BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Philip Gourevitch, where'd you get the title to your book?
Mr. PHILIP GOUREVITCH (Author, "We wish to inform you: Stories From Rwanda"): Well, the title, "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families," comes from a letter that was sent in the midst of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 by seven Tutsi pastors, members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority. They were inside a church where they'd taken refuge, as many Rwandans who were slated for death did, and at that point, everybody in the Tutsi minority was slated for death. They'd taken refuge in the church headquarters--this was an Adventist church in restern--western Rwanda. And they had learned that they were slated to be massacred the next day.
So these pastors got together and they wrote a letter to the h--president of the Adventist Church, who was also a pastor. His name was Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, and he was a Hutu and the president of the church for this entire region. So they wrote, `Dear leader, we hope that you're well in these times that are so trying. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.' And the letter went on in, really, only about two or three more sentences to say, `And we hope that you will intercede on our behalf and--and try to help us at this time, a--as a man of influence, as the president of the church, to go and talk to the mayor, to try and help stay the authorities who are planning to kill us.'
And as it happened, I met some of the survivors of that church, of whom there are very, very few, although there were thousands of people. And they were killed the next day. All of those pastors were killed the next day. And what I was told was that not only had the--Pastor Ntakirutimana, the church president, failed to intercede on their behalf but that he was widely held to have actually helped organize the massacre. And, in fact, the--the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has issued an indictment against him as an organizer of the massacres.
LAMB: The map you have inside the book shows the little black dot there as Rwanda.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: That's right.
LAMB: What's around Rwanda?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: What's around Rwanda is all of Africa, and Rwanda is really a tiny dot at the very center. And it's--it's got Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, it's got tiny Burundi to its south and it's got the massive Zaire--former Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, to its west.
LAMB: How many people were murdered in Rwanda, and when?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, between--the period that one speaks of as the genocide of 1994 was really very contained. It was 100 days, beginning on April 6th, 1994, and in that time, somewhere between 800,000, and perhaps a million, were systematically killed. And this is in a country with an original population of probably about seven and a half million. So we're talking about at least 10 percent of the population. We're talking about 8,000 people a day, on average, being put to death. If you want to be really specific about it, it's five and a half people on average per minute, every minute during those 100 days.
LAMB: How were they murdered?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, they were murdered in any number of fashions, but as a rule, in a low-tech fashion. The--the overwhelming majority of the killing was done with hand-held implements. Guns and grenades were used, to some extent. But to a very large degree, Rwanda's famous as the place where people were killed with machetes, clubs, sticks, garden tools, hoes, hammers, which meant, among other things, that a lot of the people--a lot of people were needed in order to carry out this kind of a massacre. Sometimes it's described as anarchy, sometimes it's described as chaos. That's not accurate. To--to organize the sort of scale of killing we've just talked about--800,000, a million people--you have to be able to organize people to do it.
You can see even in this picture the machete marks in these skulls. These are from--from memorials where church massacre sites quite like the one that I--the story that the title of the book comes from, where people gathered seeking protection and refuge in sanctuaries like churches and found that the killers respected no sanctuary. Some of those have been now preserved as memorials where the remains of the dead have been left lying as they were found, a skull in the grass here, a cadaver there. Sometimes you'll come into a room and it's filled with bodies. They're now dry, they don't smell. And it's the best that they can do by way of commemoration.
LAMB: You say in your book that you even stepped on a skull one time.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, yeah, actually, in the place that you just showed where there was a skull--skulls in the grass, it was--I was following some people through this site. I spent relatively little time, I should say, going to massacre sites. It's--I wanted only to go to see because I felt that one had to at least look a little bit in order to understand what--the memory that people were living with. But I was following these people through, and I heard s--this crunch, and I realized the man in front of me had stepped on a skull. And I was quite angry. I thought it was kind of outrageous. And moments later, I heard a crunch again and felt it under my foot, and I'd done it.
And--and I tell that, in part, because I guess what I realized at that moment is that if you want to sort of confront Rwanda, if you want to try to understand what happened there, there's no way that you can go to this story delicately. You--you more or less have to step right into the middle of it.
LAMB: You say in the book that you went to Rwanda six times in nine months. What nine-month period are we talking about?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, I went there for a total of nine months in six visits over about actually a two-and-a-half-year period. I started going a year after the massacres, a year after the genocide, and in May of '95 was my first visit, and I stayed then for three months. And--and other trips ranged from two weeks to six weeks. Periodically I would go back, until about a year ago, in other words over a two-and-a-half-year period.
LAMB: When did you first go, and why?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I went in May of '95, so one year after the apex of the massacres, and I went because it was a year afterwards and, to a large degree, the story had kind of disappeared when the blood dried up. It had--it--it happened very quickly. The people who planned and organized this massacre calculated that speed was going to actually be one of their greatest weapons, one of their greatest tactical advantages. And what that really meant was to have this killing happen in 100 days, before anybody fully understood what was happening, it was over. People could've done a better job, but overall, the sense was this was this spasm that came as a surprise out of nowhere, and then it disappeared.
And I felt, `Wait a minute, there was said to be the first complete and unambiguous genocide since World War II and the extermination of European Jewry. Wait a minute, a million people were killed. Wait a minute, this happened right now, in front of our noses a year ago, and it's gone.' And I was very curious to wonder, `Well, isn't this a pretty interesting time? What--how are people living with this, and what really did happen?' I wanted to know more.
LAMB: Now what were you doing at the time?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, I was working as a--as a reporter, as a freelance journalist, traveling around the world doing different stories.
LAMB: Did you have a contract to write a book or anything when you went over there?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: No, no, I went to Rwanda as--as a story. I went to do one--I had a contract to do a large story for The New Yorker. It was understood that I should go for a while, that this was a story that probably wasn't gonna benefit from being oversimplified, it was the kind of story that you needed to really absorb. I mean, it was a story--I remember in one of my conversations before I went, with an editor, I was--I think I s--in passing, said, `You know, I don't think we really even know how to think about Rwanda.' And my assignment was a little bit--`Well, tell us a little bit how to think about Rwanda. Tell us how to under--how to grapple with this event.' And so that was my brief.
