A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer
MY RATING: 5/5 Stars
FTC NOTICE: Library Book
RELATED MOVIE(S): Hotel Rwanda (2004)
REVIEW: The central figure in Rwanda’s rebirth, Paul Kagame, emerged during the first decade of the twenty-first century as one of the most intriguing figures in Africa (pg. 3). “He preaches a doctrine of security, guided reconciliation, honest governance, and, above all, self-reliance” (pg. 3). Three distinct parts comprise Stephen Kinzer’s book, “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It:” colonial rule, genocide, and reconciliation. Rwanda’s current status rests in that of reconciliation. The genocides have been dated as far back as 1959, and colonial rule has been officially established as early as 1884. This time-frame may be equated with the creation of the foundation for this country’s genocide.
The “Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 had awarded Germany control over the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, which today forms the ‘twin’ nations of Rwanda and Burundi” (pg. 24). During World War I, Germany lost Rwanda to Belgium. Belgians took over and created an official, twisted classification system of segmenting Rwandans already existing tribes (Tutsi, Hutu and a minute group of Twa) into racism-based categories.
Laws passed that required Rwandans to always carry their race identification cards. Belgians placed Tutsi into power positions and the Hutu majority into, essentially, servitude and poverty. As the world social climate changed, Belgian alignment with the non-majority Tutsi did not bode well with outsiders. Belgium reduced its presence in Rwanda, placed the majority Hutu in power, and broke its alliance with the Tutsi. The Hutu utilized this situation as a time for payback; and, “the racial designation on the cards, called ubokwo, would later consign hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to death” (pg. 26).
As a child, Paul Kagame’s life was spared due to royal interference at just the right time; ultimately his family had to flee to Uganda to preserve its safety. Paul developed a close relationship with Fred Rwigyema while in a Ugandan refugee camp. At one point, Fred had disappeared to conduct a string of rebel activity for the sole purpose of overthrowing Uganda’s Idi Amin. Once this action was completed, Fred returned, reunited with Paul and shared the rebel knowledge with Rwandan exiles. This knowledge helped them envision an independent Rwanda; thus the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed.
“Most RPF leaders…grew up in Uganda, spoke English, and felt no connection to France” (pg. 95); this was opposite of Rwanda’s Hutu regime. Kinzer described how the RPF gained strength and credibility over time and that Uganda supported this group as allies. Prior to the mass genocide of 1994, Kagame negotiated a “Demilitarized Zone” created by the Arusha accords; they also mandated withdrawals of French troops coupled with United Nations neutrality, the latter two points were ones of consternation for the RPF leader. Regardless of the accords, plans continued to develop under Hutu extremists for increased killing of Tutsi. The Hutu hardliners began developing militias and a vocabulary to start carrying out the genocides; “death squads in Kigali could slaughter one thousand people in twenty minutes, kill Belgian peacekeepers (so the rest would withdrawal)…” (pg. 125). One could assert that they created a genocidal culture; it was supported by France and other countries, including the Middle East. The United Nations had no idea as to the haste and extent of the genocidal campaign. Regardless, UN troops withdrew “except for 270 whose main job was to watch the slaughter” (pg. 156).
Stephen Kinzer was thorough in interviewing an array of people familiar with the holocaust and having them define what reconciliation meant to them. It proved to be a word with much more meaning than that found in the dictionary. The word evoked an expectation of all Rwandans and perhaps the outside world as well. The author delivered well on his promise. He provided an in-depth set of lessons all rolled up into a neat package. He took readers on a visitor’s tour in between interviews and casual conversations. Quotes were well-utilized and did not detract from the intensity of neither the story of Rwanda nor the accomplishments of Paul Kagame. “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It” encompassed all of this and so much more…easily earning it a well-deserved five-star rating and a place on my “Favorites” list.