Susan Rice. Champion of dictatorships in Africa. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jay Godwin.
We’re all on tenterhooks awaiting Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s announcement of his choice of running mate. Among those under consideration according to The New York Times, is Biden’s good friend Susan Rice, who served in various posts at the State Department and National Security Council under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
The record shows that Rice would be a terrible choice, for peace, security and human rights.
Rice’s area of specialization is Africa, and from 1993 until 2016, she defended military and development assistance to some of the continent’s most violent regimes, turned a blind eye to corruption and repression and provided diplomatic cover for horrific war crimes that led to the deaths of millions of Rwandans, Congolese, Ugandans and South Sudanese. Even when she wasn’t in government, she worked as a lobbyist for African dictators.
It started with the Rwanda genocide. As most people know, the downing of an aircraft carrying Rwandan leader Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6th, 1994 triggered nation-wide massacres, mostly of ethnic Tutsi people, mostly by ethnic Hutu gangs. About 2500 UN peacekeepers from Belgium, Ghana, Bangladesh and other countries were stationed in Rwanda when the plane went down, and ten of them, all Belgians, were murdered by the presidential guard the day after the crash. The UN pulled most of the peacekeepers out by the end of April, so that only 250 remained, and they were helpless to do anything to stop the killings.
In her memoir, Tough Love, Rice frames the UN’s decision to abandon Rwanda as the Belgians’: “Once their peacekeepers were slaughtered,” she writes, “the Belgians decided to withdraw their battalion…they appealed to the US, as a NATO ally to back their decision.”
But Belgian accounts of what happened strongly suggest the decision to pull out was primarily Washington’s not theirs. The evening after the plane crash, Belgian army Chief of Staff Jose Charlier told Luc Marchal, the most senior Belgian officer in Rwanda that Belgium was planning to ask the UN Security Council to reinforce the mission with additional troops and supplies. In his chilling memoir Shake Hands with the Devil, Canadian general Romeo Dallaire who oversaw the entire UN mission in Rwanda writes, “If we were given a new mandate and the necessary force, we might be able to get the two parties [meaning the Rwandan government and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front] back to the negotiating table.”
But six days later, Marchal was informed that the entire Belgian contingent was to be withdrawn. With the Belgians out, there was little appetite for continued intervention and other countries withdrew their contingents too, and the world looked on as the genocide unfolded.
What accounted for the Belgian change of heart? Why did a courageous stand to assist the Rwandans wither before a bunch of machete wielding thugs? Sources within the peacekeeping force indicate that in the days after the plane crash, Belgian ambassador to the UN, Paul Noterdaeme met with his US counterpart Madeleine Albright, who indicated there would be no support for a larger force, giving Belgium little choice but to withdraw its troops.
President Bill Clinton has repeatedly apologized for this disastrous decision, which is commendable, but won’t bring those hundreds of thousands of Rwandans back. The fatal decision was Albright’s and Clinton’s, not Rice’s; but as director for international organizations and peacekeeping at the National Security Council, Rice would, at the least, have been privy to the truth of what happened, and as a specialist in African studies—having completed a PhD in the subject, she might well have influenced it. The gloss in her book is a missed opportunity to reveal the truth of what actually happened.
Rice took time out from government during George W. Bush’s presidency to work as a publicist for Paul Kagame, the ruthless dictator who seized power in Rwanda after the genocide, and she has also been on friendly terms with Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi.
When Kagame and his Ugandan backer Yoweri Museveni invaded Congo in 1996, and again in 1998, launching conflicts that cost millions of lives, Rice denied that the US gave them the greenlight, even though most scholars who’ve studied the matter, including most recently, and in the most detailed way, Philip Roessler and Harry Verhoeven, suggest otherwise.
In 2012, a group of UN investigators reported that both Kagame and Museveni were backing a brutal rebel group called M23, that was wreaking further havoc in Congo. Rice, now US ambassador to the UN tried to suppress the report. Then, in 2014, she greenlighted Uganda’s intervention in South Sudan, which greatly prolonged that conflict too. In 2015, she stood in the way of a Security Council effort to place sanctions on South Sudan’s leaders which might have helped bring them to negotiating table, sparing that country years of war.
When confronted with the evidence of Uganda and Rwanda’s support for M23, Rice reportedly said, it didn’t matter if Uganda and Rwanda were supporting brutal militias in Congo, because if they weren’t, “some other group” would do the same.
The plight of Africa’s people seldom receives much public attention. This is not because the region doesn’t have enormous strategic significance; after all, it is where most of the minerals—from coltan to lithium-that go into the devices that power the global economy come from. It is because of such casually racist attitudes as this.
Africa will find peace only when powerful nations ally with the continent’s people, instead of its strongmen. But the policy blunders of Rice and others have consequences far beyond Africa, because what we do there sets the moral tone for the world. As many authors have observed, the genocide of the Hereros and Namas of present day Namibia, carried out by their German overlords between 1906 and 1918, was a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust a few decades later.
If Rice were to become US Vice President, or even President, there’s no telling what she’d do, but it would likely spell doom not only for Africa, but for all supporters of peace, justice and democratic governance.