What I remember vividly about the train journey was the book I read to while away some of the 36 hours trip, Thomas Pakenham's "Scramble for Africa" , which looks at the vast, then virtually unknown continent at the time of the colonial scramble between the 4 colonial powers of England, Germany, France and Belgium. From an Irish person's perspective what fascinated was the realisation that if Gladstone wasn't so preoccupied with "the Irish question" he would have backed Stanley's quest for the navigability of the Congo river, and not left it to King Leopold for Belgium.
Indeed the course of history would have been very different in the area as if Belgium hadn't already a foot in the door with Congo, they wouldn't have been "given" Ruanda-Urindi (present-day Rwanda and Burundi) as part of the carve-up of the former German colonies after the Treaty of Versailles in the wake of World War 1.
Just goes to show what the consequences of one action or inaction can be. In the case of Rwanda these have been devastating, and the complexity of the situation there that culminated in the genocide of 1994 is impossible to condense in a few lines of a blog post. Suffice to say that the colonial masters have a lot to answer for in this instance, which is not to exonerate the Interehamwe perpetrators of the genocide.
The Belgian policy of divide and rule perpetrated the existing gulf between the Bantu Hutu and the Nilotic Tutsi who were seen as more "European" looking by the Belgians, who favoured them in education and employment opportunities. This festering resentment boiled over as soon as independence arrived and the first of many genocidal massacres took place around 1959.
The account of the events of that awful year are told in many books, from many angles, and a film has been made - Hotel Rwanda - which gives an accurate portrayal of one aspect of the bravery of individuals. The refusal of the Western world in general and the US in particular to use the genocide term was one of the damning indictments of Clinton's administration, as that would have meant an international intervention, other than the ineffectual UN response, which was miniscule compared to that in former Yugoslavia around the same time. General Romeo Dallaire was one brave man heading up the UN forces who was thwarted every time he attempted to raise the issue of complicity of some Western governments, and the need to empower the UN to be peace enforcers not just peacekeepers.
Other books that recount the events for posterity are Philip Gourevitch's chillingly factual "We wish to inform you tomorrow we will be killed with our families"; Dervla Murphy's account of visiting her daughter and family in Goma in the wake of the genocide in "Visiting Rwanda", and Fergal Keane's (former BBC World Service African correspondent) "Seaon of Blood - a Rwandan Journey" . I have read these and can recommend them, they are compulsive reading for anyone interested in trying to understand African tribalism and the devastation of colonial fallout. I have not read Dallaire's book "Shake hands with the Devil" but it sounds compelling; he left Africa a broken man after what he had witnessed, and it might put into perspective the constraints the beleaguered UN peacekeepers work under, their mandate of non-intervention made them targets for internaional opprobrium, and probably led to changes in their approach to crises in Chad and other global conflict zones.
We lived in Tanzania during the Rwandan genocide and worked closely with the volunteers on the ground in the refugee camps in the border Kagera region, which were largely filled with the fleeing perpetrators - a moral and ethical dilemma that challenged the humanitarian ideals of everyone involved. Do we assist the perptrators or do we treat them as they treated their fellow-countrymen and women and children? I don't have the answers to this question, I don't know if there is one.