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Workers reviews the film Shooting Dogs at its world premiere in a football stadium in the Rwandan capital – and finds both a fine film and an exposure of the effects of Belgian colonialism.

How friends became killers


There have been a number of reviews of Shooting Dogs, the film starring John Hurt which depicts the events of the Rwandan massacre of Tutsis by Hutus in 1994, and shot on location in Kigali using locals as extras. Some, such as the Guardian reviewer, have described the film as a work of fiction, while most others have praised it.

However, watching the World Premiere of the film in a football stadium in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, along with thousands of survivors, makes it easier to assess the film and the events it depicts in which 800,000 died.

The story is set in a Catholic-run school in Kigali with John Hurt playing the priest and teacher. The school becomes a refuge for hundreds of Tutsis and Hutus opposed to the coming massacre. They are surrounded by hundreds of "Interahamwe", the Hutu militia, waiting to kill them.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is how ordinary friends and neighbours, such as the school caretaker, become killers in what was a pre-planned massacre. The film also describes how French troops eventually came to the rescue of only the handful of white victims in the school, probably a typical example of French colonial mentality.
Mass Grave
As Rwandan prisons are full, killers tell where their victims are buried to receive "forgiveness". Bodies are still being brought to this mass grave containing 256,000 bodies...

'That's how it was'
The only comments from the audience watching the premiere were words to the effect of "Yes, that's exactly how it was." At the end of the performance, the audience left in complete silence, each one with thoughts of their own experience of survival.

So as a film Shooting Dogs (a reference to the only action the tiny UN brigade were allowed to take) deserves very high acclaim. Most survivors regard the film as highly accurate in its description of the events, and are highly critical of the other film, Hotel Rwanda, which they regard as inaccurate and whose hero, the hotel manager, they despise, as he makes his fortune living off the proceeds of his speaking tours in the US.

What becomes clear, however, is that before the Belgian colonialists came to Rwanda, Tutsis and Hutus were as one, intermarrying and displaying no differences. It was the Belgians, like the Nazis, who began to invent imaginary racial differences between them and declare the Tutsis more intelligent and therefore capable of becoming the Belgians' civil service and colonial managers. It was the Belgians who introduced ID cards which identified Hutus and Tutsis, and it was the Belgians who lit the fuse for the massacres (1994 was not the first) in the way they handed power to a bunch of fascists at independence, trying to maintain their colonial influence.

Today in Rwanda, there is no free health care for the population although Saudi Arabia has built a big private hospital for the rich returning Tutsis. There is free primary education, but thereafter schooling is provided only by the Catholic Church.

The country is awash with "guilt aid", and at the Genocide Museum in Kigali, an attempt is being made to compare the "genocide" with that of the Armenians, Jews, Cambodians and some invented genocides – instead of putting it into the context of colonialism in Africa.

No mention is made of other mass killings in recent times in Africa – of the 1 million killed in Mozambique by the Rhodesian and South African sponsored RENAMO (also supported by US Christian fundamentalists), for example. No mention of the 100,000 killed in Mozambique by famine while the US refused to provide food aid. No mention of the 4 million killed across the Rwandan border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by mercenary militias (including Rwandans) seeking control of the diamonds and other resources. No mention of the millions killed in Angola, Algeria and other African colonies as they fought for their independence.

No one wants to make a film about these events that former colonial powers, including Britain, would rather were forgotten.