Monday April 7 was the 20th anniversary of the start of the genocide in Rwanda in which 800,000 were killed over a period of just 3 months. I was living in NYC then, and I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t recall the start of this terrible event. It was only in retrospect, when it was all over, and a nation’s psyche had been shattered that I began to take on board the size and scope and depth of this tragedy by watching films and reading books about what had taken place.
Recently I’ve been re-reading Emmanuel Katangole’s biting expose about that time, Mirror to the Church, with colleagues in a book club at the office. In Mirror, Katangole reminds us that “the nightly news in every American homes displayed images of the bodies that were being destroyed in Rwanda. But most Americans were more interested in the O.J. Simpson trial in the spring of 1994″ (p. 38). Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered on June 12, so this statement isn’t 100% accurate. We weren’t watching the trial – that came the following year – but by the time the genocide was fully underway, we were easily distracted by the details of Brown Simpson’s death and the accusations swirling around her celebrity husband as her killer.
I had a deja vu moment of a similar scenario when on Monday I went online to try to find a story I’d heard several days before about a Senegalese peacekeeper who’d saved literally hundreds of lives during the genocide. On the BBC, when I clicked on news about Africa, I was immediately met with a large photo of Oscar Pistorius with his face buried in his hands: another celebrity athlete on trial for murdering his blonde beautiful girlfriend. And we are mesmerized. This too is a tragic, terrible situation but why should it beg for more attention than recalling the deaths of hundreds of thousands ordinary Rwandans?
Fortunately, I was able to eventually find the story of the Mbaye Diagne and it was even more impressive, heart-rending, and redemptive than I’d recalled.
Read it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/2014/newsspec_6954/index.html and be encouraged that in the midst of that terrible madness, courage and sacrifice reigned alongside the mayhem.
And yes, let’s remember differently this time. Let’s not be seduced by the razzle dazzle of celebrity.