Monday, July 5, 2010

“Besides being hungry, survivors like me feel empty inside”

In the past week or so, I have been thinking a lot about the stories that are missing from our current knowledge on Rwanda's election process. What is missing are the voices of average, everyday Rwandans, and the impact of the increasingly tense political climate in Rwanda at the moment.

So, I am going to start writing the stories of average Rwandans and how they are weathering the elections process. I am also working on a few opinion pieces to begin to spread the word among western audiences about daily realities in Rwanda at the moment. There is more going on than a few arrests and the odd assassination as the country prepares to go to the polls....

If you have stories you would like to share, please email me and I will try to raise awareness with international organisations and journalists.

“Besides being hungry, survivors like me feel empty inside”

Jeanne is a Tutsi widow of the 1994 Rwandan genocide whose Hutu husband died in 1996 of disease in the refugee camps in neighbouring Zaire. All of her children also died in late 1994, after the genocide officially ended. She works part-time as a seamstress and is able to barter with friends and neighbours for food and shelter. “I am too old to work the fields but have made arrangements that seem to be working out well enough”. Jeanne does not think democracy is possible among Rwandans who lived through the genocide: “This government doesn’t understand how those of us who hid to survive suffer everyday. Besides being hungry, survivors like me feel empty inside. There is little hope for us. We have seen too much to ever recover….”

Jeanne recounts the adversity see faces in her daily life since the genocide. Before 1994, she and her family lived a relatively simple existence. Everyday activities were centred on weekly trips to market to earn enough money to send her children to school. The government did not interfere much in her daily life. She says, “I was free to plant what I needed to take care of my family and raise some extra money. My husband drove a taxi-motorbike. Together, we had a nice life together; we did not get involved in politics. But since the genocide, everything is political. If your hearts and stomachs are empty, then that is politics.”

Jeanne suffers more than the emotional and physical loss of her family, friends and relatives. She suffers the demands of being forced to forgive and forget what she experienced during the genocide. “This government only cares about itself; we survivors are a burden to them. They promise assistance but it never arrives. Survivors are walking dead. On top of this, we are expected to forgive those who killed? Someone needs to wake up this government….”

Not easy to complain
Jeanne considers herself an old woman, and is comfortable speaking to local officials and other government authorities. She says, “it not easy to complain because I sometimes get harassed or put in prison for my views. But I am an old woman and I need to speak against this government’s forgive and forget rule so that the next generation doesn’t suffer like we did. I speak out despite the hardships because who else can?”

Survivors “don’t matter”

Many survivors feel that the government has manipulated their experiences of surviving the genocide for its own political gain. The feeling among rural peasants and educated urbanites alike is that ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front presents itself to international audiences as the saviours and guardians of Tutsi survivors, only to then turn around and implement policy that leaves survivors economically marginal and emotionally traumatized. “This government doesn’t care what happens to survivors. They say they stopped the genocide to save Tutsi lives. Then they say that we can’t talk about our experience of living through the genocide. Many of us were raped; many of us lost our relatives. Many of us have no family to take care of us as we age. We don’t matter to this government.”


  1. As sad as this sound, the problem of this lady is that she is not a "GOOD" survivor!

    She seems to be more a victim of the rpf than anything else. her husband died in zaire, and if her children died in late 94( maybe killed by the RPF because of their hutu father), they are not victims of genocide according to the rpf genocide story.

    The rpf never cared about the tutsi who lived in rwanda before 94, and this lady made it worse by marrying a hutu, which some people in Rwanda consider being worse than being a hutu herself.

    I think it's time these people realise RPF does not care about them.

  2. Susan

    The stories you are going to write, are they true ones?

    Are you going to balance the positives and the negatives or you have chosen a line to take (editorial line I mean).


  3. hi serge,

    my editorial "line" is only to include the life stories of regular Rwandans in the current news on Rwanda's elections.

    I don't know what you mean by "positive" or "negative" stories as the narratives are only reflective of what people have told me. Several people have written me, and I will be crafting those stories into narratives in the next week or so.

    Thanks for reading, and for commenting! Susan

  4. I can see that your editorial line is to publish negative stories. So far, the two articles are talking about what is not going well in Rwanda.