Rwanda's means-justifies-the-end logic also led it astray during the second Congo war, which began in 1998 when Laurent Kabila fell out with Rwanda, asking them to leave and eventually allying with some of the troops who had carried out the Rwandan genocide. Increasingly, as the war -- the deadliest in modern African history -- became more costly, Rwandan commanders became more interested in the spoils of the eastern Congo. Three consecutive U.N. reports have documented their profiteering. As Kabila pumped weapons and ammunition into various armed factions in eastern Congo -- including to the anti-government Rwandan rebels who hadn't been dislodged by the first intervention -- Rwanda responded with a brutal counterinsurgency operation that killed thousands of Congolese and plunged the region into a humanitarian disaster that probably killed millions. Kabila doubtless deserves a fair part of the blame for the catastrophe, but given its generous bilateral and multilateral aid, the U.S. government was in a good position to exercise pressure on Rwanda. Yet, as one official in the administration told me: "The [Clinton] administration never officially condemned Rwandan actions in the eastern Congo. Not once." When asked what role Rice played in this decision, he simply said: "She was assistant secretary of state for Africa."
Rice has repeatedly been on the record rejecting allegations of favoritism. In testimony before Congress several weeks after the 1998 war began, she said: "Mr. Chairman, let me be clear: the United States in no way supported, encouraged, or condoned the intervention of Rwandan or Ugandan forces in the Congo, as some have suggested. This is a specious and ridiculous accusation that I want to lay to rest once and for all." To be fair, while she had applauded Kigali for its economic and social progress, she had also admonished it for its internal political repression.
The question is not whether Rwanda is the Beelzebub or the savior of Central Africa; it is neither. But given the gravity of the crisis, and the significant support the United States was providing to the Rwandan government, simply giving Kigali a pass for repeated mass abuses was unacceptable and sent the wrong signal. To suggest, as Howard Wolpe, the U.S. special envoy to the region did to me, reflecting on this period years later, "We just didn't know what was going on, most of the reports about abuses were coming from the Catholic Church and we didn't know what to make of them," is not convincing. A complex tragedy deserved a nuanced response.
Until recently, proponents of constructive engagement with Rwanda could brush aside these concerns by spinning a plausible success story. But when it comes to Rwandan domestic politics, it is clear that Rice feels the positives outweigh the negatives. In a speech at the Kigali Institute of Technology last year, she said: "Over time, you have implemented enlightened gender policies, advanced new development models, insisted on clean government, and made forward-looking investments. To many Americans and other foreigners, what you have achieved in 17 short years is impressive. It gives us hope and new models."