which was born inside Myanmar is the result of deliberate population movements by the British colonial powers after they took control of Burma in the late-19th century, and with the same kind of divide and rule intent that has subsequently produced the vicious Pakistan-India conflicts on a much larger scale.
Also to be considered is the highly suspicious timing of various “independence movements” around Myanmar, like this and that of the eastern mountains’ Karen people, which sprang into existence only after the anti-imperialist struggles at the end of the Second World war, and the establishment of a socialist leaning anti-imperialist government.
Let the case be argued further by all means but to be swept along by the outrageous lying distortions of the capitalist denunciations is to play into imperialism’s hands.
And as the EPSR has previously argued about such issues at the time of the “Kosovo” “self-determination” issue taken up by many “lefts” (EPSR 994 14-04-99):
The fiendishly complex and volatile issues of ethnic minority rights, autonomy, separatism, independence, self-determination, etc, in the Balkans are precisely what make the national question such a powder keg nightmare in this period of approaching imperialist-crisis instability and aggression.
The overwhelming Marxist-Leninist characterisation of imperialist warmongering (see Lenin’s volumes of writings throughout World War I, for example) has always been on the rapacious grabbing for territory, markets, and other political/economic influence and domination at the expense of rivals and imperialist-war victims.
...Basically, these CPGB Trots (Weekly Worker) are just another brand of anti-communist stooges for imperialism, covering their tracks with their bleeding-heart liberal ‘concern’ for the wretched people of Kosovo whose existence has already been, and is being now, torn apart by the realities of the IMPERIALIST SYSTEM which dominates the world, nothing else.
There are at least a dozen more such explosive issues of mixed-up populations around that Balkans area. Should every minority be pumped up to fighting spirit, as the CIA has deliberately inflamed the KLA for three years or more, — so that NATO could unleash a dozen more blitzkrieg onslaughts?
There are scores of national minorities within the Chinese workers state. The counter-revolutionary agencies of Western imperialism are already sinking their provocative claws deep into Tibetan nationalists and separatists, into the Central Asian Muslim minorities of China, etc, etc. This moralising self-righteousness by Western petty-bourgeois for the “human rights of all minorities”, etc, etc, is just an oil-rag for the incurable system of periodic imperialist warmongering crisis, now seriously breaking out on a world scale.
Let capitalism sort out its scores of self-determination problems in its own sphere (wars throughout Africa, for example; Cyprus; the Basque region; Ireland; in a dozen areas of Latin America; all over Indonesia; elsewhere in Southeast Asia; etc, etc.). These bleeding-heart ‘lefts’ are just imperialism’s anti-communist stooges, turning the wretched suffering in the former Yugoslav workers state, caused by entirely the aggressive character of the imperialist economic system, — into just an exhibition ground for sanctimonious parading of a commitment to “absolute rights to self-determination” and other such purely academic strutting.
Marxism always considered such rights in their real-world context of the priority class war struggle for the proletariat’s revolutionary overthrow of imperialism.
...A civil war has been raging in the Kosovo province of Serbia between Serbs and Albanians. Slaughter and atrocities have been perpetrated by BOTH sides, it is certain, for longer than three years. The Serbs have grudges against Albanian ethnic cleansing going back to the 1980s.
All that is achieved by jumping in to support the claims of the KLA separatists is to help ‘justify’ the imperialist blitzkrieg which has nothing whatever to do with anyone’s minority rights but is entirely on behalf of the imperialist system’s longer-term generalised warmongering and destructive aims (as its insoluble crisis of chronic overproduction of capital reaches the point of devastating worldwide economic collapse).
The 20th century has known only destruction as the capitalist system ‘cure’ for its incurable crises.
But by helping imperialist propaganda to impose its warmongering plans, these ‘principled lefts’ have merely helped bring down infinitely worse troubles on all the people in the whole region, solving nothing for the Albanian minority rights question.
They now claim that Western propaganda justification for the blitzkrieg is backed by the “incontestable facts” of Serbian nastiness. Whatever foul acts of civil war have been committed, only dupes and fools would believe a single word of this imperialist blitzkrieg propaganda.
Its record of Big Lie accusations of “massacres” and “genocide” against the entire socialist and anti-imperialist camp, is one of non-stop fabrications and lies, starting of course with the ever-increasing estimates of “tens of millions” allegedly massacred by Stalin, presumably on a whim, to the equally ever-expanding numbers Chinese Maoist communism supposedly deliberately and callously slaughtered, again for no possibly graspable rationale.
