The Forgotten Angel of Rwanda: Capt Mbaye Diagne


I still remember the day the Rwandan genocide started. I was just in “4eme”, and the images of the genocide on TV made me cry at night! What could I do, me… a simple school child in Cameroon, except watching on television and praying for someone or something to stop this butchery! Well… among all the heroes mentioned in books and documentaries about Rwanda, a fellow African heard my cry, a Senegalese UN soldier who was in Rwanda decided to act… with no guns, no arms, and no authorization from the UN, he decided to take destiny in his hands…. He is almost forgotten when people talk of Rwanda: few ever mention the act of bravery from this African soldier stationed there.

Yes… I am talking about the young Senegalese captain Mbaye Diagne who was working for the UN in Rwanda. From the first hours of the genocide, he decided to take destiny in his hands, ignoring orders from the UN telling him to just be an observer. He probably thought: “how can I just look when human beings are being slaughtered? how can I just look when I am a blue beret, a UN officer supposed to maintain peace in the world?” From the first hours of the genocide, he was able to save the children of the prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was murdered; he hid them in his house, and was later able to take them to safety at the “Hotel des Mille Collines.” From then on, he saved many lives, some even think that he probably saved at least 600 -1000 people.

Capt Mbaye
Capt Mbaye in Rwanda

During the genocide, he was constantly rushing and never stayed put. He had a gift to make people laugh and always wore a smile on his face. He could be familiar with anyone within minutes! He could joke with the Interahamwe at all checkpoints, share a cigarette with them, talk with them… and in the midst of the genocide, even the interahamwe probably liked to see a smile in the midst of all the killings, a glimpse of light in all the darkness! He had to save hundreds of people by carrying 3-5 at a time in his vehicle, not to raise suspicion, and pass at least 23 checkpoints at which he had to stop each time and explain himself each time. All of this was done unarmed! Imagine, … saving hundreds of people unarmed, 3-5 at a time!

Yes… Capt Mbaye with his toothy smile was a light in Rwanda… an African angel sent to save people, an answer to some of our prayers. While learning about Capt’ Mbaye, I couldn’t help but cry, tears of happiness… happiness because all I ever heard in documentaries or books were these acts of bravoure by Europeans (or Rwandans like Rusesebagina in “Hotel Rwanda”)… but no-one mentioned this African child saving another African child! No one ever mentioned that the only UN officers left with Gen. Dallaire in Rwanda were mostly Ghanaians and other Africans like Senegalese Capt Mbaye!

Capt Mbaye at the "Hotel des Mille Collines"
Capt Mbaye at the "Hotel des Mille Collines"

One thing is sure, Capt Mbaye showed that in the midst of uglyness, we have a choice to be either observers or actors! We have a choice to protect, and help others! From the very first day of the genocide, Capt Mbaye decided to listen to his conscience and save people! He gave his life for others and stood on the side of justice; he extended his arms to fellow humans in distress… he loved! He was not superman, he was just Mr. ‘everyone’ reaching to the human side in every single one of us: he talked, negotiated, and smiled with the Interahamwe so-called monsters.

Please watch parts of this great documentary from PBS Frontline, and raise your hat to a true African hero! We, Africans, are the only ones who can truly praise the acts of bravoure, courage, and love of this forgotten angel of Rwanda! What can I say… words cannot express my profound gratitude to have learned the story of someone ordinary who decided to do extraordinary things, and saved hundreds of lives!

Don’t forget to watch Part 2: