Monday, August 20, 2007


Having sort of glossed over this book freshman year of college during my Nationalism course, I dug it back up whilst moving some more of my old things from home to my new apartment, and I decided to actually give it a close read. And I can't be more happy having done so.
Full of eye-witness accounts, riveting personal and political stories, informative and impartial historical accounts, and a biting wit, this book is an eye-opening and compelling account of the events surrounding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Not only does the author recount in detail the atrocities that occurred throughout Rwanda during those unimaginably bloody 100 days, he carefully analyzes the political and social implications of this event for Africa as a continent, and for the world.
Two of the points made in this book were particularly striking, perhaps because they are points that are rarely, if ever, mentioned during conversations about Rwanda, and also because they largely have to do with the aftermath of the genocide. First, Gourevitch relates, in painful detail, the extent to which the international community went, not only to avoid intervening in Rwanda, but also to harbor and take care of the genocidal refugees (fugitives?) after they were thrown out of Rwanda by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Before reading this book, I understood that the UN and other institutions merely stood by while people were being slaughtered at a rate faster than that of the Jewish holocaust. However, after the Rwandan genocide, the UN and other agencies set up refugee camps right outside Rwanda's borders. These camps hosted tens of thousands of extremist Hutus who took this opportunity to regroup, refuel, and attack Rwanda anew. The ignorance and arrogance of the international community will blow you away, and they add a very cynical undertone to the book.
The second point Gourevitch makes is that the entire continent of Africa felt profound repercussions from the genocide, and especially what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). In the face of complete apathy from the international community, African nations and leaders came together to take down destructive dictators and harmful extremists. Heroes surfaced in these circumstances, and many of them are still government leaders in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. Although this is a message of hope, Gourevitch does not whitewash his story at the end, but rather reminds us that a lot of work still needs to be done, and that, unfortunately, international powers were an obstacle to solving the political problems behind the genocide, instead of being a source of support and justice.
Philip Gourevitch is a remarkable journalist and author--one who has done extensive research, and who has the ability to capture and hold the reader's attention without resorting to the kind of sentimental rubbish that is characteristic of the kind of journalism that deals with "human interest" stories. His sources are multiple and varied, and he does not leave the reader guessing as to his historical accounts--he fills in every gap, and reinforces his opinions with evidence. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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