Devastating difficulties did face both, and mistakes and the cover-up, sometimes criminal, of mistakes, certainly added to the problems, as dealt with elsewhere (for example EPSR Perspectives 2001) but constantly repeated and ever more luridly inflated figures are pure nonsense - added up they would have seen most of the population of both utterly destroyed, more than once – in fact both transformed lives, living conditions and existence, and increased life expectancy and populations in ways inconceivable under former feudal and capitalist rule.
Most deaths and turmoil were from the agonies of famine, or failed economic experiment (some perhaps avoidable but not all) and from necessary draconian discipline in the teeth of non-stop subversion and sabotage, and most of all repeated capitalist intervention and war, including the 14 army, three-years of civil war interventions into the already war torn Russia in 1918 and not least the deliberately encouraged Nazism in Germany, which alone slaughtered at least 23 million and made a total rebuild of the Soviet Union necessary.
As decades of post-war growth and developments showed, both the USSR and China made massive corrections and adjustments (a constant process) which saw staggering progress despite lackluster revisionist leadership complacency, and constant nuclear encirclement threat from the West, and inspired and aided anti-imperialism everywhere, further transforming millions of lives in the Third World.
The lies still pour out, even now constantly repeating for example the total nonsense of a Tian an Men massacre of “thousands” even though the evidence long made clear not one person was killed in the square, and the few hundred deaths around the square being at least half killings of state soldiers and police trying to keep order, against violence instigated by counter-revolutionary “democracy” demonstrators (China - Tien an Men ILWP (EPSR) Books Vol 16 [pdf available on website]).
While these false “genocide” and massacre events are constantly lied about (Srebrenica, Benghazi, Recak,) capitalism covers up its own truly horrifying record, such as the 1965 slaughter of a minimum 1 million suspected “communists” in Indonesia, mass carnage in Latin America and in Africa, multiple horrors including the manipulated and deliberate bloodbath in Rwanda in 1994.
Usually painted as an explosion of semi-mad tribal genocide, and a “failure to stop it” by the French and the UN, with the Tutsis the victims, this was actually a deliberately CIA manipulated civil war invasion, part of establishing US influence in central Africa, particularly with the rich Congo next door, as exposed by the excellent, if academic, book The Politics of Genocide.
For two decades the authors Edward Herman and David Peterson have been vilified for suggesting that the Hutus were the majority victims – because there were simply not enough Tutsis to make up the nearly one million killed – and even more for exposing the role of Washington (and other imperialist forces) in training and helping plan the conveniently well-prepared “rescue” by the Tutsi army from Uganda led by Pentagon-trained colonel Paul Kagame, now essentially dictator of Rwanda (see EPSR 1518 15th August).
But suddenly admissions are leaking into the bourgeois press such as the long account quoted below.
It needs to be read with caution because it continues to suggest to some extent that Tutsis were the (“innocent”) main victims of the butchery when many more Hutus were slaughtered by Kagame’s army (as Herman and Peterson demonstrate) and it gives a twisted view of the former British colony Uganda, painting the two Milton Obote ruling periods as essentially “just as barbaric” as the others; they were not. Obote led an anti-imperialist movement in the post-war period of British colonial retreat which was later overturned by the gruesome brutalities of British set-up dictator Idi Amin (trained at Sandhurst military academy) and then, having retaken power, again toppled by the (probably US instigated) Museveni, also a barbaric fight to install a pro-Western regime (still in situ).
But despite the caveats this is an astonishing admission:
Between April and July 1994, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were murdered in the most rapid genocide ever recorded. The killers used simple tools – machetes, clubs and other blunt objects, or herded people into buildings and set them aflame with kerosene.
The Rwandan Hutu génocidaires, as the people who killed during the genocide were known, were also motivated by irrational beliefs and prejudices, but the powder keg contained another important ingredient: terror.
Three and a half years before the genocide, a rebel army of mainly Rwandan Tutsi exiles known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, had invaded Rwanda and set up camps in the northern mountains. They had been armed and trained by neighbouring Uganda, which continued to supply them throughout the ensuing civil war, in violation of the UN charter, Organisation of African Unity rules, various Rwandan ceasefire and peace agreements, and the repeated promises of the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni.
