Dan Sandman

27: We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

In Books, History, Non-Fiction on 05/07/2013 at 12:00 pm

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip GourevitchThis remarkable history book is about the Rwandan genocide of 1994 which lead to the killing of between 500,000 and 100,0000 (up to 14.2% of the country’s population) in a hundred days. Journalist Philip Gourevitch, writing for the New Yorker, grapples with a series of complex and shocking stories from Rwanda. The book references colonial writer’s flawed views on racial identity; Hutu Power propagandist radio broadcasts and pamphlets; quotes from soldiers working for the UN; and an international law, unanimously adopted at the genocide convention  in 1948, created to prevent another holocaust.

To the book’s credit,  every historical argument and shocking statistic is placed within the context of an interviewed survivor. The interviewees cover a range of Rwandan society including: the old woman who survived the murder of her children; the allegedly criminal priest who escaped to Texas; the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, who saved many Tutsi lives (as depicted in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda) by using his social intelligence and business skills; and, most significantly, the current president of Rwanda Paul Kagame. The interviews are handled delicately as the sympathetic yet cynical Gouravitch attempts to come to terms with his experiences.

And I think great credit should be given to Gouravitch. Not only has the American journalist gone to great depths – he spent three years compiling the research for this book – to shed some light on some very dark stories, but he has done so with the articulate prose style of a good writer of fiction. As the book references Joseph Conrad and George Elliot, we are given a literary context for the great suffering and horrific acts of the past. The reader is shown a portrait of a poor country – tragically ignored by the UN – divided by ethnicity to the point of destruction. Then the reader, who will most likely be from a safer and wealthier country, is given a harrowing account of how humanitarian aid money was used following the highly organised mass murders. As the very people who had committed the atrocities fled to the refugee camps in neighbouring Zaire to escape prosecution, aid workers were manipulated to become naive pawns within a Mafia style system. Lives were saved, but many dodgy deals were done.

To conclude, I want to tell you a story from my own childhood. In 1994 I was a nine-year-old primary school student who didn’t like dinner-ladies. They would always be shouting at children and telling them things that didn’t make much sense. I remember one day I didn’t like the over-boiled pasta that I had been given to eat for school dinners. It must have been sitting in the pot for at least half an hour which left it inflated and incredibly soggy. Anyway, the dinner-ladies would tell the kids that they weren’t allowed to throw away their pasta “because of the starving children in Africa.” I would reply to them logically arguing that “if I don’t throw away this food it’s not going to go Africa so why can’t I throw it away.” I cleverly organised a lookout system with a couple of friends. Whilst the dinner-ladies weren’t looking or were having a fag outside, we’d make a dash for the throw-away bowl. Goodbye saturated pasta!

Having now read, in great detail, about what the dinner-ladies called “the starving children in Africa” I will, if called upon, defend my actions in a court of justice.

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