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Conflict Spurs Rwanda Book

Professors David and Catherine Newbury said the 1994 wave of genocide in Rwanda that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including many of their friends, motivated them to write the book.

The couple said they hope to educate the American public to create better informed news reports and policy decisions.

The Newburys, who have visited Rwanda since the late 1960s, said they feel it is important for American citizens, who live in a country that is a leader in the globalizing process, to have accurate data and a clear understanding of happenings in Rwanda.

"Africa is very little known in this country," David said. "Sometimes it is not presented with the kind of depth of understanding or even natural validity that it deserves."

He said part of what he and his wife are doing is serving as interpreters for Americans to understand the historic events, cultures and people that are relatively unknown in the United States.

The Newburys said they were frustrated by the media's portrayal of the genocide as tribal warfare, when actually it was politically motivated conflict spurred by a severe economic depression.

"Those who knew something about Rwanda, which in the U.S. at that time was not very many people, knew that it was in fact a political struggle that was going on," Catherine said. "The killing was being organized by people in the government."

While trying to provoke action from the international community to stop the violence, the Newburys were also devastated by the loss of close, personal friends.

In many cases, the Newburys helped their friends' families by financially supporting their children's education. They also served as godparents to many of the children who were eventually killed in the genocide.

"We felt so helpless," Catherine said. "We were watching this, and we couldn't do anything about it."

Now the Newburys are taking action to inform the American public and media of events in Rwanda's history to avoid future conflicts and help give back to a country whose people they found warm and welcoming.

"It was very, very hard for us," Catherine said. "We felt that given the enormity of what happened, the most important thing we could do was to engage in public education and try to give the story of what was actually happening."

The Newburys' book will cover about 300 years of history and is aimed at helping Americans understand political activity in Africa on a more personal level, David said.

"Perhaps the biggest single objective here is for people in this country to understand that Africans aren't just a series of cultures, they're really a series of individuals -- 800 million of them."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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