During this period, officials at the US embassy in Kampala knew that weapons were crossing the border, and the CIA knew that the rebels’ growing military strength was escalating ethnic tensions within Rwanda to such a degree that hundreds of thousands of Rwandans might die in widespread ethnic violence. However, Washington not only ignored Uganda’s assistance to the Rwandan rebels, it also ramped up military and development aid to Museveni and then hailed him as a peacemaker once the genocide was underway.
The hatred the Hutu génocidaires unleashed represents the worst that human beings are capable of, but in considering what led to this disaster, it is important to bear in mind that the violence was not spontaneous. It emerged from a century or more of injustice and brutality on both sides, and although the génocidaires struck back against innocents, they were provoked by heavily armed rebels supplied by Uganda, while the US looked on.
The RPF rebel army represented Tutsi refugees who had fled their country in the early 1960s. For centuries before that, they had formed an elite minority caste in Rwanda. In a system continued under Belgian colonialism, they treated the Hutu peasants like serfs, forcing them to work on their land and sometimes beating them like donkeys. Hutu anger simmered until shortly before independence in 1962, then exploded in brutal pogroms against the Tutsi, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to neighbouring countries.
In Uganda, a new generation of Tutsi refugees grew up, but they soon became embroiled in the lethal politics of their adoptive country. Some formed alliances with Ugandan Tutsis and the closely related Hima – Museveni’s tribe – many of whom were opposition supporters and therefore seen as enemies by then-president Milton Obote, who ruled Uganda in the 1960s and again in the early 1980s.
After Idi Amin overthrew Obote in 1971, many Rwandan Tutsis moved out of the border refugee camps. Some tended the cattle of wealthy Ugandans; others acquired property and began farming; some married into Ugandan families; and a small number joined the State Research Bureau, Amin’s dreaded security apparatus, which inflicted terror on Ugandans. When Obote returned to power in the 1980s, he stripped the Rwandan Tutsis of their civil rights and ordered them into the refugee camps or back over the border into Rwanda, where they were not welcomed by the Hutu-dominated government.
...more and more Rwandan refugees joined the National Resistance Army, an anti-Obote rebel group founded by Museveni in 1981. When Museveni’s rebels took power in 1986, a quarter of them were Rwandan Tutsi refugees, and Museveni granted them high ranks in Uganda’s new army.
Museveni’s promotion of the Rwandan refugees within the army generated not only resentment within Uganda, but terror within Rwanda where the majority Hutus had long feared an onslaught from Tutsi refugees. In 1972, some 75,000 educated Hutus – just about anyone who could read – had been massacred in Tutsi-ruled Burundi, a small country neighbouring Rwanda with a similar ethnic makeup. During the 1960s, Uganda’s Tutsi refugees had launched occasional armed strikes across the border, but Rwanda’s army easily fought them off. Each attack sparked reprisals against those Tutsis who remained inside Rwanda – many of whom were rounded up, tortured and killed – on mere suspicion of being supporters of the refugee fighters. By the late 1980s, a new generation of refugees, with training and weapons supplied by Museveni’s Uganda, represented a potentially far greater threat. According to the historian André Guichaoua, anger and fear hung over every bar-room altercation, every office dispute and every church sermon.
By the time Museveni took power, the plight of the Tutsi refugees had come to the attention of the west, which began pressuring Rwanda’s government to allow them to return. At first, Rwanda’s president, Juvénal Habyarimana, refused, protesting that Rwanda was among the most densely populated countries in the world, and its people, dependent upon peasant agriculture, needed land to survive. The population had grown since the refugees left, and Rwanda was now full, Habyarimana claimed.
Although he did not say so publicly, overpopulation almost certainly was not Habyarimana’s major concern. He knew the refugees’ leaders were not just interested in a few plots of land and some hoes. The RPF’s professed aim was refugee rights, but its true aim was an open secret throughout the Great Lakes region of Africa: to overthrow Habyarimana’s government and take over Rwanda by force. Museveni had even informed the Rwandan president that the Tutsi exiles might invade, and Habyarimana had also told US state department officials that he feared an invasion from Uganda.
One afternoon in early 1988 when the news was slow, Kiwanuka Lawrence Nsereko, a journalist with the Citizen, an independent Ugandan newspaper, stopped by to see an old friend at the ministry of transport in downtown Kampala. Two senior army officers, whom Lawrence knew, happened to be in the waiting room when he arrived. Like many of Museveni’s officers, they were Rwandan Tutsi refugees. After some polite preliminaries, Lawrence asked the men what they were doing there.
