Recent Books on Rwanda

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

Recent Books on Rwanda

cover art for A Thousand Hills by Stephen KinzerIt seems to me that people cannot look such terrible events as genocide in the face. They have to approach traumatic events from a more humanitarian angle that makes the harsh reality more palatable. The recent popular film Hotel Rwanda focused on the inspirational story of the rescue of a Tutsi population and foreigners residing in a Luxury Hotel from the marauding gangs of killers during the genocide. In this particular Rwanda is fortunate for having an inspirational story in the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. Paul Kagame’s biography is the story of Rwanda and its neighbors through the past twenty years through the Hutu domination of Rwanda and the exile and persecution of the Tutsi population. Kagame started life as a Tutsi exile in Uganda who prepared himself for leadership and eventually led an army into Rwanda to take control during the political chaos of the genocide of 1994. He also led the early government in Rwanda that sought to reconcile the ethnic groups in one government that could pick up the pieces.

Nevertheless, the lasting effects of the genocide have to be dealt with. In 1994, nearly a million Tutsi were slaughtered by their Rwandan friends, neighbors and, in some cases, relatives who were members of the Hutu tribe. European leaders quietly observed the slaughter and may have even contributed to it. Most notably, the U.N. failed to intervene on any level to save lives and the U.S. simply ignored the slaughter.

The Author of A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man who Dreamed It, Stephen Kinzer, tries to tell the entire story of Rwanda from the beginning with Paul Kagame as its hero. It's a difficult story of the slow build up to hatred and mass murder and one that deserves the attention of a world that looked the other way while it was happening. Many of our international leaders have used the word "genocide" often without looking into its real meaning. However, the details of the events of that year in Rwanda show all the horrible aspects of this kind of event. The use of that word can only take on its full meaning when one looks at the realities of a civil war and an internal policy of systematic hatred of an ethnic enemy intended to unify a fraying central government. Kinzer effectively uses the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame to tie together this half-century history of the nation. In this bestselling book author and journalist, Stephen Kinzer, not only recounts this shameful event in vivid detail but he also provides the valuable back story. Most significantly, he outlines the startlingly inspirational recovery that Rwanda has begun during the decade or so since the genocide.

Kinzer’s main focus is Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda who led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in its war against the Rwandan government beginning in 1990 which both sparked and eventually put an end to the genocide. Any book about the last quarter-century of Rwandan history could not help but focus on Kagame. He has dominated the picture with his leadership. It is clear Kinzer is taken by Kagame’s disciplined and business-like manner, his sharp focus on problems, and his ability to get things done despite the odds. In his estimation, Kagame is an outstanding leader who has brought possibility out of chaos and horror.

Cover art for Paul Kagame and RwandaPaul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front by Colin M. Waugh is another very thorough examination of the career of Paul Kagame and the devastation of the genocide. In this book we get a very clear view of the difficulties of life as an exile and the growing hopes for a revival of his country. We learn about the very clear headed and cautious style of leadership of Kagame and reasons why he was so successful. By bringing discipline and reason into Rwandan government Paul Kagame was able to bring the country into the light. It is an inspirational read about what is possible with vision and just leadership even in the most difficult circumstances. This book adds many details to the story of the major decisions of President Kagame and how these wise decisions reconciled communities in conflict and gave hope to the people. This is the kind of inspirational story that people want to read and that adds to their lives. Darkness alone doesn’t sell. But that is for a good reason.