Capt. Mbaye Diagne on BBC

Capt Mbaye
Capt Mbaye in Rwanda

Dear All,

I was admirably surprised to see this article on BBC on Capt Mbaye Diagne, the forgotten angel of Rwanda.  Remember that I wrote an article about Capt Mbaye Diagne’s bravery, courage, and strength in the face of horrors in Rwanda, back in 2009.  I am grateful for this recognition from the BBC, even though it has taken this long.  I want you to go back and read the great article I wrote a few years ago on this African hero, the forgotten angel of Rwanda here.  Don’t forget to check out the BBC article as well.

Patrice Lumumba: Fierce Guardian of Congolese and African Liberty

Patrice Emery Lumumba
Patrice Emery Lumumba

This Monday marked the 50 year anniversary of the assassination of the great African giant Patrice Lumumba.  How could I pass on such an occasion to talk about him?  50 years later, his speech and his vision still  ring true.  Lumumba dared to defy the Belgian King Baudouin by telling him on independence day what he saw as the Belgian hold on Congo. He was blunt! He spoke the truth! He was not malleable… He could not be manipulated by Europeans! He was a menace because he was a free man proud to be Congolese.

Lumumba detained
Lumumba detained

I always wondered what would have happened if Lumumba had not been so open about his ambitions for his country? What would have happened if he had played their game, and hidden his cards? Then we, Africans, would have never had our African hero! Someone had to say what we all felt: oppressed, hated, enslaved, diminished,… someone had to make us proud of being Congolese/African again… someone had to re-establish our dignity!  That someone happened to be Patrice Emery Lumumba!  Patrice died because he had great ideals, and because he trusted others.  For the problem in the Katanga province, he went to the United Nations; he trusted that establishment to resolve the conflict peacefully, and to help solve the Katanga secession…. Instead they, with all the interests they represented (US, Belgium,France, etc…), refused to help him… the US of Kennedy refused to help him out, and thus he turned to the USSR to keep his country united.  With the USSR, he was able to solve the rebellion in the Katanga and Kasai provinces… but the Americans and Belgians were mad that he had been helped by the Soviets; they decided to have him murdered after this affront (they used Mobutu, and Tshombe)! Once again, we Africans sold our own brother…  I wonder where the Maurice Tshombe, or Kibwe, or the Joseph Mobutu are today… History will remember them as tyrants, dictators, and puppets of the West!  Isn’t it interesting that history keeps repeating itself? Today the United Nations are starting a war in Ivory Coast in the name of installing a puppet-president in a soveraign country… Have you ever seen the UN so vehemently ask for war in a country?  Only in Africa could this be possible…  I used to dream that this was a peace organization! Actually, it is an organization to impose the will of the West on third world resource-rich countries.

Lumumba on a USSR stamp in 1961
Lumumba on a USSR commemorative stamp in 1961

The following documentary will tell it all: how the Belgians did not like Lumumba because he was not a puppet, how they started the Katanga secession and supported it; how Lumumba went to the UN for help in keeping his country united and was refused help; how Lumumba went to the US to ask for help, and was not even received by president Kennedy; how he turned to the USSR to solve his problem in the Katanga and Kasai provinces; how that event precipitated his end.  50 years later, Lumumba’s ideals and vision are still actual. Lumumba is the symbol of aspirations of an entire continent. His spirit lives on, and his pride is ours!

Lumumba (2000)
Lumumba (2000)

I live you with an excerp from a letter he sent to his wife before his death: “… the future of the Congo is beautiful and [I] expect for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.”  You can find the Integral version of this letter on AfricaWithin.com, as well as his famous 30 June 1960 independence day speech.  Please don’t forget to check out: Wikipedia, The Guardian which deemed the assassination of Lumumba as the most important of the 20th century, The Daily Nation of Kenya deemed Lumumba the bright spark in a land of despair, and The New York Times which called it an assassination’s long shadow.  At last, the movie Lumumba (2000) is what finally got the Belgian admitting their part in the assassination of Lumumba.

The Forgotten Angel of Rwanda: Capt Mbaye Diagne

Rwanda
Rwanda

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgdU1B2bzxw