“We want some of our people to be in Rwanda,” one of them replied. Lawrence shuddered. He had grown up among Hutus who had fled Tutsi oppression in Rwanda before independence in 1962, as well as Tutsis who had fled the Hutu-led pogroms that followed it. Lawrence’s childhood catechist had been a Tutsi; the Hutus who worked in his family’s gardens wouldn’t attend his lessons. Instead, they swapped fantastic tales about how Tutsis once used their Hutu slaves as spittoons, expectorating into their mouths, instead of on the ground.
The officers went in to speak to the transport official first, and when Lawrence’s turn came, he asked his friend what had transpired. The official was elated. The Rwandans had come to express their support for a new open borders programme, he said. Soon Rwandans living in Uganda would be allowed to cross over and visit their relatives without a visa. This would help solve the vexing refugee issue, he explained.
Lawrence was less sanguine. He suspected the Rwandans might use the open borders programme to conduct surveillance for an invasion, or even carry out attacks inside Rwanda. A few days later, he dropped in on a Rwandan Tutsi colonel in Uganda’s army, named Stephen Ndugute.
“We are going back to Rwanda,” the colonel said. (When the RPF eventually took over Rwanda in 1994, Ndugute would be second in command.)
Many Ugandans were eager to see Museveni’s Rwandan officers depart. They were not only occupying senior army positions many Ugandans felt should be held by Ugandans, but some were also notorious for their brutality. Paul Kagame, who went on to lead the RPF takeover of Rwanda and has ruled Rwanda since the genocide, was acting chief of military intelligence, in whose headquarters Lawrence himself had been tortured. In northern and eastern Uganda, where a harsh counterinsurgency campaign was underway, some of the army’s worst abuses had been committed by Rwandan Tutsi officers. In 1989, for example, soldiers under the command of Chris Bunyenyezi, also an RPF leader, herded scores of suspected rebels in the village of Mukura into an empty railway wagon with no ventilation, locked the doors and allowed them to die of suffocation.
Lawrence had little doubt that if war broke out in Rwanda, it was going to be “very, very bloody”, he told me. He decided to alert Rwanda’s president. Habyarimana agreed to meet him during a state visit to Tanzania. At a hotel in Dar es Salaam, the 20-year-old journalist warned the Rwandan leader about the dangers of the open border programme. “Don’t worry,” Lawrence says Habyarimana told him. “Museveni is my friend and would never allow the RPF to invade.”
Habyarimana was bluffing. The open border programme was actually part of his own ruthless counter-strategy. Every person inside Rwanda visited by a Tutsi refugee would be followed by state agents and automatically branded an RPF sympathiser; many were arrested, tortured, and killed by Rwandan government operatives. The Tutsis inside Rwanda thus became pawns in a power struggle between the RPF exiles and Habyarimana’s government. Five years later, they would be crushed altogether in one of the worst genocides ever recorded.
On the morning of 1 October 1990, thousands of RPF fighters gathered in a football stadium in western Uganda about 20 miles from the Rwandan border. Some were Rwandan Tutsi deserters from Uganda’s army; others were volunteers from the refugee camps. Two nearby hospitals were readied for casualties. ...They crossed into Rwanda that afternoon. The Rwandan army, with help from French and Zairean commandos, stopped their advance and the rebels retreated back into Uganda. A short time later, they invaded again and eventually established bases in northern Rwanda’s Virunga mountains.
Presidents Museveni and Habyarimana were attending a Unicef conference in New York at the time. They were staying in the same hotel and Museveni rang Habyarimana’s room at 5am to say he had just learned that 14 of his Rwandan Tutsi officers had deserted and crossed into Rwanda. “I would like to make it very clear,” the Ugandan president reportedly said, “that we did not know about the desertion of these boys” – meaning the Rwandans, not 14, but thousands of whom had just invaded Habyarimana’s country – “nor do we support it.”
In Washington a few days later, Museveni told the State Department’s Africa chief, Herman Cohen, that he would court martial the Rwandan deserters if they attempted to cross back into Uganda. But a few days after that, he quietly requested France and Belgium not to assist the Rwandan government in repelling the invasion. Cohen writes that he now believes that Museveni must have been feigning shock, when he knew what was going on all along...
