Rwanda Revisited

Thomas Gilmore (’68) / Meera Bhardwaj

Meera Bhardwaj

In the winter issue, “Student Pride: Finding Strength”, Meera Bhardwaj told of her experiences in Rwanda. She said, “There are many misconceptions in the U.S. about the genocide in Rwanda…. Coming here has enriched us with a better understanding of what happened different from how it has been portrayed.”

What are those misconceptions? How did the trip change her understanding? More detail would make a great follow-up story.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE:

We couldn’t agree more. So we put these questions to Bhardwaj. Here’s what she had to say.

Misconceptions in Americans’ understanding of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda are rooted in decades-old critiques of American media, education and government policy. Why are Americans seemingly so ignorant of the world outside our borders? 

For instance, when people learn of my trip to Rwanda last summer, they often say, “Oh, that’s where the genocide happened, right? Are they still killing each other?” (No, they are not.) And many are fuzzy on even the most basic details of the genocide, such as which group murdered which. (Hutus killed roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days of violence in 1994.)

Our limited understanding makes it easier for historical revisionists to make false claims that skew the ways we understand the genocide and perceive present-day Rwanda. Strangely, these revisionists include Paul Rusesabagina—the protagonist of the 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina, a Hutu, did save the lives of more than 1,000 Tutsis during the genocide. But recently, he’s made unfounded claims about Tutsis perpetrating political killings against Hutus and has questioned the legitimacy of the current Rwandan government.

His comments often go unquestioned because so few Americans know the difference between the two groups or even realize that lists of Tutsi and moderate Hutus to be eliminated were drawn up before the 1994 killing began.

Though it’s easy to find fault with the media, one of the Rwandans who co-founded the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center in Kigali, Dr. Chantal Kalisa, told me she thought it was better that Rwanda was at least being talked about internationally, even if many of the details are flawed. Those who are struck by the genocide may work to find more credible information about what happened.

For further information, I recommend Linda Melvern’s A People Betrayed, Josias Semujanga’s Origins of the Rwandan Genocide and Boubacar Boris Diop’s Murambi, The Book of Bones.

—Meera Bhardwaj