It’s a small, landlocked place in the middle of Africa with no major industries or natural resources. The Germans colonized it during the mad rush for Africa in the late 19th century and the Belgians took control from them following World War I. The policies these European powers instituted during their rule sowed the seeds for much of Rwanda’s present problems.
In order to maintain control, the Germans and Belgians formed a power-sharing relationship with the Tutsi’s (the elite cattle holding class within the Rwandan tribal kingdom) to ensure the tribal commoners otherwise known as the Hutu’s remained obedient. Over the next fifty years, this power-sharing agreement turned an otherwise innocent social class distinction into a bitter ethnic rivalry – one side fiercely fighting to keep a stranglehold on power, one side fighting for power.
When the Belgians left Rwanda in 1962, the Hutu majority overwhelmed the Tutsi minority and seized control of the country. The entire social framework followed the previous century was turned on its head and for the rest of the decade in excess of 70,000 people were killed as Hutu’s settled old scores and Tutsi’s, through terrorism and guerilla fighting, attempted to reclaim power. This small African nation became synonymous with military coups, despotism, and death.
Then in 1994, as if things could not get worse, all hell really broke loose. While flying back from peace talks with Tutsi leaders, the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down (the evidence seems to indicate that Hutu extremists carried it out as a way to generate the hysteria needed to initiate their plan to eradicate all the Tutsi’s from Rwanda). Within hours of the assassination, prewritten death lists were being carried out against Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s throughout Rwanda. Roadblocks were thrown up and by the blade of machete the hysterical slaughtering of what ended up being 800,000 people occurred over six weeks.
Read more from The Lamp Stand; Horror and Hope in Rwanda
Gen Romeo Dallaire
In January 1994, General Dallaire sent out the alarm with credible information of an impending catastrophe. The United Nations and the membership of the Security Council failed General Dallaire, it failed the people of Rwanda, and it failed humanity.
Capt. Mbaye Diagne
He was a hero.
From literally the first hours of the genocide, Capt. Mbaye simply ignored the U.N.’s standing orders not to intervene, and single-handedly began saving lives. He rescued the children of the moderate Prime Minster Agathe Uwilingiyimana, after 25 well-armed Belgian and Ghanaian U.N. peacekeepers surrendered their weapons to Rwandan troops. The Rwandan troops killed Madame Agathe (and, later, ten Belgian peacekeepers), while the unarmed Capt. Mbaye — acting on his own initiative — hid the Prime Minister’s children in a closet
In the days and weeks that followed, Capt. Mbaye became a legend among U.N. forces in Kigali. He continued his solo rescue missions, and had an uncanny ability to charm his way past checkpoints full of killers. On one occasion he found a group of 25 Tutsis hiding in a house in Nyamirambo, a Kigali neighborhood that was particularly dangerous. Capt. Mbaye ferried the Tutsis to the U.N. headquarters in groups of five — on each trip passing through 23 militia checkpoints with a Jeep-load of Tutsis. Somehow, he convinced the killers to let these Tutsis live.
Paul Rusesabagina is the Rwandan known for saving 1,268 people during the Rwandan Genocide. As the former manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda he used his influence and connections to shelter 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from being slaughtered by the Hutu Interhamwe militia. His story was represented in the Academy Award nominated, Hotel Rwanda, starring actor-gone-activist Don Cheadle.
As the country director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Rwanda in 1994, Carl Wilkens, an American citizen, refused to abandon his Rwandan colleagues and friends. His family left and all American evacuated from country whose population had turned inhuman enraged with urge to kill.
Most foreigners were taken in trucks to neighbouring countries, and Carl and his family were instructed by both the American Embassy and his superiors at ADRA to join. Carl with the help of his wife, Theresa, decided he would remain.
Through radio contact, Carl told Laura Lane, the political security officer at the American Embassy Carl said that he was sending his family over to the ambassador’s house to join the others.