And it was after I'd been and written a long story about the aftermath of the genocide and its--well, the genesis and the event and its aftermath that I realized I didn't want to go on to the next story right away. This was something too rich, this was something too--it had its hooks in me.
LAMB: The poorest country in the world.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, after the genocide, it's been ranked by the World Bank $80 a year average median income. I don't even know how they calculate that, but that's what they come up with, and that is--puts it at the bottom of the bottom.
LAMB: The size of the country?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: About the size of Maryland or West Virginia.
LAMB: Let's say that we decided today, first time, we're gonna go to Rwanda. How long does it take to get from here to there?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Just to fly from here to there?
LAMB: No, just the whole process of--you know, how do you get there? Where do you go?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, you just--you basically--actually, Rwanda being a former Belgian colony, the main outside airline is--is the Belgian national airline, Sabena. So you can fly to Belgium and fly in from there. You can fly to Nairobi. You can fly to other places in Africa. You fly in, it's got a nice airport up on a hill. And when you get to the airport--I--I sort of made no arrangements. I arrived, I had a visa. Visas were easy to get. They have always been relatively easy to get unless there's some reason that the government s--knows about you and dislikes you, which is a pretty short list.
And I flew in and arrived in the evening. There was nobody around. I was expecting to find a taxi or so. And it was dark. This was still a year--just a year after. People didn't drive around a lot at night. And so I had to--I had to bum a ride from another passenger who had arranged for a ride to get into town. And there--there're hotels, there's--it's a city. It's quite a thriving city at this point.
It's a strange thing about these killings. The destruction was total, and at the same time, unlike a war fought with bombs, artillery and over years, the physical destruction of the buildings and so forth was--was relatively small. So, on the surface, it didn't--it didn't look like a country that had been trashed in the same way and--and destroyed. And yet, what Rwandans, I realized--I was once driving--it's a beautiful country, and I was driving once, and my driver--we were coming up over some hills not unlike these, and my driver--I said to him, `Do you realize how beautiful this place is? Do Rwandans know or is it--do they just take it for granted?' And he said, `Well, beautiful, I don't know. It's empty.'
And what I realized is what Rwandans saw were the absences. They saw the people who weren't there. When they sat down at table, they saw what I couldn't see. They saw that 20 people were missing from their household, from their village. They saw the dead. They saw the people who'd fled afterwards. They saw a--an emptied-out country. And that was really what it took me a while to s--of staying there to begin to be able to see what was essentially invisible. And I think that was part of the idea of this genocide.
LAMB: When did it become independent of Belgium?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: 1962 was the final, full-tilt independence.
LAMB: You say something about it wasn't--in 1960, there were--there was no one in the country that had gone to college?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I don't know. In Rwanda, there were a few who'd gone to college. That might've been when I was writing about Zaire and the Congo. But there were very few. I mean, essentially, it was a country that had lived as a Belgian colony. There was a reasonably good church-based education system. There were Rwandans who were educated and literate and so forth and so on, and what v--highly Westernized in some ways. But it was--it was essentially--yeah, it was a colony and isolated and--and not very advanced in its education.
LAMB: So you flew over there, and--what--what's it cost, round trip?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: To get to Rwanda?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I think you can get there economy class for about 1,000, 1,100 bucks if you just book it regular, probably cheaper if you book it in advance.
LAMB: And total flying time?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Through Belgium, it's about six hours there and then you fly down across all of Africa--I mean, you cross the Sahara--it's probably another six or seven hours.
LAMB: So you sh...
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Twelve, 13 hours.
LAMB: ...so you show up and you speak English. Do you speak any other language?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I speak some French, which is--which is essentially the colonial language. It's the--it's the necessary language there.
LAMB: You mention a--an interpreter in your book. Did you hire more than one?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: When I was--when I was going out into certain areas in the--in Rwanda, you really come to places where the education is so minimal because it's an 85 percent, 90 percent agrarian peasant country, and people are living by subsistence farming. When you get out there, people really only speak Rwandan or just a few words of French, and so, in those cases, I did hire an interpreter, though I generally preferred to seek out people who spoke French or English and cut out that extra step of potential misunderstanding because already, you're dealing with pretty charged stories. And, you know, Rwanda's a country of--without an alphabet of its own, and Rwanda traditionally didn't--it--you know, they use our alphabet now. And so there is no recor--there's no tradition of recorded literary history or storytelling. But there's an incredibly rich oral tradition, and as a consequence, I found--or perhaps as a consequence of this, I found that one thing was for sure: All across Rwanda, people were great storytellers.
LAMB: Now these pictures that I'm holding up, you took.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Yeah.
LAMB: What are we looking at right here?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: You're looking at people accused of the massacres. You're looking at prisoners in a Rwandan prison in the western province of Kibuye, actually the province where the story I told you where the book's title comes from. It's an extremely packed prison, probably a prison designed to hold no more than 800, 900 prisoners, probably now holding 6,000 or 7,000, all accused of participating in the massacres.
LAMB: Hutus or Tutsis?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, the--I--probably 99.9 percent Hutus, if not 100 percent.
LAMB: What's the difference?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, in this case, it's very hard to say what the difference is historically and anthropologically. Hutu and Tutsi, although they're called ethnic groups or tribes or races, they--nobody knows exactly how they came into being as social categories in Rwanda. The difference is that, for our--the entire colonial period, a very strict concept of Tutsis as a superior race and Hutus as an inferior race, this elite minority of Tutsis who lorded it over them--the rest and who essentially harnessed their labor and exploited them as a monarchist class, they became privileged and an almost apartheidlike system was imposed by the Belgians, with identity cards defining your ethnicity. And so this ethnically bipolar state was created.
