Beginning on April 7, 1994, and continuing for one hundred days, between 500,000 and one million people died because they were of the wrong race, in Rwanda. I don’t want to talk about the causes, or the failures. Instead I want to talk about one man, a man you probably have never heard of.
Mbaye Diagne was a captain in the Senegalese military and a UN military observer in Rwanda. At thirty-six, this devout Muslim was married with two children.
In the opening hours of the Genocide, the Prime minister, Agate Usilingiyimana and her husband were assassinated. The ten Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect here were also killed.
What happened to her four children? No one knew. Mbaye came to investigate and found them hiding in a nearby housing compound. Eventually he hid the children under a tarp in the back of his car and drove them to the comparative safety of his hotel.
This set the tone for his days and nights. Captain Mbaye Diagne would find victims and try to save them, five or six at a time. He drove though militia checkpoints, using his wits, his humor, and his courage. He carried cigarettes, and even beer and whiskey to use as bribes. When that failed, he used money, even his own rations to buy the lives.
How much can one man do? We don’t’ know but the American Fulbright Scholar Richard Siegler thinks that he saved a 1,000 or more lives.
On the morning of 31 May 1994, Mbaye was taking an important written message from the head of the government army, Augustin Bizimungu, to the UN commander, Romeo Dallaire. Mbaye stopped at the checkpoint and a mortar round exploded on the road a short distance from his car. He was hit and died instantly.
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