- Rwanda:A Time1
Just over two decades ago, the world watched as thousands of military personnel, militias, and civilians bore arms and killed hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, neighbours, and family in what was an attempt to "rid" Rwanda of the Tutsi minority. The violence of 1994, however, was recognized legally as genocide only toward the end of the infamous 100 days of its peak. A symptom of this is that, as Mamhood Mamdani asserts, "Rwanda is recalled as a time when we thought that we needed to know more; we waited to find out, to learn the difference between Hutu and Tutsi, and why one was killing the other, but it was too late" (Saviors 3). I want to take seriously here the provocations imbedded in Mamdani's language and think of Rwanda as both a call and a time, and explore some of the implications of this in relation to the ways in which reconciliation in Rwanda is represented by Sasha Longford's untitled animated film.
The film, released to mark the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, was produced by Snapdragon Studios, and released by the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) via YouTube. The palette of the film, with its hues of yellow, red, brown, and black, condenses the genocide and its lingering traumas into its almost four minutes. Narrated by an anonymous Tutsi woman,2 the film offers an account of how the hatred and division that would culminate in genocide began, and how it continues to sear Rwandan society, which finds itself still in the infancy of the period that the film calls peace.
The animation begins with a frame filled with a disproportionately large, golden sun, foregrounded by silhouetted hills and trees. The silent breathing of the portrait is disrupted by the sound of a typewriter as the word "Rwanda" is etched onto the sun. Suddenly, by as abrupt an interruption as the typing of the typewriter, the film cuts to a canvas of yellow, on which the physical space of Rwanda is demarcated and filled [End Page 569] with bands of red, yellow, and a dark colour. This cut is accompanied by a voiceover, as the narrator explains that it was "since the time of colonial rule" that "hatred and division between the Hutu and Tutsi people of my country has been built up; fuelled by those in power" (Longford). The historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the narrator's account of the origins of the social divide in Rwanda, for the purposes of this intervention, is of less significance than the disjuncture between the epoch invoked visually and that invoked sonically.
The bands of red, yellow, and, let us assume, brown3 that fill the shape of Rwanda render an image reminiscent of the first flag of the kingdom of Rwanda (1959-61). The flag, although then identical to that of Guinea and its colours associated with panAfricanism, is, in relation to Rwanda, synonymous with the Rwandan Revolution, a conflict in which the violence of the social divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi became politicized as ethnic. It was also during the period of the Revolution that Rwanda transitioned from a kingdom (and a United Nations trust territory), ruled by and through the Tutsi minority, to an independent republic. Colonialism and indirect rule, however, began in 1890, when Rwanda was declared a part of German East Africa, and lasted until the aforementioned revolution. Thus, through both its visual and sonic narratives, the film begins to temporalize Rwanda, and continues to do so, as the narrator sweepingly moves from colonialism to the assassination of President Habyarimana, which would sound the start of the genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi. She says, "and then the President's plane fell out of the sky. Shot down. It was April 1994" (Longford). Thus, Longford's animation temporalizes Rwanda into three periods marked by three breaks, each of which represents a sociocultural shift in Rwanda. Moreover, these epochs are presented by the film, incorrectly, as discrete units of typological time,4 and perhaps even more problematically, relegate Rwanda to the confines of the time of its genocide, and in so doing...