Friday, July 31, 2009

We started from Kigali at 8:00 AM Wednesday for our adventure/retreat at a guest house on Lake Kivu. It was a two hour drive on the most winding roads I have traveled so far. We stopped to see a water fall but realized it was too steep for us to climb down in street shoes. When we got back to the car it was surrounded by a group of young boys (approximately 8 between the ages of 7-14). Luckily I locked the car and the back window managed to stay up. They wanted us to hear them sing before we left. One had a makeshift instrument made with a toilet float on one end attached to a long stick and wire. Believe it or not, it sounded like a violin. I asked if I could take a picture and they said no (we were told to always ask if it is ok to film someone). We listened for a minute and wanted to leave but they asked for money. We all gave them some coins but they were not happy. Philbert told us when we got in the car that packs of boys like them are always on the lookout for an open car and have probably been involved with the police in the past since they would not allow us to take a photo.

We moved farther down the road and finally saw the Lake and it was beautiful. We drove a short distance around it and drove up a hill to the guest house we were staying (approximately $30.00 per night). During the afternoon we started writing a 5 year strategic Plan for REACH and broke into groups based on our expertise. I was handling the Sales and Marketing components and Executive Summary based on previous materials I have read.

Our rooms were right on the water’s edge with cozy porches leading to the water. We shared a wonderful bottle of Shiraz I brought back from South Africa while watching the sunset and listening to the lapping of the lake. We continued talking through the sunset and into dinner. By 9:00 we were exhausted and headed for our rooms. I slept well and it was the first time I slept under a mosquito net.

I was awakened early by fishermen almost outside my porch netting sardines. Since I was up, I sat and watched the lake alive with fishermen and swimmers.

We continued our work until 3:00 when we went on a boat ride. We walked a two mile circuit around an island and saw beautiful poinsettias growing everywhere.

I begged to go to another restaurant for dinner (four meals in the same place is my limit) so we drove to another hotel on the water for a very bad meal. I will spend another night under my net and think about what we have written for REACH and how the organization continues to save lives through peace and reconciliation.

We met on Friday AM to finalize our sections of the plan and drove back to Kigali for other meetings in the afternoon. Unfortunately car problems delayed us but all things considered, it was a good trip.

It was an honor to be asked to assist REACH in its long term planning and along with Center of Hope I will continue to support them from afar after I leave.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lake Geneva of Rwanda

I am off to Kibuye, a stunning location spread across a series of tongues jutting into Lake Kivu. I will pass through the mountains that are called the Swiss Alps of Rwanda.
I will not have internet access so I will post when I return on late Friday.


There are all sorts of signs and many are not in English.  One that always makes me smile is the Rwandan Beauty and Barber shops that are called Saloons. 

I have seen many interesting signs in Africa but these two are my favorites so far…  The first was on the border between Rwanda and Tanzania and epitomizes how the Rwandan Government wants to be perceived.

The other was on a street in South Africa.  At Seventh Generation we attend two major Expos a year but nothing like this one!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rusumo Falls and a step into Trazania

We took a quick side trip on Thursday afternoon. The Rwandan border guards allowed us to cross the bridge to take photos of Rusumo Falls. It is a waterfall located on the Kagera River on the border between Rwanda and Tanzania (the most distant headwaters of the Nile River). Although the falls themselves are not of a significant height in comparison to other waterfalls, they have played an important part in the history of Rwanda.

The falls gained international fame during the genocide, as thousands of dead bodies flowed underneath the bridge while a simultaneous stream of refugees crossed ''over'' it, fleeing into Tanzania to escape the fighting and prosecution of their crimes.

The Kagera drains water from all areas of Rwanda except the far west, and consequently carried all the discarded corpses from the rivers nationwide. This led to a state of emergency being declared in areas around the shore of Lake Victoria, where all of those bodies eventually washed up.

Chad took a photo of each of us crossing the border since we did not get a passport stamp.

Peace House and Village Children

We visited a new home constructed for Stephanie (one of the victims). It has three rooms and no running water or electricity. It has a separate kitchen in the back that has a wood burning stove and a pit toilet. It costs the equivalent of $10,000 for materials but the labor is free due to the public service projects. The land belonged to the victim before the genocide so there is no cost to her.

