APRIL 15, 2018


In a symbolic coincidence, on the anniversary of a tragic Rwanda massacre, its current President, a Tutsi, Paul Kagama, took over as President of the African Union. Also, coincidentally, former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, introduced a new book on fascism to a New York audience, where she seemed to rewrite history regarding the massacre's narrative. When asked specifically about Rwanda, which took place while she was U.S. Representative to the U.N., Dr. Albright went into details about other happenings in Somalia (Black Hawk Down), Bosnia, and other situations, to present an image of confusion. What actually happened was quite different.

There are several books to prove otherwise, including one Pulitzer Prize winner by Samantha Powers, who ironically became U.S. Representative to the U.N., after joining the Obama Administration. Ms. Powers eventually worked closely with Mrs. Susan Rice, whom she had singled out in the book as an "Africa Desk Officer" in the White House who blocked an intervention in Rwanda. There is also a clear mention of Dr. Albright's unhelpful stance, although, to her credit she refused instructions from Washington, D.C. to cancel the U.N. Mission Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and negotiated a compromise Security Council resolution. Regrettably, with her book presentation, Dr. Albright twisted the blame to the U.N. vs the U.S., where she actually played an active role in blocking preventive action by the U.N. Chief Peacekeeper on the ground.

"Lessons Learned" was an initiative by then-Peacekeeping Department Head, Kofi Annan, in close collaboration with the Head of the Department of Information, Samir Sanbar, to explore what could practically be done to avert tragic failure. There were some positive results, yet certain obvious failures. Rwanda, with over 800,000 victims, was a clear example. A number of books, including Powers', clearly pointed out a political decision by U.S. President Bill Clinton to block any action aimed at preventing the massacres, despite repeated requests to allow preventive intervention by the U.N. General Romeo Dallaire, stationed in Kigali. The Canadian General repeatedly called New York seeking authority to arrest local instigators preparing for it, telling some colleagues that he is seeing nightmares.

This year's anniversary could be an occasion, certainly not to dwell on the past, but to prepare for a better future. Meanwhile, it is important to stay with the facts, avoid turning history into an exercise in public relations, and really draw from some lessons learned.