“ Author: Philip Gourevitch / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 10 March 2000 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Subcategory: True Crime / Publisher: Pan Macmillan / Title: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families / ISBN 13: 9780330371216 / ISBN 10: 0330371216 „
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We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we Will Be Killed With Our Families - Philip Gourevitch
I bought this book having read a number of different accounts of the Rwandan Genocide and it came up as recommended on Amazon. I actually thought it was going to be individual people's stories of their survival at the time but it is far more than that and goes far beyond just the telling of the horrors of living through the experience and surviving that time.
The title comes from a letter written by a number of priests in Rwanda who were all too aware of they impending deaths. They wrote this to their head of the church a Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana who managed to escape from Rwanda to Canada through his son's sponsorship but with a cloud over his head as to whether or not he was involved in the genocide himself. He and his son were arrested by FBI agents and tried but the book didn't say what the outcome was .
I cannot imagine how these poor innocent people must have felt knowing they were going to be killed in some horrible way imminently. It appears that many people almost became philosophical about their deaths, once it had happened they would not have to live in fear any longer.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Rwanda is a tiny landlocked mountainous country with no natural resources like gold, oil or rich minerals. The Rwandan people were very happy with one language , one faith and one law until the Europeans decided to stick their noses in. The Belgians decided to use scientific claptrap to create different tribes of people using measuring tapes and callipers. They then labelled the different 'tribes' Tutsis ( taller nobler and more aristocratic, the Hutus ( 'Course and bestial'). Apparaently a Tutsi nose was about two and a half millimetres longer than that of a Hutu. The Belgians then proceeded to ensure that the Tutsis received better opportunities and treated the Hutus as workers and almost slaves.
Still the tribes inter married and continued to live fairly harmoniously despite the colonial B Elgians best efforts. However the Hutus did become tired of being the under dogs and fought back causing many Tutsis to flee to surrounding countries.
Over the years there were times when the Hutus attacked Tutsi and then the Tutsis formed guerrilla groups outside Rwanda and came and attacked the Hutus.
THE BOOK TELLS A TRAGIC STORY
This is a very over simplified summary but I would take a book to actually give all the ins and outs. However in 1994 things took a new turn .The President Habyarimana had long not been the real power, that is said to have been his wife Madame Agathe Kanzinga who was descended from a Rwandan influential family and it was her clan who profited from any foreign aid and spied on any possible enemies and so on.
A Rwandan doctor tells the story of all this intrigue and corruption and how she managed to evade her own death only because there was another doctor at the hospital called Odette and they arrested her and killed her instead.
The actual genocide was very carefully planned and gradually the propaganda increased with Hutus being urged to 'send the Tutsis back to Ethiopia via the Nyabarongo River' and 'wipe out this scum.'
Meanwhile the United Nations sent a peace keeping force headed by Genral Dallaire but they were instructed to take no action time and time again. As the violence and tension increased Dallaire sent urgent telegrams to the UN, the President of the USA and France to say he had an informant who needed protection as he had information about plans for a mass killing of opposition leaders, he spoke of major weapons stashes and a list of all Tutsis in Kigali ready for easy extermination. Dallaire learned that Kigali was a huge weapons arms bazaar. All that happened was that but the reply came back 'Do nothing and inform President Habyarimana that he has an informant '. French planes carrying weapons arrived regularly and arms were sold openly in the markets and the government were importing machetes in numbers to supply the entire continent rather that a small country. It beggars belief really.
I found it shocking how much was known by the UN and yet still nothing was done to avert the horror. It didn't help that the USA had recently suffered a major loss and humiliation in Somalia and were licking their wounds somewhat but surely somebody could have done something. Kofi Anan had seen the fax and chose to ignore it and years later Boutras - Ghali backed his action up by saying such faxes come in daily and judgements have to be made at the time. I would have thought that a series of faxes from the person on the ground might have started to raise some sort of alarm somewhere.
