Monday, October 14, 2013

The Rwandan genocide

I quit the Ugandan safari early, after the gorillas, to get to Addis Ababa in time to see the Meskel eve celebrations (which I missed in the end due to a flight cancellation – see earlier post). The fastest way to Ethiopia was via Kigali, capital of Rwanda. I had half a day to kill in Kigali, so I stopped into the Rwandan Genocide Museum.

It is terrible. The museum is powerful, awful, wracking and affecting. Beginning with the simple precursory history of how the Belgian colonisation sowed the seeds of division between the socio-economic classes of Hutu and Tutsi, it builds in a crescendo to the horror of the 1994 genocide that exploded beneath the impotent supervision of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR).

Priests collaborated with the armed extremist genocidaires, the interahamwe, to kill their own congregants sheltering in their churches. Family members were forced to kill family members. Parents were forced to kill their children before they were themselves killed. Woman and children were specifically targeted to prevent a new generation of Tutsis. Victims were thrown down deep latrines on top of one another until they smothered to death.

In one room, a montage of interviews with survivors was playing. One young woman, distressed at recalling the gentle happiness she shared with her husband before the genocide, spoke with a tremulous voice. "We lived a simple life," she said. Her hand gestured in futility before returning to cradle her head. "He was a carpenter. He made doors and tables." Tears were exhausted years ago but the pain of reliving her loss was visible in her eyes. Short sentences were all she could muster. "He was always looking for something to do. He wasn't lazy. He was a noble man."

It was too much. I turned away and wept quietly.

In another section called the Children's Room, profiles of child victims are lamented with a sentiment that they should have been the country's future. Here is David. Age: 10. Enjoyed making people laugh. Dream: becoming a doctor. Last words: "UNAMIR will come for us." Fate: tortured to death.

Rwanda today is a phenomenon. No one is anymore considered Hutu or Tutsi; everyone is Rwandan. After the undulating dirt roads of the Ugandan countryside and the sooty chaos of Kampala, Kigali was patently prosperous. Modern buildings were common. Roads were clean and in excellent condition. The government has instituted a series of grass-roots programmes rooted in cultural practices, such as Umuganda Day. On the last Saturday of each month a half day of community service is a public obligation, like jury duty. Everyone – everyone – contributes to the public good, cleaning streets, repairing roads and building schools. Rwandans have created their own pride in their small nation. It is a remarkable turnaround from a country that was completely destabilised and moribund just twenty years ago.

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