- Performing the Nation: Genocide, Justice, Reconciliation by Ananda Breed, and: Death, Image, Memory: The Genocide in Rwanda and Its Aftermath in Photography and Documentary Film by Piotr Cieplak, and: Rwanda Genocide Stories: Fiction After 1994 by Nicki Hitchcott
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Debates about the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and its aftermath have divided academic communities since the mid-1990s. There are two key nodes of dissent: the nature of the violence in 1994 and the governance of Rwanda post-genocide. Scholars continue to disagree about the number of Rwandans of Tutsi ethnicity killed (the latest government figures indicate over a million), the extent of revenge killings, and Rwanda's involvement over the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are unresolved tensions between those who would hold up Rwanda as an exemplary model of development and transitional justice and those who critique repression of the media and political opposition. Most of us still working in Rwanda try to avoid polarized positions and place ourselves instead on a spectrum. But fragile spaces developed to open up discussion, most successfully closed workshops both inside and outside the country, are sometimes derailed by the media's ongoing propensity to adopt extreme angles for effect. The BBC's counterfactual, irresponsible, and ideologically skewed 2014 documentary Rwanda's Untold Story is a case in point.
Cornelius, the narrator of Boubacar Boris Diop's novel about Rwanda, Murambi, le livre des ossements, comments: "After all, Rwanda is an imaginary country. If it's so difficult to talk about in a rational way, maybe it's because it doesn't really exist. Everyone has his own Rwanda in his head and it has nothing to do with the Rwanda of others" (67). Ignorant of his own father's involvement in the violence we need not necessarily take Cornelius's words at face value. Diop is making a crucial point: the rest of the novel enforces the idea that there is a historical truth about genocide that must be uncovered and honored. But at the same time, he remains loyal to the suggestion that the perception and reception of events is fundamentally subjective—determined by the reader/listener/viewer's own experiences and internal landscapes. In this context the representation of the past matters. And there is a particularly valuable role for artists whose representations of the past draw attention to their own construction and personal nature.
In the first two decades after the genocide, most book-length studies by Rwanda scholars were concerned with history, law, politics, and sociology, with commentary relating to the arts (and more broadly representation) limited to examinations of Hutu power propaganda and the failure of the international media. Although Josias Semujanga, Catherine Cocquio, and others have published literary analyses in French, the only monograph available in the Anglophone world until recently was Alexandre Dauge-Roth's impressive overview, Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda. Published in 2010, the book examined Rwandan survivor testimony, the literary responses of the group of African writers who visited Rwanda with the Fest'Africa project "Rwanda: Writing as a Duty to Remember," and seven internationally visible feature films. Over the past few years three further monographs have appeared, extending Dauge-Roth's work in new directions, exploring theater, literary fiction, photography, and documentary film.
Ananda Breed, Piotr Cieplak, and Nicki Hitchcott's books all examine artistic work that bears witness to those killed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, inviting readers to consider the ways in which authors encourage their audiences to feel and take action in response to the violence depicted. They would all locate themselves somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum sketched above, [End Page 257] with Ananda Breed, who focuses predominantly on the post-genocide politics of the present, being...