Bearing Witness to Mass Murder

By Lemarchand, René | African Studies Review, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Bearing Witness to Mass Murder

Lemarchand, René, African Studies Review

The third day after leaving Tingi-Tingi we began to pass the bodies of the dead and the dying.... My eye fell on a teenager hardly sixteen years old. Like the others she was lying at the side of the road, her large eyes open.... A cloud of flies swarmed around her. Ants and other forest insects crawled around her mouth, nose, eyes and ears. They began to devour her before she had taken her last breath. The death rattle that from time to time escaped her lips showed that she was not yet dead. All who passed by glanced at her and then took up their conversation where they had left off. I stood in a daze in front of this sixteen-year-old girl, lying in agony by the side of the road in the middle of the equatorial forest more than five hundred kilometers from home. As in 1993, when I heard about the extermination of my mother's family, as in 1994, when I saw the burned houses, the fear in the eyes of the fleeing Tutsi, and the arrogance and the hate in the faces of their executioners, as in 1995 when I saw pictures of women and children assassinated by the RPF in the camps at Birava, I was overcome by revulsion. What crime had all these victims committed to deserve such a death?

Marie Béatrice Umutesi, Surviving the Slaughter

In the "witness literature" on the Great Lakes, Marie Béatrice Umutesi's wrenching narrative surpasses all others by its searing, intensely personal quality. She bears testimony to an almost forgotten tragedy: Between October 1996 and September 1997, hundreds of thousands of Hiitu refugees lost their lives in the course of a massive manhunt carried out by Rwandan-backed rebels and units of the Rwandan army. She is unsparingly honest about the scenes of apocalypse she witnessed in the course of her grueling trek across two thousand kilometers in eastern Congo. Hers is the voice of hundreds of thousands who never lived to tell their story-of the countless men, women, and children who died of hunger, disease, and sheer exhaustion in a murderous game of hide-and-seek with advancing rebel units; of the untold numbers trapped at the Tingi-Tingi death camp who fell under the bullets of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) or drowned during the river crossing; and of the hundreds gunned down in Mbandaka as they were about to seek refuge in Congo-Brazzaville. Hers is the voice of the orphaned eight-year-old girl Zuzu who, after walking barefoot for months in the forest in the footsteps of "Auntie" Béatrice, told her one day that she "could do no more, and decided to squat down by the side of the road and wait for death" (193).

The agony of the Hutu refugees in eastern Congo has been all but eclipsed in public attention by the even greater tragedy of the Tutsi genocide. Although the two are intimately connected, compared to the sustained media exposure given to the latter, very little has been said of the events related by Umutesi. One notable exception is Maurice Niwese's moving autobiographical account (2001), a chronicle of his own tragic odyssey during the same circumstances. Unlike Niwese's, however, Umutesi's story is now accessible to the English-speaking reader, including those decision makers in the United States and the United Kingdom who bear much of the responsibility for giving Kagamé's RPF and its client movement, the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo (ADFL), a blank check to carry out their manhunt from October 1996 to September 1997. Not the least of the merits of her book is that it lays bare the central piece of disinformation disseminated by the Rwandan media and uncritically endorsed by the United States (thanks to the thoroughly disingenuous efforts of the U.S. military attaché in Kigali, Rick Orth). The official line was that after the return of some seven hundred thousand refugees to Rwanda in October 1996, the only persons left behind were Interahamwe and former members of the Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR).1 Neither Zuzu nor Marcelline, Virginie nor Assumpta, all of them among Umutesi's closest companions, quite fit into this picture. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Bearing Witness to Mass Murder


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.