Thursday, February 07, 2008

Boldness be my friend

Why in a world where politicians promise to "provide for us" is it possible for one hotelier to save more African lives than the whole United Nations?

The occasion of course, was the Rwandan massacre. UN redeployments into areas of "safe control" are said to have saved 20,000 Tutsi lives. Against this must be set the UN's failure to forestall the massacre despite the availablity of intelligence that it was in preparation and perverse set of orders, which, for example, mandated the abandonment of 2,000 people including hundreds of children to a drunken mob waiting outside. Whether the UN 'saved' any net lives is a question that historians will have to answer. If the Rwandan population had not been so foolish as to believe the UN would "protect" them they might have made better arrangements to fight or fly.

It's interesting how the genocideaires planned to kill Belgian peacekeepers, calculating that far from provoking a response from Europe, the murders would lead to withdrawal. This in fact happened. After 10 Belgian peacekeepers were killed in April, 1994, Belgium withdrew its contingent. The mass murderers had anticipated the modern UN psychology down to a nicety.

The tragedy was was driven by no geopolitical imperative; Rwanda was not a strategic nation. And the massacre, which could have been averted by strong leadership at any time, was punctuated by a remarkable chain of betrayals among the Africans in positions of responsibility. The administrative head of the peacekeeping mission was former Cameroonian foreign minister Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh; the Undersecretary for Peacekeeping was Ghana's Kofi Annan. The UN Secretary General was Egyptian Boutros-Boutros Ghali. And sitting in the White House at the time was America's "First Black President", Bill Clinton. If any set of leaders could have been expected to be sensitive to African needs one could hardly have found a combination better qualified from appearances. The tragedy happened at a time when Western forces were unoccupied, there being no overt military challenges to them. The Cold War was over; Desert Storm had been fought and the War on Terror had not yet begun. "President Bill Clinton later came to regret in a Frontline television interview in which he states that he believes if he had sent 5,000 US peacekeepers, more than 500,000 lives could have been saved."

These circumstances only deepen the sense of mystery over why the UN failed so badly -- and why an individual did so well, relative to his resources. Maybe because one man on the spot can act without the reference to "special rapporteurs", diplomatists, officials and the entire, clanking machinery of international bureaucry; free to exercise his initiative, intelligence and daring. In Rwanda the moment came for Paul Rusesabagina.

Paul Rusesabagina is a Rwandan who has been internationally honoured for saving over 1,000 civilians during the Rwandan Genocide. He was the assistant manager of the Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines before he became the manager of the Hôtel des Diplomates, both in Kigali Rwanda. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide Rusesabagina used his influence and connections as temporary manager of the 'Mille Collines' to shelter 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from being slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia. His story was the basis of the Academy Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda (2004). He currently lives in Belgium with his wife, children, and two adopted nieces. He drove a taxi in Brussels and after three years opened a trucking company.

Kofi Annan was UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations at the time. "The chain of events which lead up to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide unfolded while Annan was heading up Peacekeeping Operations. In his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Canadian ex-General Roméo Dallaire, who was force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, claims that Annan was overly passive in his response to the incipient genocide. Gen. Dallaire explicitly asserts that Annan held back U. N. troops from intervening to settle the conflict, and from providing more logistical and material support. In particular, Dallaire claims that Annan failed to provide any responses to his repeated faxes asking him for access to a weapons depository, something that could have helped defend the endangered Tutsis. Dallaire concedes, however, that Annan was a man whom he found extremely 'committed' to the founding principles of the United Nations."

Annan does not drive a taxi.


Blogger Fat Man said...

Doing more good than the UN is child play. The UN is a den of corruption, tyranny, Antisemitism, anti-Americanism and just plain villainy. Nothing good can come from such a slough. Time to shut it down before it does more damage.

2/07/2008 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...


The best account of how Rwanda is today and what actually happened can be found here at .

A fairly striking account. One could say that Paul Kagame and the RPF saved the most lives. By fighting to kill the killers.

Of course the UN and Annan did nothing to stop the genocide. The French were backers of it, to preserve their client state and play their games in Africa. Mitterand's son was a big smuggler with Hutu power-brokers.

Result? The RPF simply tunes out the international community, and the same will be repeated over and over and over again.

2/07/2008 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Of course the UN and Annan did nothing to stop the genocide. The French were backers of it, to preserve their client state and play their games in Africa. Mitterand's son was a big smuggler with Hutu power-brokers.

The United Nations was supposed to ensure that the bad old days of King Leopold were over, not to guarantee they could still continue. What it's interesting in this drama is how counterintuitive the casting is. The UN, a half-dozen much praised "world leaders"; a respected socialist country like France -- all the mediagenic actors really wore the black hats; or at least the dunce caps.

