An intimate, one-sided view of Paul Kagame’s Rwanda in a journal of record

Judi Rever
8 min readMar 10, 2021


For decades, evidence that implicates Rwanda’s leader in crimes at home and abroad, has mounted. Yet a recent account in the New York Times Magazine portrays Paul Kagame in a favourable light, and in contrast, draws a skewed portrait of a man whose heroic acts during the genocide inspired a global audience. The coverage is reminiscent of early myths that whitewashed Kagame’s atrocities and set Africa’s Great Lakes region on a dangerous path.

In the March 2, 2021 issue of the New York Times Magazine, journalist Joshua Hammer chronicles the astonishing rise and fall of Paul Rusesabagina, a man once considered a hero for saving the lives of more than 1,200 Rwandans during the genocide, but who now faces charges of terrorism in a Kigali court.

In “He was the hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’. Now he’s accused of terrorism”, Hammer, a veteran foreign correspondent who was in Rwanda in 1994, weaves the official genocide narrative with accounts of Rusesabagina’s subsequent political activities as he became increasingly critical of Rwanda’s iron-fisted leader, Paul Kagame.

Hammer’s essential question is, “Did Rwanda change, or did [Rusesabagina]?” As Hammer sees it, the problems all lie with Rusesabagina, who was never much of a hero in the first place. Now the former hotelier may even be working with rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo bent on overthrowing Kagame. Even sources apparently close to Rusesabagina, such as Tom Zoellner, who co-wrote his autobiography An Ordinary Man, cast doubt on whether he had actually been altruistic during the genocide, or just fastidious. “I think Rusesabagina didn’t want to embarrass Sabena (the hotel’s parent Belgian company he worked for). The idea of there being bloodstains in the lobby, on his watch, played a real factor in what he did.”

Meanwhile, Hammer says the transformation of Rwanda under Kagame has been “almost miraculous,” even if “there’s no denying that the government’s commitment to democracy and civil society has been tenuous,” incidentally citing jailed journalists and opposition political candidates.

The problem is, most of Hammer’s pro-Kagame/anti-Rusesabagina sources are close to Kagame’s regime. Some, including a former UK development minister and a former Clinton Administration official are even employed by it. Hammer does interview several individuals who are critical of Kagame or close to Rusesabagina, but their comments are stripped of their context, and come off jarring and misleading.[1]

Full disclosure: I’m also quoted in the piece,[2] but Hammer discredits my 2018 book In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Random House Canada 2018), as bolstering what he considers conspiracy theories concerning crimes committed by Kagame’ ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). These include the deployment of death squads that, according to UN agencies and other sources, have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hammer is entitled to his opinion about whether Kagame is a good leader and whether my own reporting on Kagame’s death squads is convincing. However, when he and I spoke, he admitted to me that he had not actually read my book. Had he done so, he would have learned that it is based on more than 200 interviews with Hutu survivors, former RPF soldiers, missionaries, contextual witnesses, UN officials and testimonies collected by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which are now online.[3] These sources, including Kagame’s former RPF colleagues, described to me in detail how RPF units chased, shot and hacked to death Hutu peasants in areas under RPF control during and after the genocide. Numerous former RPF soldiers told me, independently, that RPF intelligence agents and political cadres rounded up Hutu civilians, loaded them by the hundreds onto trucks and brought them to a park in eastern Rwanda where they were killed and burned. A more detailed account of these operations, with references, can be found in chapter 7 of In Praise of Blood.

After years of research, I’ve concluded that the RPF committed genocide against Hutus, according to the official UN definition.[4] This is hardly a conspiracy theory. British judge Douglas Marks-Moore, who provided legal counsel to a team of ICTR investigators probing RPF crimes, stated that Kagame’s troops committed genocide against Hutus, albeit on a smaller scale than the genocide against Tutsis carried out by Hutu forces.[5] Kagame’s former colleague, Theogene Rudasingwa, who headed the RPF’s political secretariat in 1994, also told me that RPF senior commanders and cadres committed genocide against Hutus, killing hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians during and after 1994 — in parallel to the genocide against Tutsis. Moreover, Robert Gersony, a refugee consultant who conducted an on-the-ground investigation for the UN, reported widespread, sustained and systematic killings of Hutu civilians.[6] Gersony maintains, to this day, that the RPF killed Hutus on a “large-scale, in an organized and premeditated way.”[7]

Hammer portrayal of former US ambassador to Burundi in 1994, Robert Krueger further demonstrates the selective nature of his research. Hammer regards Krueger’s claim that Kagame is “the most murderous dictator in all Africa”, but then doesn’t mention that Krueger also collected detailed, chilling contemporary first hand accounts of RPF massacres of Hutus and land seizures in 1994. Hammer suggests that Krueger’s wife Kathleen’s claim that the RPF committed a countergenocide is a far fetched conspiracy theory, with no evidence to back it up. Yet ambassador Krueger’s diplomatic cables providing evidence of these crimes have been online for years.[8]

