Philip Gourevitch crafted his most recent New Yorker article on Rwanda, “The Life After,” with the intent of exploring reconciliation fifteen years after the genocide and his article tackles everything from gacaca courts to President Kagame to No-Longer-Rebel-Leader Laurent Nkunda.
However, in exploring the most recent developments in the Rwanda through the prism of post-genocidal reconciliation, Gourevitch gets trapped in his own narrative. Rather than connecting the dots or contending with human rights claims and diplomatic complaints, Gourevitch writes an article that sounds much more like, “I Wish to Inform You that I Really, Really Like Paul Kagame and Believe Everything He Says About Development.”
With phenomenal and deserved access to high level officials, Gourevitch joins fascinating interviews with historical fact, yet is just a bit off in piecing the story together. Nkunda personally tells him that Rwanda has no resources on its land, however Gourevitch happily champions internal Rwandan mining operations that produce ‘respectable amounts of cassertie, coltan, wolframite, and gold.’ Gourevitch takes Kagame’s claim that he doesn’t know Nkunda personally and has no real influence over him, yet simultaneously accepts that Kagame was able to call off Nkunda’s 2008 October advance on Goma with something like a text message. Gourevitch supports Kagame’s desire for peace and trade with regional partners, however doesn’t at all question his own acknowledgment of Rwanda’s role in “pillaging” of Eastern Congo. By the end of the article, Gourevitch seems more impressed with who Kagame has befriended – Rick Warren, Google CEO Erick Schmidt, and Harvard B School’s Michael Porter – rather than who he has alienated.
Gourevitch knows Rwanda well, and Paul Kagame very well. However, he falls prey to the all too common logic that post-genocidal reconstruction justifies any and all social, political, and military agenda; even if that agenda is dangerous and has proven violent in the past. His article is worth a read and interesting at that. Most importantly though, his article demonstrates how the post-genocidal optic refracts evidence to bend it in ways it shouldn’t be shaped.