Obituary: Claude Dusaidi

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The Independent Online
Claude Dusaidi, political activist: born Byumba, Rwanda 1951; married 1984 (two daughters); died Johannesburg 29 November 1997.

To many, the slaughter in Rwanda in 1994 was an outburst of tribal violence, a society run amok. But these were convenient descriptions only and hid a greater truth, for here was the direst of all human situations - the planned and systematic elimination of a people. With the death of Claude Dusaidi, history has lost a precious witness to the circumstances of this tragic event.

In the weeks before the genocide began, Dusaidi, a former schoolteacher who became a political activist, was lobbying at the United Nations in New York, trying to alert ambassadors that the Rwandan peace agreement which UN peacekeepers were monitoring was about to unravel. In meeting after meeting he tirelessly warned that the government in Kigali was rearming and was training militia.

Dusaidi soon discovered that Bosnia took up most of the Security Council's time. He knew too how dissipated the enthusiasm for UN peacekeeping was after the Somalia debacle. In the first week of April 1994, the mandate for the peacekeeping force in Rwanda was up for renewal, but American diplomats told Dusaidi that Washington, worried about UN budgets, wanted the peackeepers in Rwanda to pull out altogether.

Dusaidi said later that he believed the Security Council failed to grasp the principle involved - that a tyranny ruled Rwanda and the fragile peace which the peacekeepers were to monitor was Rwanda's last chance to create democracy.

The problems of his country had first changed the course of Claude Dusaidi's life in 1959 when, aged eight, he had fled with his family across the border to Uganda after a bloody revolution in which Hutus had massacred thousands of Tutsi. He grew up in a refugee camp and the local school was provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Dusaidi was the son of a civil servant, and had a considerable gift for languages; he won a scholarship, sponsored by UNHCR, to Uganda's Makerere University, where he specialised in French and English literature. He graduated with honours in 1976. After working as a high-school teacher, he was one of the first Rwandan refugees to win a scholarship to Canada to study for a masters degree.

Intending to obtain a doctorate he went to York University in Toronto, but left to organise the Canadian branch of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF was created by exile Rwandans from communities in Africa, Europe and North America and was dedicated to the return of up to one million Tutsi exiles to Rwanda and the creation of a democratic state. Dusaidi became a magnet for other young exiles in Canada.

In October 1990 the RPF army invaded Rwanda. There was a three-year civil war. In August 1993 a peace treaty was signed which promised the formation of a transitional government in which all parties, including the RPF, would be represented. A small force of UN peacekeepers would help prepare the ground for a general election. Dusaidi, appointed the RPF's North American representative, was sent to New York to lobby the international community.

But even while the August 1993 peace agreement was negotiated, the Hutu extremists in Kigali were secretly preparing a genocide of the Tutsi. When it began on 6 April 1994 Dusaidi was at the UN. For the first few weeks he remained convinced that the council would send reinforcements. He had been unable to obtain a full UN pass - he did not represent a government - and he was prevented from sitting in the lobby of the Security Council to wait for news.

So he sat, day after day, in the public areas of the secretariat building and confronted ambassadors as they left the building. His desperate pleas for military action fell on deaf ears. He was outspoken but totally committed and he earned the respect of UN staff and diplomats. But the council was paralysed and its first decision was to pull out the peacekeepers.

Dusaidi knew that in the first 24 hours all the opposition to the regime was wiped out - everyone who had spoken up for democracy and all human- rights activists, along with many thousands of civilians. There was no doubt in Dusaidi's mind that this was genocide and he was the first person to use the word in relation to Rwanda in an official document, in an RPF press release on 12 April 1994.

This was some weeks before the Security Council belatedly reversed its earlier decision and decided on 17 May to mandate 5,500 troops for Rwanda. The killing continued and the genocide would break the world's most atrocious records in speed and scale - up to a million people were killed in a hundred days. A third were children.

There was little Dusaidi could do and he later suffered the indignity of seeing a representative of the genocidal "interim government" address the council. As terrible for him was the subsequent global outpouring of sympathy for the Hutus who fled the country, many of whom had helped carry out genocide.

In July, when the RPF finally took Kigali, the country was in ruins. A few weeks ago I interviewed him there and we talked at length about the events of 1994. He hoped that one day someone would be held to account for the genocide and not just those who had organised it or those who carried out the killings. Had the peacekeepers taken forceful action, he said, then the militia would have fled. What was the point of armed peacekeepers if not for this? As for the Security Council, had it decided on reinforcements for the peacekeepers, the genocide could have been prevented.

Looking to the future, he was amazingly optimistic. A power in the land, he was now political adviser to the Vice- President, Paul Kagame, the leader of the RPF. He was respected and admired and determined as ever. The aim was to create a state that was better than the one before and to end forever the ethnic divide. They had come too far and suffered too much to believe otherwise.

In October Dusaidi had seemed weighed down with problems, but he was already ill. He was admitted to hospital in Kigali in November and flown to South Africa where he died in Johannesburg from kidney failure. It was yet one more tragedy, said a colleague, to add to all the others.