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A Different View

100 days when the world sank to somewhere beyond evil

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There are moments in history when you wonder if all humanity is lost, and twenty years ago this week saw the start of that descent into sheer barbarism as over 800,000 people were butchered to death in Rwanda over 100 days while the world stood idly by.

And if I live to be 100, I know that I will never see a more abhorrent sight than that of hundreds of calcified skulls and skeletons piled high on wooden pallets in the rooms of a school that never opened – and now never will.

The Murambi Technical School, now known as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre, sits in the quiet hills, deep in the countryside of southern Rwanda.

Like most of the world, I’d never heard of it until I visited there as part of a Trocaire delegation in 2004 – a decade after the genocide.

We were there to report, and they were there to see the impact of Ireland’s development funding.

We met Josienne, who featured on the Trocaire box that year and who is now a 22 year old university student, getting ready to graduate in accountancy thanks to support from Ireland.

So we saw the positives for sure, and so much about Rwanda is breathtaking – it’s a beautiful country (the call it the land of a thousand hills) with arable, fertile soil; it is more developed that most of its nearest neighbours, and its people couldn’t be friendlier.

But there was still a palpable sense of unease in the air – a tension that wasn’t imagined.

And when you made even the smallest mention of the 1994 genocide, lips tightened and heads turned away.

The miracle is how the country survived at all, because words cannot explain what occurred … but in the simplest of terms, the plane carrying the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot from the skies and six days later – egged on by radio stations and politicians – the Hutus attacked their neighbours (and sometimes their own families) because they believed the Tutsis were ‘cockroaches’ who had to die.

These were not two tribes from different ethnic backgrounds – they were simply the respective inhabitants of pre-colonial kingdoms before the arrival of the Belgians.

Generally, the Tutsis were richer, but intermarriage was commonplace and there was little discernible difference between one and the other. There were historical tensions, but it might be described as little more than an exaggerated version of inter-county rivalry.

Nothing could ever justify these depths of depravity anyway, but even now it is hard to see how such a bloodbath could ensue in such a short space of time.

When the killings started, Tutsis in the region tried to hide at a local church, but the local bishop and the town’s mayor lured them into a trap by sending them to the technical school, insisting that French peacekeeping troops would protect them there.

This was a brand new school waiting to be opened – but events over those darkest of days ensured its role now would change forever.

On April 16, 1994, some 65,000 Tutsis ran to the school. After the victims were told to gather there, water was cut off and no food was available, so that the people were too weak to resist.

After defending themselves for a few days using stones, the Tutsi were overrun on April 21. The French soldiers disappeared and the school was attacked by militiamen from the Interhamwe, a paramilitary force that was the epitome of evil.

Some 45,000 Tutsi were murdered at the school, and almost all of those who managed to escape were killed the next day when they tried to hide in a nearby church. And the history shows that the Catholic Church – or some of its priests and bishops – were as culpable, if not complicit, in this genocide as any.

The French brought in heavy equipment to dig several pits for thousands of bodies, and laid a volleyball court over them to hide what happened.

But over ground and in every single classroom, there are thousands of calcified bodies – so many of them children and infants – sometimes in rows, often just bones piled on top of each other.

You look at the little skulls of the children and you see them cracked like an egg. A man who acts as a sort of tour guide tells you that was because they caught these children, tied their hands behind their backs…..and threw them head first at the wall, like a hooker throwing a rugby ball into a line-out.

They repeated this unspeakable evil as many times as it took to kill them …. as their parents and siblings watched on, waiting their turn to die.

The lucky ones were shot to death, because the pain of waiting must have been worse. And now twenty years on, you still wonder how man was capable of doing this to fellow man.

This was just one location – the Hutus, armed with pitch forks, knives and machetes, descended into village, murdered everyone in it with impunity; they gang-raped the women, they set up road blocks and, high on drugs, they killed with gay abandon.

The truth is that – twenty years ago – most of the world wasn’t even aware of this hell on earth being endured by the minority Tutsi population in that most beautiful of African countries – and those who should have known simply turned their backs.

Because while Rwanda is rich in agriculture, it isn’t rich in oil – so there was no reason for the Americans to worry too much about it.

The Belgians, Rwanda’s old colonial masters, probably didn’t have the resources to do much about it, but even if they could, they weren’t hanging around to find out.

The United Nations had a presence, but it was hopelessly inadequate to enforce any semblance of law and order – the best they could do was evacuate the non-nationals and effectively leave the Tutsis to the hands of the Hutus.

The genocide trials began in 1996 and ten years later the jails were still wedged with prisoners.

In-mates in Rwandan jails are dressed head to toe in pink – and this too was one of the most incongruous sights you could ever see … hundreds of mass killers doing a tribal dance in shocking pink.

