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Rwanda, 15 Years after the Genocide

Aired December 28, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Rwanda. Fifteen years after the genocide that killed almost a million people, the country keeps writing new chapters. Its economy is thriving, and the country is peaceful, but has it really banished the ghosts of the past?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

Rwanda's genocide was the most efficient of modern times. It took just three months to massacre up to 1 million people, mostly Tutsis, with clubs, machetes, and bare hands. This was the television age, and yet the world still stood by and literally did nothing.

When the carnage ended, Rwanda had a new leader, Paul Kagame. Now he's trying to power his country into the Singapore of Africa. His government has also convened thousands of local courts to deliver justice after the genocide. But it's not the only way victims and killers are trying to reconcile.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Rwanda has made reconciliation a centerpiece of its recovery with clubs and re-education camps. I met Efoginia (ph) on a beautiful Sunday morning in church. After mass, she invited me home. There, in her unadorned hilltop house, no electricity and no running water, I saw something extraordinary: Efoginia (ph) was preparing a plate of food and serving it to John Bosco Bisimana (ph), one of the men who murdered five of her children.

(on-screen): It's amazing for us to sit here and share food with families who've been through so much.

(voice-over): John Bosco (ph) is married to Efoginia's basket-weaving partner and, after seven years in prison, he returned to face the woman he had all but destroyed.

(on-screen): And what did you say to her? You looked her in the eye, and what did you say to her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The first time we spoke, we discussed the horrible things we did to them, without holding anything back.

AMANPOUR: And did you expect Efoginia (ph) to forgive you and give you mercy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I felt that they would forgive me.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Justice is a vital part of Rwanda's reconciliation process. In villages around the country, traditional community trials called gacaca help the victims confront the killers in front of all of their neighbors.

(on-screen): John Bosco (ph), did you go to the gacaca court?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, in front of everyone, I openly said what I did. I told my brothers and asked for forgiveness.


AMANPOUR: This is an example of the extraordinary length that Rwanda's president is going to, to move forward. His methods are winning praise, but also vilification. Joining me now to discuss all of this, a former speaker of the Rwandan parliament, Joseph Sebarenzi, who lost most of his family to the genocide, and Phillip Gourevitch, who reported extensively on the massacres in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families."

Welcome to both of you gentlemen.


AMANPOUR: I want to ask you, Joseph, because your family lived through this, what do you make of today's reconciliation attempts, what you just saw on the screen?

SEBARENZI: It does not impress me, unfortunately.

AMANPOUR: It doesn't?

SEBARENZI: It doesn't. It doesn't, because we -- we don't really deal with the -- the fundamental issues that led to the genocide.

AMANPOUR: What do you mean?

SEBARENZI: What I mean is, this genocide was mainly caused by a political struggle of power between Hutu and Tutsi, and that issue is not being dealt with. And...

AMANPOUR: Well, let -- let me ask you. Do you not think it's also personal, that also people need to try to reconcile?

SEBARENZI: Absolutely.


People -- and that's what I say in my book -- people need to reconcile individual to individual, but also community with community. And I have seen people getting together after the genocide. I've seen people going to others and ask for forgiveness and have seen other people who have forgiven, and they have start living together again.

But when you look at the gacaca, which is traditionally a way of bringing together the people and community, tell what they went through, and admit what they have done, and then ask forgiveness, the gacaca today is basically a court of -- court of law. And I -- I believe that type of court should be in the court system and have the gacaca doing just reconciliation.

AMANPOUR: And your book is "God Sleeps in Rwanda." We're going to ask you in a moment about what your family went through, but I want to at this point ask Phillip, because you documented the incredible massacres that went on in your book. Do you think that this kind of local people's court is of no value?

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, AUTHORED BOOK ON RWANDAN GENOCIDE: No, I think it's of mixed value. I think it's a very complicated process. I think what happened is, essentially, you had a situation where you had basically hundreds of thousands of people who were accused of participating in, either directly or indirectly, in murder, in political murder, in organized murder, and state-sponsored massacres.

And the court system of this country, the United States, would have been incapable of dealing with 200,000 murder cases. When I was first in Rwanda reporting on this, it was O.J. Simpson time on CNN. And -- and, frankly, what one saw then was people looking at that and saying, "This is what they want us to do, a real murder trial?"

So they tried in the court system. And that court system didn't have the capacity. They invented this gacaca idea, and it's mixed. It's -- it's not strictly what one would call justice, in the sense that it's not a full, complete hearing in a court system, and yet it is an attempt to largely -- and very few survivors are satisfied with this -- liberate a population and reintegrate a population that, by most systems of justice, would spend the rest of its life in prison. By a strict system of law, you would not have people being let out of prison, and the country couldn't thrive.

