Importing Forgiveness to Rwanda

Jean Hatzfeld understands the Rwandanthe-antelope-strategy genocide.  He has spent the past ten years unpacking the violence, sitting with both killers and victims day after day, primus after primus. Hatzfeld’s recently translated third book, “The Antelope’s Strategy; Living in Rwanda after the Genocide,” tracks both victims and killers and their challenge to live side by side.  Both groups are brutally honest about the post-genocidal realities they navigate.

Innocent Rwililiza, a Tutsi whose wife and children were killed in the Nymata Church Massacre, responds to the release of 6,000 genocidaires after 7-year terms in jail:

“If you think about it, who is it talking about forgiveness? The Tutsis? The Hutus? The freed prisoners and their families? None of them. It’s the humanitarian organizations. They are importing forgiveness to Rwanda, and they wrap it lots of dollars to win us over. There is a Forgiveness Plan just as there is an AIDS Plan, with public awareness meetings, poster, petty local presidents, super-polite Whites in all-terrain turbo vehicles. These humanitarian workers lecture our teachers, bring our communal councilors on board. They finance various assistance projects. As for us, we speak of forgiveness to earn their good opinion – and because the subsidies can be lucrative.”

Rwililiza’s reflection is one dot in an emotional spectrum that Hatzfeld captures. Rwililiza’s words also speak to the prominence of a ‘genocide industry’ in full force; an industry that organizes Mega-Galas for spectacle and an industry with self-imposed blinders to a political project that might once again ultimately aid violence.

Interestingly, the fear of Kagame’s manipulation of the genocide as a tool for repression has set the tone for the 15th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide (at least in the all-powerful blogosphere). However, there has been little reflection on the role of how NGOs and humanitarian organizations currently operating in Rwanda are facilitating, magnifying, or challenging this political tension by focusing on the genocide.

While there is still much to reconcile, it forces an important question: How do you appropriately address the genocide as an organization without passively assisting its abuse?

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