Frontline World

RWANDA - After the Genocide, December 2003
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
7/3/03 7/7/03 7/11/03 7/15/03 7/19/03 7/19/03 7/20/03 7/23/03
pacifique mukeshima Domina Nyirandayambaje Aloys Habimana
men on motorcycles
For a dollar or two, motorcycle taxis will take you anywhere in Kigali.
This is just a quick note to let you know that I made it. I got in at 9 this morning and cruised through customs. The attention of everyone in the airport was on the Ghanaian national soccer team, which had flown in on the same plane from Kenya.

Kigali is not much to get excited about. It's a sprawling expanse of huts, houses and hovels jammed in on a series of hills. There are people going everywhere on bikes, motorcycles and crammed into minibuses, all sliding past one another. You'd think all 300,000 people who live here decided to take to the street at the same time.

kigali street scene
People mill around Kigali's central market area.
It shouldn't be hard to get around Rwanda. It's a country about the size of the state of Maryland. A surprising number of people in the capital speak English, and pidgin French serves for communicating with the rest. In the countryside, where Kinyarwandan is the only language spoken by the vast majority, I'll need a translator.

You can't help but be haunted by stories of the killings that happened here nine years ago. If you've just landed from outer space (or California, for that matter), nothing would tip you off that less than a decade ago, 800,000 people out of a population of 7 million were butchered in the space of just three months.

Rwanda's Neighborhood
United Nations Involvement
Root of Hutu/Tutsi Tension
Rwandan Civil War, 1990-1994
Rwanda's 1994 Genocide
Rwandan Patriotic Front
Paul Kagame
A Rwandan I spoke to before I came here told me that everyone in the country has been affected by the genocide. They all either killed or witnessed killing or lost someone in the slaughter: Every Rwandan knows a perpetrator or a victim.

The government of President Paul Kagame claims that by setting up the gacaca courts (gacaca translates as "grass"), people will have the opportunity to finally discuss what happened during the genocide. This discussion is supposed to bring reconciliation. When all the courts are up and running, there will be 9,000 separate gacacas. More than 100,000 prisoners in the country, many of them locked up now for nine years, await their day in these local courts.

The courts are similar to those set up by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in that they emphasize participation -- and the importance of confession -- over punishment. The difference here is that such a high percentage of the population directly participated in the atrocities. So the organizers of gacaca justice face an enormous challenge -- to get so many people to confess their crimes.

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