And in independence, it reversed itself and the Hutu majority came to lord it over the Tutsi minority, and essentially with violence, which was really only introduced into this equation in--on the eve of independence, 1959. With violence, these identities become more and more true. Now there are physical characteristics that have been mapped endlessly to sort of tell you that this group belongs to that and these characteristics belong to the other. But ultimately, you know, the--the caricature is Tutsis tall and skinny, Hutus short and fat. I've seen a lot the other way around--a lot the other way around. There's been a lot of intermarriage. You can't be sure that you know who you're seeing. In this case, it has to do, finally, with what it's become, which is a political identity. And the Hutus in this area who were accused of killing were accused because they were Hutus who had killed Tutsis.
LAMB: Now, out of a population of seven and a half million or so, how many were Hutus?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, 85 percent, 85 percent.
LAMB: So five and a--five...
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Five and a half million. I mean, of the Tutsis, presumably, I mean, these--these numbers are imprecise. The reason I s--may sound a touch hesitant--one--one can't be--the--the census numbers were somewhat imprecise to begin with. And then the government rigged them because the government wanted to have certain percentages. In other words, if the--the government claimed there were--9 percent of the population were Tutsis. All independent accounts hold that there were--15 percent of the population were Tutsis. Why would the government want that? Well, this was a Hutu dictatorship. Everything was based on quotas. If they shrunk the number of Tutsis, they shrank the number of Tutsis who had access to school, education, civil service jobs and various kinds of advancement. So roughly a--one and a quarter million Tutsis …
LAMB: So, while you're in the country, newspapers, radio, television--how much of the outside world could you see?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, it depends where you were. If you were in a regular hotel, if you were in a bar or so in the capital that was--you know, had a TV, they would have satellite and you--I was watching the O.J. Simpson trial over there. But there are about 20 such places in the country that have that that are public. The rest of the country, it's radio. It's a country that lives by radio. As most of sub-Saharan Africa and much of the Third World altogether, radio remains a relatively cheap, battery-run source of information. And in Rwanda, you could get some foreign stations, but basically you were listening to state radio.
LAMB: Now when you were able to watch the O.J. Simpson trial--I know you mentioned O.J. Simpson in this book once--what was going through your mind?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, I was--this was a period where it was a--you know, the CNN serialization of it, almost like a daily soap opera. And I would be sitting in this hotel where I was staying, which was a--a smallish hote--mostly African hotel in--in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. And we'd be sitting there, and the--the television set was up at the front of the dining room, so people would sit facing it and--mostly Rwandans, and we'd all watch this story, and Rwandans were quite engaged by it.
There were a couple things that were going through my mind. One was the disproportion of the world's attention--and I'm not--this is not a criticism so much of the world; it was simply an observation. Look at how fascinated we'd become by the details of essentially a man--a man accused of killing his wife and her friend--a pop star--a popular culture star, a sports and advertising celebrity--and then the search for--or the failure of that search for justice.
The other thing that kept going through my mind was, you know, Rwandans are often told to get over it quickly. They're often said--you would run into people there who would say, `Well, the genocide happened, but, you know, they--they mustn't wallow in it forever, and it's time that Rwanda rebuilt itself and that Rwandans reconciled with one another.' And you look at a trial like this for O.J. Simpson in a short period of time, and you look at the enormity of what it means to be in a country that has to come to terms with 800,000 murders, and--and there is a kind of disconnect, a mental disconnect.
Imagine when you look at those prisoners--there are 125,000 people in prison today accused of genocide. Who could hold 125,000 murder trials? And Rwandans would look at this O.J. Simpson trial, where days were spent analyzing the chemical properties of a sock or a glove, and they said, `This is what a murder trial is supposed to be? We have--we have 800,000 murders to deal with. We're never gonna be able to do this.' And it was--it wa--it was really that point of comparison that was just so striking.
LAMB: Had you ever seen anything like this before?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Oh, no. No. It'd be hard to find.
LAMB: Now your own family came from where?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, I mentioned that my family--my parents and my grandparents were refugees from Nazi Germany--well, Nazi Europe, Nazi-controlled Europe, yeah. So--but they fled. They were not, as sometimes people assume, Holocaust survivors just because they'd run away. But as a result, I suppose I had a--a backdrop of such stories being within the realm of--of familiarity and possibility, but, really, stories in which political circumstance come to so define your life that your own ideas about what you might think of yourself as, how you might identify yourself, become increasingly private and--and you become really defined by these public circumstances. And that, of course, is what happened in Rwanda. Nobody was left untouched, nobody.
LAMB: Where did your--exactly where did your family come from, what country?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, there are a lot of people whom--in--in the couples that made up my parents, my grandparents, Russia, Germany, France.
LAMB: When did they come here?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: At '41--'40, '41.
LAMB: And where did you grow up?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Oh, I grew up here in America. I was born in Philadelphia, grew up in central Connecticut, and I'm a New Englander.
LAMB: And how big a family? Do you have brothers and sisters?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Oh, I'm from a family of four, including my brother.
LAMB: Where'd you go to s--college?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I went to Cornell.
LAMB: And there is a woman by the name of Dian Fossey...
Mr. GOUREVITCH: That's right.
LAMB: ...who taught you back in 1980. Who was she, and how does that relate to this story?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, Dian Fossey, as many people may know, is--was a gorilla researcher. That's gorillas with an O, the great apes. She was a primatologist who had been picked by Richard Leakey, quite like Jane Goodall had been picked to study chimpanzees. And there was a pop--one of the great--the last great populations of mountain gorillas on Earth was in the mountains of northern Rwanda, along the Uganda-Zaire border i--in the mountains there, the Mountains of the Moon. Dian Fossey spent 13 years there and, as it happened, she came to Cornell to finish writing a book, the book that was called "Gorillas in the Mist," and became the basis of the movie about her life. She was a teacher of mine there. I--I took a course with her. I was fascinated, this woman who'd been in the middle of Africa and studied gorillas. I had no intention of--I wasn't interested in Rwanda, particularly, I was--been interested in gorillas. So she became a teacher of mine, and later, of course, I was still at Cornell when I picked up a paper one morning about five years later and found that she had been murdered in Rwanda and--but it gave me a bit of a sense of this place, I think, something about her and being around her, and--and it had pricked up my ears to Rwanda.
