A Week of Horror, Beauty and Damn Ugly Warthogs
Our trip began with a stay in Mbarara, a city in southwest Uganda, where we visited a large Ugandan farm - saw how matookye is grown, milked cows and ate fresh beef on a stick. The beef was godly. We then crossed the border into Rwanda, the so-called "land of milk and honey." The biggest surprise of Rwanda was its immense beauty. We drove through enormous green hills with hillside farming and tea fields. The land was breathtaking. And then Kigali was also strikingly beautiful as a city. It truly is a "city upon a hill" as the main center of the city wraps around a hill. The temperature is much cooler, the roads are more organized and there is much less crime. All of us could not get over how beautiful Rwanda is, especially given its dark history just 10 years ago.
While I was struck by the beauty of Rwanda, I also found it to be quite a haunted land. Passing every person on the street, I could not help but wonder at the deeply disturbing and profound stories that each person much hold inside. We visited the Kigali Memorial Museum, a museum dedicated to educating about the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The images are horrifying - children slaughtered with machetes, dogs eating piles of corpses, a baby breastfeeding her dead mother, endless skulls and bones, a silent international community, churches full of corpses because pastors participated in the genocide and so much more. It was hard to keep looking and reading. The history of the genocide is truly awful. In the early 20th century, the Belgian colonizers accentuated and pushed ethnic divisions by using the minority Tutsis as colonial rulers. Then, over the next 50 years, the Tutsis and Hutus were pitted against each other by the European and Christian colonizer-missionaries. Thus, conflict ensued, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced as refugees over two decades. By 1994, genocide was inevitable as the propaganda machines and political powermongers worked within the constructed ethnic divide to see the deterioration of a society and the attempted demolition of the Tutsi people. The international community, especially the French and US, hindered UN action, so the world watched as over 800,000 were killed in under 90 days, mainly through machetes. If you want to read more about the genocide, I recommend Philip Gourevitch's book: "We regret to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: stories from Rwanda" or see the movie Hotel Rwanda.
It is chilling and overwhelming to accept the monstrous capacity that lies within humans to kill, exploit, rape and murder. Yet, we must be conscious that such a capacity comes alive when put in certain circumstances of politicized ethnic divison, poverty, corruption and lack of rule of law. The genocide in Rwanda is the result of a dark history of mistakes and misperceptions. Now we who live on are charged with remembering and learning from the mistakes. We proclaim 'never again,' even as genocide threatens in Darfur in the Sudan. Yet, our reponse to such horror must be to commit ourselves to learning and ensuring with all our power (especially those of us in priveleged positions) that it never happens again. But that requires us to realize and learn from the processes that gave rise to the genocidal acts - namely colonialism in this case. So when we vow 'never again,' we must commit to fighting the neo-colonial structures of injustice and inequity that continue to polarize and marginalize African and third-world countries, setting the stage for future horrors, unrest and mass killings. We need to stop development aid and projects that only entrench structures of colonialism, especially dependency. I intend to write more in future postings and in a forthcoming column for the Observer.
To be honest, I am becoming disillusioned with foreign development projects labeled in language of development as 'help' or even 'aid.' Many of these projects only suppress autonomy and tradition and culture, perpetuating structures of injustice, corruption, dependency and inequity. Foreign development aid should exist and even be higher, but we should be speaking about 'development as redress' for past injustices and exploitation that have created current situations of little hope and much fear. The real development occurs in transparent, democratic, participatory, grassroots, gender-aware projects initiated from within by local people who use local knowledge to attack the problems they identity. The language and assumptions of 'development' are quite flawed. And in the case of Africa, there is a strong case to be made for borders to be redrawn by the people here, throwing off the chains and borders constructed by colonialism and neo-colonialism. More on all this later.
After Rwanda, we returned to Mbarara, to meet with NGOs, including the Ugandan Red Cross Society that is doing great, challenging work in refugee camps for Rwandese and Congolese refugees. We also went to a rural development project that is bringing traditional healing methods and Western practices together to maintain tradition and culture, while acknowledging modern information. Quite impressive. Our group is fascinating, too, because everyone comes at things from different perspectives, area of expertise, etc. It is good to be hear and I am learning so much.
Finally, we visited Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, home to 1/6 of the species of birds in the world. We went on a boat ride and game drive, where we saw elephants, lions, hippos, antelope, monkeys, tons of birds, warthogs (perhaps the ugliest animals ever) and more. It was really cool, minus my nightmares of warthogs attacking me.
So, I am back here in Uganda, read to return to classes at Makerere. I am in good health and hope to remain so, God willing. 4 weeks down here in East Africa. Cheers across the continents.