Do Not Disturb | Michela Wrong

Books | Review

non-fiction | journalist | politics | rwanda | africa

First published 2021

In 2014, Patrick Karegeya was murdered in a hotel room in South Africa during the World Cup. A childhood friend of Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, Patrick was assassinated for being a political dissident and opponent of Kagame's regime in Kigali. Wrong describes Kagame as a brutal dictator, shattering his international image as a progressive African statesman and a darling of Western leaders and international aid donors.

Wrong is a specialist on the East Central Africa region, having reported for various news agencies over the past 20 years. This book provides an in-depth look at modern Rwanda and how it got to where it is today. She explains the region's complicated past, including the ethnic identities that the Belgians and Germans forced the Tutsis and Hutus to recognise through the introduction of ID cards. The Belgians favoured the Tutsis, who they believed were of better stock and higher intelligence than their Hutu countrymen, until fears of a Marxist revolution among the Tutsis led the Belgians to swap their preference to the Hutus. This led to pogroms against the Tutsis and the abolition of the Tutsi monarchy, causing the marginalised Tutsi to flee to neighbouring countries, particularly Uganda.

This is a region that few people know anything about, apart from the Rwandan Genocide of 1994: often described as one of the greatest horrors of the 20th Century. This book breaks down the black-and-white thinking surrounding this horrific episode in Rwandan history, exposing all the many puzzle pieces needed to more accurately explain how the genocide happened, it's aftermath and its legacy to this day.

Violence between the Tutsis and Hutus erupted in 1972 in neighbouring Burundi during an attempted coup, with hundreds of thousands of Hutus being slaughtered by the Tutsi army. The persecution of the Hutus who fled across the border into Rwanda during the massacre, led to the radicalisation that would eventually be one of the many factors that lead to the Rwandan genocide 22 years later.

At almost the same time, to the north, the exiled Tutsis in Uganda were instrumental in overthrowing the regimes of dictators, Idi Amin and Milton Obote. The rebel leader, Yoweri Museveni, had built his army from the Rwandan Tutsi immigrants, among them, Patrick Karegeya and Paul Kagame. These Rwandan refugees formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and began planning a return to their homeland, eventually invading Rwanda in 1990. They managed to gain a foothold, and in 1993 the two sides signed the Arusha Accords Peace Agreement. Then, in 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President, Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President, Cyprien Nitaryamira was shot down in mysterious circumstances. This was the match to the flame that ignited the Rwandan genocide.

The other side of the book is about the assassination of Patrick Karegeya and Wrong's investigations into a series of, what appear to be, Rwandan state-sponsoredkillings of Rwandans who have fallen foul of Kagame's regime. Many former members of the RPF, which launched the first invasion in 1990, have become increasingly disillusioned with Kagame's vengeful and power-obsessed methods of ruling Rwanda. Any opposition to Kagame's rule often ends with those who voice their opposition often being found dead, imprisoned or disappeared. Many of these assassinations take place outside of Rwanda's borders, with Kagame and his party denying any responsibility.

My Verdict: What I liked about this book was Wrong's connection to her subject: Patrick Karegeya. He was a great source of information for her and other Western journalists in his role as head of intelligence while he was still an active member of the RPF and in Kagame's good graces. She reproaches herself and the West for failing to look deeply into the causes of the genocide and the atrocities that were also committed by the Tutsis against the Hutus, especially those that took place against Hutus fleeing to Congo and in the refugee camps set up after the genocide. She crticises Western governments for failing to challenge Kagame's human rights abuses, falsified economic data and rigged elections.

My obsession with Rwanda began a few years ago, after reading We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, and for most people this book might put them off ever wanting to visit Rwanda, but I am more determined than ever to one day set foot in Kigali, travel east and check out the view over Lake Kivu. What this book makes clear is that nothing is ever as black and white as it seems. Reducing the Rwandan genocide to the good guys and bad guys is unhelpful, perhaps only to the West who failed to help and now feel guilty for criticising a leader or party, who may not be the shining example of the good leader that they initially thought he was. A fascinating insight into a fascinating country.

Review Award - 5/5

Posted 09.03.2022

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