It’s so sad to realize I’m in Kigali International Airport on the way home from Africa. On balance, I think I was drawn as much to Rwanda as to Uganda in the end.
I was able to overcome the hotel without (hot)water and electricity, the absolutely miserable food, and the inevitable dust because Rwanda, like Uganda, can teach us so much about the power of family, community, and the human spirit.
After driving through some of the most beautiful farmland I have ever seen, all of it terraced and under cultivation because the country is densely populated and small in area, we entered the capital city of Kigali.
You can see the influence foreign aid ( let’s call it guilt) from the developing nations has had on Kigali: there’s lots of new construction, both commercial and residential. We went immediately to the Genocide Museum, which was (of course) financed by the Belgian Goverment and the Clinton Foundation among others.
The Belgians were the colonial power that promoted the differences between Hutus and Tutsis in the first place, issuing identity cards in 1932 that demarcated them by caste. Tutsis were taller, so the Catholic colonial government thought they would make better leaders. Unfortunately, they were a minority, and didn’t fare too well after Rwanda gained independence in 1962.
It was a pretty big mess even before the 1994 genocide, but when a million Tutsis were murdered in 100 days –with little interference from Kofi Annan OR Bill Clinton–we hit a new low in civilization. The Museum showed us mass graves, faces of slaughtered children, videos of tortured survivors, and memorial gardens all at once. Every one of us emerged crying. No wonder Bill Clinton has financed this memorial. I think of him as a very compassionate person, and I suspect he was just too new on the job to understand what was really happening in a little country so far away. In 1994 in America it was still “the economy, stupid.”
If you have not seen ” Hotel Rwanda,”you must. It is based on the true story of the Hotel Mille de Collines in Kigali, whose manager savewd 1000 people by hiding them inside the hotel. Paul Rusesabegina was (and still is) a Hutu married to a Tutsi, a hero to his people.
As a people, Americans have traditionally turned a blind eye on events in Asia and Africa until they hit us in the face. After all, pre-Internet they were pretty far away unless you like big animals or fine rugs.Asia now has our attention because of its growing economic power and its ability to make nuclear weapons. Africa will get our attention, too, and I just wonder how that will happen. I know that it will, because I sat next to many young people in Internet cafes across the countries I visited who were writing letters to friends across the world. The message is getting out.