This is the article referenced to in today’s current-affairs review, about Mbaye Diagne and his actions during the Rwanda genocide 20 years ago, when Hutu militias went on a 100-day rampage, massacring the Tutsi population. Dramatised in the critically-acclaimed film Hotel Rwanda, which highlighted the efforts of Paul Rusesabagina, this conflict is one of the reminders of the importance of UN peacekeeping efforts, and the limits of such efforts when political support and will is lacking.
While relatively rare, stories such as these show the importance at times of individual action — although (as the article makes clear) the real impact lay in large-scale action (or rather, in this case, the lack of such action) to confront the militia to save lives, his individual effort allowed many more to survive than would have been the case.
Note that the rest of the current-affairs review has been uploaded on Dropbox, as are the various slides/worksheets/notes that are/will be used in class. This is especially important for those who are missing lessons.
Other desperate Rwandans attempted to take advantage of rescue operations launched for the country’s expat community.
Ancilla Mukangira, a Rwandan working for a German aid agency, made her way to the American Club in the mistaken belief that the Americans would give her a place in one of the vehicles due to leave the country.
“I went in to register for the convoy,” she tells me outside the old club, which is today a Chinese restaurant. “But they said no Rwandans were allowed, and told me to leave.”
Ancilla was standing, crying, on the pavement outside, when Mbaye approached her.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “If they see you they will kill you.”
She told him she had been kicked out. He was appalled, and could barely believe it, she says, but then offered to help her himself.
“Mbaye was shocked by the behaviour of the Wazungu [whites],” says Andre Guichaoua, a French academic staying at the Mille Collines hotel, who got to know Mbaye well in the first few days of the genocide.
French, Belgian and Italian troops were flying into Kigali – but only to save their own nationals.
For a man who was a UN soldier this evacuation of Europeans by European soldiers was an absolute scandal.
“Because if you had put the French and Belgian soldiers alongside the United Nations troops it would have been perfectly possible to confront the army and militia who were directly involved in the massacres,” Guichaoua says.
“There was no co-ordination – and Mbaye was deeply horrified by this.”
In fact, there was very little co-ordination even within the UN system. While officers like Mbaye were bravely protecting those they could, UN bosses in New York were still arguing how – or even if – to support them. Soon after hostilities began they actually reduced the number of UN troops on the ground from 2,500 to less than 300.
The US, meanwhile, was determined to avoid putting boots on the ground. It was just six months after the humiliation of its forces in Somalia when 18 US rangers were killed in an incident which became known as Black Hawk Down.
So Mbaye drove Ancilla Mukangira to the Hotel des Mille Collines, past the militia men who were waiting at the gate to kill the Tutsis inside.
He told her to stay in his room and not open the door to anyone, returning only late at night, with an extra mattress for her to use.
“He saw me reading my Bible,” Ancilla remembers.
“He said I should pray for my country, as awful things were happening.”