What do Bill Clinton, the Rev. Rick Warren, Harvard's Michael Porter, and Google's Eric Schmidt all have in common? According to Philip Gourevitch, writing in this week's New Yorker, they are all friends of Rwandan President Paul Kagame -- part of his "kitchen cabinet" of advisers. Like Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times, Gourevitch has definitively fallen under the spell of Kagame and his ambition to turn Rwanda into the Singapore of Central Africa.
There are, however, several assertions in this piece which are a bit dodgy, not least of which are Gourevitch's estimates of the numbers killed in the 1994 genocide. Most reports put the number at 800,000, with anywhere from 10-20 percent of those actually being moderate Hutus. Gourevitch simply says a million Tutsis.
That may seem like a minor quibble, but I think it reflects the underlying problem with Gourevitch's somewhat starry-eyed analysis. In his shattering accounts of the genocide published in 1998, Gourevitch brought us up close and personal with both victims and perpetrators. It was great reportage. Not much big picture needed.
At the time it seemed like a clear-cut case of good and evil, with Kagame coming across as George Washington, David Ben-Gurion and Gen. Patton rolled into one painfully thin looking Tutsi warlord. The problem is that even back then, Gourevitch seems to have bought Kagame's line that the mass killings occurring in the Congo -- some estimates say up to 5 million, mostly civilians -- many of which were being carried out by Rwandan troops or their proxies, were somehow justified because of the genocide.
Over the course of the latter conflict, Rwanda-based mining interests (which have yet to sign on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) have been accused of plundering the riches of neighboring Congo in the "fog of war" created by Rwanda's 15-year crusade to bring every last génocidaire to justice. No one can argue that the Rwandans have the right to seek justice. But for Gourevtich to take on face value Kagame's claim that his government didn't "supply anything" to the recently deposed Congolese-Tutsi militia leader Laurent Nkunda is disingenuous at best.
According to the Economist, the U.N. has plenty of evidence to the contrary, and one wonders why Gourevitch doesn't at least mention it -- never mind asking Kagame about it.
The best part of the article was the photo of Paul Kagame by brilliant South African photographer Pieter Hugo. Check out his other work here.
(First published May 1, 2009 in World Politics Review)