So Mbaye drove Ancilla Mukangira to the Hotel des Mille Collines, past the militia men who were waiting at the gate to kill the Tutsis inside. He told her to stay in his room and not open the door to anyone, returning only late at night, with an extra mattress for her to use.
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I had got to know Mbaye a little myself. Soldiers are normally wary of journalists, but, in this, as in other ways, he was different. One day, we drove together in his white UN car to gather information about an orphanage in a suburb of the city called Nyamirambo, where it was believed several hundred vulnerable children might be hiding.
On our way there, we were stopped at a militia roadblock. One of the militiamen walked over to the car and leaned through the window holding a Chinese stick grenade. It looked like an old-fashioned sink plunger, but instead of having a rubber sucker on the end of a stout stick, it had a bomb. The militia considered Belgians, the former colonial power in Rwanda, to be their enemy. They had recently killed 10 Belgian soldiers, who were part of the UN force, calculating that this would make the entire Belgian UN contingent leave Rwanda — which it did.
I was terrified I was about to be killed, but Mbaye looked at the man, smiled, and cracked a joke. The joke broke the tension of the moment. Mbaye then ordered him out of the way, the militiaman instinctively obeyed - and we drove on. Mbaye was a devout Muslim, but he carried alcohol in his UN 4x4 to buy the lives of people he was taking through the deadly checkpoints.
I once saw a list of names on a scrap of paper that had fallen out of his pocket. He sometimes even gave away his military food rations — and when his colleagues found out, they donated theirs to add to the valuable stash on the back seat of his car. As time went on, the war split Kigali into two zones — one controlled by the government, the other by the RPF.
The Hotel des Mille Collines was in the government-controlled zone, right next to a barracks where some of the militia leaders were based. But thanks to its armed UN guards, many Tutsis and moderate Hutus did what they could to get inside. Most had to have money or contacts.
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They were taken to the airport and flown to safety, still dressed in the pyjamas they were wearing when they fled their home. But more and more people arrived at the hotel and conditions steadily worsened. Water supplies were cut off, forcing those sheltering there to drink water from the swimming pool. A doctor, Odette Nyiramilimo was on one of the lorries with her family, while Mbaye was in the lead vehicle.
The convoy made it out of the hotel gates, but it only got a few hundred metres down the road before it was stopped by a crowd of militiamen. A government propaganda radio station had got hold of the list of the people in the lorries, and was reading it out on air, whipping the militia into a frenzy. And he stood between the lorry and the militiamen holding his arms out wide. Eventually, Mbaye, along with other Senegalese officers, dissuaded the militia from killing the people on the convoy.
But the crowd of militiamen was too big to drive through so they had to turn the convoy back to the hotel. They had not been able to get to the airport and out of the country, but they were alive.
Back at the Mille Collines, while the doctor was giving first aid to passengers who had been dragged from the vehicles and attacked, Mbaye came up to her. He was a hero. Dr Nyiramilimo and Ancilla Mukangira eventually left the hotel in later convoys. In this way thousands were saved. But the American Fulbright Scholar Richard Siegler, who lives in Rwanda and plans to publish a book on Mbaye, thinks the correct figure may be 1, or more.
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It would be wrong to suggest that Mbaye was the only one to have saved lives in Rwanda in - there were countless cases of extreme bravery by Rwandans themselves. But in all of the years since the genocide, researchers have pored over the details of what happened, and none has found anyone involved in as many rescues as Capt Mbaye Diagne. By this time the RPF had the upper hand but government forces were making a last stand in central Kigali. Almost every day there were big battles in the city — fights so intense that the sounds of individual guns firing merged together to make a deafening noise like rolling thunder.
It was on one of these days that Mbaye was asked to take an important written message from the head of the government army, Augustin Bizimungu, to the UN commander, Romeo Dallaire, who was based in the zone now held by the RPF. Mbaye would have to leave the government-controlled sector by driving through a government army checkpoint.
He stopped at the checkpoint and a mortar round exploded on the road a short distance from his car. Mbaye was part of a small group who had been willing to risk their lives to save others, says Dallaire. So you must pray for us. In that last call home to Dakar, he talked a lot about death. I think the things he saw over there deeply affected him. Their two children, a boy, Cheikh and girl, Coumba, were just two and four years old when their father died.
It would be two years before Yacine could bring herself to tell them the truth.
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The daughter of the assassinated prime minister, Marie-Christine Umuhoza, is now married with two children of her own. She and her brothers were flown to France, but the country which had provided a home for the wife and family of the murdered president rejected the children of the murdered prime minister. Instead they ended up as refugees in Switzerland.
Marie-Christine lives in Lausanne, where she works as a psychiatric nurse. She had never spoken publicly about the events of before, but she told me her chilling tale with great poise and dignity. I owe him my life. I heard soldiers talking about a serious incident at a government roadblock in which a UN military observer may have been killed.
But he was in denial — he knew it was Mbaye.
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When I found the car the body had been taken out. There was blood on the seat and in the footwell. The next day, when his body was being taken to a plane at Kigali airport for repatriation to Senegal there was no coffin available — the UN mission was operating on such a shoestring, and had been so abandoned by the rest of the world, that Mbaye was wrapped in a large piece of the blue plastic sheeting the UN normally uses for sheltering refugees. Martin Eberhard, one of the founders of Tesla and its first CEO, arguably contributed far more to its engineering achievements.
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He had a bitter feud with Musk and left the company years ago. The core technology of space travel depends heavily on NASA-funded work. But SpaceX is not driving the future of space exploration. It is capitalizing on a deep pool of technology and highly trained people that already existed, and it is doing so at a moment when national support for NASA has diminished and the government is privatizing key aspects of space travel.
For starters, Tesla relies on lithium-ion batteries pioneered in the late s with major funding from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. Tesla has benefited significantly from guaranteed loans and state and federal subsidies.
Under this arrangement, Tesla agreed to produce battery packs that other companies could benefit from and promised to manufacture electric cars in the United States. It is striking, then, that Musk insists on a success story that fails to acknowledge the importance of public-sector support. He called the L. But its achievements rest on many years of public-sector investment. To put it another way, do we really think that if Jobs and Musk had never come along, there would have been no smartphone revolution, no surge of interest in electric vehicles?
This matters because the great-man narrative carries costs. First, it has helped to corrode the culture of Silicon Valley. Great-man lore helps excuse or enable some truly terrible behavior. Musk is known, after all, for humiliating engineers and firing employees on a whim.
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In , when his assistant, who had devoted her life to Tesla and SpaceX for 12 years, asked for a raise, he summarily let her go. It hindered him more than it helped him. Hero myths like the ones surrounding Musk and Jobs are damaging in other ways, too. If tech leaders are seen primarily as singular, lone achievers, it is easier for them to extract disproportionate wealth. It is also harder to get their companies to accept that they should return some of their profits to agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation through higher taxes or simply less tax dodging. And finally, technology hero worship tends to distort our visions of the future.
Is trying to colonize Mars, at a cost in the billions of dollars, actually the right direction for future space exploration and scientific research? We should be able to determine long-term technology priorities without giving excessive weight to the particular visions of a few tech celebrities.
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