Rwanda : a real “reconciliation” ?

mass gravesEveryone talks about it here .

Except they don’t. 

Wherever you go in Kigali, people will tell you that healing the wounds of 1994 is the number one topic, but they’re just too busy to dwell on it. 

Coax a story and everyone’s got one : the man who survived the genocide because he was kept hidden by Hutus, and when they returned from exile, he gave them his own house to live in til they got back on their feet. The man who lost 60 members of his own family and only survived because the day he was supposed to die was the same day the Rwandan capital was liberated by the RPF.

Officially, no one is a Hutu or a Tutsi any more, but you don’t have to speak to anyone for any length of time before the H word or the T word comes out- though usually in hushed tones.

Kigali looks like a place – and bear in mind none of us have ever been here before so we’re not able to compare the city with how it was – where everything is vibrant. The roads are busy, there are building sites all over the place, and the cafes and restaurants seem to be doing a good trade.

We’re staying at the Milles Collines – a place made famous outside this country by the film “Hotel Rwanda” – hundreds of people were sheltered here and avoided the killings going on all around them. As I write this I’m surrounded by people – mostly not Rwandan- enjoying their lunch and having a few beers out of the heat.

A new thatched roof swimming pool is being built and there are builders working on the front of the hotel.

And this goes to the heart of the issue ; Rwanda wants to – rightly- sell itself to the world as a place that has looked into the abyss, and come back. It is proud of the fact that crime is low, the quality of life is good for many people (though by no means everyone) and tourism is up.

Some argue that political debate is stifled and frank conversations about the direction of the country are frowned upon. Others say that if the economy grows, people simply don’t have the time to re-visit the horrors of 15 years ago. Still more say that Kigali gives a false impression of Rwanda – and that in the country the wounds haven’t even begun to heal.

Today we’ll be doing a programme from here at the Milles Collines and we’ll be joined from the U.S by Paul Rusesabagina- the manager here who sheltered all those survivors in 1994. We’re expecting a good debate; if we can perusade people to talk openly that is.

31 Responses to “Rwanda : a real “reconciliation” ?”

  1. 1 Tom K in Mpls
    September 15, 2009 at 13:32

    I believe countries have a personality, just like individuals. Expect them to be true to their nature. Rwanda sounds like someone that is hurting, that wants to change for the ‘better’, but is in denial. Until they truly accept their past instead of just saying it, it is not over and we can’t know what the end will be like.

  2. 2 gary
    September 15, 2009 at 13:56

    Fifteen years may seem long, but loss of loved ones often causes a lifetime of sorrow. Sometimes people never smile again, coping as best they can by avoiding the sharply pointed memories. They continue not forgetting, but not dwelling upon, father or mother, kindly aunts and uncles, children who did not grow up, or a promise of grandchildren never fulfilled. For some Rwandans, the sorrow is mixed with guilt, giving even more reason to focus on the present. Perhaps these folks are doing the best they can.

    September 15, 2009 at 14:08

    I commend your ability to provide a somewhat realistic sketch of Rwanda in such a brief moment since you landed there. I haven’t been there either but I believe we can get a better and different understanding from your findings. Its not a sketch for Rwanda that you have just drawn; ironically it is the sketch of Africa which is essentially a maze. The foreigner’s Africa is close to that of the Africa of the intelligentsia community and urbanized Africa all of which have a profound disconnect with the rural Africa. Ironically they are all mixed up and if you are not careful, your thinking gets conned and you might start to believe everything your are told or everything you say.

    The Africa mostly talked about is what lies not more than a kilometer from the center of any highway. The rest is the backyard of backwardness that stretch from cape town to Alexandria. The decadence of Africa. You can take a picture in all these places and might think you took them in one country; whichever you choose. So far I am satisfied with your initial inquiry. PROD ON GRANDPA.

  4. 4 Ros Atkins
    September 15, 2009 at 14:16

    Hi Mark. Reading your post reminds me of some of the issues I’ve had when working in the Caribbean. People will criticise their country or society off mic, but when you come to record they don’t want to be seen as doing their country down to the rest of the world.

    It’s understandable as selling their country to outsiders is often key to getting inward investment and visitors. You don’t want to seem disloyal.

    (I had a similar experience recording this documentary on tourism in Cornwall. I know people have strong feelings against tourists but those feelings often evaporated when the mic came out).

    It does make it difficult for whys to broadcast an accurate representation of how people feel, but the upside is that it’s all the more revealing if we do manage it.

    good luck in kigali – like everyone else we’re looking forward to learning and hearing more.

