Small Wars Journal

Book Review - A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth...

A review of:

A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It

By Stephen Kinzer, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Inc, 2008.

Reviewed by:

Thomas (Tom) P. Odom

LTC US Army (ret)


Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda

President Paul Kagame is a man who inspires a wide range of emotions in those

who meet him. Some like me admire him.  Others despise him. A former US Ambassador

to Burundi described him as "Svengali or perhaps Mephistopheles--some magician or

sorcerer."[1]  Certainly many in

French diplomatic circles see him as the devil clothed in Anglophone robes. 

In the Africanist analytical world, he is either Rwanda's greatest hope or its mortal

danger. Certainly his enemies have reason to fear him even as his friends love him.

Both enemy and friend know that the wise respect him. 

I first met then Vice President and Defense Minister Major General Paul Kagame

in the fall of 1994 when he was struggling to put the shattered country of Rwanda

back together.  Some were want to describe him as a "war lord" even as one

could buy T-shirts with his picture on them with the phrase "Free at Last!" at Kigali's

international airport.  General Kagame was serious, determined, and it was

clear that he was a strong man.  What remained to be seen was whether he would

become another "Big Man" in African politics or rise above that label to be a truly

great African leader.

Like no other author so far, Stephen Kinzer offered us a peek inside the complexity

named Paul Kagame. Kinzer enjoyed unprecedented access to the President of Rwanda

and provided a colorful and insightful biography of the man.  Like any good

interlocutor, Kinzer understands that listening is best technique for the interviewer. 

He offers Kagame's own words to the reader allowing the subject of this biography

to speak on his own behalf. That is not only fair, it is probably critical to understand

this man who spent much of his life fighting the status quo--and ultimately winning.

According to Kinzer, Kagame's early life as a refugee in Uganda hardened him

into the typical angry young man found in a life surrounded by poverty.  Early

on in his youth he became friends with Fred Rwigyema. Together they later would

become co-founders of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.  But first they would join

Museveni's 40-man National Resistance Army in Uganda and overthrow Obote. When Rwigyema

fell in the first few days of the RPF's 1990 invasion of Rwanda, Kagame resigned

from the US Army Command and General Staff College to take command and reorganize

the RPF.  He and the RPF went on to win a military victory they did not really

desire, sparking a genocide for which they could not be blamed.

Despite Kagame's military prowess, I found Kinzer's chapters on the post-war

period from 2000 on to be the most illuminating because they concentrate on Kagame's

role as President of Rwanda.  At the same time, they provide great hope for

the country's future and portents of possible disaster.  President Kagame is

indeed Rwanda's greatest hope.  At the same time, he is his own greatest nemesis. 

With a view to balance, I would offer a few criticisms. First in describing the

Goma portion of Operation SUPPORT HOPE, Kinzer echoes Major General Dallaire in

saying that the US put 4,000 troops on the ground in a matter of days.  Fewer

than 200 US personnel ever landed at Goma, including but a single platoon of airborne

infantry.  The remainder of the troops under then Brigadier General Jack Nix

focused on water purification and transport.

Secondly I would say that Kinzer downplays or misses three key events in 1995

that drove the Rwandan invasions of Zaire in 1996 and 1997. Kinzer does mention

the disastrous camp clearing operation at Kibeho in April 1995.  My RPA counterparts

warned me clearly they would do the same in Goma.  Kagame said the same thing. 

I wished that Kinzer had questioned him more closely about the decision to clear

the camp at Kibeho. Next I would say was the expansion of Hutu extremist attacks

against Tutsis living in Zaire; I have long looked at that as a trigger event for

the decision to go into Zaire in the next year.  Again, I would have liked

to hear from Kagame in that regard. Finally, Kinzer misses the Iwawa Island operation. 

The senior leaders of the RPA saw the clearing of the militia base as proof that

their enemies were rearming.  Kagame must have seen it as the final opportunity

for the world to do something about the camps.  

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Africa, small wars, reconciliation,

and development.  Kinzer's prose is easy to read and entertaining. His narrative

is insightful.   The Paul Kagame I knew came to life when I read this



[1] Ambassador Robert Krueger

and Kathleen Tobin Krueger, From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi: Our Embassy Years during Genocide, Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2007,

page 109.


NYAGATOMA K. ANTOINE (not verified)

Fri, 02/25/2011 - 12:36pm

Thousand Hills, its interesting and inspiring book especially for young generations who intends to do good things to this world and help the world to live a free life. Stephen Kinzer, really conducted a thorough and analytical reaserch to HE Paul Kame who brought back the value of his countrys's history. HE Paul Kagame amended the broken life of his country and more especially healed the hearts of Rwandan people. If your want to know the dream of past leaders of his generation if its still alive. HE Paul Kagame is the role Model.I recommend all generations to read this book,young,old, reach and poor to understand true road map to the current revival life of Rwandan society.