Beyond the Book: Background information when reading An Ordinary Man

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An Ordinary Man

An Autobiography

by Paul Rusesabagina

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 224 pages

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The Republic of Rwanda is a landlocked country in East Central Africa bordering on Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. It is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa; about 80% of its 8.5 million people are Hutu, most of the remainder are Tutsi, with a few Twa (pygmies). The majority religion is Christianity (75%), and French and English are the joint official languages. The economy is overwhelmingly agricultural with most engaged in subsistence farming.

The Twa are believed to have been the first to settle Rwanda, followed by the Hutu in about 1000 AD. The Tutsis migrated into the area around the 15th century and gained dominance over the Hutus. However, over the centuries there has been much intermarriage between the two main groups and it is often difficult to distinguish between them.

In 1890 Rwanda accepted German overrule and became part of German East Africa; in 1919 it came under Belgian rule. In 1957 the Hutus issued a manifesto calling for a greater voice in their country's affairs, in line with their numbers. In 1959, the old mwami (king) died and was succeeded by Kigeri V. The Hutus contended that he had not been properly chosen and fighting broke out - the Hutus emerged victorious and more than 100,000 Tutsis fled the country. In 1961 the Hutu run government declared Rwanda a republic and, following a UN-supervised referendum in 1992, Belgium granted Rwanda independence.

The next 20 years saw on and off civil strife, and conflict with neighboring countries, such as the Tutsi controlled Burundi, and Idi Amin's Uganda. In 1973 a non-violent coup put a moderate Hutu, Habyarimana, in charge - he was elected president in 1978, and again in 1983 and 1988. Two years later Rwanda was invaded from Uganda by forces made up primarily of Tutsi refugees.

In 1993 Habyarimana signed a power-sharing agreement which led to Hutu violence in the capital. Soon after, a UN peacekeeping mission was established but when both Habyarimana and Burundi's president were killed in a suspicious plane crash in April 1994 the Hutus were incited by a local radio station to start a campaign of mass slaughter against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

This article was originally published in June 2006, and has been updated for the March 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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