Gourevitch also interviews Paul Rusesabagina the man behind 'Hotel Rwanda' and how he manged to save the people in the Hotel Mille Collines. The doctor Odette who I mentioned before was one of those in the hotel. Rusesabagina spent much of his time at night sending faxes to the President of the USA, France, the king of Belgium, the Un and yet still nothing happened. The outside world was told what was happening in no uncertain terms but they still offered no help. Eight hundred thousand people were killed in one hundred days, which is three hundred and thirty three killings every hour. That doesn't count those injured and raped. One thousand people were saved in the Hotel in that time and that is a pretty amazing achievement with no arms at all.
After the genocide sort of ended things did not calm instantly. Problems with Hutus interahamwe killers escaped into Zaire supported once again by the West. Many of these killers controlled the refugee camps and would not allow those innocent who wanted to go back to Rwanda out as it would be obvious then who were the killers. These camps were being fed by charity and ais workers but the Hutu controlled the camps and ended up with the goods.
Meanwhile back in Rwanda the survivors got NOTHING in the way of aid. No-one helped then try and sort out the chaos left behind and for years they struggled.
I found this a deeply shocking read. It was in many ways more shocking that the descriptions of what went on in the genocide. Politics and international relations are something that I do not claim to be an expert on at all but surely this mess could have been more quickly sorted out. Why were Zaire and the crazy leader Mobuto being supported by the west while Paul Kagame and his government ,who were trying to bring a country from the shock and horror of genocide being ignored? Why was money and aid pouring into refugee camps full of the Hutu killers while none was sent into Rwanda to help those that had lived through hell?
" Rwanda is landlocked and dirt-poor, a bit larger than Vermont and a bit less populous than Chicago, a place so dwarfed by neighbouring Congo ( Zaire), Uganda, and Tanzania that for the sake of legibility its name has to be printed on most maps outside the lines of its frontiers. As far as the political, military and economic interests of the world's powers go, it might as well be Mars... But Rwanda, unlike Mars is populated by human beings, and when Rwanda had genocide, the world's powers left them to it."
It is interesting that in May 1994 the US Holocaust Museum was opened at the very same time as the genocide was taking place in Rwanda. The Museum had the slogans 'Never Again' and 'Remember' and yet Rwanda was at that very time being ignored.
I am so glad I visited Rwanda before reading this as at the time it was written Rwanda was still struggling. Many people who left Rwanda before the genocide returned and tried to help out and make their country their home again. Once the refugee camps were forcibly closed many who had been killer s also returned and that made survivors nervous. No help was offered with regard to trials of those responsible but thank fully when we visited Rwanda seemed to have really moved on from the devastation. The people were delightful and Kagame may have his critics but I salute his ability to bring his country from the depths of disaster and ruin to one that appears to be moving forwards. In this he has had very little support from outside. International disaster experts who came in after the genocide said that they had never seen a country so laid to waste as Rrwanda, there was no money in the government coffer, no paper, no staples and where there were still doors there were no keys.
Kagame himself helped dig ditches and build walls in the early stages after the genocide. Crops had been ruined, building full of the dead or wrecked. There was so much to do and a population who had been through a living hell.
" Never before in modern memory had a people who slaughtered another people, or in whose name the slaughter was carried out, been expected to live with the remainder of the people that was slaughtered, completely intermingled, in the same tiny communities, as one cohesive national society."
That is what was expected when those who had been killers returned to Rwanda when the refugee camps were closed. Kagame said they were to be allowed back in and allowed to return to their former homes. I really admire the Rwandans for the ability to recover from that horror and forgive those who committed the crimes. Many have to live next door to someone they know killed friends or relatives. Many of the leaders have since been tried and dealt with but many were dealt with through the local village trials and strangely this seems to have been successful.
If you are in any way interested in African politics and history then this makes for quite eye opening reading. As I said I am so glad I visited Rwanda before reading this and know it has come through the other side as it looked very bleak even by the end of this account.
This is not an easy read as at times it is very factual and complex but the author is a journalist and writes well. He has spent a long time in Rwanda interviewing different people over the years and his knowledge is quite extraordinary.
This is no light read and its audience will be limited but I am glad I read it. I won't read it again and will be passing it to my son who is interesting in politics and international affairs. We were discussing the genocide when we were last together so I said I would post him this to Canada.
The stars are awarded for the book and how well he told the story rather than the events in the book.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.