The best way to understand the events recounted in a recent book by the historian Gérard PRUNIER on the African Great Lakes “world war” is to start from the end. In a redundant appendix to his account, Mr. Prunier describes the murder of the man to whom his book is dedicated, Seth Sendashonga.
A former leader of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), for whom he was a minister in the government set up after the rebel movement’s victory over the army and the militias responsible for the genocide in 1994, Mr. Sendashonga was murdered in Nairobi, Kenya, on 16 May 1998 by, according to the author, “unknown assailants.”
“Unknown?” In fact this is far from true.
Following the murder, a trio of Ugandans were swiftly arrested by the Kenyan police and tried for the crime before being freed three years later, “the state having failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused had committed the crime” according to the trial court.
In the course of the investigation, one of the three men had pleaded guilty, citing a clash over a large sum of money and explaining that he wanted to avenge his father who had been cheated by Sendashonga out of his share of their loot.
A battalion of “moderate” phantom recruits in the Congolese jungles
As weird as this tale might be, it pales in comparison to Mr. Prunier’s revelations of his own participation in preparations for a war by his friend Seth Sendashonga against President Paul Kagame’s government.
Had these revelations been provided at the very beginning, say, for example, in an introduction rather than in a redundant postscript, they would have allowed a more truthful understanding of the book.
The reader’s interest and ability to judge the credibility of the conclusions offered by the author in “From Genocide to Continental War” – the title of Mr. Prunier’s book – would almost certainly have differed depending on whether those revelations were presented right at the very beginning rather than at the end of the book in which Mr. Prunier admits his participation in attempts to rearm a group of former soldiers of a genocidal Rwandese army that had since established itself in the Congolese jungles.
This is what we find on page 366:
“About 600 men and 40 officers of the ex-FAR (Rwandese armed forces) were united behind him (Seth Sendashonga). They were ready to follow him as they could no longer stand neither the Kagame regime in Kigali, nor their competitors in ALIR (Army for the Liberation of Rwanda; French: Armée pour la Libération du Rwanda), both representing in their eyes the opposing but symmetrical forms of violent racism.
While Tanzania had agreed to provide training camps, he hoped to get support from the only decisive and progressive force in the region, Museveni’s Uganda.
He requested me to help him enter discussions with Kampala and I arranged the necessary contacts. On Sunday, 3 May 1998, there was a meeting in Nairobi between him and Salim Saleh, President Museveni’s brother. The climate between Kampala and Kigali was not at its best, and Salim was sufficiently open to the idea of supporting a new moderate force for it to have a chance of seeing the light of day.
A few days later, Seth met Eva Rodgers of the American State Department whom he briefed on his plans. In truth, while the response was hardly one of clear engagement neither was it hostile. It is probably at that very moment that some people in Kigali decided he had crossed a red line.”
That folks is all. According to Mr. Prunier, Seth Sendashonga was a victim of “some people in Kigali.” But put yourself in his place; even absent any shred of proof, wouldn’t your first instinct also be to point your finger to the enemy against whom you planned to launch a regular invasion?
This, it would seem, is supposed to be the way those who engage in warfare think. However, for the ordinary, more objective reader, there are alternative, more valid possibilities from the trail of clues given, perhaps inadvertently, by the warlike professor-activist.
- How, for instance, can one ignore the possibility that the killing was the work of the “non-moderate” genocide killers of ALIR with whom Sendashonga would have rubbed shoulders in the Congolese jungles before stealing their 640 allegedly “moderate” recruits to begin his crusade?
- And how can we not wonder about those Tanzanians who offer training camps for an invasion of Rwanda but who, in the end, see themselves jilted in favour of Museveni’s regime, because Sendashonga considers the latter “the only decisive and progressive force in the region”? Makes one marvel: Is this what happens after convincing a country to act as your rear-base for an invasion of a neighbour?
Is it possible to proclaim, as if in a restaurant: “Mmmh, on second thought, no thanks; I prefer your competitor’s menu?” Wouldn’t such amateurism and incoherencies in the choices, decisions and behaviour of Seth and his go-between with the Ugandans expose them to even greater danger than the suspects so helpfully suggested?
And given the various negotiations and transactions involved, how can one ignore the motivating role of the war-chest, which crops up in the course of the professor’s revelations?