We saw many local children from the village and none had ever seen a picture of themselves. Kristen showed them the video she took of them and they were mesmerized. The pictures tell the story…

Healing and Reconciliation

Words cannot describe the three days I have just experienced…I would never have guessed that I would spend time and begin to care about men who murdered 1000s of people. Many were truly sorry for what they had done while others just went through the motions so they could be released from jail.

There were over 50 perpetrators and 10 victims who came together for a three day seminar sponsored by REACH (Reconciliation Evangelism and Christian Healing). This is the same organization that I wrote about earlier when I attended the dedication of CUP (Center of Unity and Peace) in Kigali.
The choir provided inspiration and joyfulness throughout the event by performing the songs they wrote and choreographed.

I gained so many insights into why people were lead to kill their family, friends and neighbors. Very few knew that Belgium issued identity cards based on how many cows you owned, or the shape of your head, and that it was possible to become a Tutsi is you acquired more cows. This was the root cause of the conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes who had always lived in harmony. They were given a short history lesson to set the stage for the small group discussions where they would share their stories. There were many biblical messages and sermons on repentance and forgiveness to encourage dialogue so they could reach reconciliation.

They viewed a video that many of them were featured in entitled “Building Houses of Forgiveness”. One of the public service projects they participate in is the building of houses for the victims. This group has constructed 22 houses for the victims in the Eastern Province. It is the process of building the house and getting to know the victims so they can live in peace in the same village.

I will not share their testimonies because they were too personal and I could not possibly do them justice. I will show some group shots of the event because they agreed to allow us to use their photographs. Some of their testimonies will be used in a documentary produced by a group from Cambridge MA on does the reconciliation process really work?

The event ended on a hopeful note when the seven ministers (several different denominations) prayed over the victims and perpetrators who asked for healing and peace.

Personally, I could not believe how they reach forgiveness and reconciliation where murder, disfigurement, rape, and being infected with HIV through rape are involved when it is difficult for me to forgive family, friends and co-workers for trivial things.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

After I completed a fundraising brochure for Hope Center (shortened the name for simplification) and reviewed the Strategic Plan for its parent NGO, I took the afternoon to visit the Rwanda Natural Museum. It was a very interesting building that was a gift from Belgium to commemorate 25 years of independence. It had some interesting ethnological and archaeological displays. The Lonely Planet said it was one of the best museums in East Africa…if that is the case; the others must be pretty bad.

Tomorrow I leave for a Peace and Reconciliation program in the Eastern Province (10 km form Tanzania). This process brings together the perpetrators of the genocide and the victims. A documentary will be made of the two day program and you can read more about it on

Because of the location of this program I will not have internet access until Friday evening and will post about this incredible experience.

Party Time

I wanted to have a party to thank all the people who have helped and supported me in Rwanda. When I was finished with the guest list, it was over 30 people and my house would not hold that many. Friends with a very big house and yard offered me the use of their home as the venue and I hired the man who runs the restaurant at the US Embassy to prepare an All American cookout. I have been to a number of African Buffets at people’s home so I wanted to do something typically American.

On Sunday evening we had hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, and topped it off with apple pie. There was plenty of beer and wine to go around as well. Fun was had by all!
Here are just a few pics…

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tears, Laughter, and Rhythm

I wore my new Rwandan Formal Outfit yesterday but when my housekeeper saw me in the morning, she made me take it off.  Once she dressed me, it fit much more comfortably!  I attended the dedication of CUP (Center of Unity and Peace), a conference center that will hold seminars and programs to bring about reconciliation between the committers of the genocide and the victims. 

