Post-Genocide Rwanda: Seeking Both Justice and Reconciliation


Euphoria and cacophony in Kigali, a slower but more human pace, hopping in Nyamirambo

Yesterday afternoon, Rwanda's national soccer team won a key match against Ghana, played here in Kigali (1-0). A stunning and unexpected win, it means that Rwanda now qualifies for the 2004 African Nations Cup tournament in Tunisia. It was the first time ever that Rwanda's soccer team has qualified for such a significant tournament, and the city went wild in celebration last night. From my apartment in what is usually an extremely quiet neighborhood of the city, I could hear buses and cars driving by, honking their horns non-stop, their passengers screaming at the top of their lungs. Downtown was wild, as people gathered at restaurants and clubs to celebrate the win. It reminded me of San Francisco after a big Giants victory.

Last night's game was only one day in a week full of festivities, though. Rwanda celebrated two public holidays last week, Independence Day (July 1), marking the 1962 independence from Belgian colonial rule, and National Liberation Day (July 4), celebrating the day that the Rwandan Patriotic Army took control of the country in 1994, bringing an end to the genocide.

A new government policy was instituted last week, making the official civil service workday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. I discovered this by accident, after showing up at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the central gacaca court office to make various arrangements, only to be told that I would have to return at 7 a.m. the next morning, making it the third trip I had made to this one office to accomplish a small (but necessary) piece of business. In the three weeks that I've been here, I'm slowly becoming used to the slow pace of this city and to the extremely time-consuming manner of conducting business. Although having to make several trips back and forth on errands to that office and to others has certainly tested my patience, it is nonetheless refreshing to have to conduct daily business in person, rather than through the e-mails and phone calls that are so characteristic of life at home.

The Tuesday holiday gave me the chance to explore new neighborhoods of Kigali that I hadn't yet seen. Nyamirambo, a neighborhood close to the central city but strikingly different in appearance and character, was my main destination. Marked by a prominent mosque that towers over the district and looks out over the sprawling hills and valleys of the city, Nyamirambo is known as the part of the city that is always alive. Even on Tuesday, while the rest of the city was uncharacteristically quiet and empty, Nyamirambo was buzzing with people. Music blared out of storefronts, people stopped their cars on the side of the road to talk to friends passing by, and tailors sat at their sewing machines in their shop windows.

In between all of the holidays last week, though, I kept busy arranging interviews and attending meetings. Tomorrow, I will head off for a few days to a region in Eastern Rwanda to observe the gacaca courts and to talk with people there about their perspectives on this fledgling system.

— Radha