And do we know any better today? Isn't the UN, "enlightened Europe" and sagacity of "world leaders" often presented as the alternative to the simple rule of common sense? If the Rwandan dead are not to have perished in vain we should at least learn from their sad experience never to trust these phonies again. Alas, not.

2/07/2008 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger Starling said...

Though I don't mean to suggest there is causality, it is important to recall exactly where it was in Africa that the world's attention was focussed at the time of the Rwandan genocide: it was on South Africa.

Though the events are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath, there was a veritable orgy of glowing press in the spring of 1994 surrounding the impending election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's first black president.

Mandela was elected on April 27, 1994, about 3 weeks after the beginning of the what we later came to know as the Rwandan Genocide. Mandela was sworn in on the 10th of May and though my memory of those days is a fast fading, I recall no strong acts or statements on Mandela's part about Rwanda.

I in no way blame Mandela, he clearly had his hands full in South Africa, but I think at this time no world leader had more political and moral capital than he did, and I have wondered why he didn't spend some of it on this issue.

I do, however, point an accusatory finger at the global media who where so enthralled with the South Africa/Mandela story that they couldn't find the time to cover the greater tragedy in Rwanda. The more thoughtful among them point the finger at themselves too, e.g. Nigerian journalist and Pulitizer Prize winner Dele Olojede:

"As Newsday's Africa Correspondent, it should have been Olojede's job to report the Rwanda genocide of 1994. But then there was also the Mandela story unfolding in South Africa, where the Africa bureau of Newsday is located.

Ten years after the genocide in Rwanda, Dele Olojede remained haunted by his difficult decision not to go there as news of the tribal slaughter was emerging in April 1994.

Olojede, then Newsday's Africa correspondent, chose to continue covering the historic election campaign in South Africa that would make Nelson Mandela that nation's first black president. But the journalist always wondered what might have happened if he had been able to report on the mass killings in Rwanda as they were occurring. "Could I have helped to save some lives?" he asked himself repeatedly.

Last year, Olojede, then the newspaper's foreign editor, set out to examine how Rwandan society was coping with the fallout from genocide, from mothers raising children born of rape to Catholic nuns questioning their faith after seeing church leaders encourage a holocaust. The resulting four-part series, published in Newsday on May 2-5, 2004, yesterday won journalism's highest honor: the Pulitzer Prize.

"I couldn't make myself abandon the Mandela story. ... I could never be sure I did the right thing," said Olojede, 44, who has since left the paper. "Maybe if I had gone, only 500,000 people would have died instead of 800,000. I always felt this guilt. ... I said I have to go back."

Interesting that this journalist wonders if only 500,000 people would have died if he had acted. Clearly he doesn't drive a taxi either.

Quote taken from:

2/08/2008 04:35:00 AM  
Blogger JAF said...

I'm reminded of the British film "Warriors" (
Like Hotel Rwanda, it showed the ineptitude of the UN.

2/08/2008 05:23:00 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Mandela is a convicted terrorist bomber and murderer. It is no surprise that the media finds his elevation to South African President more newsworthy than the deaths of few hundred thousand black people.

2/08/2008 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...

The political agenda of the MSM at that time would not allow the Rwanda tragedy to be covered, when a black man was elected to the presidency of a prosperous majority-black nation, like South Africa.

Expecting Newsday to report politically incorrect news is like expecting water to flow up the hill.

2/08/2008 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

The west doesn't want to learn the lesson of Rwanda. What they want to learn and confirm is how terrible and how far away it was.

Rwanda, Sarajevo, the various suicide bombings in Iraq and Pakistan, and I suppose the tsunami in Indonesia and Thailand, end up substituting for feeding the prisoners to the lions in the Coliseum. We get the frisson of seeing the deaths without feeling bad about it. We then go home, wring our hands, feel terrible, but ultimately turn the tv off.

And secretly hope for something to happen next week.


2/08/2008 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

The west doesn't want to learn the lesson of Rwanda. What they want to learn and confirm is how terrible and how far away it was.

Whether they admit it or not, whether they know it or not, September 11 meant the end of the old habit, which you describe so well, of looking at the Third World like an entertaining ethnographic zoo.

Global trade, travel and comms mean the "ethnic studies" view of the world has to be abandoned in preference to the modes of relationship with which real men have dealt with each other through history. Economics, military science and friendship. We will hate; love; fight; trade; wonder or run for our lives. But not for very much longer can we turn off the TV.

2/08/2008 05:37:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

It's a world of laughter
- A world of tears
It's a world of hopes
- And a world of fears
There's so much that we share
- That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all

It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small, small world

There is just one moon
- And one golden sun
And a smile means
- Friendship to every one
Though the mountains divide
- And the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all

It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small, small world

2/08/2008 07:27:00 PM  

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