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.