When the RPF launched its invasion, Kagame, then a senior officer in both the Ugandan army and the RPF, was in Kansas at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, studying field tactics and psyops, propaganda techniques to win hearts and minds. But after four RPF commanders were killed, he told his American instructors that he was dropping out to join the Rwandan invasion. The Americans apparently supported this decision and Kagame flew into Entebbe airport, travelled to the Rwandan border by road, and crossed over to take command of the rebels.
For the next three and a half years, the Ugandan army continued to supply Kagame’s fighters with provisions and weapons, and allow his soldiers free passage back and forth across the border. In 1991, Habyarimana accused Museveni of allowing the RPF to attack Rwanda from protected bases on Ugandan territory. When a Ugandan journalist published an article in the government-owned New Vision newspaper revealing the existence of these bases, Museveni threatened to charge the journalist and his editor with sedition. The entire border area was cordoned off. Even a French and Italian military inspection team was denied access.
In October 1993, the UN security council authorised a peacekeeping force to ensure no weapons crossed the border. The peacekeepers’ commander, Canadian Lt-Gen Roméo Dallaire, spent most of his time inside Rwanda, but he also visited the Ugandan border town of Kabale, where an officer told him that his inspectors would have to provide the Ugandan army with 12 hours’ notice so that escorts could be arranged to accompany them on their border patrols. Dallaire protested: the element of surprise is crucial for such monitoring missions. But the Ugandans insisted and eventually, Dallaire, who was much more concerned about developments inside Rwanda, gave up.
The border was a sieve anyway, as Dallaire later wrote. There were five official crossing sites and countless unmapped mountain trails. It was impossible to monitor. Dallaire had also heard that an arsenal in Mbarara, a Ugandan town about 80 miles from the Rwanda border, was being used to supply the RPF. The Ugandans refused to allow Dallaire’s peacekeepers to inspect that. In 2004, Dallaire told a US congressional hearing that Museveni had laughed in his face when they met at a gathering to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the genocide. “I remember that UN mission on the border,” Museveni reportedly told him. “We manoeuvred ways to get around it, and of course we did support the [RPF].”
US officials knew that Museveni was not honouring his promise to court martial RPF leaders. The US was monitoring Ugandan weapons shipments to the RPF in 1992, but instead of punishing Museveni, western donors including the US doubled aid to his government and allowed his defence spending to balloon to 48% of Uganda’s budget, compared with 13% for education and 5% for health, even as Aids was ravaging the country. In 1991, Uganda purchased 10 times more US weapons than in the preceding 40 years combined.
The 1990 Rwanda invasion, and the US’s tacit support for it, is all the more disturbing because in the months before it occurred, Habyarimana had acceded to many of the international community’s demands, including for the return of refugees and a multiparty democratic system. So it wasn’t clear what the RPF was fighting for.
At least one American was concerned. US ambassador to Rwanda, Robert Flaten, saw with his own eyes that the RPF invasion had caused terror. After the invasion, hundreds of thousands of mostly Hutu villagers fled RPF-held areas, saying they had seen abductions and killings. Flaten urged the George HW Bush’s administration to impose sanctions on Uganda, as it had on Iraq after the Kuwait invasion earlier that year. But unlike Saddam Hussein, who was routed from Kuwait, Museveni received only Gribbin’s “stiff questions” about the RPF’s invasion of Rwanda.
“In short,” Gribbin writes, “we said that the cat was out of the bag, and neither the United States nor Uganda was going to rebag it.” Sanctioning Museveni might have harmed US interests in Uganda, he explains.
But the US was not fostering nascent democratic initiatives inside Uganda. While pressuring other countries, including Rwanda, to open up political space, Uganda’s donors were allowing Museveni to ban political party activity, arrest journalists and editors, and conduct brutal counterinsurgency operations in which civilians were tortured and killed. And far from seeking stability, the US, by allowing Uganda to arm the RPF, was setting the stage for what would turn out to be the worst outbreak of violence ever recorded on the African continent.
