April 27, 2006

Gacaca (pronounced Gachacha)

We meet a Rwandese man who tells us about Gacaca. Almost verbatim, his testimony is the following:

“My impressions are the following. This period now (mid-April) is one of mourning. Each year, we feel the weight of contention. We are in a period of wake. It is now that you feel that the population’s traumas are coming out in the open. This year is worse than 1994. As time goes on, the trauma is being released. We, the NGOs and the government, do not have adequate tools to deal with this.

For twelve years, we have preached the message, « we can live together ». That was the first step. Now we are in a phase of Reconciliation and Justice. Should we forget the past and build a future or punish the culprits? This is a dilemma. We should combine the two. But this has its set of challenges. Classic justice [as we know it in the West] cannot solve these conflicts. We would like to recognize the blame but also reinstate populations. We use Gacaca Justice. It’s a participatory process allowing us to talk. We are amongst ourselves, in the community. This is how we can deal.

It has been a genocide by proxy—the neighbor, the friend, the family, the spectator denounce the other—so the level of participation [in the genocide] was significant. Gacaca is a compromise between forgetting and justice. We were not accustomed to law terms of the formal system of laws: Gacaca is a traditional method. You sit under the tree and deal with your problems. We had to add laws, teach formal procedures to the judges. This has not been easy. Now, we have train the judges. We have 80,000 prisoners of the Genocide. We may have 800,000 to 15 million prisoners [by the end of this process]. This is a large portion of the population.

We have made progress since 1995, 1996, 1997. Now fear/distrust have decreased, even if it still exists. The social climate is good. But with Gacaca, we are going to talk about the dead. There is a “resistance movement” that would like to prevent the Justice process. Since Gacaca is based on informal chats, there will be no definitives. But it seems to be a good system.

The question of the survivors is very delicate : how do we repair, deal with the trauma ? We do not have enough systems for that.

Good governance is a topic that worries us. There would be no genocide without the state’s influence. What type of power do we want to prevent a similar genocide? Post-genocidal society is very fragile. We have put in place basic institutions but citizen participation is low, governing is not very strong.

Poverty is caused by many factors. But the fact remains that the population is poor—there are social differences. For we who work in reconciliation, poverty has never been a cause of the genocide. It was not the poor that were the people undertaking the genocide. We must be clear: poverty was not the cause of the genocide.

The church is very important in Rwandan society. A difficult past since there have been clashes with the government..The Catholic church lost its moral clout and credibility—it is said that the church did not have a good role to play in the genocide. The church is in a phase of recovery. We can see an effort at self-examination—a “Christian Gacaca”. The church talks, insists on basic ecclesiastical communities as a vehicle of reconciliation and listening. The bishops support the state Gacaca. Justice and Peace commissions are closely involved in the Gacaca process. The Catholic church has chosen a more discreet profile, it does not involve itself as much in the government. Personally, I think this separation is important so that the church can reflect. There aren’t even any religious writings about the genocide. Today, the Catholic church has accepted to become a part of the society—before that, it was superior. This is a success.

It is better to talk than to ignore. It is painful, but we must talk”

The view from a hotel in Goma

I'm not sure what this fruit is but they call in a Mountain Potato


Elizabeth said...

Thanks for sharing that man's story. The mountain potato looks like a variety of pomegranite, doesn't it?

007 in Africa said...

You're welcome. I does kind of look like a pomegranite...it tastes like passion fruit but less citrucy. I'll never got over the number of fruits and vegetables I'd never encountered in the States before.