- But here we are then, before Salim Saleh, President Museveni’s brother, with whom Mr. Prunier boasts such closeness he can commend his friend to him with the assurance that “Salim” will provide him with the means to equip his army.
Let’s imagine this scene for a moment: Seth Sendashonga, newly-minted warlord at the head of an army of 640 recruits is received by the brother of the Ugandan president, with a commendation from a French historian in hand!
- Then comes Eva Rodgers of the US State Department, the last person to receive Sendashonga’s confidences before his murder
- And how not to consider the possibility that before having to beg from Kagame’s allies for the means to invade Rwanda, the plotters would first have tried making the rounds of the world’s merchants of death? And of course, clearly the higher such underground transactions, the higher the number of possible suspects.
The confessions of a historian-raconteur
In this tale by a historian-raconteur, confessions are amazingly flaunted everywhere. In following the leads he provides whom we find but Mr. Prunier himself.
According to his own account, he is the one who “organizes the necessary contacts” with Salim Saleh. Admittedly “the climate” may not have been “at its best between Kampala and Kigali”, but what amateurishness!
If Mr. Prunier truly believed that “Salim was sufficiently open to the idea of supporting a moderate new force” comprising dissidents of the old genocidal army to attack Rwanda, then his reputation as an “expert” is seriously over-rated.
In reality, only an over-excited partisan of the cause would dare suggest such a tall tale of an army of 600 men and 40 officers ex-FAR – all “moderate” – without collapsing with laughter. Just try to imagine fighters recruited for their moderation from among the ranks of the future FDLR from the Congolese jungles; not even material for a B-rated movie! A virtual army about which Mr. Prunier takes extreme care to avoid divulging the slightest tangible clue as to its real existence or the name of a single recruit of known moderation.
An army that has since vanished without trace, only to be restored to life through Mr. Prunier’s pen even at the risk of corroborating the story of financial swindles suggested before the Kenyan courts by Mr. Sendashonga’s self-confessed killers.
And so, as Prunier tells it, Sendashonga, armed with a university professor’s recommendation and a bank folder, presents himself before the commander-in-chief of “the only decisive and progressive force in the region!” Could he, in such circumstances, pass for anything else but a fraud?
Excellent climate or not, just imagine that, thanks to the hypothetical reinforcement of a “moderate” army led by the couple of slipper-shod warriors Sendashonga and Prunier, General Saleh and his brother would thoughtlessly embark on a hazardous war with a Rwandese army that had developed into the other decisive force in the region!
Who cannot see that the Ugandans would have had nothing to gain and everything to lose in any association instrumentalizing a 640 battalion of routed war criminals whose fighting ability had only been demonstrated over a Congolese population living under their yoke?
“A few days later,” writes Mr. Prunier, “Seth met Eva Rodgers of the American State Department, whom he briefed about his plans.” Prunier does not tell us whether in this case, too, he had “organized the necessary contacts”.
However, the failure to make any attempt to dissuade his poor friend not to spill all his plans to the Americans would seem to represent a form of non-assistance to a person in danger especially if Mr. Prunier has sincerely convinced himself of Kigali’s culpability in the affair.
In fact, throughout his book Mr. Prunier lingers on the alliance, if not collusion of the Americans with the Kagame regime which, as he tells it, manipulates them like greenhorns. An alliance based - according to him - to the American hillbillies’ fascination with the RPF’s military effectiveness and their own thirsty for victories.
And it is to these supposedly spellbound admirers of Kagame that Professor Prunier, in full knowledge of the fact, lets his friend go to “give a briefing on his war plans!”
Whatever the case may be, Mr. Prunier is seriously mistaken to think that all it takes is for him to cast his suspicions as obvious and then count on his reputation to do the rest. In these types of cases more than in any other, the need for clarity is higher.
Does Mr. Prunier provide such clarity while accusing Kigali in the matter? No. On the basis of all that he himself submits, these are the only conclusions one is led to.
-Yes, without doubt, in his blind zeal if not through incredible cynicism, Gérard Prunier encouraged his friend, Seth, to canvass support for a war project from people whose links with the government they meant to overthrow he fully knew.
