Capt Mbaye Diagne: A Forgotten Legend of the Rwanda Genocide by Lord Reginald Sagay
Captain Mbaye Diagne was indeed a good man in Rwanda.
Twenty years ago, Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point – but one stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives. he was born for a particular purpose and he lived to fulfill it. He died so that others can live. He did not have the power to give life but surely had the power to save and rescue one.
This is a story of one of the bravest soldier and a legend Africa is yet to celebrate.
Capt Mbaye Diagne was in his mid-30s, from a small village in northern Senegal, and a man of immense charm. Tall, gap-toothed and easygoing in Aviator sunglasses, his humour put people at their ease even in one of the darkest chapters of modern history.
It all started in April 6th 1994 when the plane carrying the Rwandan president, a member of the majority Hutu population, was shot down. Everyone on board was killed. Within hours Hutu extremists seized power and a tidal wave of murder was unleashed against the minority Tutsi population, and anyone prepared to defend them. It was one of the bloodiest genocide in the history of Africa where in about 100 days over 800,000 were killed and a further 2,000,000 people were displaced.
The Rwandan Army came for Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana that first night.
As gunshots fired continuously, her five children, were bundled through a chain link fence to be hidden in a neighbour’s house.
“There was more gunfire," says Marie-Christine, the prime minister's daughter, who was 15 at the time.
"Then we heard the soldiers scream for joy and after that there was nothing but an eerie silence.”
Agathe Uwilingiyimana was a moderate Hutu, not a Tutsi, but she was killed because she was ready to share power with them. Had the killers found the children they would have been slaughtered too.
It was Captain Mbaye Diagne the unarmed UN observer who decided to rescue the kids and hid them under a tarpaulin and drove them in his unarmoured car to the UN-guarded Hotel des Mille Collines.
Diagne continued his one man rescue missions as the horrors continued to unfold around him. Having discovered that 25 Tutsis were hiding in the basement of a Kigali house, he took them-five people at a time, navigating thorough many militia checkpoints and ensured their safety. At one point, an unarmed Diagne had to reportedly steer through 23 checkpoints guarded by armed militiamen to save his passengers.
So, how did Mbaye Diagne manage to accomplish these remarkable missions? According to former colleagues, Diagne’s natural charisma and ability to diffuse a delicate situation with his sarcastic sense of humor often saved his life, along with those of the “dozens upon dozens” he rescued. Diagne’s commanders including Gen. Dallaire soon came to know of his actions, which were both against his orders and in violation of the UNAMIR’s mandate. Gen. Dallaire never moved to reprimand or stop him. Romeo Dallaire himself used his extremely ill equipped force with limited resources to create “safe zones” for the Tutsis, while strategically ordering his forces to protect areas, where he had information that people were hiding. His actions meant that thousands of Tutsis escaped slaughter.
It must be noted that when the genocide broke out United Nations gave a strict order that the UN peace keepers and observers were not to engage under any circumstances whatsoever so this means that the UN peace keepers and observers were in actually unarmed during their mission in Rwanda hence you can imagine the circumstances within wish Captain Mbaye operated.
After Rwanda was abandoned to its own fate by the world, Captain Mbaye Diagne kept saving as many people as he could. Shocked by the atrocious massacre of thousands of innocent people perpetrated before his eyes, he spared no effort to save the biggest possible number of people. Without the use of weapons, and having to deal with genocidal militias, he discussed and negotiated with killers to convince them to let the small groups of up to five people he carried in his white UN car go through.
During two months, the man who was called “the bravest of the braves” continued his rescue missions. They say no one knows the exact number of people he rescued at different occasions during the Rwanda Genocide but it could be over 800 people rescued by one unarmed and couragous man Until on the 31 of May 1994 he was deadly hit by a mortar shell while carrying a message to General Dallaire. He was 36 years old when he died.
He was buried with military honors in his native Senegal.
As Africans we have an obligation to make sure that the good and bravest names in our history are kept and preserved so the younger generation can read and learn from. The League of Justice calls on the President of Rwanda in the person of Paul Kagame who was at the time also fighting for peace in Rwanda to at least make a day in honour of this Senegalese soldier who dedicated his life for the Rwandan people or erect a big statue in his honour in Rwanda.
Written by: Reginald Sagay, Lord of the League of Justice.