Twenty years ago this month, the president of Rwanda's airplane was shot down. Within hours, or even minutes, of his death, a shadowy group of "Hutu Power" extremists carried out the beginnings of a well-orchestrated plan. Roadblocks were set up around the capital and moderate Hutu leaders were murdered. The radio began rousing people to kill the "cockroaches" - the Hutu extremists' term for Tutsis.
Three months later, close to a million Tutsis were murdered, most with machetes. Half a million women were raped. Horribly, close to a million participated actively in the genocide.
The international community, famously, was either useless or shockingly complicit (French military forces aided the Hutu government). Great stories of heroism have emerged: a hotel manager, memorialized by Hollywood in "Hotel Rwanda," sheltered over a thousand Tutsis. An officer from Senegal, Mbaye Diagne (memorialized, unfortunately, by almost no one) a member of the UN's horribly underfunded peacekeeping force, saved hundreds of lives through trickery and sheer bravery.
While those stories are important and inspiring, it is equally important to tell the story of the leaders involved in the genocide, both heroes and villains.
Paul Kagame (pictured) commanded a rebel army, the RPF, which at the time was stationed in Uganda. It was horribly equipped and without a permanent home. Kagame transformed it into a highly disciplined, highly motivated, highly educated force. His focus on educating his troops was unusual. The army was a paragon of law and order wherever it was stationed.
His invasion of Rwanda was tactically brilliant. He faced a well-financed military twice the size of his army, (and included a French contingent!) and still won handily. His battles are apparently studied at West Point.
He has made the difficult transition from rebel to ruler: he is currently the President of Rwanda. But his reign has been controversial. Many praise him for helping the economy of "an impossible country" grow to be one of the strongest in Africa. Others fault him for human rights restrictions and for his invasion of the Congo.
Nevertheless, Kagame has received a fair amount of international attention for his work. What is shocking is that the mastermind of the genocide is almost completely unknown. All the other atrocities of the twentieth century have perpetrators that are household names: Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Slobodan Milosevic. But Theoneste Bagosora, who planned and executed the evil massacres of 1994, rots in prison, uncomprehended.
picture credit: ITU/J.Ohle
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