Prunier’s new book reveals scheming with Sendashonga

Reviewed by:Thomas (Tom) P. OdomLTC US Army (ret)Author, Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda In early 1994 while serving as the US Defense Attaché in Kinshasa, Zaire I had an unexpected visitor, a Zairian army lieutenant colonel who told the Marine Security Guard that he had “urgent business” to discuss with “le Colonel Odom.”  Since he knew my name, I asked my NCO, Stan, to go get him.  As I sat down with my visitor, I signaled Stan to stay and listen.

Reviewed by:
Thomas (Tom) P. Odom
LTC US Army (ret)
Author, Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda

In early 1994 while serving as the US Defense Attaché in Kinshasa, Zaire I had an unexpected visitor, a Zairian army lieutenant colonel who told the Marine Security Guard that he had “urgent business” to discuss with “le Colonel Odom.” 

Since he knew my name, I asked my NCO, Stan, to go get him.  As I sat down with my visitor, I signaled Stan to stay and listen.

The Zairian began with a blast against US perfidy, imperialism, and assorted rot until I asked him to explain what had him all excited. Swelling even more, he proclaimed he had written proof that the US had secretly invaded Zaire in the 1970s.

Intrigued I asked him to show me and he handed me a dog-eared copy of Michael Crichton’s novel, Congo. 

Crichton’s book began with an introduction that treated a fictional infiltration of the Congo in 1979 as fact to entice a would be reader.

Central to the story was a heretofore unknown breed of super apes who would wreck havoc on the 12-person invasion force. 

The literary sleight of hand worked on the Zairian colonel, so well in fact that he then tried to blackmail me with a threat to go public. 

He was crushed when I told him that a movie made from the book was already available. I offered to find him a copy but offered no cash.

He left no doubt in search of further conspiracies whose revelation might help his cash flow.

Reading Gerard Prunier’s latest book, Africa’s World War, made me feel like I had that Zairian colonel back in my office. 

A tale of dark conspiracy woven with incompetence made me wonder if there was indeed a fictional Congo with an eastern neighbor, Rwanda, out there. Prunier’s writings suggest there has to be a parallel universe. 

Without a firm grounding in the region, however, one risks being fooled just like the Zairian colonel back in 1994.

To be more direct, let me just say that as a participant in some of the events described in this 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 and 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 367, 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.
One of Prunier’s pet arguments in discussing post-genocide Rwanda was the US guilt over the genocide, especially the “guilt” of the Clinton Administration, led us to buy into the RPF without doubt. 

We were, according to Mr. Prunier, naïve, even stupid white guys who were completely fooled by the RPF.  To make this theory fly of course one has to offer a version of the RPF that would make Seth Sendashonga proud. 

Paul Kagame is to Gérard Prunier a reincarnation of Stalin or Hitler with the military genius of Napolean thrown in for good measure. 

Prunier singles out the US Department of Defense (DoD) as especially culpable in this combination of naïveté and stupidity because it was the US DoD that supposedly enabled little Rwanda to conquer great big Zaire not once but nearly twice.  Let me offer some examples. 

On page 34, Prunier surfaces “’good guys versus bad guys’: preferred mode of American thinking: Department of Defense fascination for the RPA, which it was then beginning to discover...” 

In his explanatory note on this jab, Prunier offers, “Following a limited humanitarian involvement after the genocide, the U.S. Army had started training program for the RPA and several U.S. officers were quite impressed by the professionalism of their counterparts. 

Maj (later Lt. Col.), the US military attaché in Kigali played a key role in that warming relationship between {the} the RPA and the U.S. Department of Defense. “

First on the good guys versus bad guys tripe, that was hardly the case.  I was impressed by RPA professionalism on the ground when I first encountered them in 1994; I was also cognizant as was Ambassador David Rawson that the RPA had won the military fight for Rwanda. 

David’s guidance to me was to establish relations with the new government on a military to military basis.  As for “discovering” the RPA, Rwanda was already benefiting from expanded international military education and training (E-IMET) under State Department direction and control after the Arusha Accords were signed. 