    • September 18, 2009 at 18:18

      Hi Mark and Ros,

      Bitter truth is hard to reveal, especially if it is going to kindle old animosities. Rwandans can use their past as a dark chapter in which 800,000 thousands lives were sacrificed to understand that only unity and reconciliation can keep their country stable. Now they have to look to the future and work for possibilities to rebuild their country as it should.

      National harmony is what it is needed for a country to move forwards and not living in a bloody past that can be the seed of new destructions.

  5. 6 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    September 15, 2009 at 14:33

    Africa should learns from Rwanda,Rwanda as a country have done much since the end of 1994 genocide especially in the area of gender equality,healthcare,development,democracy,peace & reconciliation.So as someone from E.Africa i do believe Rwanda is doing very well in highest phase,thank to H.E Pual Kagame for having modernise his country through difficult times.However,i do wants to reach president to stop meddling in Conglese affairs and work towards finding a common solutions to the civil unrest in DRC.I hopes if he(Kagame) & other regional leaders did so,DR.Congo will overcome some of its challenges and achieve its goal like the way Rwanda did.

  6. 7 patti in cape coral
    September 15, 2009 at 14:56

    Truly fascinating to hear about Rwanda now. Honestly, I kind of feel like the reporter in Hotel Rwanda who didn’t understand exactly why the H and T were fighting, and when he met two attractive girls at the hotel who explained that one of them was H and the other was T, he exclaimed, “But you could be sisters!” I think a long time will go by for true reconciliation because the losses to people still living were so extreme, but I think it can happen.

  7. 8 Julia in Portland
    September 15, 2009 at 15:03

    Hello, all WHYS’rs Rwanda.

    Is there possibly a fear that by discussing openly the events, causes and results that it might stir up old animosities and there might be a return to the problems of the past? Maybe the wounds are still too raw and there is a genuine apprehension that the differences might resurface and start anew.

    September 15, 2009 at 15:14

    The taunted emergent picture of modern Africa and elsewhere is development of the high rise buildings, posh cars and infrastructure. These though commendable are not enough on their own and may even promote alienation unless the state sets basic goals that are attainable to many . The real development comes in overcoming human biases by recognizing the benefits of such a shift.
    I hope the people of Rwanda voluntarily recognize tribalism and racism as deadly diseases that have often quashed the dreams of states that have everything that it takes to succeed.
    It is not enough to refuse to talk your language and one cannot be said to be innocent by that alone. Often, people deny existence of such vices in a society while in actual sense they are running them underground like free masonry till a calamity happens. The real development of Rwanda will come when they distance themselves from unfairness to each other that do nothing but end up kill their relatives and their dreams. They need to care about each others welfare and true development will follow. We hope this is the case.

  9. September 15, 2009 at 17:10

    Rwandans are really brave people and i respect their courage. Here in Nigeria after the civil war which was sort of tribal, the government worked out a way of healing the wounds by introducing a mandatory National Youth Service year for all graduates. It involves leaving your your part of the country to live in another part, for a whole year. It has helped young adults learn more about the cultures of other people and possibly avert another civil war. If this programme does not already exist in Rwanda, i think the government of Mr Paul Kegame can do well to introduce it. It would help the wounds to heal.

  10. 11 Saad baloch, Pakistan occupied balochistan
    September 15, 2009 at 17:54

    Well the gross right human can not be ignored in any way. All events that took place should be minutely examined and those responsible should be taken in to book. Rwanda genocide was tragedy for humanity. This issue of reconciliation can not be sidelined.

    • 12 Tom K in Mpls
      September 16, 2009 at 16:46

      When virtually all people on both sides were in some way complicit, what do you do then? Would you execute or imprison nearly the whole country? Some things are not practical and simply need to be accepted. Pursuing this would likely restart the violence. Since both sides are willing to let it go, I think it is the best way. I think we should respect the wishes of their government.

  11. 13 viola
    September 15, 2009 at 18:08

    I wish Rwanda well. I fear, however, that genocide in the world, like the current economic mess, will return due to unchangeable factors in the human psyche. Over time, pressures and angers and resentments will once more build up until some event triggers mass violence.

  12. 14 Michelle from Jamaica
    September 15, 2009 at 18:54

    I believe the wounds run very, very deep and people are hurting everyday. it will forever be etched in thier minds as a really dark episode in the country’s history. I aplaud them for their aparant ability to move forward, it must not be an easy task.

    I look forward to the programme, I hope it will be frank and we can get some understanding of what really took place.

  13. 15 Tom D Ford
    September 16, 2009 at 01:51

    I would like to hear that some good has come to Rwanda.

    I have a picture with small article by my front door of one of the soldiers I hold in greatest respect, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who tried to do what was right but had his hands tied in that Rwanda horror. We need more soldiers like him and we need to support them in doing right in our world.