- Non – and it is to its credit, there is no automatic link at all between this farce in which Prunier boasts a central role and the government he tries to implicate in Seth Sendashonga’s murder.
- No, the line of enquiry related to money disputes cannot be excluded at all; less so, in fact, since Prunier’s attempts to dismiss it merely ends up giving it even more credence.
As we shall see, in trying too hard to discourage all suspicions in this area, the professor only ends up drawing attention to the possible role of the setting up of a war chest.
The most hopeless claim of the century
What of the self-confessed authors of Seth’s murder? Prunier treats them as mere fall guys. And yet while the reader can envisage that these people, arrested and tried in Kenya, could have lied on the details of the case, how can one imagine that in a public trial, they would willingly risk the death penalty to falsely confess to murder?
Would they have agreed to put their lives on the line under orders from their masters seated in an office 800 kilometres away in Kigali? Such audacity and hardness of soul would be admirable, but we are talking about real life, not the cinema!
In reality, the alleged heroism of these kamikaze suspects is even more improbable given the fact that Prunier himself informs us that, at the time, the relations between Kenya and Rwanda were atrocious; a context not really conducive to the kinds of disgracefully secretive arrangements that would be required if the Rwandese intelligence services were involved.
On this point, professor Prunier does explain the ruse, but satisfies himself with simply offering the most hopeless claim of the century.
As proof for his contention that Seth could not have been implicated in an affair involving 54 million dollars, he explains that on 4 November 1998, his friend had sent him a letter stating: “We are carrying out our fight with very limited means... I hope you will continue your efforts to look for funds and that you will be able to obtain for us a little assistance.
I pray you do not neglect any effort as we are really broke. Things are at such a point that we hardly have enough money for our correspondence.” And Prunier concludes: “Not really the talk of a man who had found the means to put aside 54 million dollars ...” Hmmm, the proof that one has no money: it is that one asks for it.
According to this line of reasoning all you need do is to attach such a letter to your tax declaration and, presto, you will accordingly be exempted from your taxes. As we can see, the professor’s guilelessness is disarming when he puts himself to it.
He cannot imagine that the expression “put aside 54 million” could be taken in its literal sense. And it is with such arguments that he seeks to sanitize his friend of involvement in any financial scams?
And yet the professor should know that in trying to press such arguments, he only reinforces the suspicions.
Incidentally, in going over the above passage, we also learn something new: in this war in the making, Mr. Prunier’s role extended beyond that of an arms-seeker; he was also supposed to “actively fund-raise”. Yes, that’s right, actively fund-raise, nothing less.
That said, I hope I will be forgiven for deliberately ignoring the books first 500 pages. However, I hope to make some amends by a review of a few of them. Cited by Prunier in his book’s bibliography, Tom P. Odom writes: “... as a participant in some of the events described in the book, I found numerous errors of fact, doubtful analysis, and dubious sourcing.
I am disappointed to say the least because I looked forward to reading the book as a follow on to Prunier’s earlier works on the Rwandan tragedy. In contrast to those efforts, this book is neither good history nor good journalism.
Good history relies on analysis of facts, personal accounts, public documents, and at least makes a stab at balanced analysis. Journalism implies writing without an agenda.
Prunier sets the tone for this work by his dedication to Seth Sendashonga, the exiled former Interior Minister who was assassinated in Nairobi in 1998.
Sendashonga, Hutu member of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), fled Rwanda after falling out with then Vice President Paul Kagame.
In exile, Sendashonga pandered a story of RPF killings that challenged credibility. Prunier dedicates his book to him. If you bother to read the sole appendix to the book about Seth’s assassination, on page 364, Prunier admits that he put Seth in contact with Ugandans who might have been willing to back a plan to organize an eastern front against Kigali.
Still he would have you believe that he is somehow an accurate scribe when it comes to matters Rwandan. Further along, Tom P. Odom continues: Paul Kagame is to Gérard Prunier a reincarnation of Stalin or Hitler with the military genius of Napoleon thrown in for good measure.
Might this be a case of the homage which vice pays to virtue?
Despite all that, professor Prunier tries to make believe that he retains any scrap of academic credibility ridiculously hanging as it were on his carcass of an admitted aspiring terrorist, warmonger and the éminence grise of a failed invasion.