The genocide in Rwanda twenty years ago did not cause an outcry among us. Today, it should be a reminder to us.
Reminder of the Rwandan genocide: bones of victims of the slaughter twenty years ago are preserved at the Kigali Memorial Center. Photo: dpa
Marie Nyanawumuntu would probably be a grandmother today, and perhaps she would continue to clean rooms at the "Ibis" hotel in the Rwandan city of Butare. The hotel still exists, but Marie no longer works there. Together with her three small children, she became a victim of the genocide in 1994.
The young woman had always been particularly helpful to me. When I saw her for the last time, the slaughter had already begun, but Butare was still deceptively peaceful. As we parted, Marie took me in her arms and said reassuringly, "Perhaps we will survive."
She was a friendly person. Instead of yelling at me to please help her, she comforted me. An absurd situation. On the other hand, maybe not so absurd. After all, there was nothing I could do to save her and her children. Or could I? To this day I do not know.
But I do know one thing: The world could have done more than it did – namely nothing at all. The possibilities were not even seriously discussed. To force serious debate, public pressure must be strong. At least when no geostrategic interests are involved. In Rwanda, such interests played only a peripheral role in the literal sense.
But why was there no outcry in the face of hundreds of thousands of slaughtered civilians? Why were there hardly any demonstrations and protests? Because piles of corpses do not cause an outcry.
Horror, yes, occasionally also voyeuristic horror. But rarely compassion. The lower the possibility of identification, the lower the willingness to get involved. The "Diary of Anne Frank" has raised awareness of the horrors of the genocide of the European Jews more than any other document.
Although the genocide was not mentioned in it at all and although we know very little about what Anne Frank experienced in the concentration camp. It is enough that she was able to give the Holocaust a face. As long as victims remain anonymous, their suffering can be endured quite well in other parts of the world. That is no reproach. No one can be permanently distressed about everything that happens elsewhere. At least not without going insane.
But at the same time, this means that in Africa, of all places, where – certainly for geostrategic reasons – a particularly large number of atrocities take place, we seem to have a hard time understanding people. Life there seems too distant. We’d better not get involved, right?
In any case, we’re not particularly bothered by the horrors currently on display in the Central African Republic. Marie Nyanawumuntu, however, would probably have been bothered. And her memory would probably be best served if in the future we did not only look at strategically interesting locations. In other words, not only Ukraine. But also on the Central African Republic.