Hotel Rwanda, how could technology help?

By Katie Chrzanowski

1994 was just barely 11 years ago, for most people it does not seem that far into the past. The Internet was just beginning and personal computing was on the rise. Society was thriving and most people did not even know about certain world events occurring at the time. The genocide of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda was happening and hardly anyone knew about it. It almost seems unfathomable that something as horrible as that could occur without the world taking notice. This situation was depicted brilliantly in the movie Hotel Rwanda. The use of modern technology could have helped alleviate problems during the crisis as well as help situations like it in the future.

The major way technology could have helped influence this situation was through publicity. Change can only come about if people are conscious of the events occurring. The Internet could have been a great proponent when it came to stopping the civil war in Rwanda. First of all, someone, or multiple people, could have created a website to help spread the word about the events going on. The sites could be updated daily with news, photos, and stories of different people’s experiences. The webmasters and other people could have then tried to publicize the site by having links placed to their sites from other major websites, or they could have even bought advertising space. Having this information on the web would have caused people to become aware and it could have become major news worldwide. If enough people cared and told others about it, there was bound to be someone who wanted to help make a difference. If 19 year old Gary Brolsma singing “Dragostea din Tei” could create a following, so could have any other topic found on the Internet. If that kid could be on the news, than there is no doubt that a story like the Rwanda genocide could obtain air time. Hotel Rwanda showed a few news journalists trying to obtain footage of the tragic killings at the beginning of the outbreak of war. These journalists were shortly whisked away when all U.S. citizens were evacuated from the area. This is why the people of Rwanda should have had the ability to capture images themselves.

Since there was only so much that the news cameras could acquire, pictures from the general public would have captured some of the most disturbing images. Many incredible events in history, such as the Kennedy assassination, were caught on tape by amateurs. Using digital still and video cameras to document such atrocities like the killings Paul Rusesabagina’s family witnessed near the beginning of the film, they could have gotten other people to understand the horror they were facing. Uploading the pictures to the Internet and posting or sending them to world leaders or other important individuals could have proven to be effective in convincing them that help was desperately needed. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,” would have been very fitting for some of the images shown in the film. There were certain parts where no dialogue was used and the expressions on the peoples’ faces were enough to tell the story. The pure emotion of the characters was very powerful.

People could have also created message boards in which to communicate with others during that time. There they could have shared their stories; researched how to survive various attacks, or even uncovered contact information for important officials. In the movie the characters only had the ability to use the phone in order o get in touch with people that could help them. Most of the people there probably did not have all of their contacts’ phone numbers for memorized, which could have been a severe problem. Online address books or even portable Palm Pilots could have helped with this since those devices can store vast amounts of information in a small place. Cellular phones would have also been extremely useful in this stressful situation. Instead of waiting for a turn to use a hotel phone, each person could have used a cell phone to make their calls all at the same time, which would leave time to make even more phone calls. Those crucial minutes could have saved lives. Another benefit of cell phones would have been that if the rebel Hutu tribes decided to cut the phone lines in the hotel then it would not have been that much of a problem since cell phones rely on satellites and towers and not strictly on wires.

There was one point in the film where Paul Rusesabagina had to endanger his life by going to buy more supplies for the refugees staying in the hotel. If the Internet was like it is today he could have found a way to order groceries and supplies online. Or he could have asked for donations from people through a website. That way he could have stayed at the hotel and made sure that everything continued to run according to plan.

All of these technological advancements could have helped the situation in Rwanda, but only if other people are concerned about the issue. Hotel Rwanda really drives that message home by showing the struggle of the Rusesabagina family and other refugees. Nothing can be done if people just do not care. All the money and the equipment in the world would not help alleviate any human rights problem if people on the outside of the issue did not care. The bottom line is that technology can help any situation, but only if there are people willing to stand up for what is right.

© 2005