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Paying Tribute to Captain Mbaye Diagne, The Senegalese Hero of Rwanda

At the time of writing, June 2013, official commemoration of victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is continuing around the world. But few people still remember Captain Mbaye Diagne. However, this young officer from the Senegalese army showed bravery at a time when the rest of the world was demonstrating cowardice. Enrico Muratore has been fighting for years to ensure that the name of this hero is not forgotten.

Capitaine Mbaye

Photo of Captain Mbaye Diange from the Facebook page of the association bearing his name, used with their permission.

Global Voices posed several questions to Enrico Muratore on the objective of his action via the Association of Captain Mbaye Diagne – Nekkinu Jàmm:

Enrico, could you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hello, I am an ex-United Nations Human Rights Officer who served during, among others, the peace-keeping missions and also worked in Rwanda, a country which I have been really interested in since the 1994 genocide. I am Italian, but I have lived in Africa for 15 years, and in Senegal for 4 years.

On May 31, you organised a ceremony to commemorate a Senegalese soldier who died during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Could you explain to us the reasons for this ceremony?

We were celebrating the memory of Captain Mbaye Diagne, who was a military observer for UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda). When the genocide started on April 7, 1994, individual unarmed rescue missions immediately started saving all those who could be saved. They started with the children of the Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingyimana – who had just been killed, after the massacre of his escort of ten Belgian paras. When the United Nations decided to withdraw nine tenths of their military presence who were already on site (and who could have opposed the genocide), 270 soldiers remained, among them the Captain, who undertook his perilous missions to save the others, until he was killed on May 31, 1994, after having saved, they say, nearly 600 people. So we celebrate the memory of this just and altruistic man who gave his life to save that of others at this time.

What are the initial objectives of the Association? Who are the members? Is it open to other members?

The Association aims to promote the memory of Captain Mbaye Diagne and to support his family’s development, because it is not fair to abandon the families of those who gave themselves for others. Of course, their sacrifice doesn’t mean to say that they didn't love their own families! Therefore, we must do something for them. The President of the Association is Mrs Yacine Diagne, the Captain’s widow; the Vice-President is Colonel Faye who was friend of the Captain and was in the UNAMIR in Rwanda with him; I personally am the General Secretary (GS) and the Captain’s children, Coumba and Cheick are the GS assistants; next, as Treasurer, we have Ras Makha Diop, philosopher, gardener and Senegalese artist, instead of the late lamented good and just Doctor Adotevi. Next, we have founding members such as Pierantonio Costa, ex-Honorary Consul of Rwanda who saved 2000 people from death during the genocide, Mark Doyle who is a principal correspondent for the BBC and previously friend of the Captain, senior civil servant Bacre Ndiaye of the United Nations High Commissioner’s Office of Human Rights, and author of a prescient report on Rwanda when he was the special reporter covering extra-judiciary executions in 1993. We also have other Senegelese and foreigners, including some who participated in one or both United Nations missions in Rwanda, people that had known him or simply appreciated his sacrifice to save the innocents. We are still accepting new members, as long as we are assured that they sincerely admire the Captain, and intend to support our Association’s goals.

He really was a hero! What did people know about him before?

There is a lot of material available on the internet, but it is true to say that the general public around the world does not know of the Captain. Yet his sacrifice has been officially recognised by the Rwandan government, by the then American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and by the Giardino dei Giusti del Mondo [it], an association to honor those who oppose genocide in Italy, among others.

What has been achieved so far?

Creating the Association in itself an achievement because that was not simple. We have a Facebook page named Association of Captain Mbaye Diagne – Nekkinu Jàmm and we are currently setting up a multilingual website; we are organising activities with the press. For example, for example, in this interview [fr] from May 31, his wife described how she was informed of his death and recalls her memories.. The Fatto Quotidiano [it] in Italy, and the past with Radio West Africa for Democracy or the Senegalese media; activities such as the Junior Football Tournament organised with the Senegalese Football Federation; May 31, the prayer vigil in the Captain's family home.

Was he married and did he have children? What became of them?

The family have quite simply been forgotten all this time, now we hope that the association with us has helped them to make themselves be better understood and to find their place while promoting the memory of their husband and father, because this could be very useful in educating youth and people in general, about these troubled and violent times.

Captain Mbaye fell on duty, didn’t he? What have the national authorities and the UN done?

We must ask his wife and Association President Mrs Yacine Diagne, but as far as I know, the United Nations have done nothing apart from pay the life insurance that the Captain had signed up for while at their service, and which paid his family a premium 19 years ago, but nothing more since. The family home is collapsing, they had to look for support from a sister of Yacine; the children have lost years of schooling, the eldest, Coumba, had many health problems, the Captain’s mother is old and sick. Only close family, and several friends, notably from the Army, have done anything; now the Association will do what it can.

As for the dead, only God can look after them. With respect to help for the family, we contacted the Association for the Office of the United Nations for West Africa, a little while ago, but they have not yet responded. We hope they will do so.

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