Monday, May 16, 2005

Hotel Rwanda and Eastern Congo

Last night was film night at the MONUC (this is the name of the UN mission here) headquarters. After some debate, the people who choose the movie decided on Hotel Rwanda. This movie concerns a hotel manager in Rwanda who saves the lives of more than a 1,000 people during the 1994 genocide. It was very intense.

I was very happy to see a big screen adaption regarding the Rwandan genocide. For better or worse, it provides a more accessible medium for people to comprehend what happened in this part of the world (Rwanda is on the Congolese border). From the documentaries that I have seen and books I have read, I can attest that there are no exagerations in the film regarding the genocide itself (though the portrayal of the rebels as heroes is a bit of an exageration: they are responsible for many reprisal killings later).

What makes the film particularly interesting is that I was watching it in the eastern part of the Congo. At the end of the movie, you see thousands upon thousands of people walking. A total of one million people (belonging to the ethnic group leading the genocide) fled Rwanda because they either took part in the genocide or were afraid of revenge. These people went into the eastern Congo. The armed movements leading the genocide began regrouping and starting more attacks into Rwanda from the Congo, while mixed in with legitimage refugees. When no organization or government separated the militants from the refugees, Rwanda invaded and did it themselves. With support from their neighboring countries they took down the government of the Congo. If you look at a map, the Congo looks to be at least 50 times the size of Rwanda. Pretty incredible. But the Congolese leader had not been paying the army in years so they had no reason to fight for him. The leader Rwanda installed turned his back on them and allied with the groups behind the genocide, who were still milling around the Congo. So Rwanda invaded again. The town I am in was taken over by the Rwandans but then they were beaten back my local militia. The Congo became a battle ground for any country or group that had a conflict to sort out, or just people taking advantage of the chaos. And it all stems from the Rwandan genocide.

The leader installed during the war was assassinated by one of his body guards, and his son took over. Following peace agreements, a transitional government was established with one president (the son) and four vice presidents from the various rebel factions and political groups. As I've said, elections are supposed to happen at the end of June but that's not likely.

Anyone interested in reading about the genocide (fun, I know) should check out "We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed Along with Our Families" (its in the former pink room, if anyone in my fam wants to grab it). "In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz" is by far the best read on conflict in the Congo. It is estimated that 3 million people have died in the Congo as a result of the war here (most not from direct conflict, this includes disease outbreaks in camps and other factors). That's more than three times the number who perished in the Rwanda genocide.

I promise a more cheery post next time!


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