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.
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." 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
 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,