Monday, 7 April 2014

Remembering Rwanda

Portraits of Reconciliation

Today marks the 20th anniversary since the Rwandan Genocide.

I was there in 2009, during the 15th anniversary, and hope to return this year to visit friends. I've written about the genocide in the past on my travel blog (one, two and three) and shared poetry, spoken of the wonderful things about Rwanda, too, including the gorillas.

This year, I thought I would mention some books which formed part of my consciousness on this topic.

Fergal Keane was the BBC correspondent in Rwanda during the genocide. His book, Season of Blood, was the first I read on the subject. It documents his memories of that time and helps to explain how events unfolded. There was an accompanying documentary, Journey into Darkness (1994), which was played at Gisozi Memorial Centre in Kigali.

This is one that I have not read, but wanted to include as there is a documentary of the same name. Roméo Dallaire was Commander of the UN peacekeeping forces during the genocide. He gave an interview about this book on the 10th anniversary, which you can watch on YouTube. Shake Hands with the Devil is a key work on the genocide.

Emergency Sex: True Stories from a War Zone, is one of the best books I've ever read. It follows three civilian UN staff through most of the world's major political disasters and genocides of the early 90s, including Rwanda. Like Dallaire, it's a damning indictment of bureaucracy over human life, but it does bring a little humour to the subject. Previous review here.

We Wish to Inform You, was the second book I read on the matter, pre-departure. It is American journalist Philip Gourevitch's attempt to unravel the political and social causes of the genocide, to prevent it from being written off as simply 'a tribal conflict.' He does a very good job.

I dearly want to mention Stars of Rwanda. I don't think it's available anymore, but perhaps by contacting Wiljo Woodi Oosterom directly you can get a copy. A Deaf colleague showed it to me, because it had pictures of deaf children in. The book catalogues children's experiences of the genocide through their drawings and stories.

This is a slightly more academic work issued in 1995 by African Rights. Not So Innocent explores the role of women as perpetrators during the genocide. It's available directly from African Rights for about £8.95. You can find a similarly-themed ICRC report online (PDF). 

This is an incredible book written by the brother of a volunteer who was shot, along with her Burundian fiancé, by rebels in 2000. In Titanic Express, he sets out to unravel the ongoing complexities of the Rwandan genocide which led to his sister's death, whilst coming to terms with his own grief. The Charlotte Wilson Memorial Fund continues to donate to projects in Rwanda in her name.

Another one that isn't easy to locate, but which sticks in my mind, is Making Sense: A Rwandan Story, which is a full colour art book. If you Google Image the title, you will see some examples. My favourite is at the bottom of this post. The original paintings have been donated to the Rwanda Government for exhibition in Rwanda.

Most people have heard of Hotel Rwanda, but if you're looking for a film, Shooting Dogs (Beyond the Gates) is a better choice. This one was actually filmed in Rwanda (you can see my old office!) and was made with the help of genocide survivors. You can watch the trailer on IMDB

As an addendum, I would like to mention a work by a survivor of Auschwitz. Written with incredible compassion and insight, If This is a Man and The Truce explores first-hand the process of dehumanisation, and how one rebuilds a life after genocide. It's important to look at Rwanda in the context of a much larger, global, issue.

Also, check out Mahoro, published in 2017.

I hope this has provided a place to start for those who wish to read about Rwanda's history. If I've missed any, please do drop a comment below.

Art from Making Sense: A Rwandan Story


  1. What an excellent job of gathering together a great list of books about Rwanda. Many of them will end up on my reading list - this is one of the great tragedies that happened in my lifetime and very little reference seems to be made to it now.

  2. A solid list! I can only claim to have seen Hotel Rwanda and stocked We Wish To Inform You, but will use this list for further suggestions!