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USAID’s role in helping rebuild Rwanda after the genocide of 1994

Philip-Michael Gary’s career with USAID put him face-to-face with then-Vice President

and Minister of Defense of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in the aftermath of the infamous Rwandan genocide. Following the 1994 genocide, which led to the deaths of up to 800,000 Rwandans of Tutsi ethnicity, Kagame reached out to USAID to assist him in restoring order and rebuilding the infrastructure of the war-torn nation. Gary was instrumental in facilitating relations between Kagame and USAID as the two worked in tandem between the years of 1995 and 2000. (Rwanda’s de facto leader in the late 1990s, Kagame became president in 2000). Gary was recruited by USAID in 1981, and represented the organization in matters of international development during several notable events in recent world history. Such events include the Israel-Jordan Water Negotiations of 1988, and USAID’s response to the Haitian earthquake of 2009. Gary was interviewed by Carol Peasley in January 2017.

Read Philip-Michael Gary’s full oral history HERE.

“. . . the actual genocide had happened but the war to recapture Rwanda led by Paul Kagame was still in progress.”

Working with Future President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame: “In Rwanda I worked to help the government actually stand up and have the support it needed. Everything was both gratifying and developmental. It was magical. When I came [late 1995], the actual genocide had happened but the war to recapture Rwanda led by Paul Kagame [then Rwanda’s de facto leader, who became president in 2000] was still in progress. It was at a time when we were just thinking about re-establishing the USAID Rwanda mission. One of the first things they sent me out on was to go and talk to Paul Kagame about it. The current AID administrator [Gayle E. Smith] was actually there for that meeting. We went out and talked to Kagame about what is it we could do? That was the first notion that we really could build an AID mission back in Kigali [the capital of Rwanda]. One of the big concerns and, I don’t think it’s ever gotten that much publicity, one of the reasons he [Kagame] wanted the AID mission was because he really did not want NGOs. He had become wholly disenchanted with the NGO community.”

“One reason he had become disenchanted with them is that during the genocide and after it, when Kagame was still head of the Tutsi armies trying to re-establish control, he didn’t have much infrastructure. They didn’t have vehicles, communications equipment, etc. And the NGO community was, according to Kagame, very well equipped. He asked the NGO community to give him their equipment, and they wouldn’t. That one thing completely soured him on the NGOs. He felt they were doing their own thing. So he was very anxious to have an AID mission. Now, I don’t recall if he’d had experience with AID missions . . . but he wanted it and that was it. The head of the country makes life a lot simpler. Kagame believed in USAID and the development process. I can very well imagine him pulling people out of USAID into his coterie. Initially – I’ve long lost track – the development process that Kagame was trying to put in place could have been one of our programs. I mean, if we’d done a program review and said, ‘This is the way you should do it,’ it would have been real close.”

Drafted by Tyler Ventura

Table of Contents Highlights


     BA University of Cincinnati                                                                                                                        1962-1966

Recruited by USAID                                                                                                                              1981

     Sri Lanka Office of the Asia Regional Housing and Urban Development Office (RHUDO)         1982-1983

     East Africa Office, Africa Bureau-Office Director                                                                                   1995-2000

     USAID Afghanistan-Chief of Staff                                                                                                             2005-2006

     USAID/OFDA-Earthquake Recovery Team                                                                                            2009