  14. September 16, 2009 at 09:33

    I usually wonder if it is possible to get somebody without a baggage of stereotypes, who can OBSERVE and report what they see! I am here in Kigali and ready to tell whoever wants to know what I feel, but why is it that if I say something positive then somebody will say that I fear talking, or I am gagged?

    Many things are still bad in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, admittedly, but there are lots of more things that are positive, especially when you consider the horror that the country was in in 1994.

    So, Mzee Sandel (yes, I gather from the posts that you are not a young man), look around and go beyond the confines of Mille Collines and talk to a variety of different individuals (scholars, business people, students, villagers, men, women, cattle keepers, cultivators, etc.) and report what you see and hear.

    Rusesabagina has his own load of stereotypes, even if you were to manage convincing him to meet you anywhere in Rwanda (which I highly doubt!), and will feed you on the Rwanda of pre-1994, the cocktail of preparations for the 1994 horrors and all.

    In Rwanda WE talk, don’t talk over our heads to report on what we’d say if we were not gagged!

  15. 17 abimbola shodeko
    September 16, 2009 at 13:08

    wat ros said was tru it is hard to go back to the past

  16. 18 scmehta
    September 18, 2009 at 08:13

    It is high time we stop being Hutus or tutsis; we’ve already caused ourselves enough exploitation and harm at the hands of the cunning and the crooked, due to our this myopic/sectarian outlook. We, the humans, must think and act in a manner that is conducive towards establishing a peaceful and just order in any society anywhere in the world.

  17. 19 Mohammed Ali
    September 18, 2009 at 10:22

    Just as people cannot forget about the Holocaust, is the same way people will never forget about the Rwandan Genocide. Whenever topics of the holocaust is sparked out, it sounds like it was done a year ago, and this is the same situation with the genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda will move ahead.

  18. 20 Donnamarie in Switzerland
    September 18, 2009 at 13:36

    In 1994, I housed a Rwandan family who had fled the genocide. The only reason they got out was because there weren’t enough copy machines, and his name had been inadvertently left off a hand-copied “kill” list.

    He was a moderate Hutu, who had earned his PhD in physics here in Switzerland. He had been a deputy science minister. His Tutsi wife was a teacher. They have not returned to Rwanda (all of both their familes died in the genocide), and they do not plan to ever return.

    Even if Rwandans–and Afghans, Somalis, Yemenis and Iraqis–can somehow manage to live in peace, the brain-drain of the best and brightest will retard those countries’ progress for generations to come.

  19. September 18, 2009 at 14:31

    Forgiveness and Reconciliation are effective in Rwanda. Rwanda is a Christian country and none can hold drudges forever. They believe in the Bible and when we remind them of healed wounds, we provoke them once more and become flesh. I see that what we journalists should do is to help the healing process to be mroe effective. Whe you remind the German of Aldof Hilter and what he did to the Jews, they will not want to hear it anymore because it is a shame. Let by gones be bygones. A mistake of fratricidal war happened but never will it be repeated. That the healing process will take long, that l can accept. South Africa too with the Apartheid has to pay for it. Aparthied was worse because it was baptized and canonized even by those who know the message of the Gospel. Nelson Mandela has set the pace and everybody is following. Apartheid isa buried, now it is time for reconcialition and every South African is involved in its realization. It will take years to come out of people, especially htose who were badly treated on colour ground but at the end of the day it will realized all the same. For Rwanda too, l do not doubt the reconciliation will take the same path. No longer will Hutus and Tutsis leave as enemies but as Brothers and Ssters building a new Rwanda where ethnic affiliation will not be a barrier.

  20. 22 Makoi Majok
    September 18, 2009 at 15:03

    Hi there friends ,collegues ,comrades,in struggle in paving the way for some other people not to be like the case of Rwanda ,let me begin by saying that am so so sorry and will remain sorry for what had happened to our brothers and sisters in Rwanda let me hope there will be reconciliation and won.t happen again in the world like before,there will be reconciliation but there will be the fantasty (trauma )of genocide which will remains in the mind until thier the end of life ,like my case with Arabs in sudan ,The case of NAZI german during the time of Adolf and brutal regime of Idd Amin in Uganda,the time of Hailesie of Ethiopia,and lastly the Apathied regime of South Africa will remains in the wolrd history ,or do you think i can forget the case of Arabisation in sudan? ,like happening in Darfur now ,remember saying that forgive and not forget what had happened

  21. September 18, 2009 at 15:24

    Rwanda a real reconciliation?
    Does it matter?,Does anyone really care about Rwanda?,no one bothered when there was a genocide why should anyone take notice when there is or isn’t a reconciliation .
    Even countires such as Armenia,Cambodia or Israel whose populations have faced genocide haven’t stepped up to the plate when it comes to Rwanda.
    The phrase “never again”rings a bit hollow .
    Rwandans have to let the world know they exist and that they don’t treat each other like “animals”,Why did the hootoos attack did they have just cause?
    Is Rwanda trying to forment communal strive in Burundi,Uganda,Congo?

