A searching companion to Libération correspondent Hatzfeld’s Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2005), recounting events in Rwanda 15 years after the spasm of ethnic violence that left untold dead in its wake.
Scarcely anyone in Rwanda, Hutu or Tutsi, was not touched by the savagery that broke out when, in April 1994, Hutu militias began to slaughter Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Overwhelmingly, Hatzfeld finds the survivors psychologically broken and hollow, feeling as if they had been “betrayed by life—[and] who can bear that?” His account opens in 2003, with the specter of a thin, dusty, endless column of 40,000 men, freed from camps and penitentiaries after having served time for their role in the genocide. Some of the interned, one of their number reflects, were jubilant; others, denying any wrongdoing, were furious at having been imprisoned in the first place. All were faced with the problem of making new lives in public, among the relatives and families of those whom they had killed. Some respond with drink, some with silence, some with isolation and some with anger. Lest there be an explosion of wife-beating and violence after the amnesty, government workers counseled, “Remain calm with your guilty spouse, be peaceable with your neighbor, patient with those who are traumatized, obedient with the authorities. And don’t delay in getting to work on clearing your overgrown fields.” The advice, it seems, mainly took, and if few Rwandans seem happy and suspicions endure, most people seem to be slowly getting back to life as usual, even if, as one man tells Hatzfeld, “I’m afraid of dreams.” Thanks to the work of Rwandans who insist on attaining justice—an arduous project, given the absence of a fully functioning judiciary and the difficulty of finding “simple fairness” in the back-and-forth of accusation and defense—some measure of normality is at last attainable in that unfortunate country.
A telling report and a substantive addition to the literature of humanitarian aid and ethnic violence.