Sample History Essay Paper on Reaction Paper to Ghosts of Rwanda and Black Gold

Reaction Paper to Ghosts of Rwanda and Black Gold

            Most of the conflicts in the world stem from a systemic failure and interference by powerful external forces. The Rwandan genocide and the historical cycle of poverty among coffee farmers in Ethiopia are classical examples of historical systemic failures and the overbearing power wielded by external powers. The two documentaries, Ghosts of Rwanda and Black Gold, poignantly paint the picture of how such factors can create an enabling-environment where political and economic vices thrive for the benefit of the rich and powerful nations. They document the influence and the power possessed by rich nations and international organizations such as the United Nations, United States and World Trade Organization. Most importantly, they highlight how such powerful entities primarily intervene in political and economic conflicts only it serves their interests.

            Produced in 2004, the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda chronicles the state-sponsored ethnic cleansing in 1994 in Rwanda. The documentary retells the methodical murder of over 800,000 Rwandans, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic community as the international community watched. As the Hutu extremists hunted and massacred the Tutsi, international community was reluctant to intervene. The documentary traces the diplomatic and political failures to quell a war that traces its origins to social, political and economic biasness by colonial powers. The documentary uses interviews with key players involved in the conflict including soldiers, survivors and government officials among others to indict the international community who failed to stop the slaughter due to deep rooted national interests (Barker, 2004).

One of the fundamental objectives of a documentary is to document a fundamental issue, historical, present or future. And in Ghosts of Rwanda, the audience is treated to a firsthand account of the events that transpired during the historic Rwandan genocide. Through their eyes, audiences are offered a unique opportunity to relive the terrible tales of the survivors, the inhumane motivation of the soldiers who slaughtered thousands of Tutsi minorities and the mindset of the diplomats who stood by and watched as the Hutu extremists led one of the largest massacres in human history. As the Tutsis ran scared into the forests to escape an imminent death as seen through the eyes of the survivors, the world is reminded of the dangers of systemic failures and historical social, political and economic injustices committed in developing countries with the blessing of developed countries (Barker, 2004).

The minority Tutsis were elevated above the Hutus by colonial powers setting off a cascade of events that led to deep rooted ethnic hatred. The documentary objectively shows that the seeds of hatred sowed by Germans and nurtured by the British sprout fast. The nadir of such growth was a government-sponsored ethnic cleansing. The colonial powers gave the minority Tutsis preferential treatment over their Hutu brothers. Jobs and economic opportunities were unevenly distributed. The Tutsi were perceived as highly educated and given plumb jobs in the government. They were essentially made lords over Hutus. One of the strengths of this documentary is it objectivity. By documenting information from various sources, the producers are able to focus on their themes without falling into the temptation of being biased on such an emotive issue. The documentary is emotive and highlights the perception of leaders such as Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali who headed the United Nations. Most crucially, it intertwines the haunting experiences of the survivors and the Hutu extremists. It collects the views of more than diplomats (Barker, 2004). The producers corroborate their evidences with the information collected by journalists such as Fergal Keane who walked through the streets Rwandan towns and village paths to chronicle to the world the failures of the international community and the dangers of bystander politics and national interests.

In Black Gold, the producers bring to their audiences the dangers associated with economic dominance of global coffee market by world super powers and international organizations. The documentary follows the struggles of Tadesse Meskela, an Ethiopian representing the 74-member Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-op Union as he challenges the dominance of multinational corporations in the world’s coffee market. His primary mission is to ensure that his people, the Oromia, can get fair prices for the coffee that they tirelessly struggle to bring to the world market. The odds are stark high against him as he seeks to overturn the influence of the middlemen and push his agenda to the doorsteps of World Trade Organization (WTO). However, his met with challenges as his voice is drowned by the multinational corporations with their huge financial war chest and the powerful influence exerted on WTO by the world’s richest nations. Back at home the coffee farmers are starving despite their produce bettered only by oil on the global trade arena. Meskela is a proponent of fair-trade concept is works tirelessly including going overseas to ensure that coffee farmers back in Ethiopia get a fair share of the profits currently hoarded by coffee giants.

The documentary is thought-provoking. It is an indictment of the inactivity of the WTO in ensuring fair trade which is one of the founding principles of the organization. The organization has been held hostage by powerful countries where these multinational corporations are based. As a result, the interests of poor nations and business entities such as the ones Meskela is representing are swept aside by the powerful tide of organizational greed and national interests. As the coffee giants continue to rake in huge profits, the local farmers who ought to be the major beneficiaries of their sweat languish in poverty. It is an irony of big business that plays out throughout the documentary in the form of business facts and figures and personal journey of Meskela and the many farmers he represents (Francis & Francis, 2006).

In documenting the ills associated with big business in the coffee industry, the directors of the documentary, Marc and Nick Francis prioritizes objectivity as the founding pillar of their insightful investigative work. They collected firsthand information from Ethiopians earning less than a half a dollar for a day’s job, the poor coffee farmers, big corporations and the WTO. He highlights the absurdity of a commodity produced in Ethiopia but whose prices are determined thousands of miles away in London and New York. The documentary is well-reached and awash with disheartening stories and emotive tales and facts.

In conclusion, the two documentaries provide useful insight on how international diplomacy plays out on the global political and economic landscape. They are indictments of the failures of international community in ensuring fair play when it comes to international diplomacy, politics and economics. In Rwanda, close to a million people were slaughtered as the world watched conflicted by national interests. Ethiopia’s coffee farmers and coffee factory workers are plagued by poverty while the powerful nations benefit from their sweat.


Barker, G. (dir.). (2004). Ghosts of Rwanda. USA: Frontline.

Francis, M. & Francis, N. (dir.). (2006). Black Gold. USA: Speakit Films.