In Cinemas March 31

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ken Barham on Rwanda Now

Today's post was contributed by Ken Barham, Trustee of Rwanda Aid and Former Anglican Bishop of Cyangugu, Rwanda (1993 to 2001).

The film SHOOTING DOGS shows graphically some of the horrors of the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda. It shows the utterly hopeless mandate under which the United Nations contingent were operating in Rwanda at that time. There was a brilliant question asked by Father Christopher to the Captain in charge, who had made it clear that his mandate only allowed him to use his powerful weapons if he was fired at first. When the killing was so clearly visible outside the gates and the dogs were eating the bodies, the Captain said he was going to shoot the dogs. Father Christopher asked, bursting with anger, "Have the dogs shot at you?" "Have they shot at you?" You can use your guns to shoot dogs but not to protect these terrified people.

The film shows the terror for the Tutsi people as they saw the hordes with machetes and clubs, and the terrible choices some Europeans had to face. I am very conscious of that as I left in February 1994 and was spared that decision. Would I have left or would I have hidden? I would certainly have had a house full of Tutsis, as did the Catholic Bishop (a Hutu).

It is important that people are made aware of the horrors of the genocide, but it is also important to bring to the forefront, the sitauation in Rwanda NOW. Rwanda is no longer a dangerous place with gangs like the Interahamwe roaming about the country. I feel strongly about this because I have worked in one of the most vulnerable parts of Rwanda from September 1994 until 2001 and then visited once or twice a year since then. I have watched the country move from total chaos in 1994, when all the banks were cleaned out and all government and other property taken, including my roof, doors, windows, cupboards etc; through sorting out administration, setting up commissions for Unity and Reconciliation and a Constitution, to elections at a lower level and then for Parliament and President. I was there last year in October and again in November and will be there again in May this year. Rwanda is incredible! The city of Kigali is being cleaned up remarkably. I have just come back from Honduras and seen rubbish thrown out all along the streets. President Kagame led his Ministers through Kigali picking up all the plastic bags and banning their future use. Trees and flowers are being planted everywhere and new buildings going up like mushrooms. In addition, Tutsi and Hutu are living and working side by side everywhere and nobody is going out to kill anyone (even if that feeling is still there for genocide survivors).

That horrific massacre happened in 1994. Those who have visited Rwanda recently will know the enormous effort that has been made, not only to restore the devastated country, but to move steadily from chaos to creative development, from devastation to democracy. Such strides have been made that inward investment has brought a brand new Five star Intercontinental Hotel to Kigali to match the Hotel Mille Collines and the Umubano Hotel, all of which are hosting international conferences. Rwanda NOW is a very safe and beautiful country. Scores of visitors go to see the gorillas in the mists of the mountains. Some of them travel to the National Park in the east to see a huge range of African animals. Some travel south to the university town of Butare and visit the National Museum. Wise people also continue on the tarmac road through the Natural Forest of Nyungwe with its thirteen types of primate, its rare birds and orchids. After the forest the country opens out to miles of beautiful green tea plantations before arriving at the small town of Kamembe in Cyangugu. Very wise people stay at the Peace Guest House on the lakeside of the beautiful Lake Kivu! Here they can get a Rondavel with two bedrooms, sitting room looking at the lake, and bathroom with flush loo and hot shower. It is safe to travel anywhere in Rwanda today and it is a beautiful country, the Land of a Thousand Hills. Every visitor will get a very warm welcome. The genocide certainly happened and, of course, there are still deep scars, but the courts are dealing with justice. The three ethnic groups, the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa, live side by side in every village and town and work together in every business, and study together in every school and college. If ever there was a perfect example of Reconciliation, Rwanda is it! The people, the government Commission for Reconciliation and Unity, and the Churches, are all working at it.

If you want to prove it, go and see!

-Ken Barham

For more information about visiting Rwanda, click on the Rwandan Tourist Board website.


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