In early 1994, Annan, who later became UN Secretary-General, stopped an intervention in Rwanda against preparations for genocide.
Late insight: Kofi Annan at a genocide memorial in Rwanda, 1998 Photo: ap
"Judas is dead," commented Rwandan author Gatete Ruhumuliza on Twitter on the news of Kofi Annan’s death. The former UN Secretary General’s record is discussed very differently in Africa.
While his home country of Ghana reveres him as a peacemaker and has declared a week of national mourning, Rwanda, where the UN failed to intervene against the genocide of up to a million Tutsis in April 1994 despite the presence of a blue-helmet force, remembers Kofi Annan as a failure.
This is not about his time as UN secretary-general, but about his leadership of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), responsible for blue helmets, beginning in 1993.
At the heart of the allegations is the way Kofi Annan, in the months before the genocide began, turned a deaf ear to warnings from the UN blue helmet commander in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire of Canada, about preparations for the massacres.
UN should monitor peace agreement
It was a time when a peace agreement between the government of then-Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Tutsi guerrilla movement RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) of current President Paul Kagame was supposed to be implemented in Rwanda, monitored by UN troops. The RPF was to be included in the government and in the armed forces.
Radical generals and politicians in Habyarimana’s entourage wanted to prevent this.
To this end, Rwanda’s then ruling party built up a youth militia, "Interahamwe," which was trained and equipped by the presidential guard, among others. It mobilized Hutu youth, while radical media incited against the Tutsis as the RPF’s "fifth column."
Informant Raises Alarm with UN General
On January 10, 1994, UN General Dallaire learned from a "high-level trainer" of the Interahamwe that the militia was registering all Tutsis and had created illegal weapons caches. The informant would reveal the weapons caches in exchange for protection for his family.
Dallaire sent a report on Jan. 11 to the U.N. Peacekeeping Department DPKO in New York, headed by Kofi Annan, suggesting "action within 36 hours."
"The coded reply from Kofi Annan (…) caught me completely off guard," Dallaire recalled in his memoirs. "Annan rebuked me for even thinking of confiscating the arms caches and ordered me to stop the operation immediately." In addition, the informant’s information was to be "passed on immediately to President Habyarimana."
After further futile efforts and a rejection from New York of Dallaire’s proposal to provide safe passage out of the country for the informant, Dallaire again asked Annan for the green light to excavate the arms caches-after all, "securing all weapons distributed to civilians" was part of the peace agreement.
"No, repeat, no active role."
Annan again refused on Feb. 3, saying that the U.N. mission should only support the government and the RPF in Rwanda, "but take no, repeat: no active role."
When the slaughter of Tutsis began in April, Annan’s first reaction, according to Dallaire, was to threaten to withdraw the Blue Helmets. And so it came to pass. Only later did Annan ask the UN Security Council for more blue helmets – without success.
For a long time afterwards, Annan refused to acknowledge what he had done. As late as March 1995, he wrote of UN internal warnings about Rwanda’s genocide: "We don’t recall any specific reports."
It would be years before Annan remembered and visited Rwanda in 1998 to apologize. By then, he was the UN secretary-general. To this day, Rwanda has not forgiven him.