Serious and Correct?
It has been 16 years since the murder of 1 million innocent Tutsi and moderate Hutu Rwandan men, women and children in the Rwandan genocide during a 100 day siege of terror.
I have just finished reading Stephen Kinzer’s extraordinary book A Thousand Hills, in which I learned not only about the history that led up to those horrific 100 days, but also about Paul Kagame, the nation’s President and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Kagame led a successful RPF military campaign to regain control of his country after becoming a Tutsi refugee in Uganda in 1959, at the age of 2. The well-planned insurgency began on October 1, 1990. On July 18, 1994 it reached Kigali, the nation’s capital, declared victory and ended the 100-day genocide. For the past 16 years, the new government has struggled with not only the rebuilding of a nation but the rebuilding of lives where neighbors murdered neighbors, where survivors live side by side with those who murdered their families and genocidaires face their victims’ families and friends everyday.
I feel unsettled after reading A Thousand Hills, mostly because of my own ignorance. Of course we now all know of the Rwandan genocide, after the fact, thanks mostly to the film, Hotel Rwanda (which by the way is told quite differently by Kinzer than the Hollywood version), but the true story of Rwanda is just one of endless stories and conflicts in the many African nations that inhabit this enormous continent.
Today, Rwanda has become a model for many of these nations. It is extremely safe and developing at a rapid pace thanks to Kagame’s Vision 2020 program, which began in 2000. There has been much progress in post-genocide Rwanda through a process of “unity and reconciliation”. The government consists of both Hutu and Tutsi leaders and women have played a huge role in writing Rwanda’s future. They hold the majority vote in the lower House of Parliament; more than any government in the world. Women also hold many top ministry positions and play leadership roles in business and other affairs.
There is an ethos in Rwanda that has been passed on as tradition – that one must be serious and correct. Being serious, means making plans and putting them into effect. Not being serious means not being correct. It is the basis of the Kagame presidency. This translates into government actions that can appear oppressive: crackdowns of schools that do not run efficiently, business or public agencies being shut down when they don’t meet proper standards, the closure of restaurants that do not maintain the proper hygiene, even the extreme of arresting people for being “idle and disorderly” because they are viewed as troublemakers or not allowing people to walk barefoot on the street.
From a westerner’s viewpoint, this might appear autocratic and dictatorial; however from who’s lens must this judgment come? If it is a cultural expectation that people should be serious and correct does this give leaders a right to impose certain expectations of its citizens, or does this teeter on a dictatorship? I’m not sure where I stand.
Reading this book, has shocked me into the reality that as history has unfolded during my adult life, I have been complacent. My husband and I moved to Guilford in the early 90’s. In 1994 I was busy raising my 4 young children. I was immersed in diaper changing, preschool and playgroups. But I am sure I believed that I was well informed.
The reality is, we are all so busy with our daily lives, taking care of families, earning a living, carving out time for exercise and some fun… and it should be. Yet, the world around us continues to challenge our senses with oil spills, joblessness, natural disasters, civil wars, terrorist threats, conflicts that we can’t even begin to understand; in Kinzer’s words, “we live in a turbulent and unforgiving world” – sometimes we are taken by a news clip or a celebrity bringing to light an injustice – and we jump on the bandwagon, at least for awhile. But mostly, we just live, day to day, and the earth continues to spin.
Since finishing the book, I learned that President Paul Kagame is up for reelection on August 9 for a final 7-year term. I will be following the news of the election and Rwanda’s future now with earnest. And I will take more time to understand and reflect on the news around me… I think it’s time perhaps, for me to be a little more serious and correct.
Here’s a clip of an interview of President Paul Kagame with CNN’s Christina Amanpour. What do you think?