Has Rwanda Completely Healed Through Forgiveness?

I came across a touching story in the main-stream media this morning.

To summarize, the story is about a woman from Rwanda, a Tutsi, whose entire family was slaughtered in front of her by Hutu rebels in 1994. She lost everything during the now-famous Rwandan genocide, but has since prevailed. She works full-time as a master weaver for Macy’s, weaving peace baskets that are sold in the US department store. The majority of the profits are put back into her community, and she derives her salary and livelihood from the sale of these beautiful symbols of a peace that until recently, she never experienced personally.

She has forgiven the man who is responsible for the death of her family. She knows who he is, and is not only his neighbor, but is very close friends with the man’s wife; his wife actually weaves baskets with her.

How is this possible? She doesn’t live and work with her family’s executioners because she has to. She does it because she wants to. She loves them as neighbors, as extended family, and truly embraces them fully. There are no hard feelings, and she has, with all her heart, forgiven. She will tell you that it was a process that never could have happened, had it not been for two seperate, but very important things.

First and foremost, she says, she is a Christian. She believes in the power of prayer, she believes in the importance of forgiveness, and credits it with her good fortune today. God, she has no doubt, got her through this, and from her faith she has found the strength to behave as she believes Jesus would in this situation.

Second, she credits the Rwandan government- that is, the post-genocide government. She says their current president (Paul Kagame) taught the entire nation that the only way to move forward was to forgive the past. As part of this initiative, Paul Kagame saw to it that those “main” leaders of the genocide were brought to formal justice and tried for war crimes. The others, though ruthless killers as well, were allowed to walk free.

Well, sort of, anyway.

Revenge, claims the woman, was removed from the agenda. Her leader convinced his nation that revenge was going to solve nothing, and that above all else, no matter what, the killing needed to stop.

Kagame called for a return to “traditional” tribal ways. As such, instead of facing the official court system of Rwanda, (as the ring leaders of the genocide had) those “less important” participants were given the opportunity to stand in front of their communities, and the families of those they had executed, and ask for forgiveness. In this way they are accepting responsibility for the crimes they have committed, and are doing so for the benefit of the entire nation- not just their victims.

When I read the article, I was amazed. I was so excited to hear about this story of forgiveness… not just of a woman forgiving such horrific injustices against her and her family… but the idea that forgiveness has helped a nation heal, and rebuild. So I did a little research… and learned that it’s all about the spin, really.

Again, this is the story main-stream media told, as it was relayed to them by this courageous survivor. The woman is amazing, of that I am certain. The fact that after everything she has endured, she is still standing elevates her to the status of a hero in my mind.

However, I also have to assume she both needed permission from the Rwandan government to speak with an outside news agency such as CNN… and I also believe she knows damn well she better not even consider saying anything negative about her country or its government.

Many say that due to Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda is today benefitting from unprecedented growth. I agree with that statement.

What is so shameful about telling the entire truth? And whose responsibility is it if not the mainstream media’s, to get that truth out there?

The country certainly seems to be thriving. It is green again, and people feel safe walking up and down the streets. Schools have been rebuilt. The numbers are impossible to argue with, as the nation boasts the lowest crime rate in the entire continent, as well as the lowest HIV/AIDS rate. The Rwandan government is quite progressive as well- certainly more so than any western country- with almost half of their paliamentary members being women.

Of course, like my mother always said, if it sounds to good to be true… it usually is. I believe Rwanda is no exception to this rule.

Kagame has made some amazing strides, and yes, Rwanda is barely recognizable when compared to what it looked like in 1994. When one sees the difference, it truly is mind-boggling. However, as a freedom-loving woman, I must say there are some things that cause me a bit of concern. In fact, what concerns me most is the media’s neglecting to mention what I view as some pretty important stuff.

For example, why hasn’t CNN, when spouting all the wonderful changes that Rwanda has seen in recent years, mentioned the fact that Kagame, for all intents and purposes, is running a dictatorship? In 2003, during Rwanda’s first post-war presidential and legislative elections, opposing parties were banned. How the heck is it called an election when only one party is on the ballot, and anyone with opposing views cannot even participate? I’m not saying Kagame is not the best man for the job… but with no healthy debates, and no one else to choose from, how can anyone be sure? Even if just to form a basis of opinion, or as a useful educational tool… how does one know if they are making the best choice if all other choices are non-existent?