AMANPOUR: And just to point out, just this week, a genocidaires has been released on appeal, and a couple more have been arrested. So this process is ongoing.

I want to bring up the pictures, Joseph, of what happened to your family. There are three pictures, amongst others, that you have in your book. This one is the wedding of your brother, correct?

SEBARENZI: Yes. This is a wedding of my brother, and my brother is in the middle here. And he was killed with his wife and their three children.

AMANPOUR: How many of these people survived? This is you here, right?

SEBARENZI: That's me. I survived because I was not in the country during the genocide. And the -- here is my brother, Emanuel (ph), was not in the country. That's why he survived. And my sister here, who was married to a Hutu and the Hutu protected her, and have a -- a niece here, and a stepsister. All others, I think, they were killed, this tragedy.

AMANPOUR: As we show the other picture of -- of your family, what -- who are these, first of all?

SEBARENZI: These are -- in the middle here, this is my sister Edith (ph). And here is her daughter. And they were -- and here is my nephew, her son, John Bosco (ph), who lives in Rwanda, and he's the only one who survived in the family of five.

AMANPOUR: When you came back, you met the mayor of the village who was responsible.

SEBARENZI: I met the mayor who was responsible. Basically, he -- he encouraged the people to go after the surviving Tutsi. And he told the -- the people in the village that they should make sure not to survive, because if any survives, then they will take over the land.

AMANPOUR: Did you reconcile with him?

SEBARENZI: No, that's not reconciliation. When they found him, he was a man -- a shell of man. He has lost weight. He was really suffering in a prison that was meant to have 1,000 people, but there was having 8,000 people, so he was suffering. I ask him if he was involved, and he said he was not. But I did not know believe. But because I saw him as a human being, really suffering, a person who used to be a friend, despite all -- all he has done, I decided to give him some money to buy food.

AMANPOUR: These are the stories that are incredible, that he decided to give him money to buy food, that the -- Efoginia (ph) makes food and has Sunday lunch with the man who is responsible for killing her family. Is this real, Phillip? Or is this state-managed reconciliation?

GOUREVITCH: Yes and yes. It...


AMANPOUR: Will it survive, if it's the latter?

GOUREVITCH: It's a balance between the two. And I think what you see is a state that says, "There's no way we can give survivors back what they lost." You saw the numbers. That's a totally typical family portrait, in the sense that the -- of the numbers and percentage of people who've been killed. There are people all across Rwanda who have an experience like that. And you can't give them back their dead.

And the government can't satisfy them politically. It could give them security, and it can give them some sense that an accounting has taken place. And when I first went to Rwanda -- and this has gone in stages. You can see the stages that survivors, that perpetrators, that political structures have gone through.

When I first went, the survivors said, at the very least, we have to have an acknowledge of wrongdoing before we can live side by side, and that has started to emerge, because the system of gacaca rewards confession. But, of course, that leads to the cynical view that you're not in jail for having committed genocide, but for having failed to confess. And so there's -- there's still resentment.

And I met people who had real reconciliations, like the stories you've heard, and I met people who said, you know, it's on the surface. We do it for the government. It's the government's program. That's between two hearts, and that's not happening in my heart.

And -- and -- and I think the government now feels it has to -- it can't do more than that, but it can try and fight other things, like poverty and so forth.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, Joseph, you are Tutsi.


AMANPOUR: It was the Tutsis who bore the brunt of the massacres.


AMANPOUR: And you came back and went into government. You became speaker of the parliament, and then you left. Why?

SEBARENZI: I left because I had disagreement with -- with the ruling party.


SEBARENZI: Because, in my view, after the genocide, with all our people dead, we had to have a priority and that that priority should have been to make sure we build institutions that are strong so that what happened, it doesn't happen again. But instead of...

AMANPOUR: You mean political and judicial...

SEBARENZI: ... politically, build a judiciary that is strong, build a parliament that is strong, able to control the executive branch of government, because the reason the genocide took place in Rwanda, it was because we had a president with too much powers, ministers with too much powers, so those powers had to be diverted into other institutions. We wanted to build a civil society. By doing that, it's a best way for us to prevent another catastrophe, but it was not being done that way.

AMANPOUR: We are going to take this and go to a break and come right back and talk about power and what is next for Rwanda, in a moment.




KOFI ANNAN, FORMER U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: The genocide in Rwanda should never, ever have happened, but it did. The international community failed Rwanda and must always -- that must always leave us with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish I'd intervened in Rwanda. And I have spent the rest of my life and will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to them.


AMANPOUR: Those are strong words of regret from the former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and the former U.S. president, Bill Clinton.

Joseph, are those words enough?

