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Steve Hege in not alone in holding fringe views on 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. Or, there is Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, whose frothing hatred of Paul Kagame is rarely far from the surface.
By Albert Rudatsimburwa, Kigali
But Hege is not some professor in a sleepy college town where he gets to peddle his oddball theories to unsuspecting or bemused students. Nor is he a lobbyist or cable news pundit who drives up the ratings with table-thumping polemics.
Hege, an appointee of the UN Security Council, is coordinator of the Group of Experts on the DRC and co-author of a recent addendum placing 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 UN and the international community backing him. This is surely not a job for an ideological warrior.
And yet Hege is exactly that.
‘Understanding the FDLR’
In 2009, while working as an associate to an organization called Peace Appeal Foundation, Hege wrote a fact sheet entitled ‘Understanding the FDLR’ in which he commented specifically on the genocidal forces who escaped into then-Zaire after killing a million of their fellow Rwandans in 1994.
He writes: "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."
Got 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. It reads: "Economic and political power remains resoundingly concentrated in the hands of the Ugandan Tutsi elite from the RPF."
Any survivor (or student) of the genocide will grimace at such loaded language. It was this notion of a ‘foreign invading force’ – Ugandan Tutsi elite – that served as rhetorical ammunition for the genocide itself. This slur is not accidental, but premeditated and profoundly chilling.
Unfortunately, Hege's disturbing and highly racialized views do not stop there. In an issues paper he authored in 2010, he wrote this about Congolese people 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 prioritizing their relationships with their fellow Congolese citizens over the economic and territorial interests of Rwanda."
These words are deeply disquieting. To Hege's mind, "they" – Rwandophone communities in the Kivus – must clear a higher bar of citizenship than their fellow Congolese. This offensive idea is central to racist 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, Hege and others cling to such views. What is alarming, however, is that Hege was decreed an ‘expert’ by the UN in a region where such views wield horrifying consequences.
Since the UN Security Council has repeatedly and unanimously endorsed a view of the FDLR at stark odds with 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. He wrote: “The FDLR 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 influence? If the Security Council was unaware of Hege's ideological predilections, how on earth did their vetting process fail so miserably?
Whatever the answers, the questions must be asked.
A clumsy UN
The UN's capitulation in the face of genocide, followed by the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (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 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 UN 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.
Everyone is entitled to his own point of view. But Hege is not everyone – nor is he 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 senior editor at the radio station Contact FM.