It is 12 years after the 1994 Genocide that drove more than a million Rwandan children, women and men to an early grave. Though tears may have dried up as the people try to come to terms with the event that almost erased Rwanda from the face of the earth, ghosts of one of the most violent events in the Great Lakes region lingers as broken hearts in this landlocked Central African nation continue seeking healing. OGOVA ONDEGO reports from Kigali, Rwanda.
A kaleidoscope of dazzling lights blends with an equally deafening disco music at The Cadillac Restaurant and Discotheque in Kigali. As we enter the hall in the company of two white men, women of all shapes, sizes and age mill around us and openly declare their availability.
This scene, replicated at the Planet Cinema & Club in Kigali Business Centre, the Republika Lounge and several other night hang-out joints in the Rwandan capital, contrasts with another at Kigali Memorial Centre that is a stark reminder of what befell Rwanda in 1994: The white building that hosts exhibitions on the Rwandan Genocide has a sombre mood to it, much like a graveyard that it well could be. It is filled with ghostly voices conversing in Kinyarwanda as one starts sampling what European colonialism bequeathed the Tutsi, the Hutu and the Twa of Rwanda and how the seeds they planted resulted in an indescribable human suffering at the turn of the 20th century. While glass cases are filled with human skulls and other bones rearranged in an Ezekielian-Valley-of-Bones-like style as if they are about to return to life, the garden outside has 11 mass graves filled with caskets containing remains of the dead. But perhaps the most devastating exhibit in this monument of human suffering is that of the children who perished during the Genocide: innocent, almost angelic beings whose dreams and hopes for tomorrow were snuffed out before they could be realised. The description of the favourite food, games, talents and how these children died is likely to make one shed tears as happened when we visited the museum. So devastated was one of us that she ran off as soon as we left the memorial and was not seen for a whole day!
My recent visit to The Kigali Memorial Centre brought back memories of 2004 in which a woman broke down as she read portions of her book in a leading international literary workshop in Durban, South Africa. That woman, Yolande Mukagasana, had given graphic details of how her three children were led to a pit “much like cattle to the slaughter”and hacked to death with machetes by people she had known and trusted as she looked on helplessly, waiting for her turn to join her offspring in the ‘after life’; she said the 1994 Rwandan slaughter had forced her into becoming a writer in order to warn society against such tragedies in future. Even then, she said, she still did not consider herself a writer as, to her, “Writers are people who have published numerous novels, short stories, drama, poetry and other writings.”
“As one of the few genocide survivors, I must tell people what happened so the next generation may know what happened and how to avoid it in future. I consider myself as someone fighting for a cause, pursuing a mission,” she said, adding that she had had three books published: Death Doesn’t Want Me (April 1997; she calls it tears of a mother, because it tells the story of the death of many people, including her own children, who were killed by people they knew as friends and neighbours), Don’t Be Afraid To Know (1999), The Wounds Of Silence (2001; shows the human face of Genocide as told by victims and killers).
Another book was to be published in 2004 when we spoke during the 7th Time of the Writer conference organised by the Centre of Creative Arts of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. All in French and self-published, the Belgium-based Mukagasana said her titles did not sell well as they accused the international community, particularly the French, the Belgian and the United Nations, for not having done enough to prevent the human slaughter. Writing informally and without any restraint, the tearful Mukagasana, after wiping tears as translator Xavier Parson of the French Institute of South Africa looked on, waiting for her to continue talking so he could translate, said, “I am not scared to name any one involved. I don’t know where God was during the Genocide. She claimed the distribution of her books had been blocked. Saying justice had been denied victims of the Genocide, Mukagasana lamented that people who incite the ideology of violence may never face the law. Belgian colonialists, she said, were the ones who had introduced hatred between Hutus and Tutsis that the black government continued with the support of foreign powers. Though Rwandans may have committed crimes with crude weapons like machetes and clubs, she said, they were not the brains that invented the ideology of hate.
Two years after meeting Mukagasana, I visited Kigali to attend the second Rwanda Film Festival that seeks to expose the country to the rest of the world. Here, more than 60 films(drama, thriller, comedy, documentary, animation) were screened in seven rural locations (Umutara, Kibungo, Byumba, Ruhengeli, Gisenyi, Kibuye and Butare) and Kigali over a span of two weeks (March 16-30, 2006). The themes of the films ran the gamut of human rights, emancipation of women, HIV/Aids awareness, and peace and reconciliation. One of the films screened was Blandine et les Siens, a documentary in French and Kinyarwanda with English subtitles made by Swiss Emmanuelle de Riedmatten who, like Mukagasana, had worked as a nurse before the Rwandan tragedy. It was screened in Kigali and Butare under the Tolerance and Human Rights category. I particularly enjoyed watching David Hickson’s Beat The Drum, Maria Essen’s Som Man Baddar (Double Shift), and Geir Hansteen Jorgensen’s The New Country as they stood out for their technical quality and contemporary themes. The Kigali screenings were held at the French Cultural Centre, Maison des Jeunes de Kimisagara, Centre Socioculturel Urumuli, Club Rafiki and Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, KIST). One of the highlights of the festival was the screening of three films made by young people”under Films by the Youth for the Youth (FYÂ²)”production workshop conducted by the Rwanda Cinema Centre in collaboration with the Swedish Institute, Goteborg Film Festival Fund, and the Centre d’Echange Culturel Franco Rwandais: Scars of Days (about two villagers coming into town and facing two different destinies); The Silent Epidemic (about drug abuse among the youth); and Love Letter To My Country (about a Romeo-and-Juliet-like love relationship between a Capulet and Montague families that now pass for Tutsi and Hutu).
“RCC has made a big step in the achievement of its goals of training young Rwandans to make films on a regular basis,”
For its first edition, FYÂ² had produced six short documentaries and one feature film. During the festival, the 4th East African Filmmakers Forum was held. It was addressed by ArtMatters.Info publisher Ogova Ondego and Rwanda Cinema Centre’s Eric Kabera in their capacities as operational committee members of the EAFF. The meeting discussed the challenges practitioners in the East African film sector face as they go about their work. They include training, funding, marketing and distribution of audiovisual productions.
The first Rwanda Mini Film Festival, says festival director Daddy Youssouf Ruhoroza, was organised by The Rwanda Cinema Centre in March 2005 with the aim of promoting the atmosphere of social cohesion and mutual understanding in Rwanda. More than 100 films of all genres and lengths were screened to an estimated 11000 people in the provinces and 5,150 in Kigali.
The Rwanda Film Festival ended a few days to the commemoration of the 12th Genocide anniversary. Shooting Dogs, a film on the Rwandan Genocide that had been criticised around the world as having the potential to traumatise Rwandans more, received support from President Paul Kagame at a Press Conference on March 28 after the March 27 launch of the film at Amahoro Stadium, Kigali: “It is like criticizing the commemoration of the Genocide. It is not the film that traumatises but what happened.”
Despite the hate campaign that was promoted by radio, newspapers, politicians and religious leaders and led to unwarranted death as documented in the Rwanda Memorial Centre, Rwanda remains a lovely place with her long-horned Ankole cattle, rare mountain gorillas of the Virunga Volcanoes, pretty women and friendly and generous people ready to welcome visitors to their land to sample choreographed dance moves of the ancient Intore Dance Troupe that entertained Mwami rulers, humorous and amusing songs of the Hutu, and great pottery firing skills of the Twa.