The crying part of the morning came when a prisoner “testified”.  I had goose bumps and tried not to listen as he told of killing 12 people in his village with a machete, destroying their property, his exile in Tanzania and eventfully the return to Rwanda and prison because he could not handle his guilt.  Jean Paul got on his knees and then prostrated himself before the crowd of over 500 people and asked for forgiveness (he has been through the formal process of reconciliation in his village and is doing his public service building houses for the victims).   The room was dead silent and then one of the bishops attending, shouted Hallelujah and it was then infectious as people stood and shouted Hallelujah and Amen.  I sat there in awe for several minutes. Then Stephanie came up to give her testimony as a victim (she is the owner of one of the houses Jean Paul has built).  She told of the killing of her husband and parents and how she wished she had been killed because she was pregnant and had two other children and felt she could not go on.  She contemplated suicide but could not do it because of her kids. She heard of a program to help her with her anger, rage and need for revenge.  After several years and counseling from many sources, she began to forgive and now works with the women and children whose husbands and fathers are in prison.  To say the least, it was very moving experience I will never forget.

After that a celebration of singing and dancing from other victims began and they expressed such joy and hope.  There were many speeches, entertainment and finally the government minister (guest of honor) who is responsible for the reconciliation programs in the prisons and manages the NGOS like REACH who facilitate these programs.  SHE spoke very eloquently about the strides this tiny country has made to mend the terrible rifts that have plagued their country due to colonialism.  Now countries from around the world come to Rwanda to find out how to use the techniques they have initiated under President Kagame, the churches and NGOs.The event was over 5 hours long and started 90 minutes late (what people call Africa time) so I had to rush home, eat something quickly and change clothes for the evening events of an International Performing Arts Program. 

Now to the Laughter and Rhythm parts of the day…

There was a Rwandan comedian who could be on Comedy Central; his monologue on how to write about Africa was so funny he had everybody howling.  His body movements (very tall and thin) were so well timed that it all come together effortlessly.

Next up was a Rwandan Hip Hop group of five boys ranging in age from 13-18 who performed to a standing ovation.  The boys attended a workshop earlier in the day sponsored by the US Cultural Envoy Program that brought over two US Hip Hop artists; Rha Goddess and Ana Rockafella Garcia to teach and perform throughout Rwanda

Rha and Ana performed for about an hour (included two encores)and the last 15 minutes had the Rwandan boys up on the stage with them.  They brought the house down and everyone was dancing and those who know me, know I do not dance very well.  I was sober, moving to the music and having a great time.

It was a long day but held many memorable moments, just sorry there are no pics of the evening events because some of you will not believe the Rhythm part of the story!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Center of Hope Graduates

I am developing a fundraising brochure for the Vocational Center of Hope and wanted to meet graduates and their employers. Today I met four graduates and visited their work places.

A young woman named Emerance is a cook at CARWASH; quite literally a carwash but it has a brilliant garden bar that serves some of the best Bar B Q in Kigali. She did her internship there and they hired her the day she received her certificate. We met the manger of the restaurant, Walter and he said he would take more than one student this year because Emerance was so good in the kitchen. Her English is poor so the kitchen work is all she can do but what he really needs is trained wait staff who speak English. He suggested that the program at least double the English component. One of the young men, Robert started a bakery with two other students after their internships. Robert’s English is very good and he asked Walter how much more a waiter could make than a cook and he said at least double and if you are very good 4x as much. That really opened the eyes of the four and Robert asked to interview for a waiters position. He has an interview with Walter tomorrow and I will let you know if he gets the job.

John and Yassin were the other graduates who started the bakery that we visited after the CARWASH. They specialize in special occasion cakes; you can see a beautifully decorated cake for a Birthday party tonight. I asked how much they charge for a cake like that and they said 5000RWf or about $9.00. I asked them how they determined the pricing because it seemed too cheap. I will send them a website that gives a formula to help them cost out their products. They also made beignets, small muffins and samosas. I bought a few of each and they were all very good. I have ordered special occasion cake and will serve to my expat and embassy friends. Hopefully it will be very good and I can drum up some business for them.

It was inspiring to spend time with them and communicate as best I could. I believe by developing these materials and making more connections for the alumni and Executive Director, the programs will get better every year.

Something Different...Basketball Camp

I told Chad I would watch his camp for 6-12 year olds this morning and it was well worth it. There were over 40 kids of varying ages, abilities, and English skills. It is a good thing he could whistle and point! The kids thought I was his Mom who came to take pictures of their session; I really wanted to bring a few of the younger one home with me.

