By Austin Ejiet
A decade and a half after the event, the world is no closer to knowing who masterminded and /or carried out the assassination of former Rwandese president, Juvénal Habyarimana.
The president’s jet was shot down a few kilometers from the country’s international airport as it prepared to land. The president and his team had been on a peace mission in Tanzania to try and broker an end to the war between his MRND government and the RPF exile forces that had invaded the country from the North. On board the ill-fated presidential jet was the president of the republic of Burundi who had hitched a lift back home from the same peace conference. Also killed were a number of French and Belgian nationals some of whom had constituted the crew.
Two theories have been postulated as to the identity of the assassins. The most persistent theory is that an RPF hit squad somehow sneaked deep into enemy controlled territory, shot down the aircraft, and somehow managed to sneak out again unspotted. Supporters of this position argue that the RPF wanted to shorten the war by cutting off the head of the proverbial snake. The second argument that the RPF has maintained ever since is that president Habyarimana was probably assassinated by hard-line elements from his own army who thought that it was a mistake to try and make peace with the RPF in the first instance, and that he was making too many concessions.
A common mistake made by commentators ever since is to conclude that spectacular assassination is what caused the subsequent genocide that took an estimated 800,000 (perhaps one million) lives.
A common mistake made by commentators ever since is to conclude that spectacular assassination is what caused the subsequent genocide that took an estimated 800,000 (perhaps one million) lives. In point of fact the genocide had been planned almost as soon as the RPF crossed the border from Uganda from October of 1990. A systematic campaign had encouraged Hutu extremists to prepare for an Armageddon of sorts by equipping themselves with the weapons for the day of reckoning. The downing of the presidential jet merely provided an emotive and lusty spark for the orgy of murder which lasted all of the 100 days.
The French government, spurred on by the “findings” of a judge, has gone on to identity the assassins who downed the plane, killing French citizens in the process, and to issue international arrest warrants for their apprehension and prosecution. All are very commendable. Nobody should get away with murder under any circumstances.
To this end a Rwandese presidential aide, Lt. Col. Rose Kanyange Kabuye, has been arrested in Germany and extradited to France where she has been charged with murder–the murder of French nationals–and released on bail. I dare say most readers will remember the comic maxim that informed the equality ethics of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal than Others”. Yes, some French and Belgian nationals perished as a result of this drastic act. But what has happened to the estimated 800,000 or 1 million who were exterminated with astonishing brutality and cruelty?
In the mid 1970’s a White British teacher trainer then based at the National Teachers College, Kyambogo, Kampala, one Dennis Cecil Hills, wrote and published a book about president Idi Amin’s government, titled The White Pumpkin. In the book he had described the president as a village tyrant with a keen peasant wit. Somebody picked on that phrase and told the president that some “Zionist” and “Imperialist” had insulted him. The author was arrested, tried by a military tribunal, and sentenced to die by firing squad.
You should have been there to witness the concerted efforts to save Dennis Cecil Hills. The global diplomacy set into motion by the impending killing of this one man was mind –boggling. Britain sent no less a person than foreign secretary James Callaghan to plead the author’s cause. Even the Pope made rare representations to the Kampala government to save Mr. Hills. Which is what finally happened? Everybody was happy. But I remember wondering why nobody had raised a finger regarding the nightly slaughter of Ugandans of black complexion.
Who killed Habyarimana? It is more accurate to ask: who killed the French crew of Habyarimana’s jet and the eleven Belgian servicemen who blundered onto the scene of the crash. The million Rwandese who died in the subsequent genocide? Who cares! Some animals are more equal than others.