Rethinking U.S.-Rwanda Relations in Light of ‘Rwanda Classified’ Revelations

The recent article by Norman Ishimwe Sinamenye, President of Jambo asbl and member of the World Liberty Congress, titled “Rwanda Classified investigation adds to rethinking of U.S. strategic partnership with Kagame,” provides a detailed analysis of the disturbing findings in the investigation titled “Rwanda Classified.” Published on May 28, 2024, by a consortium of 50 journalists from 17 countries under the Forbidden Stories banner, this investigation exposes the Rwandan regime’s transnational repression activities, including operations on U.S. soil, and its covert deployment of soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to wage aggressive war alongside the notorious M23 rebel group.

Revelations of “Rwanda Classified”

The revelations in “Rwanda Classified” are alarming: between 3,000 and 5,000 Rwandan soldiers have been secretly deployed in the DRC to conduct aggressive warfare alongside the M23 rebel group, notorious for its mass atrocities. This situation questions the strategic partnership between the United States and Rwanda, especially given the U.S. training and support of the Rwandan military. These revelations come at a time when Western governments are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the 1994 genocide with solemnity, fueling a sense of guilt that has led to perhaps excessive admiration for Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The Role of Western Guilt

Sinamenye points out that this guilt has led the U.S. and other Western governments to offer uncritical support to Kagame, who is praised for ending the genocide and rebuilding the country. This international recognition has allowed Kagame’s regime to manipulate historical narratives, shifting blame onto the international community for the 1994 tragedy while obscuring its own controversial actions, including its role in the downing of the plane carrying the Rwandan president, which triggered the genocide, and the war crimes committed by its forces.

The Impact of Realpolitik

U.S. support for Kagame fits within a realpolitik framework aimed at maintaining stability and access to strategic resources in Africa’s Great Lakes region. This approach has turned Kagame into what the New York Times has called “the global elite’s favorite strongman,” seen as a leader who maintains order, fosters economic growth, and deploys disciplined military forces to troubled regions, relieving the U.S. of the need to intervene directly. However, this perception overlooks Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the DRC, triggering deadly conflicts and accusations of crimes against humanity.

Victims of Repression

Sinamenye’s article humanizes the victims of this realpolitik, notably John William Ntwali, an independent journalist whose suspicious death in January 2023 prompted the Forbidden Stories investigation. Ntwali’s work exposed gross injustices, corruption, torture, repression, and the mistreatment of genocide survivors by the very regime that claims international legitimacy for saving their lives. Despite the significance of his findings, Ntwali’s death, like that of gospel singer Kizito Mihigo, went largely unnoticed internationally.

Repercussions on U.S.-Rwanda Relations

The case of Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of “Hotel Rwanda,” who was kidnapped by the Rwandan government, had a more significant impact on U.S.-Rwanda relations. Washington applied diplomatic pressure, suspended military assistance, and designated Rwanda as a hostage-taking state. This response highlights the selective nature of U.S. actions based on the international profile of the victim.

A 2022 investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed that U.S. law enforcement has been aware of Rwandan intelligence operations against dissidents like Rusesabagina since at least 2011, without reducing their bilateral aid. The recent evidence from the UN and Forbidden Stories regarding Rwanda’s support for the M23 rebellion in the DRC further complicates U.S.-Rwanda relations. While the State Department has criticized Rwanda and imposed sanctions on a Rwandan general, the Pentagon continues its military cooperation with Rwanda.

Need for U.S. Policy Reassessment

Given the overwhelming evidence of Rwanda’s involvement in supporting the M23 in the DRC, the U.S. must reassess its strategic partnership with Rwanda. Sinamenye suggests several measures, including imposing additional sanctions on Rwandan military officials involved, suspending Rwanda’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations, and ending bilateral military partnerships. A military embargo could also limit the Rwandan regime’s capacity to continue its operations in the DRC.

Norman Ishimwe Sinamenye’s article highlights the contradictions and dilemmas of U.S. foreign policy towards Rwanda. The revelations of “Rwanda Classified” demand a coherent and determined response from the United States to end the repression and regional destabilization orchestrated by Kagame’s regime. A reevaluation of U.S.-Rwanda relations is not only necessary but imperative to promote lasting peace in the African Great Lakes region.