Chad has been doing this for three weeks and started with 4 kids so through word of mouth, the program have grown every day. All of the kids were enthusiastic and wanted to please COACH. The program ends tomorrow but the kids want it to continue. The problem is the gym will be used next week for sitdown volleyball (for amputees) and there are very few gyms in the country.

As part of Chad’s project, he has set-up a Non-Profit called One Court to build Basketball courts throughout Africa.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I found out last week that the guard at my house was illiterate and could not read and write in any language.  The Estate Agent was over because of another H2O problem and we were waiting for the plumber when I asked him some questions about both of the “Domestics” who went with the house.  He knew more about the housekeeper because Claire is the one who speaks to him often about the house but he knew very little about Francois.  He called him into the house and by the look on his face, he thought he had done something wrong and was going to be fired.

Francois is 26, his older siblings were killed in the genocide but his parents are alive and live on a subsistence farm about 2 ½ hours south of Kigali. I asked Jamie to find out if he would like to learn some English while I am here and he said YES, PLEASE in Kinyarwanda.  I then asked how many years he attended school and was surprised that he never went to school because he was needed to work on the farm. 

He could not spell or write his name in any language so I downloaded ESL materials from the web and we started his lessons last week.  Today he can print his name and knows the alphabet by sight.  I am now using a deck of cards to teach him numbers. Most of the other guards are in the same boat and now Francois is showing them all the worksheets I have given him.  I do not know what he is teaching them but he is doing something to help them.  I am looking for a basic literacy class for all of them but no luck so far.  They are a lost generation because they were growing up during and right after the Genocide and if they do not learn English, they will never be able to improve their skills and income.

There are laws now that every child must go to through level 9…but in the rural areas there are still kids who do not go to school because they do not have money fees and uniforms.  To some, Education is still a luxury.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

President Obama’s Africa speech

I returned from the gym around 11:30 to no electricity. About half of Kigali was dark from 10:30 AM until 6:45 PM. Luckily a friend from the Embassy called to see if I wanted to come and watch the speech with Rwandan News Media, Educators, and Government Representatives. There were about 35 attendees (I was one of four whites in the room) who applauded several times during the speech but it was the dialogue after the speech that I found most interesting.

Every person present gave him high marks and made comments based on their own professional viewpoint. They welcomed the partnership approach and the fact that aid will not be given to countries where officials get rich and corruption reigns…to a person they said that would allow more funds for Rwanda because it is the least corrupt country in Africa.

The media loved the free press comments, the government officials welcomed his thoughts on good governance and aid based on a sustainability model, but the educators did not think he spent enough time on its importance. They believed there could be no lasting peace, democracies or development if the people were illiterate. After those comments others began to point out some of the difficulties in carrying out the new policies and hope that the US officials responsible for implementation will be open to local solutions instead of the cookie cutter approach used in the past.

Since the power did not come back on until long after the speech, I had to wait to see how it was received across the world and watched the BBC and Al Jazeera. He received high marks from most of the talking heads but one in the UK said he “scolded” Africa but went to Russia to “discuss”; he felt his policies are flawed.

I feel the time is ripe for partnership and most of the African governments and people responded well to his remarks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A literal whirlwind

The day started at 8:30 when I met my driver, Santo and we headed to Cape Point. The drive reminded me of Big Sur with higher mountains. Santo had lots of information and stories to tell. He left Portugal in 1962 when he was 18 and arrived in Joberg. He had no skills or English so he stayed in the Portuguese community for a few years until he knew he had to learn English if he was to survive. He started working in a hotel where they had English classes for their employees. Hotel Management wanted “Europeans” to work in the hotels and not “Coloreds” (mixed race) or “Niggers” (blacks). The three classifications are still used today but not officially; no one needs to carry their “lifebook” as they did until the late 80’s showing their heritage.

We made a number of stops so I could walk and take photos. I went to the Penguin Beach and could not believe the noise they made…they are called Jackass Penguins because they bray just like donkeys.

