Hatching Free Range Ideas

Rwandan Stories

In Africa stories on March 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I’m home. Despite almost 33 hours of return transit time, the stories I learned from East Africa are strong in my mind. I say East Africa, rather than Rwanda because I met people from Ethiopia and Kenya and heard stories from Sudan, so my experience was bigger than Rwanda. My geographical experience was limited mostly to Kigali, Rwanda’s lovely capital.

I will share some stories with you over the next couple of weeks. Think of this post as the introduction.

Setting Context

This is the Rwandan countryside, outside of Kigali. Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills, is a small country on the outside and large on the inside.

Today, I’ll start with the story you know, the 1994 Genocide. I start with genocide so that we can move beyond it. There’s so much more to know.

The Genocide

During three months in 1994, over 800,000 people were killed. 2 million left the country because of the Genocide. The total population of Rwanda at that time was 7 million.

As far as I can tell, originally Tutsis were the “ruling class.”  This quote is from the Genocide Memorial in Kigali and describes the roots of the division among Hutus, Tutsis and Twa.

The categories Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstances.

Under colonial rule, the distinctions were made racial, particularly with the introduction of the identity card in 1932. In creating these distinctions, the colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows as Hutu, and this also applied to his descendants.

In 1957, supported by the occupying Belgians and the Catholic Church, power was transferred to the Hutus. Over 700,000 Tutsis were exiled. They tried to return in 1990, which was the beginning of the Civil War. A peace accord was signed in 1993.

On 6th April 1994, the current Rwandan President and  the President of Burundi were flying into Kigali. Their plane was shot down. Within an hour, murders of Tutsis began. According to records at the Memorial, death lists had been prepared in advance.

The Memorial does a good job of recording the horror. It must have been 100s of times more horrible than any of us can imagine. I don’t think of it lightly despite the few words that I record here. However, there are many better sources for learning more about what happened. It’s worth learning. But, this isn’t what I want to share about Rwanda.

Moving forward

Like Rwandans, don’t forget. Hold it somewhere deep in your heart in wide-eyed contrast to today’s Rwanda, a vibrant, gracious country with zero tolerance for political corruption, a country that embraces the best of its historical culture with both eyes toward the future.

We went in the rainy season and it took about 20+ hours in total transit time to get there. It felt like several days in suspension. Even now. We stayed in Kigali, with the exception of the gorilla trek.

The weather is balmy; it’s the heart of the rainy season. My hotel is simple and spotless, with exactly the right amount of elegance. I mean spotless; cleaned top to bottom every day, stone tiled floors polished and shining. You don’t drink the water or even rinse your toothbrush in the tap.

We tour around for a few hours and we also stop and change money. You can’t seem to get Rwandan francs anywhere outside of Rwanda, at least not in the West, even online. The ATMs aren’t connected outside the country. Almost no one takes credit cards. I change $200 dollars and get stacks back.  Stacks.

Mara Mutsi. . .

. . . means Good Morning in Kinyarwandi.

That night I eat at the hotel restaurant, fish stew with potatoes, peas and bananas, what we call plantains, and South African wine.. Every meal has bananas — fried, grilled, mashed, croquettes, stewed, in gravy.

I sleep with the door open. Even though there is a screen across the sliding glass doors, I lower the bed net because it’s fun. It’s square and stretches over the edges of the bed, secured all along the sides. In the middle of the night, I have to find my way out to pee.

I wake the next morning to a lovely song which repeats as a neighbor plans for a wedding that happens that day, held in the yard of the blue roofed house you see at the bottom of the photo. I don’t know the name of the song or how to find it but if I ever do, it will be an audio port key that sends me back to soft air across misty hills.

Coming Attractions

I went through my photos today and was amazed at how few pictures I had for how many memories. But I’m glad that I didn’t see Rwanda through a camera lens.

You’ve now seen the mist. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the gorillas in it.

On other days I’ll tell you more. . . some of these:

  1. The useful life of things
  2. Reaching Up with a passion for change
  3. Security is a state of mind
  4. A gift exchange with East Africa
  5. Rwanda community
  6. You must go. . .
  7. Story and the boy who walked 10 steps

And I hope to share you with my new friends and they with you. They said they’d write stories too. They’ll help me if I get their stories wrong.  I’ll invite them now.

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  1. WOW!

  2. A friend sent me an editorial on the Rwandan Genocide that concluded as follows. It’s worth reading. It starts below.

    “Those we must not forget:

    “. . .The very existence of the genocide has largely disappeared from the public and media’s consciousness. This is the latest betrayal. Marginalized during the genocide, Rwanda’s calamity is now largely forgotten except for Rwandans themselves and small clusters of non-Rwandans who have had some connection with the country or specialize in genocide prevention. That’s why
    I founded the Remembering Rwanda movement in July of 2001. I had four targets for remembering: the innocent victims; the survivors, many of whom live in deplorable conditions with few resources to tend to their physical or psychological needs; the perpetrators, most of whom remain free and unrepentant scattered around Africa, Europe and parts of North America; and the so-called “bystanders”, the unholy sextet named earlier. Rather than being passive witnesses, as the word “bystander” implies, all were active in their failure to intervene to stop the massacres, and all remain unaccountable to this day. It is time the Rwandan genocide is treated with the concern and attention it so grievously earned.”

    This editorial was written by Gerald Caplan, the author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide (2000), and the founder of “Remembering Rwanda: The Rwanda Genocide 10th Anniversary Memorial Project”.

    This article first appeared in Pambazuka News, an electronic newsletter for social justice in Africa, http://www.pambazuka.org.

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