The initial phase of E-IMET took place in early 1994, attended by both former Rwandan Army (ex-FAR) and RPA soldiers.

Then Major Rick Orth was the Defense Intelligence Agency analyst on the conflict in 1994; he joined me on the ground for 60 days in late 1994.  He replaced me as the Defense Attaché in 1996. 

All of this is of course in my own book which Mr. Prunier lists in his bibliography incorrectly as being published by the University of Texas. 

On page 118, Prunier writes in discussing the taking of Bukavu by RPA and Congolese rebel troops, “They were soon joined by a group of about sixty African American mercenaries. 

According to English-speaking Zairians who had occasion to talk with them, they had been privately recruited in the United States and flown to Uganda, from where they had been taken by road to Kigali and later to Bukavu. 

The way their passage from the United States had been facilitated by Customs and police suggested undeniably that they were on some kind of unofficial government mission.  They were soon battling the FDD at Mwenga and Kiliba.”

In footnoting this remarkable claim, Prunier goes on to explain, “ It is extremely likely that they had been recruited through what a former U.S. intelligence officer called, ‘the second-echelon little black book,’ managed by a Los Angeles-based mercenary company run by retired U.S. top brass who have kept good Pentagon contacts. Interview Washington DC, October 1999. 

On government-sanctioned operations such as the Croatian offensive in the Kajina, they use what is known as “first-echelon people (i.e., former U.S. army personnel with honorable discharges).

For the “black operations” (i.e., covert operations about which Congress is kept in the dark) they use second-echelon men who are also former GIs with shady records of drug offenses, theft, or sexual offenses.  These men are contacted indirectly, through ‘friendly’ private companies, and can include foreigners.

Colette Braeckman, in L’enjeu congalais (Paris, Fayard, 1999). 43, mentions that this company recruited a number of Liberian Krahns for the Congo mission.  As late as October 2007, U.S. government officials were still trying to convince me that the whole operation had never existed.” 

The U.S. did support the use of mercenaries in the Congo in the 1960s.  I have written quite extensively on the subject.  The dying regime in Zaire recruited Serbian mercenaries against the rebels and the RPF; they had little effect on the outcome. 

But to posit that the U.S. would recruit drug dealing, sexually deviate, former soldiers who were African-American to fight in the Congo is C-rate Hollywood fiction. 

Interestingly this rumor has been kept alive by writers like Prunier and other conspiracy theorists and has even been offered in testimony to the U.S. Congress.

On page 117 Prunier states that Rwandan forces attacked Goma on November 1, 1996 by land and from the lake.  That much is quite true but the footnote is most revealing when is comes to Mr. Prunier’s documentation. 

He states, “The lake attack had an interesting dimension: the rubber dinghies used by the Rwandese army belonged to the American NGO International Rescue Committee and were apparently loaned and not commandeered. 

Interviews with eyewitnesses, Paris, March 1997, and Kampala, December 2000.  This was the first visible sign of any U.S. involvement in the Rwandese invasion plan.”

First of all the RPA had its own high speed inflatable troop transports; I rode one of them to Iwawa Island in November the previous year. 

They were Twin-engine, with a crew served weapon mount, radar, and capable of 20+ knots carrying 14-20 troops they were assault boats and the RPA had at least two.  

I would seriously doubt that an American NGO would “loan” its “rubber dinghies” to support the RPA.  Secondly even had the RPA commandeered or borrowed the rubber boats as alleged by Prunier, that is not a sign of U.S. government involvement.  

I will offer one final selection of Prunier’s dismal scholarship.  On page 126, he claims that the U.S. military-RPA relationship began on 31 July 1994 when a party of 60 American soldiers arrived in Kigali. 

I have already noted that E-IMET training with the ex-FAR and the RPA took place in early 1994; that course was taught by U.S. military officers from the Naval War College. 

