Monday, February 9, 2009

Gerard Prunier spreading horse manure?

The debate on what really has been going on in the Great Lakes region over the last two decades is starting to heat up to a boiling point, Tom Odom, a self-proclaimed expert on the Rwandan genocide, recently accused Gerard Prunier of "spreading horse manure".

In the abstract of the book "Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe" by Gerard Prunier we read:
"The Rwandan genocide sparked a horrific bloodbath that swept across sub-Saharan Africa, ultimately leading to the deaths of some four million people. In this extraordinary history of the recent wars in Central Africa, Gerard Prunier offers a gripping account of how one grisly episode laid the groundwork for a sweeping and disastrous upheaval.

Prunier vividly describes the grisly aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, when some two million refugees--a third of Rwanda's population--fled to exile in Zaire in 1996. The new Rwandan regime then crossed into Zaire and attacked the refugees, slaughtering upwards of 400,000 people."

January 5th 2009 Tom Odom wrote a bookreview on Amazon:
"Gerard Prunier's latest book, Africa's World War, is a tale of dark conspiracy woven with incompetence. Reading it 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. Certainly there are elements of recognizable truth involved in Prunier's tale if you have the regional expertise to recognize them. Without a firm grounding in the region, however, one risks swallowing great amounts of horse manure.

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 after a 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 367, Prunier admits that he put Seth in contact with Ugandans who might have been willing to back a plan 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. For a longer review go to "

Let me introduce Tom Odom: THOMAS P. ODOM is a graduate of Texas A&M University. He served as an army strategic scout for over fifteen years, with five tours in the Middle East and Africa, and as the U.S. Army’s intelligence officer on the Middle East during the first Gulf War. Among his previous publications are two books on hostage rescues in the Congo. He is a coauthor of the U.S. Army’s history of the Gulf War. General Dennis J. Reimer wrote in a forward to "Journey into Darkness", a book by Thomas P. Odom (LTC US Army) ret:
"In July 1994, Thomas P. Odom was part of the U.S. Embassy team that responded to the Goma refugee crisis. He witnessed the deaths of 70,000 refugees in a single week. In the previous three months of escalating violence, the Rwandan genocide had claimed 800,000 dead. Now, in this vivid and unsettling new book, Odom offers the first insider look at these devastating events before, during, and after the genocide.

Odom draws on his years of experience as a defense attaché and foreign area specialist in the United States Army to offer a complete picture of the situation in Zaire and Rwanda, focusing on two U.S. embassies, intelligence operations, U.N. peacekeeping efforts, and regional reactions. His team attempted to slow the death by cholera of refugees in Goma, guiding in a U.S. Joint Task Force and Operation Support Hope and remaining until the United States withdrew its forces forty days later. After U.S. forces departed, Odom crossed into Rwanda to spend the next eighteen months reestablishing the embassy, working with the Rwandan government, and creating the U.S.–Rwandan Demining Office.

Odom assisted the U.S. ambassador and served as the principal military advisor on Rwanda to the U.S. Department of Defense and National Security Council throughout his time in Rwanda."

On june 12 2006 Tom Odom (Thomas E. Odom) wrote on the forum of smallwarsjournal the following:

"Taking a longer view of the "genocide" as a Rwandan government policy is useful in understanding the flow of events as they culminated in early 2004.

From independence with the flip flop of the Belgians in using the Tutsis as a control element for their colony to supporting the Hutus as the majority in the newly emergent independent Rwanda, sanctioned organized and supported violence against the Tutsis was very much a stated and unstated GOR policy. The results were periodic massacres that in manner if not numbers (though in the thousands) served as precursor models for 94. The Tutsi expatriate rebel factions--directed largely toward restoration of the royal family--incursions into Rwanda in the 60s (not many and not well done) did serve as sparks (or excuses by the GOR who exaggerated the threat) for massacres of the Tutsis. These massacres stimulated the Tusti diaspora into surrounding African countries and abroad into Europe, the US, and Canada.

