During the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, President Bill Clinton and members of his administration pushed for the reduction of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda from over 2,500 troops to 270, with the remaining troops' mandate being reduced to a mere observers' role. The U.S. government evacuated foreign (read: white) personnel from Rwanda, and pretty much ensured the total success of the 100-day slaughter that occurred. President Clinton later told Rwandans that he "did not act quickly enough after the killing began" in his 1998 address in Rwanda.
President Clinton did not fail to act as he told the world then. Actually, he actively pushed for a particular course of action. The genocide began after the April 6 assassinations of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. By April 11, U.S. government and foreign personnel were successfully evacuated from Rwanda. Once the evacuations were completed, President Clinton, along with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, "visited the State Department task force in charge of evacuating American citizens to congratulate them on finishing their job." President Clinton's administration then strongly and successfully pushed for the reduction and evacuation of the peacekeeping force, by April 21, 1994.
On April 30, nine days after the reduction and complete evacuation of foreign personnel and dismissed peacekeeping troops, President Clinton acted bewildered and shocked in front of the world. In his radio address, he said, "The horrors of civil war and mass killings of civilians in Rwanda, since the tragic deaths of the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents 3 weeks ago, have shocked and appalled the world community." But in his 1998 address to the Rwandan people, he claimed he "did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which [Rwandans] were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."
On April 7, 2016, the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, former President Bill Clinton asserted that Black Lives Matter, in Africa, in one of his many responses to Black Lives Matter activists' protest over his controversial crime and welfare bills, and comments by former First Lady Hillary Clinton. The words were in reference to a Tanzanian shopkeeper who named his shop after presidential candidate, and his wife, Hillary Clinton. According to former President Clinton, the sign was in appreciation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's work in the fight against AIDS.
On the day the Rwandan Genocide is generally commemorated, former President Clinton's words rang hollow both in material and delivery. Instead, they conjured up images, of white foreigners being evacuated from Rwanda to safety at the outset of the genocide. The rest of us, the innocent civilians, were provided with neither the option of evacuation, nor the decency of protection, but were left, amidst a bloody war and genocide, come what may.
What about our black lives made them immaterial to President Clinton and his administration? The cynicism of his utterance "Black Lives Matter" in Africa juxtaposed to his administration's comments and actions goes even deeper. In discussions about whether to call the events occurring at the time in Rwanda genocide, Clinton National Security Council staff member Susan Rice, who went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and as current National Security Advisor, said, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?"
It is almost impossible to articulate the depth of betrayal felt at this profound sense of political expediency. While our lives were being slaughtered, at least somewhere in the United States, elections were being won. And in exchange, 800,000-1,000,000 casualties of black lives that apparently did not matter more than mid-term elections were lost.
Alice Gatebuke is a Rwandan genocide and war survivor, Cornell University graduate, and a human rights advocate. She serves as the communications Director for AGLAN. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan war and genocide survivor. He is the executive director and co-founder of the African Great Lakes Action Network. He can be reached via email at email@example.com, Facebook at the African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN) page, and on Twitter @AGLANglr.