For Habyarimana and his circle of Hutu elites, the RPF invasion seemed to have a silver lining, at least at first. At the time, Hutu/Tutsi relations inside Rwanda had improved. Habyarimana had sought reconciliation with the Tutsis still living in Rwanda by reserving civil service jobs and university places for them in proportion to their share of the population. This programme was modestly successful, and the greatest tensions in the country now lay along class, not ethnic, lines. A tiny educated Hutu clique linked to Habyarimana’s family who called themselves évolués –the evolved ones – was living off the labour of millions of impoverished rural Hutus, whom they exploited just as brutally as the Tutsi overlords of bygone days.
The évolués subjected the peasants to forced labour and fattened themselves on World Bank “anti-poverty” projects that provided jobs and other perks for their own group, but did little to alleviate poverty. International aid donors had pressured Habyarimana to allow opposition political parties to operate, and many new ones had sprung up. Hutus and Tutsis were increasingly united in criticising Habyarimana’s autocratic behaviour and nepotism, and the vast economic inequalities in the country.
When Rwanda’s ethnic bonfires roared back to life in the days after the RPF invasion, Habyarimana and his circle seem to have sensed a political opportunity: now they could distract the disaffected Hutu masses from their own abuses by reawakening fears of the “demon Tutsis”, who would soon become convenient scapegoats to divert attention from profound socioeconomic injustices.
Shortly after the invasion, all Tutsis – whether RPF supporters or not – became targets of a vicious propaganda campaign that would bear hideous fruit in April 1994. Chauvinist Hutu newspapers, magazines and radio programmes began reminding Hutu audiences that they were the original occupants of the Great Lakes region and that Tutsis were Nilotics – supposedly warlike pastoralists from Ethiopia who had conquered and enslaved them in the 17th century. The RPF invasion was nothing more than a plot by Museveni, Kagame and their Tutsi co-conspirators to re-establish this evil Nilotic empire. Cartoons of Tutsis killing Hutus began appearing in magazines, along with warnings that all Tutsis were RPF spies bent on dragging the country back to the days when the Tutsi queen supposedly rose from her seat supported by swords driven between the shoulders of Hutu children. In December 1993, a picture of a machete appeared on the front page of a Hutu publication under the headline “What to do about the Tutsis?”
Habyarimana knew that the RPF, thanks to Ugandan backing, was better armed, trained and disciplined than his own army. Under immense international pressure, he had agreed in August 1993 to grant the RPF seats in a transitional government and nearly half of all posts in the army. Even Tutsis inside Rwanda were against giving the RPF so much power because they knew it could provoke the angry, fearful Hutus even more, and they were right. As Habyarimana’s increasingly weak government reluctantly acceded to the RPF’s demands for power, Hutu extremist mayors and other local officials began stockpiling rifles, and government-linked anti-Tutsi militia groups began distributing machetes and kerosene to prospective génocidaires. In January 1994, four months before the genocide, the CIA predicted that if tensions were not somehow defused, hundreds of thousands of people would die in ethnic violence. The powder keg awaited a spark to set it off.
That spark arrived at about 8pm on 6 April 1994, when rockets fired from positions close to Kigali airport shot down Habyarimana’s plane as it was preparing to land. The next morning, frantic Hutu militia groups, convinced that the Nilotic apocalypse was at hand, launched a ferocious attack against their Tutsi neighbours.
Few subjects are more polarising than the modern history of Rwanda. Questions such as “Has the RPF committed human rights abuses?” or “Who shot down President Habyarimana’s plane?” have been known to trigger riots at academic conferences. The Rwandan government bans and expels critical scholars from the country, labelling them “enemies of Rwanda” and “genocide deniers”, and Kagame has stated that he doesn’t think that “anyone in the media, UN [or] human rights organisations has any moral right whatsoever to level any accusations against me or Rwanda”.
Be that as it may, several lines of evidence suggest that the RPF was responsible for the downing of Habyarimana’s plane. The missiles used were Russian-made SA-16s. The Rwandan army was not known to possess these weapons, but the RPF had them at least since May 1991. Two SA-16 single-use launchers were also found in a valley near Masaka Hill, an area within range of the airport that was accessible to the RPF. According to the Russian military prosecutor’s office, the launchers had been sold to Uganda by the USSR in 1987.
Since 1997, five additional investigations of the crash have been carried out, including one by a UN-appointed team, and one each by French and Spanish judges working independently. These three concluded that the RPF was probably responsible. Two Rwandan government investigations conversely concluded that Hutu elites and members of Habyarimana’s own army were responsible.
