Diplomats don’t like to fail. They like to concentrate on the good news, sometimes to a fault, said Joyce Leader, the former deputy chief of mission in Rwanda.
Leader, who served from 1991 to 1994, was actively involved in Rwandan peace talks aimed at resolving the conflict that preceded the 1994 genocide that led to the deaths of an estimated 800,000 people. She also assisted in the evacuation of American citizens once the genocide began.
She spoke at MU on Thursday about diplomats’ efforts to mitigate, manage and resolve conflict in Rwanda and why they failed.
“The world basically sat by and watched about a million people be slaughtered,” Robert Baum, a specialist in African religions and coordinator of the Vice Provost’s African Initiative Group, said before the event.
Long-standing tensions between Rwanda’s Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups erupted into war in 1990 when Tutsi refugees invaded from Uganda in the form of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
After a year and a half of war, the U.S. joined diplomats from Belgium, France, the African states and United Nations aid agencies, among others, to encourage the parties to negotiate a peaceful resolution. The diplomats seemed more intent than the parties themselves in implementing the resulting Arusha Peace Accord, Leader said.
“Kigali’s diplomatic core was so invested in success at Arusha that it failed to see or comprehend that it was not leading to peace,” she said.
They did not see the pitfalls in the peace agreement, Leader said, explaining it offered no incentive to the Hutu extremists who would lose power. She said the diplomats went along with the flawed agreement because they feared the talks would collapse if they re-opened negotiations. They also failed to see the signs of the Hutu extremists’ strategy.
Leader said the diplomats are at fault for not paying attention to the build-up of militia, the distribution of weapons to civilians and the hate messages broadcast over the radio. Once the genocide began, the diplomats pleaded for more of the Clinton administration’s attention, resources and involvement but failed to get it.
“America’s interests in Rwanda were minimal,” Leader said. She said diplomats failed in part because they assumed that the parties involved would implement and abide by negotiation settlements.
“Unfortunately, our assumptions were wrong,” Leader said.