And it later became interesting--and Dian Fossey one--was--was kind of famously temperamental, that--I'm putting this gently--she was widely s--described as sort of mad and hyperintense and very fitful moods. So I ran into her one day before class, she was really charged up. What was the matter? Well, she was cursing about her cleaning lady, who had flushed her--the hair from her comb--she had found Dian's comb and she'd sort of taken the hair out and just flushed it down the toilet, which I thought sounded like a perfectly diligent cleaning lady. And Dian was furious about this because she thought, you know, this is the kinda thing that Rwanda, or living up in the mountains of central Africa, you can get in trouble with. That's what a sorcerer might do. A sorcerer might take your hair. A sorcerer might take some piece of your body and then try and work a spell on you. And I said to her, `You're a scientist. You're here in the Cornell department of neurobiology and behavior. Do you really believe that?' She said, `Where I live, if I didn't, I'd be dead.' That was her line.
And later, when I went to Rwanda, I discovered that a lot of people still talk about poisoning. A lot of people talk about poisoning as the source of almost every kind of death. Now obviously, people die of natural causes, people die of heart attacks. You never hear people talk about hypertension in Rwanda, but there is hypertension. People die of all the things we die of. But in Rwanda, there's always the idea that there's some kind of human agency and the agency of one's enemies, and that this is deeply believed by a lot of people. And it--it came to stand for me in thinking about Dian Fossey's case and thinking about the fact that somebody even as much a scientist as she could become absorbed in this mentality. There was the idea that--I almost came to see poison as a metaphor, which is a country where political struggles, power struggles and subterfuge are so much the climate that the kind of invisible hand of more powerful figures is seen as determining your fate so much of the time.
LAMB: One of the people you write about lives in Laredo, Texas--I'm gonna try it--Dr. Ntaki?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Dr. Ntaki, yeah.
LAMB: Is that right?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Short for Ntakirutimana, yeah.
LAMB: 'Cause the names are not that easy to pronounce sometimes when you look at them. Why did you go to Laredo, Texas?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, Dr. Ntaki is a cardiac anesthesiologist who lives in Laredo, Texas, and has lived there for quite a while. He's Rwandan by birth. His father is the pastor of the church who was asked in the letter from the Tutsi pastors within his church--who was told, `Tomorrow we will be killed with our families.' It's the story that the book takes its title from. He--he then left the country after the killings in Rwanda and made his way down to Zambia, where his son from Laredo helped arrange that he get a green card and come live with him in Laredo, Texas.
I went to Laredo because I'd been in Rwanda, I'd been to the town where this massacre had taken place, where he had been the president of the church, and I've talked to survivors who said he was one of the organizers of it, he was a man who presided over the slaughter of his own congregation. And I also had learned from a source that he was about to be arrested in Laredo on this indictment from the United Nations tribunal for Rwanda. So he--he was a man under indictment--it was a secret indictment because he had a ha--a history of flight. And Laredo, as you may know, is right on top of Mexico. It's a real quick jump across the border. So there was the feeling we'd better just get him before we tell him that he's under indictment.
So I went down there, and it was a little hard to find. I found Dr. Ntaki's house, and he was saying, `You know, of course if my father's guilty, he should stand trial, but I don't believe it.' And then he said to me at one point, `Do you have a father? Well, I'll do everything I can in my power to protect him,' meaning at a certain point, what mattered is filial connections. And, of course, that's so often the case, and it--I don't know how--whether one can even blame people. But people protect their own; they don't believe the worst about them.
I met the pastor. It was arranged for me. He agree--he wanted to talk to me. He thought he wanted to clear his good name. He's actually the man who gave me the letter that had been sent to him by these other pastors who had worked for him. He gave me the actual text, as if it exonerated him, this plea for help, because it showed that they trusted him when, in fact, really, the story was the story of trust betrayed. And when I said, `Well, what did you do that day if you didn't participate in the massacre?' he said to me, `Well, I went to the next town. I took my wife and I went to the next town,' and the quote he said was, "where they had killed the people there already, and so there was peace." And I--I felt that whatever the courts may find out, it was an awfully telling thing that a man of the cloth should consider peace as the circumstances under which the people of a town have been killed.
LAMB: Was he Hutu or Tutsi?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Oh, he's Hutu.
LAMB: Where is he today?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: He's, I believe, still in jail in Laredo, Texas.
LAMB: And how did he get to jail?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, the day after I was there, he was arrested. He was pulled over on the highway heading towards the Mexican border. Whether that's circumstantial--you have to head towards the Mexican border half the time that you're in Laredo; the other time, you're heading away from it--he was on the main interstate. And if he was--he was seen to be driving erratically. They'd been tailing him; the FBI had been keeping an eye on him. He was under surveillance at that point because of this indictment, and they pulled him over and took him into custody.
There was then a fight. He had put up a fight. He hired a lawyer. He hired Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general who seems to specialize in--in politically pretty questionable or repugnant cases. And he managed to persuade a Laredo magistrate that the international UN court had no jurisdiction whatever to extradite anybody from the United States. And so he was released. This was in the fall--or the winter of '97, just before Christmas.
And so little attention is paid to such a case. It's hard to imagine--we think of big--I mean, imagine a Yugoslav war criminal in this country. It's unlikely that the--such a trial would happen without any press attention. It was a week after he was released before the first wire story took notice of the fact. That's how obscure, in a way, the Rwandan story is, I think, in American consciousness. He was later rearrested pending appeal and an attempt is being made to extradite him. He's an old man.
LAMB: How old?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: He's in his--he's in his mid-70s by now.
