The book offers a detailed description of the events that took place in the 1994 Rwandan genocide as told by the survivors of the massacre. According to Gourevitch (339), the genocide did not take the locals by surprise because there was every indication that a major war would inevitably break out. The author retells the ordeal of those who survived the tragic war period. He also reflects on the gist of the massacre throughout the book.
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Gourevitch derived the title of the book from the letter that was written to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s president by the name Elizapham Ntakirutimana. The pastor was the head of operations of the church in the western parts of Rwanda. The letter was addressed to the pastor from other SDA pastors who were part of the Tutsi refugees in Kibuye prefecture within the neighborhood of Mugonero (Gourevitch 347).
According to the author’s account of the events that took place after he received the letter, he must have significantly contributed in the mass killings that occurred the following day in the complex where the Tutsis were taking refuge. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda later convicted Ntakirutimana for crimes against humanity. The author doe not merely give account of the survivor’s experiences, he also document details on the genesis of the genocide including some of the factors that aggravated the situation.
The Rwandan genocide clearly reminds me of what the world has witnessed in young democracies whereby negative ethnicity is used by tribal chiefs to ascend to power. Perhaps, Africa was never ready for democratic form of governance. The Hutu’s and Tutsi’s had lived harmoniously as brothers and sisters but were separated later by ethnic identity.
Gourevitch is quite categorical that Rwanda has a historical perspective of stereotyping and demonization the Hutus and Tutsis. However, I do not think that the aforementioned vices could have escalated the violence to that level.
For example, the author notes that hate speech in the media was promoted by Rwandese government courtesy of RTLM station which demonised the Tutsi by spreading propaganda about the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The latter claimed the Tutsi’s were devils who were horrible to their victims and also claimed that all Tutsis were RPF members.
A faction of the Hutus formed the government. Some of them promoted the use of anti-Tutsi rhetoric for their own gain (Gourevitch 326). An example of such prejudice was the ‘Hutu’s ten commandments’ which were published in the journal Kangura and consisted of such sentiments as “any Muhutu who marries, makes friends with, or employs a Tutsi woman as secretary or concubine will be considered a traitor”(Gourevitch 321).
Furthermore, the United Nations operations in Rwanda before and during the genocide were largely controlled by both the US and UK. These nations were always considered to be opportunists since they were determined to interfere with the local forces.
Although the author has given first-hand account of the genocide as well as his personal reflection, it appears that the cause and progress of the genocide have not been brought out clearly. Describing the horrible event is one thing while expounding the motivations behind the killings is a completely different aspect. Moreover, he has not given adequate focus to the country’s history. Therefore, the complexity of the circumstances that led to the genocide has not been given a proper portrait in the book.
Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. New York: Picador, 1998. Print.