Gacaca book launched in Kigali

The launch for Dr. Phil Clark’s new book, The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Justice without Lawyers, was held at he Umubano Hotel in Kigali yesterday, April 21.

Phil started work on the project in 2001, when the gacaca process began. He conducted nearly 550 interviews with with genocide suspects, survivors, gacaca judges and Rwandan policymakers during his decade long research. I blogged about a debate on gacaca at SOAS in London, with Phil as a participant, in 2010. There’s also a very interesting interview with him at Think Africa Press.

At the book launch In Kigali, he recounted some of his experiences and summed up his general findings. Included along the way were tales of 2,000 or more mototaxi rides and drinking dodgy, banana beer with genocidaires in the southern provinces.

The key point I took away from Phil’s fascinating talk was his conclusion that the established narratives around gacaca are incorrect.

The early romantic view that gacaca is a traditional, specifically Rwandan idea is something of a myth. On the other hand, the views espoused by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – that gacaca promotes injustice and encourages divisionism is… well… not entirely on the money either.

As Usta Kaitesi, Lecturer in Law, National University of Rwanda, commented after Phil’s presentation, this book is the beginning of the analysis of the success or otherwise of gacaca and not the end.

I recorded Phil’s 40 minute presentation, you can listen to it here.. Here’s one interesting tale from the end of the presentation about how one genocidaire and one relative of three of his victims have experienced the process,

“Let me close with a narrative from one of those ten confessed genocidaires… For the sake of this presentation, we’ll call him Alphonse… Alphonse is a confessed genocidaire. He lives in a village in the south of the country and Alphonse is one of those individuals that I’ve been harassing non-stop since about 2003. He’s definitely sick to death of seeing me turn up on his doorstep…

Alphonse confessed to committing twelve individual murders in 1994. He had been in jail from the end of 1994 up until 2003 when I met him. So, I interviewed him in jail. I interviewed him in the Ingando camps. I interviewed him back in his community over many years when he was waiting for his gacaca trial. And, I’ve subsequently interviewed him since he’s been through the gacaca process.

In the early days, Alphonse was very positive about what gacaca was going to be, the kind of reception he would get when he went back to his community, he thought everything would be fine. He said, I’ve already confessed to all of my crimes, those people in the home community – they like me. They will accept me back and life will be good.

As time has gone on and the reality of having to go through the gacaca process sank in, Alphonse’s views started to change quite drastically. He went back to his home town and I visited him again in 2008. And by this time Alphonse had actually moved his house to a different location on the outskirts of the community. And when I went to find him I said to him, why have you moved your house? I said, you used to live very close to the market place, you seemed quite happy there. And it’s very expensive to pack up your house and move it somewhere else. What’s happened?

And he said, well, things have got pretty difficult lately. Survivors have been throwing rocks on my roof in the middle of the night. I’ve been harassed in the market place, so it’s preferable to move my house to where it is now. Things are much quieter here, we’re much safer. And Alphonse said, there’s something I want to show you. So, we went out the back of his house. he likes to drink banana beer, so he brews me this banana beer, it’s potent stuff for a western stomach like mine…

So, Alphonse said, you must drink some of this, but look out that window. You see that house over there – there’s a house maybe 50 or 60 yards away – He said, in that house there’s a lady called Mutatele. And he said, Mutatele is the mother of three of the people I killed in 1994. I said, Alphonse, that’s extraordinary. I said, not only have you moved your house, but you’ve moved your house so that your closest neighbour is this woman, how is that?

And he said, well, Mutatele’s quite elderly, she’s quite frail, she poses no threat to me whatsoever and so it’s better to me and my family here… He said, I’ve got something else to show you. So, he took me out of the house and we walked down this dusty, red track between the banana palms. We came to this piece of land – this maize crop.

He said to me, you see this piece of land… He said, Mutatele and I work this particular piece of land. And again, I said, why? You have this history between you, why?

And he said, well, she’s the head of her household and I’m the head of mine. This is what we must do. We must work this piece of land. And he said, she starts at that end of the crop and I start at this end of the crop. We work in different directions, so that we don’t actually have to talk to each other… The problem is that I’m much faster than she is, so we tend to catch up and we end up being side by side more often than we might like.

I said to Alphonse, do you ever talk about ’94? You have this history between you, it’s palpable, do you ever articulate that? He said, no. He said, we just get on with our work. With three key exceptions.

On three occasions, Alphonse and Mutatele had worked side by side for six days of the week on that plot of land. And then, on the morning of the 7th, they’d both gone to their gacaca jurisdiction and Mutatele had stood up and talked about the murders that Alphonse had committed in 1994. And then Alphonse, of course, as the suspect had to stand up and respond to what Mutatele had said. And then, it was debated by the general assembly and the hearing of course lasted most of that day.

And then, the very next morning, there they were again – the two of them working side by side on that piece of land, almost as if nothing had happened the day before.

It’s pretty clear out of this research that I’ve done that that kind of situation is replicated time and time again across the countryside. And, I hardly need to tell an audience like this, that that’s the reality because you see it in your own communities, I’m sure.

These very difficult situations of people having to live side by side with one other. With gacaca becoming a place where the truth does come out and there is some discussion of what happened in 1994. But people then often having to make very pragmatic decisions, to simply go back to the farm, to put food on the table and work side by side, almost as if nothing had happened in the past.

I think that tells us a lot about the role that gacaca plays, the space that it creates for people to talk. But, also tells us about the difficult relationships that exist at the community level. And the sorts of issues that the people in the countryside have to deal with day by day.

So, gacaca I think has had very mixed results. I think it’s had very mixed consequences for the future and the book is an attempt, I guess, to try and capture the complexity of this quite complicated, ever changing process.”

In addition to the presentation by Dr. Phil Clark, I also recorded;

Lastly, here is a review of the book by Gerald Caplan with a line I completely agree with,

Of course being Rwanda, we can take for granted that deep divisions will characterise attitudes toward gacaca as it characterises every other aspect of Rwandan life. Gacaca has its inevitable cheerleaders, tied in one way or another to the government, who will brook no criticism, as well as its automatic detractors for whom anything associated with the Kagame RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) government is automatically anathema. Clark repudiates both camps. link

Photograph taken from my Flickr account.

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