For some, Rwanda is beautiful, a story of amazing recovery and rebuilding. For others, Rwanda is creepy, a story of ongoing Western-sanctioned political repression and murder.
In other words, Rwanda is complex. Incredibly complex, with some deep wounds that have not yet healed. And it’s perhaps time the humanitarian community moves beyond the simplistic depictions of the country, if only to make sure that what progress has been made can continue.
In 2011, I joined a dozen or so journalists with the International Report Project filing into a government building in Kigali, Rwanda. We were there to report on what many in the aid and development community were calling ‘Africa’s success story’ and given brief instructions on how we were to interview President Paul Kagame. One question per person and no video.
So, of course, I surreptitiously set up my SLR camera to take video. Kagame soon joined us and greeted each of us warmly, speaking softly like a genteel professor. Continue reading →
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center-left, light a memorial flame at a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis
“The genocide we remember today – and the world’s failure to respond more quickly – reminds us that we always have a choice,” said US President Obama in a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, today.
“The horrific events of those 100 days – when friend turned against friend, and neighbor against neighbor – compel us to resist our worst instincts, just as the courage of those who risked their lives to save others reminds us of our obligations to our fellow man.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame lit a flame at the ceremony that will burn for the next 100 days, in what was reportedly an emotional commemoration. It represents the period of time when an estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed by Hutu soldiers.
Notably absent from the day’s events was France. France canceled its participation in today’s genocide commemorations in Rwanda after the nation’s leader accused the country of being directly involved in the genocide.
The Kagame-led government has remained critical of France for its role in the genocide. Accusations include helping the Hutu soldiers who carried out the atrocities in 1994 escape. There have been further allusions made regarding the fact that France helped to train the Rwandan military prior to the genocide.
“The Western powers would like the Rwanda is an ordinary country, as if nothing had happened, which have the advantage to forget their own responsibilities, but it is impossible. Take the case of France. Twenty years after, the only eligible reproach in his eyes is that of not having done enough to save lives during the genocide,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame in an interview with Jeune Afrique, conducted in French.
A man suspected to be a Muslim Seleka militiaman lays wounded after being stabbed by newly enlisted soldiers in the Central African Armed Forces.
AP Photo/Jerome Delay
It has been a year since a coup in the Central African Republic started the nation on a downward spiral. It has been a struggle to get the public attention necessary to resolve the political and security crisis in the country.
Even the warning of a potential genocide by former actress and now activist Mia Farrow did not do the trick. She managed to help draw attention to the crisis emerging in Darfur a decade ago, but her concerns this time around fell largely on deaf ears.
Now, two activist groups are trying to use the anniversary of the coup to build support for the Central African Republic. War Child calls what is happening the ‘world’s forgotten conflict.’ Just like aid groups are doing for Syria, War Child makes its appeal based on what children have witnessed. The attacks on children outlined in the report are harrowing. Recruitment of child soldiers has led more than 6,000 children to join armed groups.
“A bullet hit my house while I was in bed. A soldier broke into my house and raped me,” said one twelve year-old girl to the organization.
Anwar Congo watches footage of his film with his two grandsons.
Drafthouse Films/courtesy Everett Collection
Indonesia, home to more than 238 million people living across 17,508 islands, will soon hold new presidential elections. The surprise entry of the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, launched him into the position as front-runner for the July polls.
The young democracy will have only its third direct election since the end of the 31 year rule of Haji Suharto, in 1998. While there are many factors at play, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in a period between 1965 and 1966 still lingers. Unlike other mass killings, the perpetrators won out and are still in power.
The Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing follows some of the men who committed countless executions during the same period. One of these men, Anwar Congo, is held up as a local hero in his hometown located in North Sumatra. He is an outwardly triumphant figure that went from selling movie tickets to killing, so he claims, more than 1,000 people.
In the start of the film, Congo leads director Joshua Oppenheimer to the roof of a building where many people were killed. He carefully explains that more crude methods were used to kill suspected Communists, but the blood was too much to handle. A simpler and less messy solution was devised that involved tying a wire to a pole and using it as a counter-force to strangle people to death.
Doctors Without Borders tried to once again call attention to the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic. The organization has treated tens of thousands of people for injuries from grenades, machetes and more, since December. It said that the world was not doing enough to address a problem that has continued to deteriorate since the overthrow of the government last March.
This week, I speak with Muriel Tschopp, International Rescue Committees’ Emergency Field Programme Coordinator. She is on the ground in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, where much of the international response to the crisis is focused. Bottom line is that this crisis can likely be averted, before it gets worse with the rainy season, simply by beefing up the peacekeeping presence. Says Tschopp:
“The majority of the people are trapped in the middle” between Muslim and Christian extremist militias, explains Tschopp. Much of the fighting may be drawn across religious lines, but current tensions are not deep rooted. There’s a long history of the two sides getting along just fine, with lots of intermarriage and little bloodshed.
The opportunity to change the course of violence and restore order to the Central African Republic is there, but security is sorely needed. Tschopp’s sentiments reflect that of many humanitarian organizations working in response to the crisis, including the UN.
In the headlines portion, Tom Murphy and I discuss an interesting new study on savings and loans groups in Uganda. After the NGOs left, people started forming their own group, to the surprise of the researchers. We also heard from Tom about his new series, Migration Matters. He explains why he is interested in the issue of immigration and brain drain.
The first thing a seasoned traveler might notice about Rwanda’s capital city Kigali is how clean and ordered it is, as compared to many other cities in Sub-Saharan Africa (or anywhere, for that matter).
Not much garbage and no plastic bags flying around. They’ve been banned here. The grass and foliage in the traffic medians are well-tended. All the motorcyclists wear helmets and travel at the speed limit. People smile a lot and ask you how they can help. You can see why Rwanda is sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa” (except for that smiling and helping part. The Swiss could take a lesson).
What makes this all the more impressive is that the Swiss haven’t had to recover from a violent civil war in which the French-speaking Swiss tried to exterminate the German-speaking Swiss. But that’s something like what happened here in Rwanda just 17 years ago.
The future of Kigali, as seen by the Rwandan government
How Rwandans deal with this horrific history while ambitiously building toward what many say is a fairly promising future is both inspiring and a bit odd at times.
I’ve come to explore Rwanda with a group of journalists sponsored by the International Reporting Project based at Johns Hopkins University. Today is our first full day (since arriving last night) and the initial order of business was to get an overview of Kigali. It’s clearly a city moving forward with a plan, with little patience for those resistant to change.
“It’s not something new you question but something new you embrace,” said Liliane Uwanziga Mupende, director of urban planning for the City of Kigali. “It’s extremely exciting.”