At one stop I was taking a picture when Santo yelled for me to get in the car NOW and I jumped in just as a huge male baboon was coming toward the car. Santo clicked the locks immediately so when the baboon tried to open the car door, he couldn’t. After he could not get in, he ran and climbed over an eight foot barbed wire fence. I almost wet my pants because I looked out the window he had his face pressed against it making loud noises. Santo said Baboon attacks are happening more often because they are looking for food. After a few minutes to calm both of us, we drove a little farther and I saw the sign that said Danger: Baboons are not friendly and Do not feed; that was when I realized I did not have my camera (I dropped while jumping into the car). We back tracked and luckily the baboon had not stepped on it. By that time all I wanted to do was get away from there so we did not stop for me to take another picture until we got to the Cape of Good Hope. From there we went to Cape Point which was also very windy and desolate. They had a small museum under the lighthouse that talked about all the ship wrecks and lost sailors to the Point. We had a wonderful lunch overlooking the point of Kingklip a mild white fish.

There were fees to enter every section of the National Park and Santo said it has become cost prohibitive for the locals to take their families. They just increased the fees by 25% and will do the same amount in October. He said everything is going up because of the World Cup and by next summer and the fees will have doubled by then to milk the tourists. It was a total of $20.00 in fees (not counting the Funicular to the light house at Cape Point) for the day but I can understand why it was cost prohibitive for many South Africans.

We drove over the Mountains to Stellenbosch (wine country) to visit a few wineries and again the scenery was breathtaking. It reminded me of the wine tours I have taken around Santa Barbara and Monterey counties more that Napa or Sonoma. Being winter, the fields were grey but I could imagine coming in January and hopefully will be able to in 2011 (after the World Cup). We only had time for one stop at Simonsig and they had a 2006 Pinotage that was rated 5 star with multiple awards made by a female winemaker that was extraordinary. I bought several bottles and reloaded my luggage so they would fit and hopefully not break on the flight home.

We then headed to the airport where I saw a Township (this was a slum for coloreds). All I saw were shacks for over five km. I wanted to stop and take a picture but Santo said it was too dangerous. There were children playing on both sides of the highway and medium because it is the only grass. It was very depressing to see that at the end of a day of such beauty.

I want to come back to this beautiful country and spend more than 72 hours because I now have Africa in my blood and want to experience more of it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I could live in Cape Town...

It is an amazing city. I did the Red Bus tour this AM and then spent the afternoon going back to interesting places ending up on the beach for a “sundowner”. The beaches are beautiful and the water is warmer in the winter than summer due to the Southeast winds. Its natural beauty makes it breathtaking from every angle plus it is very clean and easy to maneuver. If Dutchgirl travels this way sometime, she will be able to pronounce all the street names!

I hiked up Table Mountain and took the funicular down, walked all over the city center, the Company Gardens and in between went to a wine bar for lunch. It was written up in Food & Wine magazine and I wish John could have joined me because they are reported to have the best sushi in the city. Of course I did not go for the sushi but tasted four great reds and two whites. It is a good thing you can buy a one ounce taste.

After a brief rest and clothes change, I went to dinner at another fabulous restaurant. I met some people from New York; we all tasted a few more wines and told stories of our African Adventures.

I had to make a decision if I wanted to visit Robben Island or drive down to Cape Point and then to Wine Country before leaving for Kigali and Cape Point won. This has been a perfect interlude and I know I will come back to Cape Town again.

Here are a few of the better photos of my day...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Shopping Mall Dentistry

I was surprised the Orthodontist’s was in a downtown Mall next to a Sporting Goods chain. It was very busy and I would characterize it as assembly line dentistry. They were all very nice and professional but no personality. Because I blew out both the water picks I brought during my first week in Rwanda (wrong voltage) I asked to have my teeth cleaned as well. I only bring this up because it was so inexpensive. It was less than ½ the price I pay in the states.

I also stopped at a Shop Rite Supermarket in the same mall (Jim, I do not think it is affiliated with Wakefern) to see if they had Diet Pepsi, water and toothpaste. Yes, they had Pepsi Light and everything was much less expensive than in Rwanda; so it is not just the services that are cheaper.

In walking to the Mall, I was struck by all the differences between Cape Town and Kigali. Of course CT is much bigger and the population is more white than black but everything is Westernized...I kind of miss Kigali expect I can use my credit cards here! I also walked past an American Express Office and was able to cash my remaining Travelers Checks with only a 5% fee (much less than Kigali at 12%). Because I need cash for everything (rent, power, gas, water, food, cell phone minutes, etc), I will visit an ATM everyday to take out the maximum in SA Rands and exchange into dollars at the airport on Thursday.

