Rwanda: Day 9

Wednesday, we started off the day with Genesis 45:16-24. In this passage, Joseph’s brothers are sent back to Israel to get their father and all the family and servants and everything and move them back to Egypt. I’d never thought before about what the brothers told their father when they got back to get him. Did they admit what they had done? How did they explain Joseph being alive? 

We also talked about how in order to be restorative, justice must look to the future. We talked about the Gacaca courts and if they did that. They certainly did look to the future, but they also had immediate benefits. The legal load in the formal courts was alleviated, community restoration was allowed to begin. The main directive or first priority of Gacaca was immediate, but they did look forward in important ways. 

Bishop John Rucyahana is a retired Anglican bishop who retired exactly as well as most clergy do. He’s now serving as the Chair of the National Commission of Unity and Reconciliation. He got his masters degree at Trinity Seminary in Ambridge, PA. 


He began by talking about the genesis of genocide. Before colonialism, Rwanda was one of the biggest kingdoms in all of Africa. As it is landlocked in the interior of the continent, there were no slaves taken from this area during the slave trade. Rwanda was first colonized by Germany, but they later lost it during WW1 and turned their focus to Europe. During the German rule, Rwanda fought for Germany during the Belgian invasion. Eventually, Africa was cut up into pieces and Rwanda was given its current borders, for the most part. Rwanda was made small to control them from a power dynamic aspect. Kings/kingdoms in Africa that opposed European rule were treated in such a way to control their power by creating arbitrary borders. 

During Belgian rule, Rwanda was not allowed to have their own army. The security in the country consisted only of Congolese because they were more loyal to the Belgians than the Rwandans. 

During the Belgian rule is when the fictitious “ethnicities” of Hutu and Tutsi were assigned to people. They were a people of one language, one culture, and one religion, yet they were separated into racial profiles that had nothing to do with race and everything to do with European colonists’ preference for people who were lighter skinned, taller, and generally more European in appearance. They went so far as to mandate/force people of the two “ethnic groups” to go live in separate parts of the country in order to look more like separate groups. 

Bishop John is a diplomatic man and was very careful to differentiate the Belgian colonists from modern Belgium. 

In 1962, Rwanda gained independence. Bishop John said regarding culpability for the events leading up to the 1994 genocide, “This is where we stop looking at the Belgians and start looking at ourselves.” He explained that during the first and second regimes after independence, Rwandans “owned” the genocide. They accepted the false history that had been given them by the colonists in regards to their identity. They have to take responsibility for the genocide because of this. It cannot all be placed on colonization. 

During the genocide, Rwanda was essentially ignored by the outside world. Because of this, it was Rwandans themselves who had to stop the genocide and who now are tasked with preventing it from happening again. “From who we are,” Bishop John said, “we brought justice into this mess.”

Bishop John chose not to use a PowerPoint presentation at our gathering because he knew we’d been to many memorials already. “You have seen enough bodies already.” “It was madness. It was demonic.” He told us that there were even women with babies on their backs killing other womens’ children. “The U.N. disappointed and betrayed us.” 

After the genocide, the rest of the world suddenly became interested in human rights in Rwanda. “After the world abandoned us, they have the nerve to tell us about human rights in the prisons.” Many of their judges had fled or been killed in the genocide and the prisons were bursting at the seems with those who had participated in the genocide. At one time, there were >120,000 people in prisons in this country the size of Maryland. This is when the Gacaca courts were set in place. 

Bishop John is hopeful 25 years after the genocide. “Don’t think we are doing magic in this country. . . We are DEALING WITH the hurt and the guilt. . . “ Where they are 25 years after proves to the world that this is doable. The results are proving that peace is possible, even after horrific violence and war. It’s possible because “We have good leadership that is encouraging to uphold our constitution.” In order to make sure school exams are fair (they affect a student’s secondary school and university/trade school options) and that the “crimes of the father do not affect the future of the child”, all exams are given with codes, not names. This provides equal opportunities for all students. There is also zero tolerance for corruption, as well as hate speech/genocide ideology. In the Western World, there are critics of this zero tolerance for genocide speech and ideology, based on freedom of speech arguments, but you cannot argue that this is not a highly effective way to stamp out the horrible racist attitudes that led to genocide in the first place. There is a sliding scale of freedom of speech around the world, and Rwanda has chosen to accept less “freedom” that Americans are afforded when it comes to speech (in the US you may receive social consequences to being publicly hateful toward another group of people, but you won’t receive legal consequences, short of calling for violence agains them), with the trade off that just 25 years after the genocide, the country is arguably more peaceful and unified than it’s ever been and has made great strides socially and economically. 

There is a great deal of social freedom for people in Rwanda and the country is very progressive/modern in terms of gender roles, racial reconciliation, and being as green as possible (in spite of the 95% development of all land in Rwanda). “Some countries are strong economically and militarily and they can afford to surprises their people. . . But we do not have that luxury.” They are jealously protecting their unity. And I don’t think they are wrong to do so. 

“How crazy would you be not to learn from us? You cannot afford to not learn from us. We have died enough to teach all of us.” 

In the afternoon, we rested and took a delightful boat ride to an island in Lake Kivu. It was a good buffer day before preparing to return to Kigali for our last day together.