Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.
We’ve taken some long bus rides in Africa. We spent eight bumpy hours on a bus from Nairobi to Arusha and another eight from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam.
The longest so far, though, has been between Kigali, Rwanda and Kampala, Uganda. As usual, we were looking out the window, admiring the crops growing by the side of the road, desperately trying not to think about how we had to pee, and trying not to panic about how fast our bus driver was maneuvering between other buses, cattle, and street vendors hawking roasted corn, bananas, and pineapples on the side of the road.
But once we arrived, we quickly realized, that we’ve never traveled anywhere quite like Rwanda.
Fifteen years ago one of the largest modern genocides occurred here.
More than one million men, women, and children were senselessly murdered, not by strangers, but by their own government, their own neighbors, and in some cases, their own family members. It was one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. If you were a Tutsi (an ethnic tribe, now about 15 percent of the population), you were marked for death, with very few places to hide.
Our visit to the genocide memorial museum in Kigali, was a painful reminder to us that, as Jews, our shared global commitment of “never again” was just words. The world turned away as this happened. It would be easy to lay the blast solely on former President Bill Clinton or Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, who now admit that the United States and the world failed Rwanda. The blame lands in all our hands, another reminder of how are able to turn our backs on events in Africa and of our apathy or sense of hopelessness about a continent we know so little about.
Today Rwanda, a decade and a half after the atrocities that occurred here, knows all the right things to say. The newspapers are strictly controlled by the government–and censored. New nationalistic slogans have emerged: “One Rwanda, One Country” is the motto heard everywhere.
Yet, we couldn’t help but wonder as we walked the streets of Kigali that anyone over 30 years old was likely either a culprit or victim. And today Hutus still occupy Tutsi homes, many possessions were never returned, and mass-graves continue to grow as bodies are discovered. Although, more than 180,000 people went to jail under a village-by-village court system — many evaded punishment, received minimal sentences, or were freed a few years later on good behavior.
It’s clear that the country and communities are creating spaces for healing. Radio, print, and TV are filled with multi-ethnic dialogues about renewing and rebuilding Rwanda. Communities are holding public forums, counseling is offered, and dialogue is growing everywhere.
We also found a country bustling with energy as it rebuilds. A lush landscape of green hills and trees, filled with infinite possibility. Cities are now becoming used to a growing number of tourists, with WiFi hotspots, European and Chinese restaurants, and growing numbers of satellite televisions. With the growing stability and security, the international community is coming back.
Traveling in the countryside we saw many success stories, including the work of Heifer International Rwanda who are training farmers and increasing food security.”Heifer is helping a recovery process,” explained Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the Programs Manager for Heifer. Heifer started its projects in Rwanda in 2000 in a community in Gicumbi District, about an hour outside of Kigali, the capital. This community was especially hard hit by the genocide because it’s close to the border with Uganda. Residents who weren’t killed fled to Kigali for safety.
In the years following the genocide, Gicumbi District is making a comeback thanks, in part, to Heifer International. Heifer International works with farmers all over the world, helping them develop sustainable agriculture practices, including providing livestock and training farmers how raise them.
Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, but their start was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group-because they were giving farmers “very expensive cows,” says Holimdintwoli Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn’t understand how the group could just give them away. Many community members thought that it was a plot by the government to have them raise livestock and then take them away, a remnant of the ethnic rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis that started the conflict there in the 1990s. And Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows-including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture-which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer’s training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.
Heifer introduced a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide. And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows.”
And these animals don’t only provide milk-which can be an important source of protein for the hungry-and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program.
We were very inspired as we met with several farmers all over the countryside, who were lifting themselves out of poverty using help provided to them by Heifer.
Several of the farmers became teachers in their own communities, helping their neighbors learn new skills and techniques that they were benefiting from, and working with them to implement them.
Rwanda may be our most interesting and beautiful visit in Africa but the country also feels lost, still struggling to find itself, still deciding what direction it will go. Its wounds may never completely heal–especially when “never again” happened here such a short time ago.
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