Congo Journey | The Nation


Congo Journey

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Well before we reached the Congolese border, my imagined world had been changing before my eyes. The Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, alias the Hotel Rwanda, where we had stayed the night, had an air of oppressive normality. I looked in vain for a commemorative photograph of the actor Don Cheadle, or his alter ego Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who in 1994 had turned the Mille Collines into a secret refuge for Tutsis in terror of the panga and the gun. But that story, in the mind of the revolutionary party still in power, is no longer operative. The genocide, according to the prevailing political correctness, produced bigger and better heroes who were not darlings of the Western media. Ten minutes into Rwanda with your eyes open, you know that the Tutsi-led government runs a very tight ship indeed.

Copyright ©2006 David Cornwall

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John le Carré
John le Carré is the author of numerous classic, bestselling novels, including Absolute Friends, The Spy Who...

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From the windows of our car as we wove toward Bukavu, we glimpsed Rwandan justice at work. In tailored meadows that would not have been out of place in a Swiss valley, villagers crouched in rings like summer schoolchildren. At their center, in place of teachers, men in prison pink gesticulated or hung their heads. To break the backlog of suspected génocidaires awaiting trial, Kigali has reinstated traditional village courts. Anyone may accuse, anyone may defend. Only judges are appointed by the government.

An hour short of the Congolese border we turned off the road and climbed a hill in order to take a look at a few of the génocidaires' victims. A former secondary school looked down on lovingly tended valleys. The curator, himself an improbable survivor, led us from one classroom to another. The dead--hundreds, of them, whole families, tricked into assembling for their own protection--had been laid out in fours and sixes on wooden pallets and coated with what looked like congealed flour and water. A lady with a face mask and bucket was giving them an extra coat. Many of the dead were children. In a country where farmers do their own slaughtering, the technique had come naturally: First cut the tendons, then take your time. Hands, arms and feet were stored separately in baskets. Torn clothing, brown with blood and mostly children's sizes, hung from the eaves of a cavernous assembly hall.

How had so many normally peaceable people been dragooned into becoming assassins at the drop of a hat? Answer: by a few bad men seizing the moment. By faking the evidence. By exploiting traditional resentments. By lies repeated over the radio. By persuading the Hutus that they themselves were about to be slaughtered by their Tutsi neighbors. Hermann Göring at his Nuremberg trial had the recipe off pat:

''Naturally, the common people don't want war...but after all it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along.... All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.... It works the same in every country.'' And we know it still does.

Would I, as a Westerner, have felt easier if the murderers had used Zyklon B to do their work? Or dropped 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutter" bombs from two miles up?

''So when will you bury them?'' we asked.

''When they have done their work,'' was the reply.

These dead have no one to name them, no one to mourn or bury them. The mourners too are dead. So the bodies will be left on show for a while, to silence the doubters and deniers.

Rwandan troops in green, US-style uniforms have appeared along the roadside. The Congolese frontier post is a dilapidated shed on the other side of an iron bridge across an outlet of the Ruzizi River. A cluster of female officials frown over our passports and vaccination certificates, shake their heads and confer. The more chaotic a country, the more intractable its bureaucracy. But we have Jason. An interior door bangs open, joyous cries are exchanged, Jason disappears. To peals of congratulatory laughter, our documents are returned to us. We bid farewell to the perfect tarmac of Rwanda and for five minutes lurch over giant potholes of red Kivu mud to our hotel.

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