Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Eyewitness from Kagame's Rwanda

All around as you travel throughout Rwanda you see the same professional framed portrait of President Paul Kagame, signifying the new age of this country, while all throughout the same country you see men in pink and orange, stark reminders of a not so distant dark past. Digging ditches, planting grass blade by blade (there are no sod farms around here), building new homes for those in poverty and cleaning the streets, these are the Rwandan inmates, most arrested for various acts of terror during the genocide. You can’t easily escape a past where murderers once consisted of almost half the entire country’s adult population… Apparently the government was once criticized for taking advantage of their inmates, by using them as free laborers, but the government’s response was by saying “it was by the hands of these men that this country has fallen, and it will be by the help of their hands that it will be rebuilt”.


That makes logical sense too. Despite the whispers, this country appears to be on a positive track.

Then we happened upon a Belgian man, one of the past historical colonizers of this country (and as such we were told not to respect much of what he had to say), and he told me things that the rational mind still had to consider. Take for example, the genocide inmates themselves. Their time in the prison is dictated by a trial known as “gacaca” (pronounced ga-cha-cha) during which they give testimony to all their genocidal crimes and are judged accordingly. The men are supposed to be kept separate post trial so they are not given a chance to plan any false stories together, thus making their testimonies genuine. When I talked with the Belgian man he told me a broken story about how one of his coworkers who had been a refugee of the genocide was recently arrested and sent to prison because one of the prisoners had a grudge on his family and falsely accused him of various atrocities during his turn at the gacaca. The man is still currently incarcerated under these untrue pretenses. The Belgian man also said that in all three years of his stay in Rwanda, the speech that the President gave during the victory day celebration [commemorating the end of the genocide] has changed. At first the speech honored the massacred Tutsi and moderate Hutus, which is indeed politically correct, but has evolved today into a speech solely honoring the Tutsi from the Hutu predators. The man told us that he fears that the government has some sort of hero complex, taking the honor and glory they achieved freeing this country and using it to stay in parliamentary power. Even the upcoming elections he said are not entirely democratic, because each of the running parties came from the original RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) Party, the same as the current government.

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