Ideological warrior Steve Hege and his high-stakes vendetta against Rwanda

Saturday August 4 2012

Gen Bosco Ntaganda; his mutiny is said to have left a military vacuum in parts of the eastern DRC Picture: AFP / LIONEL HEALING

Gen Bosco Ntaganda; his mutiny is said to have left a military vacuum in parts of the eastern DRC Picture: AFP / LIONEL HEALING 

By Albert Rudatsimburwa

Steve Hege in not alone in holding some fringe views about Rwanda, the FDLR or post-genocide politics. Think of Peter Erlinder, the sacked law professor from Minnesota who thinks that the 1994 genocide was not really a genocide at all.

But Steve Hege is not some professor in a sleepy college town where he gets to peddle his oddball theories to bemused and unsuspecting students.

Nor is he a lobbyist or cable news pundit who drives up the ratings with his table-thumping polemics.

Mr Hege, an appointee of the UN Security Council, is co-ordinator of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo and co-author of the recent addendum that placed blame for the mess in the east of that country at Rwanda’s door.

In his hands, he has the power to pass judgment on entire governments with the authority of the United Nations and the international community at his back. This is surely not a job for an ideological warrior.

And yet Steve Hege is exactly that.

In 2009, while working as an associate with an organisation called “Peace Appeal Foundation”, he wrote a Fact Sheet entitled “Understanding the FDLR,” in which he said this about the genocidal forces who escaped into then-Zaire after killing a million of their fellow Rwandans in 1994: “Consistently linked to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the FDLR are better understood in relation to the massive revenge killings of Hutu refugees in the eastern Congo from 1996 to 1999.”

Get that? The FDLR are not perpetrators, but victims, of violent atrocities. This is textbook revisionism. Black is white. Up is down. Victim is violator.

Later in the same document, Hege leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to his views of modern Rwanda:
“Economic and political power remains resoundingly concentrated in the hands of the Ugandan Tutsi elite from the RPF,” he writes.

Any survivor (or student) of the genocide will grimace at such loaded language. It was this notion of a “foreign invading force” — the so-called Ugandan Tutsi elite — that served as rhetorical ammunition for the genocide itself. This slur is not accidental, but premeditated and profoundly chilling.

Unfortunately, Mr Hege’s disturbing and highly racialised views do not stop there. In an issues paper he authored in 2010, he wrote this about Congolese of Rwandan descent:

“... it is not enough that they just say that they are Congolese. They must demonstrate that they truly are just that by prioritising their relationships with their fellow Congolese citizens over the economic and territorial interests of Rwanda.”

This paragraph is deeply disquieting. To Hege’s mind, “they” — Rwandaphone communities in the Kivus — must clear a higher bar of citizenship than their fellow Congolese. This offensive idea is central to racial ideology everywhere, whether in the form of anti-Semitism or the persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Given the diversity of human opinion, it is not altogether surprising that, even in 2012, Steve Hege and others cling to such views.

What is alarming, however, is that Mr Hege was decreed an “expert” by the UN in a region where such views yield horrifying consequences.

Since the UN Security Council has repeatedly and unanimously endorsed a view of the FDLR at stark odds with Mr Hege’s, why appoint him to such a sensitive post?

He was certainly telegraphing his punches: in the FDLR fact sheet, he issued what now reads like a threat:  “The FDLR,” he wrote, “would rather wait for political negotiations when international opinion eventually sours on the Rwandan regime.”  

Was this strongly anti-Rwanda stance known to the UNSC? If so, was the appointment an act of provocation, aimed at elevating the FDLR and reducing Rwanda’s influence?

If the UNSC were unaware of Hege’s ideological predilections, how on earth did their vetting process fail so miserably?  Whatever the answers, the questions must be asked. 

The UN’s capitulation in the face of genocide, followed by Monusco and its dozen years of failure has already left the UN’s reputation in tatters throughout the Great Lakes region. This can only make matters worse.

The Rwandan government would be justified in calling for Mr Hege’s sacking, and for an investigation into how he was appointed in the first place given this paper trail.

It will confirm the deeply entrenched perception that the United Nations is recklessly clumsy when it comes to this part of the world, and that their attempts to save us are almost always bound to make things worse.

Like anyone, Mr Hege, is entitled to his point of view.  But he is not just anyone, and that is the problem.  Along with his colleagues, he has inflicted significant damage on Rwanda’s international standing.  

The litany of charges he compiled has directly led to the suspension or freezing of aid from the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and elsewhere.  This is a high-stakes ideological vendetta — surely undeserving of the UN’s stamp of approval.  

Albert Rudatsimburwa is a Kigali-based political analyst specialising in the Great Lakes region