LAMB: There are a lot of names I want to ask you about. Who said this, `Please, please, please, our sisters and brothers, please, please, please, keep quiet. Please, please stop crying'?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, that was Bishop--Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the archbishop of the Anglican church in South Africa, who's a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his anti-apartheid activism and now, I think, the top civilian authority or so on the truth commission.
He came to Rwanda the first summer I was there, a year after the genocide in 1995, and he preached a sermon at the big stadium, Amahoro stadium, in Kigali. And this was part of his message, `Please, be quiet. Please, stop crying. What do you want the world to think? That blacks are stupid?' He was saying this, and it was a call-and-response kind of sermon. `Are you stupid?' People said, `No.' `Are you stupid?' A little louder, `No.' But there was kind of resistance to it amongst the Rwandans, and what I realized is maybe he was--he was working from within a South African idea, where the issue of black mattered, right? Black vs. white. In Rwanda, everyone's black, guilty and innocent, smart and stupid.
And there was something--there was something very strange in his sermon, which was it seemed like, as so often is the case, he didn't fully get it. He was looking at it from his own lenses, which were the lenses of South Africa and that struggle, and hadn't fully grasped what, in fact, was at stake in Rwanda, which was this history of this genocide.
LAMB: Kofi Annan.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Kofi Annan, our secretary-general, a Ghanaian, who is secretary-general of the United Nations. He was head of the peacekeeping for--h--head of the department of peacekeeping at UN headquarters in New York before he became secretary-general, which is to say also during the period before the genocide and during the genocide in Rwanda. In the period before the genocide, there had been a civil war in Rwanda, and it was in that atmosphere that the extremism that built up towards the genocide, the practice massacres, had taken place.
Then there was a peace deal, August of '93, and with that peace deal there came a--a UN peacekeeping force, Blue Helmets. It was in the face of that peace deal, which called for power sharing between all different political elements--Hutu, Tutsi and all the different parties--that the extremists really felt their power base threatened. They were being told, `It's over. You must share.' And that's when they ratcheted up to the final solution.
There was a man named General--Major General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian. He was the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda. And he received intelligence from people who were in the planning of the genocide of basically what was going on. He was being told that all the Tutsis were being registered in Kigali. Militias were being trained to kill as many as 1,000 men in 20 minutes. And his source, who was top, top security force, said, `I believe it is for their extermination.'
He sent this information to Kofi Annan's office--his boss, in other words. He sent it straight up the ladder in a highly urgent, very remarkable fax. And the response he got from New York was--he had--he said, `I want to take action. I want to seize arms caches. I want to make this public. I want to take action to try and contain what I see as a very serious threat of extermination sponsored by the state.' He was told, `Don't do anything. Let it go. Stick to your strict mandate, which is to facilitate the government and its activities of making peace,' when what he was saying was, in fact, `This government is not making peace.'
LAMB: Secretary Albright.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Secretary Albright was then the United States' ambassador to the United Nations and, therefore, the sole superpower--the voice of the sole superpower of the most-powerful country on Earth, this 800-pound gorilla, if you will, on the Security Council when the genocide broke in April of 1994. And America--the United States' position, the Clinton administration's position was, `Let's not intervene.'
There's a lot of talk about the failure of the world in Rwanda, and I--I sometimes wonder if we're not wrong; if we shouldn't call it the success of the world because we talk about the failure to act. It was a success at not acting, and it was the United States that wanted not to act. We want--Clinton said at the time, `The world must sometimes learn how to say no.' It turned out that it was say no to the plea for help of hundreds of thousands of lives that were then lost.
I don't know if that's the kind of saying no the world really had in mind, but Secretary Albright then was the person who, at the Security Council, sought not--to hinder any effort for increased international intervention. And, in fact, the--the people who planned the genocide knew how the world works this way. They'd watch Somalia, they'd watched everyone and they said, `If we kill some of these UN Blue Helmets, the whole force will go away.' First day of the massacres they killed 10 Belgians, mutilated them, and the whole force went away. And America was particularly instrumental in saying, `We do not want to go in there. We will let this happen.'
LAMB: You said that you made six trips there, spent a total of nine months. Did you begin to change your attitude about any of this at any point?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, I don't know. It's hard to say what my attitude was when I went in. My attitude when I went in was really one of--of relative ignorance and inquisitiveness, I think. I didn't have a lot preconceptions. I did have the idea that--that--that traditional view--that there was--because there were these two groups called Tutsi and Hutu, and because some had killed some, there must be two sides to this story. It was probably not the most sensible way of approaching--two equal sides, two equal claims to legitimate s--accounts of history was probably not true because the only way you could accept that is to accept the genocide as a provocable crime; that you could actually have so offended me or you could have been in a political struggle with me where it was a legitimate response for me to eliminate everybody in what I deem to be your racial bloodline, to actually extricate a whole category of humanity and wipe out a people.
If you wanted to fight, there was armies to fight. Why did you have to kill that little baby and that old lady? Because they had Tutsi blood. And that's the mes--that was the message. `You must kill everyone. Kill the pregnant mothers and make sure the babies in their wombs were dead.' It was a really full-tilt attempt to reconfigure human creation by eliminating the category of Tutsi.
LAMB: Before you got there, how much had been written about all this?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, it depends on what level. I mean, obviously, there were tons of reports from UN agencies and human rights groups and so forth, some of them better reported than others, some of them full of information, very few of them easily readable. You have to--they were great source material, a lot of it. There hasn't been a lot written about it. It's--i--there--sometimes I have thought, `Well, I'd like to read a good Bosnia book,' and the problem there is, of course, you have to choose which good Bosnia book to read, from a group of books that range from bad to good, that include 50, 60, 70 books, many of them quite good.
There haven't been many Rwanda books. They've been very--there've been none that have attempted to do what I've done, which is simply just to tell it as stories. And it's strange--it's strange. In journalism, you--you know, one always--one always is attracted to a little bit of competition because it keeps the story alive. There's time--there were times where it felt almost like a private, weird obsession because nobody was paying attention. And on the other hand, that gives one a spur.