Hammer also fails to mention RPF atrocities tabled in the UN’s 2010 Report detailing serious human rights violations in Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003.[9] Known informally as the “Mapping Report, it provides examples of numerous massacres of innocent Congolese and Rwandan refugees by Kagame’s forces. These accounts are very similar to the testimonies I collected independently, both in Rwanda and in Congo in 1997. All told, there are literally hundreds of eyewitness reports of mass killings by Kagame’s forces before, during and after the genocide. The idea that Hammer and the Times would dismiss all this and claim that Kagame has stabilized Rwanda and stopped the violence is an insult to the memories of his victims who have been estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands in Rwanda alone.[10] In Congo, more than five million civilians had perished from violence and war-related disease according to a survey in 2008, largely because of violence committed by Kagame’s forces or proxies backed by them.[11]

Hammer writes that as Newsweek’s Nairobi bureau chief, he had an “intimate view of the violence” during the Rwandan genocide. In reality, it was an embedded view. In a July 1994 interview with Charlie Rose, Hammer admits that he was escorted around Rwanda by the RPF,[12] which was known to have cleverly monitored and influenced Western journalists.[13], [14] Throughout that interview, Hammer insists that the RPF was a largely disciplined army that didn’t harm Hutus, and that Tutsis were the sole victims of the violence committed by Hutus. Then Rose segues to two reports from ABC and NBC correspondents in which numerous Hutu refugees tell the reporters that they witnessed attacks by the RPF[15] — seeming to contradict Hammer. After the clip, Rose asks Hammer “who are the good guys, who are the bad guys?” Hammer declares: “From watching the report you do get the feeling that all these people (Hutus) who are fleeing have been victimized. They’ve been killed. They’ve watched their family members dying. The point to make is that these people are Hutus. The ones who died are Tutsis.” Could Hammer’s insistence on the RPF’s innocence be explained by the fact that he had been escorted around Rwanda by the RPF, and had not bothered to listen to the other side of the story? And might he be making the same mistake again, in his New York Times Magazine piece, “He was the hero of Hotel Rwanda. Now he’s accused of terrorism”?

Hammer also fails to note that two of his pro-Kagame sources are on Kagame’s payroll: British MP and former UK Development Minister Andrew Mitchell,[16] [17] and Pierre Prosper..[18] As US Ambassador for War Crimes in 2003, Prosper negotiated a deal in which the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed over jurisdiction for prosecuting RPF crimes to Kagame’s own government — allowing the criminals to investigate themselves, and granting Kagame de-facto immunity for war crimes.[19] Pierre Prosper also happens to be Kagame’s personal lawyer.[20] Why didn’t Hammer mention this?

Hammer’s decision to investigate Rusesabagina’s story primarily in Rwanda, where Kagame was re-elected with 99 percent of the vote in 2017, raises serious concerns. In a country where violence and fear are rife, anyone can be encouraged — under duress, threats or given enough financial incentives — to say anything. Hammer says he was struck by the consistency of the denunciations against Rusesabagina. But in a country that is not free, he should have expected nothing less.

[1] See letter to the New York Times from Brian Endless, who is quoted out of context in Hammer’s article.

[2] Hammer interviewed me for this piece but the conversation was disconcerting. He wanted me to confirm a paragraph he had written describing RPF’s killing methods in my book. The description he read to me, however, was inaccurate and misrepresented my findings. I politely corrected him and briefly described the evidence I had collected. When the fact checker followed up with me a week later to confirm how Hammer had edited the paragraph citing my book, I suspected that Hammer had not listened to what I had told him. I corrected the fact checker and gave another quick rundown of my research, in two or three lines. Then, apparently Hammer made another round of edits that did not reflect what I had told the fact checker. At that point I was became worried about being misquoted. During my second conversation with the fact checker I told him that Hammer had likely lifted a factually incorrect paragraph from an article about my book from a pro-RPF writer/propagandist. I then explained, again, the substance of my work. I nervously followed up with an email to both of them, offering excerpts from my book.

[3] Top-secret testimonies implicate Rwanda’s president in war crimes, see


[5] See chapter 11, In Praise of Blood


[7] Kaplan. “The Good American” pg 323

[8] See cables Atrocities Perpetrated or Permitted by RPF Forces in Southern Rwanda and Burundi 169229.pdf


[10] Journal of Genocide Research, Volume 22, 2020

[11] New York Times, “Congo’s death rate unchanged since war ended,” January 23, 2008

[12] See from 12’45”

[13] New York Times, “Rwanda Rebels : Army of Exiles Fights for a Home,” June 9, 1994

[14] See page 2 of Krueger’s diplomatic cables, cited above.

[15] See from 19’45” of Charlie Rose interview

[16] The dictator who fooled us by Ian Birrell, see

[17] Kagame’s British Propagandist, Mitchell Earns US$55,802 Annually from Rwanda as Senior Advisor on African Matters


[19] See memo from Pierre Prosper

[20] Reuters, “US court dismisses lawsuit against Rwanda’s Kagame,” October 29, 2011,