Part 2: Forgiveness
In part one of the Rwanda blog, we discussed how the genocide began and the political atmosphere leading up to the genocide. As mentioned, we are hoping to visit Rwanda tomorrow. When most people think about Rwanda they think about the genocide, but few people know exactly what transpired and why things happened the way they did. In this section we will discuss how Rwanda was able to recover after the genocide.
We mentioned a book called The Blue Sweater in the last blog. The book is about the author, Jacqueline Novogratz, when she was a young woman volunteering in Rwanda. About half of the book discusses the Rwandan genocide, the events that occurred before the genocide, and her research to discover what happened.
Just after the genocide ended, Jacqueline visited her friends in Rwanda who were still living. She wanted to understand what happened to them, to the programs they were working on, and to the country. One section discussed one of the conversations she had with her friends and some other women she met. In a room filled with women, the author listened to her friend and other women tell their stories. They were Hutu and Tutsi and their stories were from all the possible ways to experience the genocide. They listened to each other in this small room for nearly 12 hours. Each woman recounted experiences filled with horror, tragedy, and the deepest grief imaginable.
The author finally commented, “How can you sit together and listen to one another’s stories across ethnic lines? Doesn’t it generate rage? One’s husband may have murdered another’s — or another’s son. Where did they find room for forgiveness?” The author received her answer from a woman in the back who responded quietly, “We listen to one another and look into one another’s eyes and we see suffering. It is the suffering that binds us. It is the suffering that reminds us that we are all human.”
The author went on to visit another friend she worked with years before the genocide. Her friend lived in a small town and the town was rebuilding and learning to live with each other again. Hutu and Tutsi, living and working together again after the worst horror imaginable took place between them. The author asked her friend if it was difficult to rebuild the village with the people who had killed her family. Her friend said, “There is no reason to hold anger against another person. Too many of us have died over small conflicts. It is time to heal. I have my home now and I am grateful. Why should I bear a grudge?”
The author concludes her section on the Rwandan genocide by discussing the then upcoming Tribunal. She states, “Clearly, perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions and justice must be done for victims — for everyone in the country — to heal. At the same time, our world’s challenge is not simply in determining how we punish, but instead in how we prevent the kinds of atrocities that can come only from a deep-seated fear of the ‘Other’ in our midst. Such fear is fueled in a world where the rich feel above the system and the poor feel entirely out.”
Every Rwandan not only saw – or committed – horrendous acts, but everyone lost someone and with that, part of their hearts. Hutus who were never targeted and never participated in the violence still live with the shadows of shame and guilt. But so many ordinary Rwandans demonstrated the extraordinary courage and spirit that bode well for the country’s future. Rwanda has remained peaceful since the 1994 genocide, where 10% of its population was massacred in about 100 days, mostly by machetes. The forgiveness and the willingness to accept what had happened by both the Tutsi and the Hutu people is a true testament of human courage.
The author also offers a shade of hope about the future of Rwanda. “When looking at what happened in the Rwandan genocide, we can conclude despairingly that the nature of humanity is evil – or we can focus on the things that endured: The extraordinary power of the human spirit, the exquisite dignity of some individuals on even the darkest days, and the number of people who helped one another during and after the tragedies in Rwanda simply because it was the right thing to do. It is from a place of hope, of the possibility of rebirth, of retribution, and even of optimism that Rwanda now has a real chance to become one of the developing world’s success stories.”