Ambas­sador David Rawson was the ambas­sador to Rwanda during the Rwandan Genocide before teaching at Hillsdale College. David Rawson | Courtesy

David Rawson loves African history. He should. He helped change it.

Rawson began working in foreign affairs in 1971. He served as an ambas­sador to Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War, and later to Mali, before moving back to Michigan in 1999. He then began teaching political science, African pol­itics, and African history classes at Hillsdale College and Spring Arbor Uni­versity. After this semester, Rawson and his wife, Sandra, will move to Oregon to be closer to their son and grand­children. Rawson will teach at George Fox Uni­versity.

Phil DeVoe ’17 took both African Political Systems and History of Africa with Rawson.

“It is wild that Hillsdale College has a pro­fessor that was an ambas­sador to Rwanda,” DeVoe said. “So many people did not know he was here.”

As the only pro­fessor with direct expe­rience in African pol­itics, DeVoe said Rawson brought some­thing special to campus.

“He knows the lan­guage and culture through his life,” DeVoe said. “You walked away from the class feeling like you under­stand some­thing very com­pli­cated.”

Born in Addison, Michigan, Rawson moved to Burundi with his parents in 1947 as a young boy. Rawson’s father, a doctor, ran a medical clinic, and he attended a boarding school.

In 1958, Rawson returned to the United States to attend college. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Malone Uni­versity and his master’s and doc­torate from American Uni­versity. He taught for six years at Malone before working in foreign affairs with the U.S. State Department.

Rawson said he knew he wanted to work in Africa again.

“Once you get the sands of Africa in your shoes, you have to go back,” Rawson said.

Rawson worked in foreign affairs from 1971 to 1999. He served as an ambas­sador to Rwanda from 1993 to 1996, under Sec­retary of State for African Affairs George Moose during the Rwandan Civil War.

Ethnic ten­sions between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda boiled over in April 1994, when Rwandan pres­ident Juvénal Hab­ya­rimana, a Hutu, died when his air­plane was shot down. Hutus blamed it on the Tutsis, leading to a genocide between April and July of 1994. In the span of 100 days, 800,000 people were killed — the majority were Tutsis, mur­dered by Hutus.

The United States gov­ernment ordered offi­cials, including Rawson, to leave the country.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front, a group of Tutsis and mod­erate Hutus, took control of the gov­ernment in July. Rawson then returned to Rwanda to provide emer­gency relief to the country. He also nego­tiated peace agree­ments with Rwandan insurgent leaders and min­isters to agree to follow the laws of the new gov­ernment.

After his time in Rwanda, he served as an ambas­sador to Mali from 1996 to 1999.

After leaving the State Department, Rawson moved back to his great-grandfather’s home­stead in south central Michigan and applied to teach at Spring Arbor Uni­versity and Hillsdale College.

At Spring Arbor, Rawson taught political science as well as classes on geog­raphy and con­flict res­o­lution. Rawson is a dis­tin­guished vis­iting pro­fessor of political science at Hillsdale.

In 2002, Rawson came into contact with Sen. Paul Simon, D-Illinois, who founded the policy institute, Southern Illinois Uni­versity Car­bondale in Car­bondale, Illinois. Simon gave Rawson a grant to write a doc­u­mentary study on the failures of peace nego­ti­a­tions in Rwanda fol­lowing the civil war. Rawson worked for years to declassify hun­dreds of doc­u­ments from nego­ti­ation meetings between insur­gents and the Rwandan gov­ernment.

According to Rawson, the book should be fin­ished and pub­lished by this fall.

French Pro­fessor Marie-Claire Morellec viewed Rawson’s knowledge and expe­rience working for foreign affairs as an asset to Hillsdale College.

“He is without a doubt the most knowl­edgeable faculty on African history and cul­tures,” Morellec said. “He is always very gen­erous of his time and has par­tic­i­pated in many talks for the benefit of our stu­dents. He is a remarkable and kind man with the ele­gance and expertise of a true ambas­sador.”

Rawson said he will miss working with stu­dents, some of which, he said, have gone on to work for the Peace Corps or mis­sionary careers.

“I loved teaching, and it is with great regret to lay these things down,” Rawson said. “I loved watching the stu­dents get better, write better, and I have had a lot of good stu­dents along the way.”