48 pages 1 hour read

Philip Gourevitch

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1998

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Summary and Study Guide


We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (1998) describes the Hutu majority’s slaughter of at least 800,000 Tutsis in 100 days in 1994—with author and journalist Philip Gourevitch documenting the meticulous planning behind the genocide. Gourevitch chastises the international community, especially the United States and France, for failing to stop the genocide in accordance with obligations under the Genocide Convention. Visiting Rwanda one year after the genocide, he chronicles its psychological toll on survivors and the continuing threat to the Tutsi minority. Housed in refugee camps primarily in neighboring countries, forces who called themselves Hutu Power were behind the attacks. Gourevitch holds the international community accountable because it failed to segregate killers from innocent refugees. Ultimately, it was Africans who ousted the genocidal regime in Rwanda and later, a neighboring dictator in Zaire who enabled Hutu Power to continue its campaign. With his visits to Rwanda and Zaire as well as his access to leaders and ordinary people alike, Gourevitch was well positioned to chronicle the original tragedy and its aftermath.

The book received several prestigious awards, including the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Nonfiction, The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The George K. Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, The Helen Bernstein Book Award, The Overseas Press Club Cornelius Ryan Best Book Award, and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction; it was also a New York Times bestseller.

This guide is based on the Picador paperback edition published in 1999.

Note: Hutu Power used derogatory terms to describe Tutsis, one of which is included in the guide to depict how Hutus used language to dehumanize victims.

Plot Summary

Throughout Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch encounters evidence of genocide when he visits one year later. At one memorial site, the bodies of victims were left in place. Originally, the primarily lanky, light-skinned Tutsis migrated to Rwanda from the north and east, while the primarily dark-skinned and stocky Hutus arrived earlier from the south and west. Yet, generations of intermarriage erased such ethnic distinctions. Tutsis, as herdsmen, were framed as “aristocrats,” while Hutus, as cultivators, were framed as “serfs.” One’s label could change with a change in occupation. Obsessed with racial distinctions, German and later Belgian colonizers attributed superiority to the lighter-skinned Tutsis. After World War I, Belgians ruled indirectly through the Tutsi minority, which comprised only 14 percent of the population. Racial identity cards were issued in 1935; classes or labels, now racialized, were no longer porous. Until the late 1950s, Tutsi rulers exploited Hutus at the behest of colonizers. Hatred of Tutsi imperialism grew among Hutus. When Rwanda gained independence in 1962, the Hutu majority, comprising 85 percent of the population, established a government that gave no rights to Tutsis. Thousands of Tutsis went into exile.

Gourevitch explores the history of independent Rwanda through the story of Odette Nyiramilimo, a Tutsi survivor of the 1994 genocide. Just prior to independence in 1959, Hutus burned a three-year-old Odette’s home in an early wave of violence against Tutsis. Odette’s family survived massacres in which approximately 14,000 Tutsis were murdered (in one province alone) in 1963. While thousands of Tutsis fled the country at this point, the family stayed. As a Tutsi, Odette experienced discrimination. Tutsis were given limited access to education, employment, and military positions. Granted a position at a teachers’ college, Odette was eventually expelled because of her identity. It was only with a Belgian headmistress’s support that Odette was able to complete a medical degree. However, her position as a physician at a Kigali hospital was precarious: She was dismissed because of her identity and then later reinstated.

Gaining power in a coup in 1973, President Habyarimana led the country until his assassination on April 6, 1994. The President’s powerful wife, Agathe, and her inner circle of Hutu extremists, known as the akazu, often controlled his actions. When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel force led by Tutsis, invaded Rwanda in 1990, Habyarimana used the provocation as pretext to kill and arrest civilian Tutsis. At this time, the President’s wife secretly arranged for a hateful publication, called Kangura, and recruited Hassan Ngeze to edit it. Socializing Hutus to hate Tutsis and show them no mercy, this publication became the voice of Hutu Power. In the early 1990s, the extremist Interahamwe frequently engaged in violence against Tutsis and were not prosecuted. In 1993, Habyarimana signed the Arusha Accords—which were to end the war with the Tutsi rebels, establish a United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), and create a more representative government and military. Because the war served as “justification” for targeting Tutsis to begin with, Hutu extremists such as Ngeze considered Habyarimana’s agreement a betrayal. The following year, said extremists assassinated him.

Roméo Dallaire, the commander of UNAMIR, warned his superiors at the United Nations about the coming genocide—but he was ignored. After President Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6th, the genocide commenced. First, extremists targeted Hutu opposition figures. Then, the mass slaughter of Tutsis began, with all Hutus called to take part in the vicious killings. There were very few sanctuaries where Tutsis could hide. In Kigali, Gourevitch contrasts two sanctuaries via the stories of Odette and Bonaventure Nyibizi. Odette went to Hotel des Mille Collines, where manager Paul Rusesabagina made it his mission to protect as many Tutsis and Hutu oppositionists as possible. He did so successfully, using government contacts, a working phone line, and beer bribes. Taking sanctuary at the Saint Famille Church led by Father Munyeshyaka, Bonaventure had a different experience. Father Munyeshyaka aided the extremists, providing them lists of refugees. Periodically, extremists came to the church and murdered several people. Bonaventure only survived with the help of a sympathetic priest.

Despite clear evidence of genocide, the international community failed to stop it. The US engaged in semantics, attempting to distinguish genocide from acts of genocide. France sent a force to actively fight the rebels, delaying their victory and prolonging the life of the genocidal regime. Led by Paul Kagame, the RPF itself ultimately removed the Hutu extremists from power. With this victory, Hutus fled the country in droves. In neighboring states, international agencies established refugee camps for these Hutus. Cholera was rampant, and there was much suffering and death during the mass exodus. The media failed to provide context in its coverage of the exodus, essentially equating it with the genocide and casting Hutus as victims. Worse still, killers were not segregated from innocent refugees. As a result, Hutu Power, taking advantage of international aid, continued to operate from the camps.

The new government abolished racial identity cards and sought unity. This proved challenging as Rwanda was in ruins. Tutsis, even those who left years before the genocide, returned to the country in large numbers. By the end of 1997, Rwanda’s jails were full of Hutus accused of genocide-related crimes, while the masterminds of the genocide were protected in exile. The UN established a tribunal to try those accused of war crimes, but it was initially ineffective. Rwandans found the creation of such a tribunal insulting, as their courts were open. While some killers were sentenced in the 1990s, there was limited justice at the time.

In neighboring Zaire, the dictator Mobutu aided and abetted Hutu extremists, who continued their campaign of slaughtering Tutsis. The international community only contributed to the problem as the extremists operated from its refugee camps. Meeting in Kigali, African leaders Kagame, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila, planned to overthrow Mobutu. They and other African leaders recognized this plan as the only means to stop the genocide. The rebel forces succeeded, forcing Mobutu into exile; Kabila became the new leader of Zaire, renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Thousands of Hutus, including those who took part in the early violence, returned to Rwanda after this victory. Survivors of the genocide, who received very little international help, often lived in fear. Many were rendered homeless when Hutus reclaimed homes occupied by survivors whose own homes were destroyed. Later on, US President Bill Clinton finally admitted the world’s failures to prevent the genocide and manage the refugee camps properly. However, at the time of the book’s publication, the danger of genocide remained.

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