Overview: We wish to inform you...

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda - Book overview written by James Lehman.

Author Phillip Gourevitch, staff writer at The New Yorker and contributing editor to the Forward, reports from most of the world, but especially from Asia, Africa and Europe. Gourevitch traveled to Rwanda multiple times, in order to gather information for putting this book together.

The “Stories from Rwanda” are of the horrible genocide that took place in this small African country in 1994. The genocide involved two African tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Beginning in April of 1994 and ending only ninety days` later, just under a million Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu majority, making this event the largest genocide since the Nazi extermination of the Jews during World War II. The book is divided up into three sections: before the genocide, during the genocide and finally, after the genocide. Many testimonials, from the different groups/individuals/nations, are included.

In the first part of the book Gourevitch provides a concise history of Rwanda leading up to the genocide. Rwanda was colonized by the Belgians and it was the Belgians who claimed that the majority Hutu population (80-85%) was inferior to the minority Tutsi population (15%). The Belgians believed that the Tutsis were more closely related to Europeans. This led the Tutsi population to gain control over the Hutus; having the best jobs, living in the nicest houses and benefiting from a higher social status. After World War II, pressure was put on many nations to allow their colonized countries/regions to become democratic nations. In July of 1962, Rwanda gained its independence. When this took place, the Hutu majority immediately gained control of the country and began ostracizing the Tutsis. By 1964 one quarter million Tutsis fled Rwanda. Many of these exiles joined the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which became the biggest opponent of the Hutu regime in Rwanda. President Habyarimana began ordering attacks on the Tutsi population throughout the 1970’s all the way up to the 1990’s. Killing Tutsis became a norm in Rwanda, and in the author’s words, “…killing Tutsis was a political tradition in postcolonial Rwanda…and it brought the people together” (p.95).

The second part of the book documents the genocide itself. On April, 6 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and he was killed. The Hutus blamed the incident on the RPF and promulgated the belief that every Tutsi was involved with the RPF. The Tutsis became the scapegoats and almost immediately the slaughter began. Hutus were encouraged and even forced to go out and murder as many Tutsis as they could. As one Hutu stated, “many killed to save their own lives” (p.127). Within three months nearly a million Tutsis were slaughtered, along with some Hutus who did not agree with the tactics. Throughout this period the international community remained reluctant to become involved. The UN even had peacekeeping forces in the region; however they were barely used and were not reinforced despite General Romeo Dallaire’s call for more troops and assistance. (General Dallaire was head commander of the UN peacekeeping force – Read more about his story in the book review of Shake Hands with the Devil on this website.) Many countries, including the United States failed to recognize the atrocities as genocide. The genocide finally came to a halt when the RPF gained control of the country.

The final part of the book describes the aftermath of the genocide. One particularly disturbing fact is the negative role that the international community had on the region in the relief efforts. Many organizations helped the “genocidaires”, by providing them safety, food and comfort. This allowed them to regroup and even continue their terror on Tutsis in Rwanda and surrounding countries, such as Zaire. The region is still unstable and facing some very difficult times. The author makes it clear that much of the world just wants Rwanda to move on and forget about the genocide; however, Rwandans themselves are struggling with living next door to the same individuals who tried to kill them and their family. As one Tutsi survivor states, “the horror that we saw is intrinsic” (350).

This book provides quality information and historical context for Rwanda. Like all genocide, historical context is crucial in order to fully understand how genocide took place. For example:

“Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building… and while genocide may be the most perverse and ambitious means to this end, it is also the most comprehensive…In fact, the genocide was the product of order, authoritarianism, decades of modern political theorizing and indoctrination…The specter of an absolute menace that requires absolute eradication binds leader and people in a hermetic utopian embrace, and the individual---always an annoyance to totality---ceases to exist.

The mass of participants in the practice massacres of the early 1990s may have taken little pleasure in obediently murdering their neighbors. Still, few refused, and assertive resistance was extremely rare. Killing Tutsis was a political tradition in postcolonial Rwanda; it brought people together (95-96).”

Chapter nine provides a twenty page description on the outbreak of the genocide. Here is a sample:

“We will kill you.” With the encouragement of such messages and of leaders at every level of society, the slaughter of Tutsis and the assassination of Hutu oppositionists spread from region to region…Neighbors hacked neighbors to death in their homes, and colleagues hacked colleagues to death in their workplaces. Doctors killed their patients, and schoolteachers killed their pupils. Within days, the Tutsi populations of many villages were all but eliminated…Drunken militia bands, fortified with assorted drugs from ransacked pharmacies, were bused from massacre to massacre. Radio announcers reminded listeners not to take pity on women and children (114-115).”

There are several passages that deal with the aftermath of the genocide, particularly chapter nineteen. For example:

"Never before in modern memory had a people who slaughtered another people, or in whose name the slaughter was carried out, been expected to live with the remainder of the people that was slaughtered, completely intermingled, in the same tiny communities, as one cohesive national society (302)."

This book can also be tied in with excerpts from the movie Hotel Rwanda. Many of the testimonies and stories in this book follow along with the characters in the movie. Personally, this reviewer considers this book a fascinating book that will stick in the minds of all readers and especially, all students.