When I was visiting L.A., a friend who works for World Vision told me that Rwanda has become a hot place to invest. This surprised me, and I asked why. She said that after the destruction of the genocide, there’s all this rebuilding to do.
That’s true, of course, but a lot of places could use rebuilding and still don’t attract investors. This week’s New Yorker, however, features a stunning article by Philip Gourevitch — not online, alas — that affirms Rwanda’s remarkable recovery, and explores the complicated reality behind it.
Central to this effort is the gacaca, a Rwandan version of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Local courts bring in genocidaires, as they’re called, to publicly confess to their crimes, and victims are given an opportunity to forgive them.
At the now-defunct Hunger for Justice blog, Holly wondered at one point how to balance justice and mercy in a place like Rwanda, where the crimes were so extreme. Yet the success of the gacaca seems to depend not on either justice or mercy but something harder to name. No one Gourevitch talks to really likes the system, but they are obliged to go along because they are inextricably bound together.
For instance, Gourevitch visits a Hutu man who was married to a Tutsi woman, but who nonetheless joined the militants and slaughtered a bunch of his neighbors and tried to kill his own brother-in-law. The man confessed, and his surviving in-laws said they forgave him. Yet the brother-in-law sees it largely as a charade.
Still, Evariste believed that it was better to fake it than not. “For a survivor, when you see a killer you’re a bit shocked, and it only makes sense to have fear,” he said. “But you can’t do anything. You can’t kill him. And the killer — it’s better if he comes and says hello than if he flees, because it creates a climate of great distrust when a killer avoids a survivor and won’t greet him. But there really is no solution. In the evening, when you see someone, you fear. … It’s the situation of the whole country.”
His sister is less sanguine about it, saying “A killer is a killer, and you have to abandon them.” Yet she still visits her sister, who is still married to the killer, which she explains is because “they have children together, and it’s not the children’s fault, and to make a child is not a game.”
For a footloose American, this degree of social connectedness — to the point of bondage — is almost unimaginable. After all, many of us have forbears who came here fleeing persecutors or creditors or whoever and managed to effectively disappear. Yet in Rwanda enemies have faces, and names, and maybe even blood ties, and there is no disappearing.
The situation reminds me of the Japanese concept of tatemae and honne — that is, what you believe publicly and what you believe privately. Tatemae is somewhat like the Anglophone concept of “white lies,” but according to the BBC anyway, “It is an entire way of being in certain situations, cancelling out the areas of interaction that are personal, sticky and altogether unwanted in the relation, in favour of peace and harmony. People can interact with each other their entire lives and have a silent mutual agreement to limit themselves to tatemae.”
Westerners tend to see this as hypocrisy, and therefore negative, but the Rwanda story indicates just how valuable tatemae can be. As some Rwandans tell Gourevitch, it may well take a generation before the country can emotionally heal. But when this generation dies their personal honne will die with them, and their children will live in the social reality they’ve created. We can only hope that that will be enough.