A 2012 report on the crash commissioned by two French judges supposedly exonerated the RPF. But this report, although widely publicised as definitive, actually was not. The authors used ballistic and acoustic evidence to argue that the missiles were probably fired by the Rwandan army from Kanombe military barracks. But they admit that their technical findings could not exclude the possibility that the missiles were fired from Masaka Hill, where the launchers were found. The report also fails to explain how the Rwandan army, which was not known to possess SA-16s, could have shot down the plane using them.
Soon after the plane crash, the génocidaires began their attack against the Tutsis, and the RPF began advancing. But the rebels’ troop movements suggested that their primary priority was conquering the country, not saving Tutsi civilians. Rather than heading south, where most of the killings were taking place, the RPF circled around Kigali. By the time it reached the capital weeks later, most of the Tutsis there were dead.
When the UN peacekeeper Dallaire met RPF commander Kagame during the genocide, he asked about the delay. “He knew full well that every day of fighting on the periphery meant certain death for Tutsis still behind [Rwanda government forces] lines,” Dallaire wrote in Shake Hands With the Devil. “[Kagame] ignored the implications of my question.”
In the years that followed, Bill Clinton apologised numerous times for the US’s inaction during the genocide. “If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost,” he told journalist Tania Bryer in 2013. Instead, Europeans and Americans extracted their own citizens and the UN peacekeepers quietly withdrew. But Dallaire indicates that Kagame would have rejected Clinton’s help in any case. “The international community is looking at sending an intervention force on humanitarian grounds,” Kagame told Dallaire. “But for what reason? If an intervention force is sent to Rwanda, we,” – meaning the RPF – “will fight it.”
As the RPF advanced, Hutu refugees fled into neighbouring countries. In late April, television stations around the world broadcast images of thousands upon thousands of them crossing the Rusumo Bridge from Rwanda into Tanzania, as the bloated corpses of Rwandans floated down the Kagera river beneath them. Most viewers assumed that all the corpses were Tutsis killed by Hutu génocidaires. But the river drains mainly from areas then held by the RPF, and Mark Prutsalis, a UN official working in the Tanzanian refugee camps, maintains that at least some of the bodies were probably Hutu victims of reprisal killings by the RPF. One refugee after another told him that RPF soldiers had gone house to house in Hutu areas, dragging people out, tying them up and throwing them in the river. The UN estimated later that the RPF killed some 10,000 civilians each month during the genocide.
Lawrence Nsereko was among the journalists on the Rusumo Bridge that day and as the bodies floated by, he noticed something strange. The upper arms of some of them had been tied with ropes behind their backs. In Uganda, this method of restraint is known as the “three-piece tie”; it puts extreme pressure on the breastbone, causing searing pain, and may result in gangrene. Amnesty International had recently highlighted it as a signature torture method of Museveni’s army, and Lawrence wondered whether the RPF had learned this technique from their Ugandan patrons.
In June 1994, while the slaughter in Rwanda was still underway, Museveni travelled to Minneapolis, where he received a Hubert H Humphrey public service medal and honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota. The dean, a former World Bank official, praised Museveni for ending human rights abuses in Uganda and preparing his country for multiparty democracy. Western journalists and academics showered Museveni with praise. “Uganda [is] one of the few flickers of hope for the future of black Africa,” wrote one. The New York Times compared the Ugandan leader to Nelson Mandela, and Time magazine hailed him as a “herdsman and philosopher” and “central Africa’s intellectual compass.”
Museveni also visited Washington on that trip, where he met with Clinton and his national security adviser, Anthony Lake. I could find no record of what the men discussed...
Adapted extract from Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror, published by Columbia Global Reports.
In the wake of this horror Rwanda and Uganda, in alliance, have become centres for a series of invasions and butchering interventions into the Congo, the crucial prize in central Africa with enormous resources of minerals, and with an anti-imperialist orientated government. The US has enhanced its presence over former colonial powers the UK and France and established new bases in the Africom division of a worldwide military garrison network.
Just why this account appears now raises intriguing questions when there has been over 20 years of mainly silence – possibly reflecting the tensions between major powers as the crisis deepens inter-imperialist trade war.
But whatever skulduggery is involved (certain) it underlines the degenerate lengths to which imperialism will go and the hollow cynicism of its pretences about “human rights” and “looking out for the rights of oppressed peoples” so easily swallowed by the “fake-”left”.
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