One of the biggest things Rwanda can do for tourism is modernized their banking system so out of country ATMs can be used and merchants to accept credit cards.

Travels with Susan

Considering all the flying I do for my job, I thought I was a pretty seasoned traveler…wrong.

When I arrived two hours early for my flight at Kigali, I went to what I thought was the a small ticket counter but it was only for purchasing future tickets (cash only) and was told I needed to go through security before I could check-in. They would not allow me to carry on my bag so it was checked to Joberg and my final destination was Cape town. The flight was only an hour late but with headwinds, it took almost four hours in Regional Jet. I do not know how they stay in business because there were only seven people on the flight; they served a full meal and all the beer and wine you wanted.

I forgot to bring my immunization card and was turned away at the passport control at 12:30 AM. They told me I could go to a 24 hour clinic and for $90.00 I got my second yellow fever vaccination (about double what I paid for it in CA). Once I had the card, I went back through passport control. By this time it is about 1:30 AM and the Domestic Terminal was closed until 4:30AM. I had three hours with no place to go in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I had a very small taste of what it is like to be alone, afraid and briefly homeless. Finally a policeman let me into the baggage claim area where there were over 100 people waiting for early morning flights. All the benches were taken so I was happy I had my luggage. I was able to get a sweater and jacket because it was freezing on the concrete. I longed for even the worst Red Carpet Club!

It was my own fault for forgetting my immunization card but it was not part of my travel routine but it is now. I also forget to bring an adapter to plug in computer, IPod and Kindle.

I arrived to drizzle and could not see much of the city but it has cleared up a little and this is a picture of the city and Table Mountain outside my window in one direction and the Port in the other.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July Rwanda Style

I went to the US Embassy with about 300 other citizens to celebrate with hamburgers, chips, potato salad, chocolate cake, music and games. It was a who’s who of the NGO and government scene and I met people from many organizations; it was a networkers dream. Sorry I have no photos but my camera was confiscated as I went through the metal detectors but was returned to me when I left…I did not know that photographs cannot be taken in or around any Embassy.

The Ambassador read a speech from President Obama for all citizens living outside the USA. Ambassador Symington added his thanks for all the good work our organizations were doing in Rwanda and he is never surprised by what we can all accomplish together.

The Ambassador came from a much bigger celebration at Amahoro (Peace) Stadium where 25,000 Rwandans were celebrating 15 years of Liberation. The TV coverage of the event dominated the news and Sarah Palin had a few mentions on Al Jazeera and the BBC. I do not know if it was the editing but she came across more of a caricature than she did during the campaign.

I am off tomorrow to South Africa and will take lots of photos of the adventure. It will be much cooler there and I will finally be able to wear the jeans and long sleeve shirts that have just been sitting in my closet. Wish me luck with my braces!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

as we forgive

Last night I attended the opening of a very important movie entitled as we forgive. It is the cornerstone of the “as we forgive Rwanda Initiative”; a non-profit public/private partnership to encourage greater dialogue about the process of repentance, forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation. It has relevance for Rwanda but all who see it will find ways to use the process to help themselves move toward reconciliation in their own lives.

The award-winning documentary (Gold Winner, Student Academy Awards in 2008) will be used as an educational tool in schools, churches, prisons, and villages. The initiative will encompass a nationwide tour and discussion program to encourage honest and healing conversations about this very difficult subject. A group of dedicated professionals trained in different reconciliation techniques will customize the program for each audience. They have also developed metrics to determine if and how successful they are in reaching their goals (to be determined based on the audience).

I was impressed with the movie, the four main characters and their stories (they were in attendance at the launch party), and how the Initiative was presented. The US Ambassador introduced the film by telling his story of how the film affected him when he first saw it last year and how he uses as part of the orientation in Rwanda and suggested it be used in every location that is or has been involved in conflict. An incredible Anglican clergyman and the Minister of Culture also spoke eloquently about the project and their hopes. One of the main proponents for this project was not able to attend because he is recuperating from surgery; Bishop John. He runs a Prison Ministry and the reconciliation program was his brainchild after the genocide. He is interviewed throughout the film and based on books I have read; he is a powerhouse in Rwanda. I am hopeful he returns to his ministry before I leave so I can meet him. Gregor mentioned him to me before I left and said I must meet him!

