Reconciliation and Open Discussions in Post-Genocide Rwanda

In The Harvard Human Rights Journal, Chi Mgbako examines a creative but perhaps flawed way of fostering reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda and stresses the importance of open discussion and criticism.

In the immediate aftermath of the genocide, the infrastructure and social fabric of Rwanda lay in complete ruin. Although the government, remarkably, has restored the physical infrastructure of the country, post-genocide Rwanda continues to grapple with a desperate need for reconciliation. Reconciliation mechanisms designed to respond to atrocities such as genocide, however bold, are inevitably inadequate. Nevertheless, despite these limitations, societies need to establish such mechanisms to come to terms with the legacies of mass atrocity. The RPF-dominated government has employed ingando, or solidarity camps, both to plant the seeds of reconciliation, and to disseminate pro-RPF ideology through political indoctrination. The government encourages or requires Rwandan citizens from diverse walks of life—students, politicians, church leaders, prostitutes, ex-soldiers, ex-combatants, genocidaires, gacaca judges, and others—to attend ingando for periods ranging from days to several months, to study government programs, Rwandan history, and unity and reconciliation.

This Note, based primarily on interviews with ingando participants, government officials, journalists, and genocide survivors conducted in Rwanda in January 2004, evaluates the merits and limits of ingando as a means of fostering reconciliation in the complicated social landscape of post-genocide Rwanda. Focusing on ingando for ex-combatants, ex-soldiers, students, and released genocidaires, this Note argues that much of the ingando project is focused on the dissemination of pro-RPF ideology, a dangerous undertaking in a country in which political indoctrination and government-controlled information were essential in sparking and sustaining the genocide. Furthermore, a successful reconciliation program must take place in a society that values human rights; therefore, we cannot evaluate ingando in isolation from human rights developments in Rwanda. This Note argues that ingando will fail as a reconciliation mechanism so long as the Rwandan government continues to attack public spheres of independent thought and criticism.