Some of them have now returned to their own villages, next door again to the survivors and relatives of those they killed.

You cannot begin to understand how society can function in such circumstances, but some of it is down to the Gacaca courts, a system (now closed) where the village elders gathered in the shade of a tree and held court of a sort.

This was where those who played a part in the killings admitted their role and gave up the names of those who led the attacks; the idea was to get to the ringleaders, who would then face the UN’s International War Tribunal.

It was also – unbelievably – a chance for some to forgive their family’s killers … a gesture so profound that it is difficult to fathom.

And it is those people – twenty years later – that I remember this week; the people who found forgiveness in their hearts for those who sank lower than humanity ever thought possible.

Connacht Tribune

You can’t force the craic at the Christmas Party

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Dave O'Connell
Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

There’s nothing like the Christmas Party to bring out the little devils who’ve spent their working lives blending in with the filing cabinet; one craft beer too many and they’re up on top of the photocopier scanning images of their tail end to send to the world.

The party animal is often the quiet one who spends the rest of the year in the corner, timidly stepping aside if you pass them in the corridor – but with a few bevvies on board, they’re Lemmy from Motorhead in the middle of a world tour.

Of course there are also some people who dread the Christmas party – or even after-work drinks, if that’s still a thing – and as their worst nightmare comes looming over the horizon, they might take some comfort from a recent court case in France.

Because an unnamed worker has just won the right to be utterly boring after a court ruled that he could not be dismissed, just because he didn’t want to join the rest of the staff in the pub.

Known simply as Mr T – an unfortunate choice of initial if you were a fan of the larger-than-life big guy in the A-Team back in the day – our friend was a senior advisor for a Parisian training firm called Cubik Partners.

One of those typically trendy modern operations, they work on a ‘fun and pro’ basis – which is presumably a variation on playing hard and working hard sometimes too – and part of that outlook involved regular social events ‘to bolster team spirit’.

But Mr T had no truck with the spirits – internal or alcoholic – and didn’t want to hang out with his colleagues for a minute longer than work demanded.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

How to win elections with the promises you can keep

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Dave O'Connell
Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

The man who was already the world’s oldest prime minister stood for election again last weekend at the tender age of 97 – arguing quite legitimately that he was fully fit for high office on the basis that he was ‘still standing and talking’.

Mahathir Mohamad was already a Guinness World Record holder for being the world’s oldest current prime minister since he became premier of Malaysia for a second time in 2018.

Proving that age is no impediment to ambition, he put himself forward again last weekend – only this time he fulfilled that age-old observation of Enoch Powell, that most unctuous of Tories from times past, who once said that all political lives end in failure…even if it’s a relative thing and you could hardly be said to have been cut down early, at the age of 97.

Adding insult to injury, not alone did he finish fourth of five candidates in Langkawi, a resort island in Malaysia’s northwest, which he had won with a large majority in the previous poll in 2018 – he also lost his deposit.

It wasn’t even an ageist thing; his entire party failed to win a single seat.

And for comfort in his hour of need, he can still look to Laos where the Prime Minister Khamtai Siphandone is still going strong at just short of 99 – although the fact that he is the chairman of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party means you don’t have to actually come up with an election manifesto because, more specifically, you don’t have to stand for election.

But if you do – and accepting Mahathir Mohamad’s weekend disappointment – going before the electorate on a platform of boasting the ability to walk and talk is at least an honest one.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Getting locked away from all the rest can be no bad thing

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Dave O'Connell
Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

We all got used to a level of confinement during Covid, and if we were honest, occasionally, it was as much of a blessing than a curse; nobody calling unexpectedly to bother you, no journeys you’d prefer to avoid – even if ultimately we were happy to emerge from our pandemic hibernation.

But imagine if you were trapped for days in a pub during a storm – or in Disneyland during a snap lockdown.

Because for the very lucky few, that happened too.

Visitors to Shanghai’s Disney Resort recently found themselves barred from leaving until they produced a negative Covid test after a snap lockdown.

And we can all remember last November with envy, when customers who went to see an Oasis tribute band called Noasis found themselves trapped for days in a pub in the Yorkshire Dales as a result of heavy snowfall during Storm Arwen.

In both cases, quite honestly, it must have been like a dream come true.

The Disney Resort shut its doors all of a sudden after ten cases of coronavirus were discovered in Shanghai itself, with all visitors locked in the theme park until they were given the all-clear.

And while you’d think the reaction would be to kick back and literally enjoy the ride, online videos showed many of the visitors rushing to the gate trying to avoid being stuck in the park.

Perhaps the Chinese have had enough of snap lockdowns and feared they’d literally be on the swings and roundabouts for days on end – because a day earlier, workers at Foxconn, the biggest iPhone maker in Zhengzhou city, were videoed climbing over fences to avoid a similar snap lockdown.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

 

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