SEBARENZI: I think those words are enough on one aspect, because it's good to recognize what happened and to say it was really bad. We didn't know to do what we had to do. But it's not enough, because the same people who've just spoken, they're not doing enough today to make sure to -- it does not happen again.


AMANPOUR: What do you mean precisely? We left off talking about policy. What do you -- what does he mean?

SEBARENZI: Yes, exactly...

GOUREVITCH: I don't know what he means.


SEBARENZI: Today -- yes, exactly. Today we have a very strong president. When you read the U.S. country report, every year, they say that Rwanda is in public with a very strong presidency, which means the president is too powerful. So I think instead of having a president that is too powerful, it should have like a parliament powerful, a judicial powerful, a civil society that is powerful. That's...

AMANPOUR: Phillip?


GOUREVITCH: Well, there's no question that the desire for any country that's trying to establish a kind of long-term stability is -- is to build institutions. The question is, at what speed and at what -- and where that's going to happen. And it's going to accrue inevitably in a situation like this to those who have the power and the momentum and the ability.

AMANPOUR: Next year...

GOUREVITCH: You know, a lot of the people, like Joseph, when he came into parliament in 1996, he had never been in politics before. He was elected by his party, not by popular plebiscite, and he became speaker on the first day as a matter of manipulation by Kagame. He was appointed, essentially, by Kagame's party.

AMANPOUR: So next year, there's going to be an election in Rwanda.

GOUREVITCH: A presidential election.

AMANPOUR: Who's going to win?

GOUREVITCH: Kagame's going to win.


GOUREVITCH: He won't -- he may not run unopposed, but he will effectively be unopposed, because nobody expects to be able to contend with him.

AMANPOUR: So this brings up a very sensitive point, because President Kagame is a very controversial figure. There are many people who believe, without him, the success of Rwanda today would no way have happened and others who believe that it's too much autocracy.

Can I just put up some figures just to point out what I mean? The economy of Rwanda, look at that, in 2006 compared to 2008, it's shooting up. Look at this. Starbucks and Costco, the two biggest buyers of Rwandan coffee beans, and Kagame aims to quadruple the per capita income by 2020. And by all indicators, Rwanda is the engine of its region.

Is there a case to be made that, in countries like this, there needs to be a strong benevolent dictatorship?

SEBARENZI: I don't agree with that, that that's a benevolent dictatorship. You know, these are...


GOUREVITCH: I wouldn't put it that way. I don't see that that's the aim. I think that the -- you know, the question is, then, how do you build a government from -- we're talking about the building of a state. People talk about nation-building. We're talking about the building of a state from total destruction, right, from something considerably worse than zero.

And you look at the way that the modern democracies of the West evolve. They did not evolve by fiat, by a couple of NGOs and U.N. organizations and Western democracies declaring that they should be democracies. There was the evolution of a middle class. There were industrial revolutions. There were enormous power struggles. There was the colonization of poorer, weaker countries around the world, the extraction of their wealth, and then claiming it as one's own right in order to make oneself a strong government at home.

All of these things we deny them any possibility of doing, except by being labeled as criminals. When one sees some of that happening, the question is, which direction is it going in? Is it going towards a new kind of Mobutism, which is the accusation? No, because it's not about that kind of dependency. Is it going towards dictatorship or is it going towards something which we won't know until it's Kagame's turn to step down in 2017 and whether...

AMANPOUR: OK, Joseph...

GOUREVITCH: ... whether then we'll find out whether it's true that he will be, as he says he wants to be, the first retired civilian leader of Rwanda ever.

AMANPOUR: Would you say to those statistics and to what actually your country has become?

SEBARENZI: You know, Kagame deserve a credit for the economy. He deserve the credit for the stability. But he -- he -- he could have done more.

You know, Rwanda, people in Rwanda had working people. They were quick. In Rwanda, people listen to their leaders, and they're ready to do what they ask it to do.

So Kagame, who have used all that and could have used this international support, the nations, the support of the budget, all that, to start building some -- some institutions to make sure we are building institutions and those institutions are the ones that can protect people.

But it has been 15 years since the genocide ended. And some people said the genocide crumbled everything, but there was something there, and we could have built slowly. Fifteen years later, we could have started having some democracy. But today, it's one man controlling everything in the -- and I am afraid.

AMANPOUR: You're afraid?


AMANPOUR: Let me read you these statistics and tell me what you make of this. Women in Rwanda have been the engines of the revival, it seems. They hold some 56 percent of the seats in parliament. They make up 36 percent of President Kagame's cabinet, 16.7 percent of ministers are women, and they hold top jobs in ministries of commerce, agriculture, and infrastructure. They make up 55 percent of the workforce and own 41 percent of Rwandan business. I mean, this is an enormous achievement for any country.