The film tells the story of two women survivors of the genocide who come face to face with their families killers and chose the painful but hopeful journey of reconciliation. Talk about powerful stories… The film was the master’s thesis for Laura Waters Hinson and I have included the website if you would like more information.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rwanda Independence Day

Today is a National Holiday but as you read the editorial below, not all Rwandans feel like celebrating. On July 5th, they celelbrate another Holiday; Peace and National Unity Day.

A brief history lesson may help you understand why

Rwanda was first colonized by Germany and later by Belgium. The Europeans played on ethnic differences to divide and conquer the population. At that time power was concentrated in the hands of the Tutsi, with the king (mwami) playing a central role.
In 1956 the King called for independence and Belgium began to switch allegiance to the Hutu majority. After the death of the King in 1959, armed clashes between Hutu and Tutsi marked the beginning of an ethnic climate. Following independence in 1962 the Hutu majority came to power and the first exodus of Tutsi began. Intertribal tensions continued to erupt with some of fighting caused by events in surrounding countries (Uganda, Burundi and The Congo). 1990 marked the beginning of a Civil War which culminated in the Genocide.

This Editorial appeared in THE NEW TIMES this morning. It is the opinion Gloria Anyongo

Today, 1st July, Rwanda celebrates its Independence Day. Unlike other African states in the region, one cannot feel the enthusiasm that comes with the day.
Independence Day is described as an annual celebration commemorating the anniversary of a nation’s assumption of independent statehood, usually after ceasing to be a colony or part of another state. Most countries honour their respective independence day as a national holiday.

Today, the significance of this day is not regarded highly.

It passes almost unnoticed because of the implications that come with it.
Instead of peace and freedom, Rwanda was characterized by divisionism and oppression of its citizens. Refugees increased in number as a series of massacres continued.
This does not describe Independence at all. For this reason many Rwandans today are not so enthusiastic about the day.

There is nothing much to celebrate about that day because it was not a happy day. It was a sad day that led to unrest that affected the country for years to come. The rest is history, anyone would say.

Freedom by its simplest definition is a state of feeling free. If you do not feel free, then you have no freedom.

This was the case for Rwanda 47 years ago when on July 1st 1962 they assumed ‘independence’ from its colonial rule. Unlike the true meaning of independence, this was an ‘apparent independence’ from the colonial powers that had subdued Africa.

For Rwanda, this subjection lasted from 1900 to 1962 when the Rwanda-Urundi still existed. If Rwanda-Urundi in the Berlin Conference of 1885 was not designated as a German sphere of influence, then the United Nations trusteeship in 1946 would not have given Rwanda-Urundi to the Belgians and Rwanda would not have became a Belgian Trust Territory. Rwanda becoming Belgium’s ‘trust territory’ broke the nation.

In his book ‘Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa’, Rene Lemarchand, a professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, correctly wrote against all those who saw ‘ruin’ at the end of colonial dominion in Africa. He argued that, “despite the brevity of the colonial interlude, its impact was overwhelming. In Rwanda, it unleashed one of the most violent upheavals ever witnessed by an African state at a similar stage of its evolution…”

With the help of Belgian military at that time, the first genocidal crisis in Rwanda was sparked in November 1959 when the Tutsi Monarchy was terminated. The aftermath was bloodshed. Thousands fled the country and moved to neighbouring countries as they were hunted down, young and old. Rwanda post independence was not independent.

Through a sequence of leaderships with the e first President Dominique Mbonyumutwa, then Gregoire Kayibanda, the first elected president of September 1961, and finally Juvenal Habyarimana who presumed power after coup and later starved his predecessor Kayibanda, Rwanda was not experiencing freedom but only divisionism.

Thus I say ‘Independence Day’ for Rwanda and Rwandans was when we experienced the first taste of real freedom. This was after Liberation Day in 1994.