Habyarimana seized control in in 74 as I recall promising to end this cycle of violence. In may ways he did but his use of the single party state with the MRND as its core included a 99% exclusion of Tutsi participation in any political process. This--the so called golden era of Rwanda--lasted until the late 80s when 2 events started to unhinge the equation. First of all African regimes could no longer count on the Cold War to keep the flow of donor assistance coming without political reform. Second the collapse of the world coffee market--the long pole in the Rwandan economic tent--was a disaster for Habyarimana's single party state. Commencing in the early 90s pressures from donors forced the President to start opening up the political process. And the internal poltical process amoung Hutus was explosive and often violent.

Parallel to these events, the RPF structured itself as a rebel/insurgent force that woulld force the GOR to accept the Tutsi expatriates (a million if not more) back into Rwanda. Initial efforts with the Oct 90 invasion were a disaster and Kagame as the new leader had to restructure and rebuild the RPA even as he held on to Rwandan territory against the GOR and the French. Habyarimana used the RPF threat against his opponents inside the country. Massacres of Tutsis took place on a scale of the early 60s; political violence against Hutu opponents of the regime was also common. But even within the regime, hardliners coalesced among the President's wife's family. That is where the gencoide plans really started to form up. French roles in all of this were both open in training the old army and advising/training/supplying hardline elements like the Interhamwe--the militia of the MRND.

Arusha was signed in 93 and by its terms the RPF won its fight; Implementation of Arussha sputtered along until April 94 when Habyarimana caved and agreed. That was his death warrant among the hardliners including his wife. France supported the GOR and the hardliners even after the UN embargo was placed against arms shipments. France gave shelter to hardliners as they fled; I saw a used Mercedes parking lot in Goma where GOR and hardliners parked their vehicles only to whisked away to safety--largely courtesy of the French.

The French charges against Rwanda are a smoke screen to cover Paris's role after Rwanda recently opened an investgation into all of this. Gerard Prunier's analysis of who shot the plane down still applies; he like me on the ground saw no logic in an RPF decision to shoot Habyarimana down. In contrast, the hardliners stood to gain and they used the event as a trigger for the genocide. Dallaire's recounting of events lays out how immediately killer squads started to fan out as well as the role of Radio Television des Milles Collines in orchestrating events over the air waves."

Tom Odom is obviously being very nice to the current regime in Kigali by acusing the french of creating a "smoke screen" and by stating that "Sendashonga pandered a story of RPF killings that challenged credibility".

The question is offcourse, is their any truth to Odom's allegations?

Wouldn't it be great if a debate could be organized between Gerard Prunier, Thomas E. Odom. Or even better, if Pierre Péan and Peter Erlinder and Stephen Kinzer could join. It would be like a great chess game, were it not that it would be a chess game in which the stakes are very high. The outcome directly influences the reality of people living in Congo and Rwanda. But also the stakes for governments of countries like France and the US seem very high.

Apparently the stakes were soo high, the US couldn't resist changing the rules during the game:

As Peter Erlinder, chief defense council at the ICTR, writes in his recent article"Rwanda: No Conspiracy, No Genocide Planning ... No Genocide?":

"Last year it was revealed that U.S. Ambassador Pierre Prosper (see picture) ordered ICTR prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to be removed from office, when she insisted on prosecuting Kagame for the assasination of the former president, the crime that touched-off the "Rwanda genocide" because U.S. policy was to protect Kagame, despite the evidence of his guilt."

To start of the debate on a level playing field it would therefore be helpfull and kind if Tom Odom could explain to us (and to his soldier buddies at smallwarsjournal), why Pierre Prosper didn't want Carla Del Ponte to investigate the assasination of the former Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi?

April 14 2005:Rwandan President Paul Kagame greets University President William P. Leahy, SJ, and University Trustee Pierre Prosper '85 prior to giving his speech ''Rwanda an 'Oasis of Stability' at Robsham Theater. (Photos by Lee Pellegrini)see original post and picture at Boston College Chronicle.

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