LAMB: Who is Madame Agatha?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Oh, she was the wife of the president of Rwanda. Madame Agatha was the wife of President Juvenal Habyarimana, who was the president of Rwanda for--well, he was really the dictator from 1973 until 1994, when his--his assassination, his death, triggered the coup d'etat, which set out--brought to power the people who implemented the genocide.
LAMB: What was he like?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: He was--he modeled himself a lot on Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, a certain kind of monomaniacal, African strongman type. He wore suits and dark glasses, but he had these mass animation ceremonies, where, you know, people would come out and chant his name and dance in unison. It was a bit of a culted personality. He was a--he was a man who, at first, had brought the country--people were quite happy about him, Tutsis and Hutus, because he--he was very good at--at winning international support for development projects. But in the end, he was one of the people who presided over the preparation for the genocide, even though his death was the final straw that led to it.
LAMB: And what role did she play in all this?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: She was his wife and she was really his power base, in some ways. She was this sort of Lady MacBeth figure in many people's account. She--her in-laws--he came from a relatively undistinguished family; she came from quite a powerful and well-to-do family. Her network of in-laws was called the Akazu, which means the little house and--I mean, the way we speak of our Cabinet, politically. This was sort of a sinister, Mafioso-type state, with a
cabinet, a little house, that was an inner clique, even called the clan d'madam, her--her network. And they were the muscle behind the extremist Hutu power network. They were the people who controlled state power, they controlled economic power and they ultimately controlled the militia power, the vigilante power that presided over the extermination.
LAMB: You know, I--I kept thinking, as I read, you spent all that time over there. How did you make it work financially for yourself?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: You mean how did I get by over there?
LAMB: Yeah. Or how do y--you know, d--who...
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I was a---I was a working journalist. I mean, I was working as a--a reporter for The New Yorker.
LAMB: But you did--I notice in the back you did say that you got some help from a number of foundations, and all that. How much did they play a role in this?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, they helped. They certainly helped. You know, Rwanda's actually an expensive country to work in. It's something people always remark on. You go to Africa, you go to many places like in the Third World, or the developing world, and you can--you can have a full range of budgets. You can stay in hotels that are 10 bucks a night that are perfectly decent, and hire people to help you out, with cars and so forth. Rwanda's expensive. It's expensive for Rwandans. The eco--because it's landlocked, it's isolated. It has very little to export.
I had some help from some grants; most of that just to help me pay for the time when I wasn't writing. I mean, when I wasn't writing assignments, when I was--I needed to take time out to write a book. Otherwise, though, for the most part, I would say that the real underwriting of this book was the dedication of The New Yorker's editors to continue and to cover the story.
LAMB: You say in the back, `Many thanks to the corporation'--is it Yaddo (pronounced YAddo) or Yaddo (pronounced YOddo)?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Yaddo (pronounced (YAddo).
LAMB: What's that?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Yaddo is a writers' colony, an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. It--quite well known over the years. It's a place that American writers, composers and visual artists have spent time. They give you a--a room and a place to stay. It's a wonderful place. And it--you apply by just sending in your work for peer review. And I went--I went there for about six weeks when I was first sitting down to write and wrote some of the early chapters of the book there.
LAMB: How many other writers were there with you?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: At the time, there were probably about 10 or 11. I--I was there on what they call the small season. In the summer, there's a gigantic old--it's a--the estate of an o--19th--late 19th century, turn-of-the-century industrialist. There's a gigantic, rather gaudy mansion, and that closes down at the end of the summer. I was there in autumn, and it's quieter. You live in smaller houses around this vast estate.
LAMB: What did it feel like being there and writing this book about utter poverty, death, destruction, genocide?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, writing about a place and being part of the story are two very separate things, and, really, the kind of writing that I--that I've enjoyed doing, as a reporter--reporting is one thing. It's where you go out and you enter and you inhabit the story to some extent, you explore it and you navigate your way around, you talk to people, you listen, you absorb, you absorb. And--and that's very much gregarious outside in the world work.
And then there's the part where you basically retreat and write, and it was great to be able to shut out the world for a while. It was great to not have--Rwanda's story is not over. It never was over. At no point when I was doing it was it over. I had to create some parameters, and one of the things was being able to shut it out a bit. And so, for me, being there--it's not really opulent. It's kind of like old New England, comfortable. It takes a lot of money to be that modest, perhaps, but that--that was a long time ago. Now it's--it's like an old--it's like a university dorm.
LAMB: Other support from the United States Institute for Peace and the World Policy Institute for institutional support that--to you...
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I got a grant from the United States Institute for Peace, which is interested in conflict-resolution issues, and I made it pretty clear that, you know, I thought that in order to resolve conflicts, you first had to just really explore and understand them and--and describe this. And at that point, I guess they'd read some of my work.
The World Policy Institutes--Institute here in New York, at the New School for Social Research, which I joined because, among other things, I needed an institutional affiliation in order to be eligible for such grants.
LAMB: Why is The New Yorker so supportive of this?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: It's a terrific story, if I may say so. It is a story in the very--when I say terrific, I mean it's deeply troubling. It's one of the, I think, defining events of the world order in the post-Cold War world, so far. Linked into Rwanda's tiny little geographical space is the fate and the questions about nation building, about decolonization, about international peacekeeping, about genocide, about humanitarianism, about international law and local law, about living with the most extraordinary human catastrophe, about what it means to survive.
So much, so immediately vivid and played out that I think it was just immediately clear to the editors there that this was something that one should stay on. And I think the fact that it was not well understood broadly, and that The New Yorker has this wonderful format, which is the possibility of actually exploring something in some depth and some length, rather than one story here, one story there, one story there, then it's hard to remember the thread--I think they just felt that it was--it was really worth dedicating the space to.
