Captain Mbaye, the Senegalese hero of the Rwandan Genocide


Friday April 7th 2017, marks the 23rd year we are remembering the victims of one of the darkest hours in human history: The Rwandan Genocide. When the much-needed spark the Hutu majority needed to descend on their Tutsi countrymen. Within hours of the incident, the Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu was murdered, and from then it was blood, blood everywhere for the next 100 days.

In what has now come be known as the Rwandan Genocide, the whole world watched on as about one million Tutsis, moderate Hutus and some foreigners were murdered at the hands of the Hutus who sought out their victims and eliminated them. Churches and sanctuaries became mortuaries. Priests became both assassins and undertakers. There was no sacred place.

As much as we remember the victims of the genocide, we should also remember to celebrate those who not only remained good in the face of evil but also went out of their way to protect people ─ some paying the ultimate price along the way.

Captain Mbaye Diagne, Senegalese of around 36 years old

Captain Mbaye was born in Coki/Senegal near Dakar on March 18th, 1958; and died in Kigali/Rwanda on May 31st 1994, while genocide against Tutsi was undergoing, one year after he was sent to Rwanda UNAMIR, UN peacekeeping mission.

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He was one of people who paid the ultimate price while saving others; as remembering the victims of genocide, the heroes deserve to be remembered and celebrated too.

Much has been said about the inactions of the UN and the complicity of some peacekeepers during the 100 days in 1994, there is; however, one man that defied orders and mission agenda to heed the call of humanity as he saved over 50 people during the genocide.

The story of this once in a lifetime hero, was told by a man who worked with him, Mark Doyle: From accepting to transport the five children of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana to the Hotel Des Mille Collines which was serving as the safe house of the UN, to walking in at the right time to prevent a Hutu priest from murdering a Tutsi woman who was taking refuge at the church, the timing of Captain Mbaye was impeccable.

No other expression better describes the effect of his presence at the Sainte Famille Church than these words from Mark Doyle, “There was no large-scale killing inside the Sainte Famille compound, partly as a result of the efforts of Mbaye and the other UN peacekeepers – although plenty took place just outside.”

“He was an ordinary unarmed military observer reporting to the UN peacekeeping mission, but he did the job of a man with an extra life. Through roadblocks and bullet teeth, Mbaye transported endangered Tutsis and Hutus while the rest of the UN soldiers were torn between their humanity and sticking with their mission agenda. At the end of the day, even if they wanted to follow their humanity, they were under equipped. But it never mattered to Captain Mbaye, a northern Senegalese man in his mid-30s who was built, gap-toothed and funny. His weapon was his laughter, which he deployed in buying the conscience and his way through the Hutu militias as well as delivering momentary joy to the distressed Tutsis.

As Captain Mbaye was driving through deathly hallows to take people to the Hotel des Milles Collines safe house.

What underlines his heroism is the fact that he was acting all alone to save people, in clear defiance of the agenda of the UN peacekeeping mission. It, however, was not long before his actions got to the notice of the majors in the army. Surprisingly, recognising the service to humanity Mbaye was carrying out all by himself, rather than reprimand him for breaking orders, General Romeo Dallaire, the head of the mission corroborated the efforts of Mbaye which resulted in over a thousand escaping the onslaught.

He, in the company of some other UN officials, at some point organised convoys to take some people in the hotel to the airport where they had prepared jets to transfer them out of the country. And the plan would have been successful but for a Hutu worker at the hotel who leaked the plans and names of people on board to a Hutu radio.

The radio went ahead to read out the names of the Hutu on the vehicle, inciting the Interahamwe against the UN convoys. Seeing the preparedness of the militia to kill them, Mbaye reportedly stepped out of the vehicle onto the road while shouting “These people are my responsibility, you would have to kill me first, before you kill them.”

Even though they had to return to the hotel, Mbaye saved lives that day. His luck, however, ran out on May 31, 1994, when a bomb went off a few metres away from his car while on an errand to deliver a message to an army major in the rebel-controlled area of Kigali. A shrapnel tore through his flesh and he died immediately, paying the ultimate price of service.

Captain Mbaye remains one of the greatest heroes of the Rwandan genocide. His love for humanity was beyond military orders. But he lost his life in the process of gaining lives. His acts capture the essence of humanity. There is no better gospel in the 21st century.

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