Also, remember how I told you that almost half of the parliamentary representation of Rwanda is female? That’s because the men in charge don’t believe women would allow the mass killing that took place in the ’90s to ever again occur. Therefore, it is written into Rwanda’s post-war constitution that at least one third of the parliamentary seats must be occupied by women. It’s the law. I’m not saying this in and of itself is a bad thing- true, I would feel better if the women had fought a fair fight and won their seats just as their male counterparts had… but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these spots. Nor does it mean that the nation as a whole is not trying very hard to make progressive steps. I am merely curious as to why the media doesn’t mention it? To read news articles, it sounds as if the women are holding these seats because they were elected by a nation of people who thought they were the best fit for the job.

It simply is not a true representation of what is happening.

Many people believe that Paul Kagame is overly militaristic, and does not tolerate dissent. While Rwanda has made huge- and I mean HUGE- steps, and seen wonderful changes in recent years, the picture is not quite perfect. I hate the fact that I have to dig pretty deep, for example, just to learn that Rwanda only allows state-run radio programs. Freelance journalism, and broadcasts that are not tied to the support of the government does not exist. It is not unheard of that journalists, after mentioning something negative about Kagame or the nation of Rwanda, simply disappear. Those that are lucky enough not to “disappear” mysteriously, are instead apprehended and held by the authorities.

It would be tragic to discount the strides this once-devastated nation has made in recent years. In fact, I believe that the Rwandan government- and its lack of opposition- has made these huge steps possible. Certainly what we see today is worlds and worlds better than what we observed in the mid-90s. Had it been more of a democracy, getting the smallest of tasks completed would have required a lengthy political process- as we Americans see every day.

My beef is not with Rwanda, or with Paul Kagame.

My problem lies with the media. This nation is NOT the Garden of Eden personified, as mainstream journalists insist on depicting. This is a real nation that was on its knees just a few short years ago. Its struggles are not over- in spite of the major improvements- Rwanda has plenty of challenges lying ahead. 

What is the purpose of pretending otherwise?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Has Rwanda Completely Healed Through Forgiveness?

  1. You raise some interesting points here – but I think there are more you should consider as well.

    You rightly give the Rwandan government credit for the reforms. When you speak of the flaws in the voting or remnants of democracy in a country like Rwanda, I am reminded of a documentary I saw called Iron Ladies of Liberia where they follow the first woman president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her country too was in turmoil and they have come along way under her leadership. One of the things I remembered was the statement that a nation is not always “ready” for a democracy. This is a serious statement and should be respected. We are 232 years into our so called democracy and are still struggling to grapple with the complexities of where freedom and restraint meet. With what I have learned so far – I agree that it takes time for a nation to learn what it means to respect and work within democratic principles and ideas. Understand that most Rwandan’s probably don’t share or even comprehend your Western philosophies and approach to life. To force it upon them would be like putting a 3 year old behind the wheel of a car.

    This does not take away the need for critique. As a matter of fact for democracy to survive and thrive even there has to be a watchful eye and a voice of dissent to keep those in charge who may have the best of intentions – mindful of the overall goals of the good of the nation as opposed to building an empire.

    Kagame’s call to forgiveness is genius and yet fundamentally simple. Also he knew he could not severely punish every Hutu that did harm – but to make them stand before the survivors and apologize – my how powerful that must have been. Its hard for me to put myself in the position of the woman who lost her family in front of her own eyes and yet be neighbors to the man who took their lives. This kind of forgiveness is truly divine.

    Of course with the genocide that is widley known, if Rwanda is to attract tourist and commerce, it is natural for leadership to be concerned about the image they potray and what kinds of information is allowed to leave its borders. I would take a wait and see approach to the nation as it recovers from the sins of its not so distant past.

  2. “Understand that most Rwandan’s probably don’t share or even comprehend your Western philosophies and approach to life. To force it upon them would be like putting a 3 year old behind the wheel of a car. “- I have to point out that I never said Rwanda needed to be a democracy or anything else. I don’t want anything to be forced on them.

    What I would like is to be able to pick up the paper, or go online to places like CNN and know that I am getting an accurate description of what is really happening. Rwanda is NOT the Garden of Eden, as mainstream media would have us believe. Does that mean they haven’t made progress? Hell no. Does that mean they aren’t continuously making great strides? No way. Of course they are- just look at the progress… a million of their very own people lay DEAD not 20 years ago. Now they have the lowest crime rate on the entire continent.

    That’s fuckin’ progress!!

    What they are NOT, is perfect. They’re still growing (as I hope to hell the rest of us are doing as well). Some of what they accomplish will be good, some bad… some indifferent. Regardless, I want to know what is really up, and I want to know that my NEWS SOURCE is telling the entire story.

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