LAMB: How did they do the killing?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, there were many ways. Basically, the way that they did it was by hand. The killing was organized. When one speaks of it being organized, community leaders, national leaders, radio--all worked on a long reservoir of historical propagandization and--to--to--to mobilize the masses. There was a reward system; killers were given spoils. Kill somebody, you can take his goat, take his chair, take his daughter, take what--what have you, whatever. It was divvied up, sometimes in advance; that if you attack that house, you can have those things. That was one of the incentives. It obviously wasn't enough to make everybody kill.
The killing was often done in churches, in stadiums, in city halls, places that people fled seeking sanctuary, thinking, `Well, if we gather in concentration, we have a better chance at being protected.' But, of course, the opposite turned out to be true in so many cases.
LAMB: Machetes come up all the time.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Yeah. Machetes are the dominant, the most-common tool in Rwandan life. You arrive in Rwanda, you drive around Rwanda, you see a lot of people carrying machetes. And after the genocide, it's hard not to get a chill and to wonder what's going on. But you also have to realize this is just a tool that everybody uses. It's used for digging holes. It's used for cutting branches. It's used for cutting firewood. It's used for clearing pasture land. It's used for harvesting. It's used for building houses. So it's just this tool that everybody has, and now it was used for killing.
And the euphemisms in Rwanda, the language that was used: `clear the bush,' `do your work.' This was the way that the killing was described in the official propaganda and the official rallying cries. It was a--treated as a communal work detail, a requirement. And I think it's important to understand, and it's something that I've talked about a fair amount, with--with Rwandans as well, and they understand, which is we think of genocide, or such political crimes, as a matter of hate. We think of them as, obviously, just purely criminal and purely bad. But the motivation is often s--expressed in terms of power and of good--of things that are going to be good for you, and it's really about community. It's about creating a sense of `us' by isolating a sense of `them,' about purifying one group by eliminating the other.
LAMB: Where is this picture? And a lot of these pictures I've been showing, where were they taken?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, these were taken in two separate church massacre sites. The one that you're looking at now is the place called Narob Bwea, which is a church in western Rwanda. And this was a church massacre site. The people gathered there. They were told to gather there by their mayor, the Tutsis, who feared for their lives, and then they were systematically slaughtered there. And--and these are pictures of how they were left.
LAMB: Still there today?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Some clean-up has been done, but most of it's like that, yeah. A little bit of clean-up just to organize it, and also because I think with time--the original idea at these genocide memorials: leave the dead unburied, let people see what it looked like. And then they realized that this was somewhat disrespectful of the dead. The families of the dead sometimes said, `You know, I'd rather go and try and identify the remains and bury them, let them rest already.' And so at least some attempt has been made to make it more shrinelike than just strewn.
LAMB: Who was Odette?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Odette's a doctor, pediatrician, ph--and physician in Kigali, the capital, whom I came to know in Rwanda and who told me, at great length, the story of her life. She was born in a tiny hill in western Rwanda, along the border with Congo, Zaire, in 1956 and, as she put it, `So three years before this history of the genocide began,' meaning three years before systematic political violence became a defining feature of Rwandan life.
Odette went on to become a doctor. Throughout her childhood there were these moments when her regular stream of life was punctuated by communal violence against Tutsis, by exclusion from school. When the genocide itself came along, she had been living in Kigali. She's a mother. She's a--she's married to a man who's Hutu by identity card. He's actually of mixed parentage. They had these children. They were part of, sort of, relatively sophisticated Kigali society. She feared the worst, like so many people in Rwanda.
There was a--obviously something like this, although we may have treated it as a surprise, did not come as a surprise to people. That much convulsion, that much preparation is--is evident, even if it's not totally evident, to people. Something is coming. But one of the things Odette told me is that, as--as the massacres came nearer and nearer, and one felt tenser and tenser, so, too, the United Nations showed up with its peacekeeping force, and one talked to them. And they--and there was the feeling that if the world was watching and the world was engaged like this, the very worst couldn't happen. And she--she, at least, attributes her decision not to run away from Rwanda, at that point, in part to the presence of the UN.
As it happened, when the killing began, first, her family hid in their house. They paid some local police a bribery, regularly, to protect them, to cover for them. When that money started to run out, they made an attempt to flee. It's--she told it in an extraordinarily dramatic way. They got up at 4 in the morning. They drove down in southern Rwanda--at that point, this was still in the second week--there was one area that still hadn't--the government hadn't yet conveyed the message of the massacres into the center of that area. They tried to cross a river. They were--some of them were ca--her children were captured briefly by the militia, and then they got them back. They rescued them, but her sister was killed. And they were being chased, and they ended up fleeing back to Kigali. So they ended up, really, hiding in Kigali throughout the entire massacre.
LAMB: Where is she now?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: She's still there. An amazing thing happened, actually. After that day, when they attempted this escape, they listened to--there was a rebel radio station of the rebel group that was coming in. They listened to the radio and they heard their own--own names read in a feature that was produced every day on the radio of the rebels, which was the people whose names had been reported to have been killed that day. And they heard their names listed, and they realized--they were spooked, but, of course, they realized also now people wouldn't be looking to kill them; that it was weirdly a protection to be pronounced dead. And so they lived in this kind of shelter of their own obituaries for a while.
LAMB: By the way, the photos I'm showing are your photos...
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and they're not in the book. And I wanted to ask you about--three things about the book. There's no contents--table of contents, there's no index and there are no photographs. Why?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: There's no table of contents because it really just runs as one s--sort of straight sequence. I didn't want to give the chapters titles because I found even in, for instance, writing magazine pieces, titles are hard. You--anything that's too specific--there's a way that punch lines, or single words, can sometimes come to substitute for an understanding of something more complex. I didn't want to simplify into little s--captions.
No index because I didn't want--it's not a scholarly book. It's a book that works as a straight read. And I wanted it just to be a book, not--not necessarily a--a book--and perhaps at some point an--an index should be produced because people are asking for one, who want to use it for other purposes.
No pictures--I felt you can't--you--it's--it--I felt that the words were enough. I might have liked to have had portraits of some of the people I write about, and I do have some portraits of them, but I didn't have a consistent-enough set of portraits of them.