  22. September 18, 2009 at 15:27

    What’s not being talked about is who shot down the airplane that carried the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. This happened in 1994 and sparked the killings. There is evidence that Kagame’s RPF shot down the plane, so no wonder it’s not mentioned in Rwanda.

    Maybe Paul Rusesabagina will have something to say.

  23. 25 nora
    September 18, 2009 at 15:28

    The sign in the photo pulls at my heart. The Rwanda story is being worked out by the people who need to discuss in one way and the ones who need to live silent about it in another. In Chile it took years and different stages of civil recovery to bring us here, thirty-six years after the initial bloodshed. A girl who was a torture victim is now both a physician and the President.Humans need time to sort things, but most of all they need to sustain each other, and Rwanda surely has a future where the healers might prevail.

  24. September 18, 2009 at 15:58

    My country is struggling with this issue of reconciliation and we can hardly define it properly.
    we are saying let reconcile and forget the past, but it is not possible to forget the past given the fact that the past forms part of our history. so what can Rwandan recommend to us? should we take include justice in the process of reconciling or leave the past and forge ahead. we are really hoping to get some dvice from your guests.one thing I would note though, is that the people of that wonderful country are reselient.

  25. 27 John in Salem
    September 18, 2009 at 17:34

    The idea of reconciliation, forgiveness or of simply moving on and putting the past behind goes against everything I know about human behavior. The hands-on butchering of entire communities isn’t something that can be healed with time for anyone who survived it, and no amount of post traumatic stress treatment or grief counseling is going to restore the trust required to live a normal life among those who did the killing. This is something that will take generations of effort to overcome and to believe otherwise is dangerous.

  26. 28 viola
    September 18, 2009 at 18:16

    “The gods first make mad those they would destroy.”

    What happened in Rwanda was a societal madness brought about by built-up resentments and anger at perceived injustices and unfairness coupled with unscrupulous politicians who took advantage of a very bad situation. When those leaders died in what was reported as a plane crash, not a plane shot down, it was the factor that was the tipping point in a very dangerous atmosphere. Once something like that starts, it is impossible to stop without massive military intervention and that, my friends, did not take place. Read Romeo Dallaire’s book, “Shake Hands with the Devil.”

    Those are what need to be remembered and understood and dealt with by Rwandans. Reconciliation alone only sweeps the dirt under the rug.

  27. 29 Julia in Portland
    September 18, 2009 at 18:21

    There seems to be a continuing underlying fear – whether that fear is of going contrary to the current government, or of re-opening old wounds or of starting refreshed animosities.

    Paul has said the truth has been ignored – I agree that we have to acknowledge everything.

    If the history is not talked about and acknowledged there will always be issues that arise from this.

  28. 30 Justin Durueke
    September 18, 2009 at 23:51

    The genocide in Rwanda affected everyone in that country, Africa and the whole world. I am happy that 15 years after the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda people are begining to bridge the ethnic gap between Hutsi’s and Tutsi’s. We all are humans that is what they have realised. It does not matter if it is genuine or not. Rwandans cannot just forget the psychological trauma just like that. I applaud every efforts aimed at reconciliation. The African Union (AU) and the international community should assist Rwanda in this recovery and healing process.

  29. 31 Eric Brown
    November 2, 2009 at 04:05

    Rwanda has not reconciled. i just came from the great lakes and everyone is terrified to say anything that the government might not like. People are not talking because they are afraid of the backlash. There are laws in Rwanda that will punish any voices of dissent and those are tied to the genocide. This new law is related to genocide ideology. You can get years of prison time and hard labor or life in prison for something as simple as laughing at someone. It is a blanket law designed to terrorize the population. Until such things no longer exist, until there is true democracy and the rule of law Rwanda has not made much progress. If you think what you see in Kigali Center is representative of Rwanda, venture out a few miles out of the city and you will see a whole new reality.

    Also, for those who are interested in stopping events like what happened in Rwanda in 1994, Rwandan government’s involvement in the killing of 6 million Congolese people since 1998 will not help Rwandophones (Kinyarwanda speakers) of Congolese origin. Anyone who learned a lesson from Rwanda in 1994 should be urging Paul Kagame and Museveni of Uganda to immediately cease the butchering, raping, sodomizing, and plundering of Congo’s resources by Rwandan’s might lead to something similar to what happened in Rwanda. I pray it doesn’t happen but history from Rwanda and the region itself suggests things are not over either in Rwanda or Congo.

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