Saturday, 7 March 2015

A Visit to a Rwandan Genocide Reconciliation Village

Everyone has heard of the appalling genocidal events in Rwanda. I have been lucky(?) enough to visit Rwanda twice and both times I visited the genocide museum in Kigali.
It’s a sobering place as you drift from room to room, reading about the social rifts created by a manipulative Belgian colonial administration, the rise of aggressive social factions within Rwanda and the complete indifference of the West as the country exploded into racial genocide. It’s a confronting museum, not least for the photographic evidence but also for the personal stories and inevitable comparisons with other genocidal episodes in Kosovo, Nazi Germany and again, the German Imperial army trying to eradicate the Herero people in Namibia.

On this visit though we did something a bit different by taking a trip 45 kms out of the capital to a reconciliation village where victims and perpetrators of genocide have lived together in remarkable harmony.

We were met by a group of over enthusiastic kids singing and dancing and were then sat down with the rest of the community to hear the confessions of a man who was responsible for killing many Rwandas.  I don’t want to use the descriptive words 'Hutu' or 'Tutsi' because this was a sort of insane tribal apartheid invented by the Belgian colonists purely to divide and rule. In most examples this categorisation was not based on religion, nor geographical location, nor language, but it was something as arbitrary as your height that determined whether you were one of these two so-called tribes.  The current government abandoned any such labelling of its people, replacing tribal names with the title of ‘Rwandan’ – probably the best thing any government could do following the loss of 1.5 million citizens based on nothing else but your height...

The man admitted to killing several people and how, once the genocidal hysteria had calmed and some sort of order was restored, he was caught by the new government troops and gaoled for seven years for his part in the slaughter.

In gaol he was visited numerous times by Pentecostal priests who encouraged him not only to admit what has happened during those times, but also to confess his actions in front of some of the survivors.  This occurred while he was in gaol - and was probably a cathartic experience for both parties once they both overcame their suspicions and fears.

Eventually he was released and went to live in a small village community that had been set up to try to help the survivors of the genocide.  The village currently has around 25 (perpetrator) families and 50+ (victim) families.  His female counterpart was 12 when the madness started.  She was playing in the bush with her brother when she heard screams and realised that ‘bad things’ were happening (I assume this meant that her mother and father were being killed but didn’t like to ask…).  They hid in the jungle till thirst drove her brother to look for water.  He went into a nearby friend’s house to look for a drink but never came back.  Someone cut his throat with a machete.  She fled into neighbouring Burundi for a while but eventually drifted back into Rwanda In search of relatives. 
She never found them but was helped by the church and eventually ended up in the village we were visiting.  She now has ten children, one way to compensate for having all your living family wiped off the face of the earth in such a traumatic fashion. 
I asked if she was happy and she replied that she was, and like most parents, hoped that her children would be able to be properly educated and lead 'good lives'.

The last of her 10 kids were twins. Here they are sitting patiently while the adults talk abut their experiences

Part of the village experience was the enthusiastic welcome we received. 
Here's one of the village girls shakin' her thang...

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