Why No One Wants to Upset Paul Kagame

The big news out the UN today is that top UN Human rights official Navi Pillay announced she will delay the release of a controversial report about Rwanda’s actions in the Congo (then Zaire) from 1993 to 2003. The so-called Mapping Report is an attempt to document alleged atrocities that occurred during the DRC’s long civil war, of which DRC’s neighbors played a lead role.   A draft of the report, leaked last week to Le Monde, alleges that the Rwandan military committed genocide against Rwandan hutus who fled to the DRC. At the time, a Tutsi militia, led by Paul Kagame, defeated Hutu forces that committed genocide against Rwandan Tutsis.  Kagame, of course, was recently elected to his third term as president of Rwanda. 

To put it lightly, this did not go over well in Kigali.  The Rwandan government has threatened to pull its troops out of all peacekeeping missions should the final draft of the report include the genocide allegation. As the Rwandan foreign minister cynically informs Phillip Gourevitch, “If you’re going to accuse our army of being a genocidaire army, don’t use us for peacekeeping.”

This is a threat that the United Nations has to take seriously. Rwanda has over 3,000 troops deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, making it the eighth largest troop contributing country to UN peacekeeping.  Rwandans make up the single largest contingent of the peacekeeping force in Darfur–a mission that is already struggling. It is no wonder that Pillay decided to delay its release. 

This episode goes to show how relatively small countries can punch above above their diplomatic weight class if they participate in UN peacekeeping.   There is simply not a global surplus of peacekeepers.  (And African forces are in particularly high demand.)  Unless global powers raise the political cost of Rwanda making these kinds of threats, the UN will have little interest in crossing Kagame. 

To wit, here is the Secretary General responding to a question about the Rwanda issue at a press stakeout earlier today.

Q: Sylvia Westall from Reuters, I wanted to ask you about Rwanda. Could you comment on Rwanda’s threat they may pull out their troops of UN peacekeeping missions starting in Darfur if they are accused of genocide in this upcoming report and if this does happen what will the UN do?

SG: First of all, the United Nations is very grateful to such a strong support and contribution of the Rwandan government to send their men and women as peacekeepers in UNAMID in Darfur and in UNMIS in Sudan and many other places, at least five missions they they are now taking part. It is very important, and I sincerely hope that such support and contribution will continue for peace and security in the region. The peace and security in Darfur and Sudan and elsewhere has implications, very important implications, for peace in the wider region. We are going to closely coordinate and work with President Kagame. He has been leading this leadership and he has been participating as one of the very important African leaders, not only in peace and security, but also as one of the co-chairs of MDG advocacy group and I am very much appreciative of his leadership.