LAMB: What's this?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: That is a votive object from the Narob Bwea church; in other words, a votive statute of a church figure that would have been at the back of this Catholic church. And all of the votive objects at that church were beheaded during the genocide, when all the people in that church who had sought refuge there were massacred. And they were beheaded and smashed up because they were associated with Tutsis, it was explained to me. So there was actually such a frenzy that, not only did one kill the people, but one decapitated figures associated with them.
LAMB: The Catholic Church is mentioned a lot. You say it's a predominantly Catholic country. How did the priests and the bishops that you talked to, and the monsignors, come out in this whole thing?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Very mixed. There were some who--who lost their
lives, of course. And just as there's the story I told you of the
pastors, where Tutsi pastors sought--threw their life s--in with the
lives of their flock, and some of the Hutu pastors helped kill them.
That was the same in the Catholic Church. You had--you had people who
behaved in the most dignified and great and brave way, and you had the
deeply demoralizing thing for many Rwandans: priests who participated in the genocide. And you showed a picture of a woman wearing a T-shirt. The pope had visited Rwanda in 1990. It's a deeply Catholic country. So the example of those priests who did partake, or who didn't object, to the genocide had an enormous influence. This is a country in which authority is--is looked to for an example at--at a moment of action, and here they were not acting.
LAMB: Who's this man?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: This is Major General Paul Kagame. He is the vice president and minister of defense of Rwanda today. He was the commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which is a predominantly Tutsi rebel army that had been fighting against the Hutu dictatorship calling for inclusion in the early '90s and which is the army that brought the genocide to a halt in Rwanda, and now forms the backbone of the current government.
LAMB: How well did you get to know him? Because I saw him quoted a lot in your book.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, I went to see him every time I went to Rwanda because he's a--first of all, he's a man of tremendous military brilliance, according to anybody who followed the campaigns. He managed with--to discipline tr--his army and to bring them to put an end to this thing. When nobody else in the world was fighting the genocide, he stopped it. I also went because he was somebody who thought very, very deeply about the state of his country, and I just found him to be a--consistently one of the most perceptive and interesting political thinkers anywhere.
He's a deeply original man. He's an unusual man. He's one of these people who--they say, `Extraordinary times produce extraordinary people.' It's not always the case. There are lots of extraordinary times that have failed to produce anybody worthy of leading. One doesn't have to like Kagame, and there are things about him that can be very troubling: to recognize that he's a man of extras--just really great intellectual--he's a man of action and of mind, of a very intense quality, and he's, to a large extent, the shaper of history there.
LAMB: On page 180, you give 16 reasons, I counted, that you wanted people to consider for--why all this happened: `One, precolonial inequalities; two, the fanatically thorough and'--hierchial--`hierarchical centralized administration; three, the hematic myth and the radical polarization under Belgian rule.' I won't go on with all these. How did you reach the conclusion on those 16? Are those all yours?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Yeah. I mean, these are the things that--that--essentially, when people try to explain the wounds that tear Rwandan political life, why--what--what--what contributed to the atmosphere of genocide? Poverty, superstition, polarization, oppression, a history of violence, radical propaganda, etc., etc., etc. What I really felt was all of those things clearly contributed to the nature of Rwanda. They are the Rwandan culture. And at the same time, you take them all, you put them together and you look at it and you could say, `My goodness, that is almost the perfect recipe for genocide.' Everything is set.
And at the same time I don't want to be able to rationalize genocide like that. I didn't find it persuasive. I felt that there's still something else that has to be understood. There's still something beyond that. One shouldn't ever s--what I really mean is it's not right to assume, `Therefore, it was inevitable.' It wasn't inevitable. It didn't have to happen. People had to make it happen. Even at that point, with all those factors, one could respond to all those factors differently, and yet what happened was people wanted and chose to organize the slaughter as a response to those conditions.
LAMB: In the middle of all this, you found Francois Mitterrand, the president of France's, son, an arms dealer, doing something. Did he make money off all this?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Well, France had a long connection to this regime. It said that--I think it's Jean-Christophe or Christophe Mitterrand, the son of the then-Socialist prime minister, was--was involved in--he--he was one of the--he was the man in the French foreign ministry in charge of dealing with Rwanda for a while. He gave--he made arms deals and arms trades and arrangements with the Rwandans. There were rumors of his having been involved in a--the marijuana trade that sort of grew up as part of the funding of the extremists.
What they're--what that's all about, really, is to point out maybe there was some financial gain for him in it, but what it was really about was the accommodation, the coziness and the investment of France in protecting and sort of sustaining the regime that ended up becoming the regime of genocide. And, you know, the really shocking thing is during the genocide, Mitterand was reported to have said, `In such countries as this, genocide is not so important.' That attitude makes it a lot easier to happen.
LAMB: This cover--where'd you get it?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: It's a photograph I took. It's Lake Kivu, which is the vast inland lake that stretches between Rwanda and the Congo. So that we're sitting here in Congo--in Rwanda, excuse me, looking across the lake at Zaire, Congo. It's a spectacularly beautiful place, and it was a photograph I took one evening at a place called the Cafe Tam Tam Bikini. I was having a beer, and the sun was going down.
LAMB: Next book?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I'm taking a--I'll see. I'll see. With--as I told you, when I went to Rwanda, I knew I was going to write about Rwanda, but I had no intention of writing a book about Rwanda. And then Rwanda seemed to require the attention that only a book could provide, and so with time, I went back and back and started writing this book. I'll see when the next story does that for me.
LAMB: Do you want to go back?
Mr. GOUREVITCH: I'd love to go back for a bit. I--I mean, it's a story--there're people whom I've gotten to know, in the course of writing this, who I--of course, you become attached to, you become concerned about, you become curious about. I don't want to stay--I don't want to spend my life Rwanda centered. At the same time, I can't imagine bidding it farewell very quickly.
LAMB: We're out of time. Philip Gourevitch, author of "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families." Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. GOUREVITCH: Thank you for having me.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1998. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.