Prunier then states that the U.S. started a large training program for the RPA in early 1995 that sent RPA officers to the U.S. and brought U.S. soldiers to Rwanda. 

His reasons for the ties to the RPA was his claim in the supporting footnotes that we as Army officers in 1994 were “”Still shaken by their (our) Vietnam defeat and their (our) poor showing in Somalia.”  “ ..the frustrated macho environment of the 1990s U.S. Army” allowed us to justify “bending the rules to help the RPA.”

I should also remind the reader that according to Mr. Prunier, we were naïve and stupid in our frustrated condition.

Back to reality, I outlined the program we began in 1995 in my book, the one Mr. Prunier listed in his bibliography but either didn’t read or merely ignored. 

E-IMET was resumed as a result of then Vice President Kagame’s invitational visit to Washington in December 1994.  In essence we picked up where the E-IMET training begun in early 1994 left off: we sent a small group (about 10) RPA officers for military justice training at the Naval War College, led by then Major, and later Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Richard Sezibera. 

Another component of our assistance was humanitarian demining.  I asked Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth to push for a program when he visited Kigali in September 1994. he did so and we began in earnest in early 1995 with a US European Command and US Special Operations Command-Europe site visit. 

We took a train the trainer approach with 2 Special Forces Operations Detachment –Alphas (A teams) under an Operations Detachment-Bravo (B Team) and trained nearly 100 RPA deminers. 

We also set up a Rwanda-US Demining office with Civil Affairs and PSYOP personnel to design a mine and unexploded ordnance awareness program. 

To facilitate teaching and provide usable facilities, I got USEUCOM to fund renovation of the Rwandan staff college, which had been ransacked by the ex-FAR as they retreated from Kigali in 1994.

In the last quarter of 1995, USECUCOM provided end of year monies through USAID to secure a RONCO demining dog program. 

All in all the program was well under USD$ 3 million, miniscule when it comes to this sort of thing and microscopic to the amount of money flowing into the refugee camps outside the country. 

The third leg of my efforts in 1995 was to take advantage of any and all excess non-lethal material freed up by the US military drawdown in Europe  offered through the Office of the Secretary of Defense-Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict–Humanitarian Affairs (OSD-SOLIC, HA). 

One of my partners from Goma, Mr. Bill McCoy, ran the program and I told him I would take whatever he wanted to load on an airplane. Beginning in late 1994 through my last day in the country in March 1996, I brought in one, sometimes more, aircraft a month with cargoes that ranged from school desks to field ambulances. 

One I was most proud of was loaded with woolen army blankets and soccer balls.   With the assistance of the Rwandan Minister of Health Colonel Dr. Joe Karemera, I delivered a truck load of those blankets to my friend, Roz Carr, and the fifty orphans she had under her care. 

Remember that we were stupid, macho frustrated army types who sought to live out our fantasies through the RPA?  Well Prunier then takes the programs I outlined above and makes them fit the mold he has crafted for us by declaring on page 127 we were sly dogs indeed—stupid, naïve, but sly nonetheless:

“After some American arm twisting at the UN the U.S. Ronco Consulting Corporation got a large demining contract in Rwanda to remove more mines than had ever been laid during the war. 

This has the advantage of legitimizing the impressive U.S. military air traffic since ‘supplies’ were needed.  It was an impressive performance which was completely different in style from the heavy-handed U.S. interventions during the cold war. 

It was stealthy, light, and indirect, with one remaining superpower on earth easily running circles around frustrated French diplomacy still caught up in the inefficient old web of its questionable Franco-African friendships.”

Glad we impressed you Mr. Prunier.  I wish I could say the same about your book.  I am disappointed that Oxford University Press would actually print this piece of literary excrement. 

That publications like Publications Weekly and professors at Princeton, Miami University, and James Madison University provided laudatory comments for the dust cover suggest poor scholarship is a contagious disease, especially when taken with a large dose of conspiracy theory.

Thomas (Tom) P. Odom
LTC US Army (ret)
Author, Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News