GOUREVITCH: And I think what you're going to see is that you see that the way that Kagame appeals to international public opinion, he's not going to do it by saying, "I've got the broadest-based competitive party system and multi-party democracy," obviously. He's going to do it by saying, "We're taking initiatives on a lot of issues that you do care about, women's rights, economic rights." There's national health insurance in Rwanda. There was no such thing. There's national education. There was no such thing. Hutus win scholarships. That's what changes minds. And it's about changing minds.

And to a large degree -- and this is the claim. I'm -- I'm saying the claim that one as a journalist goes and looks at is, with all of these extraordinary statistics and this incredible set of problems and challenges, are things moving towards a change of mind?

Because the claim is, well, can you build all of these institutions until you have a class of people who are educated in and have brought themselves around to what it's like to be a middle-income country? Is there anybody who could run against Kagame right now who could offer an alternate economic plan?

AMANPOUR: Is there anybody? And can -- what do you hope for the future? What do you see for the future?

SEBARENZI: You know, unless Kagame changes -- and I can hope and hope Gourevitch is right -- Kagame can change and I believe anyone can change, but if he does not continue on this path, I feel that there can be another catastrophe. Because...

AMANPOUR: Well, there is a catastrophe brewing next door, isn't there? Not brewing, brewed next door, in Congo.

SEBARENZI: Yes, absolutely. Yes.

AMANPOUR: And many people look very askance at President Kagame over this.

SEBARENZI: Yes, exactly. Kagame...


GOUREVITCH: ... that story is shifting a good deal again to suddenly realize that a lot of the problem has been generated by the ongoing presence of the genocidal army, albeit a remnant, in Congo, which has visited an enormous amount of grief on Congolese Tutsis, as well, and who are now being arrested finally. In Germany, their leadership has been operating out of Germany.

So, you know, you hear that Kagame has unanimous international support driven by guilt over the genocide. France has never stopped trying to crush him and delegitimate him. Many in the academic community totally seek to delegitimate him. In Germany, they're supporting and keeping protected the rulers of an organization, the same organization that killed those tourists in the Bwindi Forest a few years back. This is a very complicated, multifaceted thing, and any single-villain theory should immediately be looked at askance.

AMANPOUR: Where do you think your country is headed in the next year, five years?

SEBARENZI: You know, next year, we're having elections. But as you say it, no one will have that -- I mean, will dare to -- to run against the president. And if we have someone who does, inevitably Kagame is going to win, because he's not ready to -- to go.

So my point is this. We have achieved this, a lot, in economy. We have women in parliament. We have -- those are easy things to do. The tough things to do are, how do you manage a power between Hutu and Tutsi? That's an issue not dealt with. It's like we are passing it on to future generations. We have this injustice going on.

Of course, we have these people involved in genocide who were punished, which is good, but sometimes you hear people, among the Hutu population, who say the -- some Tutsi have killed our loved ones, tens of thousands people were killed in -- in the Congo, were killed in Rwanda, before genocide, during genocide, after genocide, and no justice about them. All that is creating frustration. That frustration is the same frustration Tutsi had before 1990, and it can translate into another violence.

So we need to confront those tough issues, not just women in parliament, economy. Those are institutes with infrastructure.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that this is boiling under the ashes?

GOUREVITCH: I think there's an element of -- a lot of these issues have not been totally sorted out. There's -- it would be insane to imagine that they could be, and that's why the country remains riveting, because it's made more progress than anybody could have imagined. You were there 15 years ago. And it has so far to go.

And at this moment, this is the constellation of things. And the question is, can minds change? I think, truly, the future lies with a different generation. And when you go there, the conflict is not all Hutu- Tutsi. It's the younger generation looking at the older generation and saying, "We're not sure we want to inherit the world the way you've configured it," and you're starting to hear people speak up. And that's a big change, and you hear it quietly and in different forms, maybe not in politics, sometimes in art, but you hear it, and that's new.

AMANPOUR: Riveting, indeed. And we'll continue to watch it. Phillip Gourevitch, Joseph Sebarenzi, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.

SEBARENZI: You're welcome.

AMANPOUR: And for more on Rwanda's incredible transition, go to our Web site,, where you can see more of the documentary "Scream Bloody Murder" and other information.

And next, our "Post-Script." We turn to Iran, the latest in the on- again, off-again nuclear negotiations.



AMANPOUR: Now, our "Post-Script." We turn to Iran, where trials and death sentences dominate the headlines, but today, there was also another nail in the coffin of a deal with world powers over its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Iran would not be sending its low-enriched uranium to another country, key to resolving the standoff between Iran and the West.

But when we asked the Iran's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, they said they hadn't heard about this. Iran's foreign minister said he's seeking a whole new meeting now on the matter.

And that's our report for now. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.