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Anything But Ordinary
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Paul Rusesabagina
An Ordinary Man (NY:  Viking (Penguin), 2006.  207p.)

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This is the story of "Hotel Rwanda" by the central character.  Anyone who has seen that movie realizes that the book's title is only an expression of personal modesty, with which he makes the point that anyone and everyone shoudl act similarly.  This includes a brief autobiography, but primarily tells the tale of the genocidal massacres that occurred in Paul's home country of Rwanda in 1993.

The movie has vividly told the story worldwide.  Second-guessing and later international hand-wringing has led to collections appalling of details that are unbelievable in retrospect.  This book tells the story in Paul's own format and thoughts from his experience inside the events, facing death over the weeks that he used everything in his power to protect the lives of both Tutsis and Hutus marked for death by the Rwandan regime.

Documented Genocide
In 100 days about 800,000 individuals were killed in a savage, systematic government-supported ethnic cleansing that played out while the world watched and made up excuses not to get involved.  Another million fled as refugees to neighbouring countries, and most of the population of the whole country was displaced.

Rusesabagina presents important background information of history and culture and provides personal insights and analyses only an insider could provide.  He paints a 360 degree picture of the personalities and the relationships behind this atrocity.  Likewise he introduces us to many individuals and families destroyed as this culture disintegrated in these few days.

Because of his connections through his work and family relationships, Rusesabagina is in a position to provide intimate personal insights into the chilling heartless malice with which this travesty of humanity was purposely and systematically conducted.

Systematic
This campaign was planned and executed with amazing precision, planning and ingenious incision through the skillful use of radio, in the form of a new radio.  The new station was called Free Radio of Milles Collines.  Milles Collines comes from the nickname of Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills (milles collines).

This radio station opened and gained an audience initially with a music format that morphed into public discussion with background features on the state of the country and its culture.  The station, referring to itself by the French letters for its full name, RTLM, purported to alert the public to internal threats from "certain quarters."

Focus of Fear
The veiled references became more and more direct and open until this new station was rabidly calling for a wholesale public citizen's war against this purported Tutsi ethnic threat in the streets of the country.

This campaign whipped up a frenzy of fear leading to the neighbour-against-neighbour personal violence.  People in the same block viciously attacked their neighbours with machetes made available by importing literally millions of machetes from China.  The avowedly private alternative radio station which initially appeared to be opposed to the government was systematically focusing attention on the "Tutsi problem."

Purifying the Race
Initially in the guise of public discussion, the anti-Tutsi feeling rose to an amazing fever pitch, until the whole country was a tinderbox.  The tinderbox finally went up literally in flames.  Virtually the whole population left the cities and the countryside!

Rusesabagina reveals that this radio station was, in fact, owned by the president and government figures who used this channel as a powerful covert agent in their attempt to rally public focus against the Tutsi "tribe."

This venom poison raising irrational emotion against the Tutsis was accompanied by an ever more strident diatribe against the disloyal Hutus who called for peace and calm.  Thousands of these Hutus were also slaughtered by the government and the public they conned into their campaign, in a recreation of the Nazi destruction of a whole society.  Rusesabagina, a Hutu, was married to a Tutsi.  He refers to numerous other families of his acquaintance in the same situation, with spouses of the two different "tribes."

Isolating the Enemy
Families were literally torn apart as the members of the two social castes had been extensively intermarried over a period of centuries!  Tutsi children were expelled from the schools.  For these mixed marriages, it was determined artificially that the "tribe" of the children would be determined by the "tribe" of the father.  In a patrilineal society, the children are considered part of the father's clan, not the mother's.

Thus children of these "mixed" marriages with Hutu fathers were automatically Hutu.  Those with Tutsi fathers were suddenly Tutsi and out of school, out of favor and in literal danger of losing their lives!  Adults list their jobs, then their homes then their lives.  Using this tortured and irrational logic, the country was systematically torn apart, first with limited violence, then with deadly slaughter.  (See other articles on this website with historical and cultural information on the Tutsi-Hutu question.)

The chilling details are vividly and engagingly presented here with the help of writer Tom Zoellner.  Zoellner is a former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and is an author of several books.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[TXT] Tutsi and Chwezi:  History and Pre-History
[TXT] The Tutsi People – Blog
[TXT] Tutsi, Hutu and Hima Cultural Background in Rwanda
[TXT] Hima, Ham and Cush
[TXT] The Hima People of Eastern Africa
[TXT] Tutsi, Hutu and Germans
[TXT] Tutsis – the Ethiopia-Somalia Connection

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OBJ

Initial reading note written 6 February 2009
Expanded as a review article 11 February 2009
Posted on Amazon and Orville Jenkins Thoughts and Resources 15 February 2009
Last edited 29 June 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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